JudoCrazy: At what age did you realize that competition judo is something you wanted to do?
Hannah Martin: I really loved competing from the very beginning, which was around eight years old. My desire to compete at a high level was not really triggered until I moved to the Jason Morris Judo Center when I was 18 years old. I went to the Junior World Championships and saw a whole different level of judo and decided I wanted to reach that level.
JC: Are you a full-time player and if so, how do you get your funding?
HM: I used to study Psychology at university but I’m not studying at the moment. I’m literally in a different country almost every weekend during competition season, so it’s impossible to be a full-time student that way. I consider myself to be a full-time judo player now. So, my job is to train.
American athletes do not get funding from the government, we get all our funding from private sponsors. Sometimes we might get some trips paid for by the national governing body, but for the most part, we’re on our own. At the beginning of my career, most – practically all – of my trips were self-funded. I am lucky enough now to have many wonderful people who support me financially so I am able to compete or train overseas. One of my major supporters is the New York Athletic Club (NYAC) – they have been supporting me for about eight years now!
JC: Do you go for lots of overseas training camps and how important are they?
HM: It is very necessary to travel abroad and participate in training camps. They are the best places to get your hands on the best players in the world, without a referee standing in the middle of the mat. At home I do not have the partners and bodies, so I train mostly with boys. At international training camps and in dojos abroad, I get quality partners every single round. That said, I also believe it’s important to have a home base where you can work on the necessary techniques and little details that you cannot work on when you are in a foreign place.
JC: Do you go for long stints abroad or just short ones?
HM: I have done many long training stints abroad. I think it is good to mix it up and get out of your comfort zone. In 2014, I trained in Israel at their national training center for a week. In 2015, I spent a lot of time in Europe, so in between competitions I would train in Denmark since my boyfriend is the national coach of the Danish team. One of my longest stints was a six week trip where I competed in the Paris Grand Slam, trained at the international Paris camp, trained in Denmark, competed in the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix the following week, and then back to Denmark before I competed in Portugal. In 2016, I trained at the Olympic Training Camp in Mittersil, Austria for 10 days. This camp is at the beginning of the year, with two practices a day for about two hours per session. It's designed to help all the athletes get into shape after the winter holidays.
JC: What are your thoughts on the IJF rules in recent years which banned leg grabs?
HM: Everyone complains about these new rules but I am a HUGE fan! I love that leg grabs are banned because it's better for my style of judo.
HM: I train twice a day Monday to Friday. The mornings involve strength and conditioning, then judo at night. Sometimes I have three trainings in a day, which consist of a run or a lifting session, followed by a technical session and then a two-hour judo practice. I typically train four to five hours per day. Saturday, I either do judo or go to the gym. Sunday is my day off unless I missed a lifting session during the week.
JC: What are your thoughts on BJJ?
HM: I have never done BJJ. I wouldn’t mind doing some cross training but it’s a question of finding the time.
JC: Do you sometimes feel that as an elite athlete, you have to make too many sacrifices?
HM: Judo is a lifestyle and being an elite athlete is also a lifestyle. Some people think I am a “trooper” for sacrificing my life for the sport but I like to think of it as a lifestyle choice that I made – a positive choice. I choose to wake up every single day to train my ass off to become the next Olympic champion, and it is actually a lot of fun and I really enjoy it.
HM: Moving up to -63kg was a little rough in the beginning. It wasn't so much a strength factor as a confidence factor. I was not confident in my abilities and I only thought I could do better at -57kg because I had been in that weight category since I was 14 years old. When I started believing in myself, I started to win again.
I made the decision to move up because I was cutting between 7kg to 8kg before every competition, so that obviously had to change. These days, I do not have to cut weight anymore. It's a beautiful thing.
I do not have a specific diet, but I try to include lots of protein, especially after hard workouts, also lots of coffee! Coffee keeps me going through the whole day!
HM: For the past five or six years my coach has placed a lot of emphasis on improving my newaza. I am really confident in newaza so when I see the opportunity in a match, I go for it.
JC: Which player do you admire most?
HM: I do not admire a specific player, but I do admire the Slovenian team. They have amazing work ethic and every time I am at an international training camp, I am impressed at how hard they work out.
JC: Speaking of Slovenians, you had a very close match against Tina Trstenjak in the 2014 Chelyabinsk World Championships where you lost by just one shido. Looking back, what are your thoughts on the match?
HM: I had a really good game plan and I tried to follow it as best as I could. She did more attacking than I did, which is why I got the shido. Although I lost that one, it gave me confidence that I could fight amongst the best and not get killed.
JC: Another world champion you narrowly lost to was Yarden Gerbi of Israel in the 2015 Astana World Championships. What are your reflections of that match?
HM: At the beginning of that match I gave Gerbi way too much respect and didn't go out there and do my judo. In the end, I got countered for a yuko and that cost me the match. The next time I fight her I know exactly what I have to do, which is to focus on my own judo and not worry too much about her judo.
JC: One world champion whom you seem to have a lot of difficulty with is Clarisse Agbegnenou of France. You lost by ippon to her in the 2016 Paris Grand Slam and the 2014 Havana Grand Prix as well. Your thoughts?
HM: Agbegnenou is a very strong player. She is a left-handed fighter and I am a left-handed fighter so I struggle somewhat with her style of judo. She is a very aggressive fighter, so I need to be more aggressive and treat each match like it's an actual fight and not just a judo match.
JC: The Olympics is coming up. How far along are you in terms of qualifying for Rio 2016?
HM: I am very close to qualifying, I have four more competitions left, and the big one is the Pan American Championships. I would need to medal in that one to guarantee a spot, but I'm going there to win this year.
JC: What areas do you feel still need to do more work on?
HM: It's all mental! I've had two knee surgeries in a year and a half and that really messes with your confidence. My coach always tells me if I attack I will win. So, it's a matter of me believing in my judo.
HM: After Rio, I’m going to stick around for a few years. I want to say I am going to go for Tokyo 2020 but we will see what happens! I want to go to the World Championships in 2017 for sure (and medal there).
I currently already spend a lot of time teaching judo so I think it would be cool to coach after I retire from competition! I think it's important to give back and try to help develop the sport.
JC: What does judo mean to you?
HM: I always tell people that you have to absolutely LOVE this sport to stay in it! Judo has given me so many experiences that you just wouldn't get in your normal daily life. I got to represent USA through my sport! I have traveled to over 40 countries! I have medals from all over the world! I have friends around the globe!