A black belt around his waist, the Frenchman spoke to mark the start of the 2017 Judo Grand Slam in Paris by delivering a simple message: “Judo is more than a sport, it is a way of life.”
At closer inspection, Pesquet is far from the only celebrity to have dedicated his time away from the public gaze to mastering judo.
Vladimir Putin is probably the most famous international figure to hold a judo black belt. The Russian President has practised the sport since he was in school and was once filmed training with his country’s judo team in Sochi. The images of Mr. Putin throwing elite athletes to the mat further fuelled the all-action reputation of a politician who has also appeared in public playing ice hockey, handling a tiger, riding a horse bare-chested and diving to the bottom of the Black Sea.
Another statesman to excel on the tatami was Pierre Trudeau, the former Prime Minister of Canada. Unlike Putin, Trudeau was already an adult when he discovered judo. But by the time he became Prime Minister in 1968, he had already earned a brown belt and even paid a visit to the Kodokan Judo Institute, the Tokyo-based headquarters of the international judo community.
There are photos from the 1970s of Pierre Trudeau wearing judogi alongside his son Justin, the current Prime Minister of Canada. Although he no longer practises judo, the younger Trudeau has remained a keen sportsman and was named as a contender for the title of most athletic world leader by CNN in 2016. His main rival? Vladimir Putin, of course.
Outside politics, there is a rich tradition of professional sportspeople taking up judo in their retirement. At one end of the scale, they include diminutive former superstar gymnast Nadia Comaneci. The five-time Olympic gold medallist has long been a keen fan and passionate supporter of the sport. She is the holder of an honorary black belt and, in July 2019, was made an official ambassador of the International Judo Federation.
At the other end of the scale is man mountain Fabien Pelous, the all-time leader in appearances for the French national rugby team. Standing two metres tall and weighing 115 kilograms, Pelous found judo to be the perfect outlet for his competitive energy in his retirement and became a black belt in 2014.
From world leaders to astronauts, giant rugby players to nimble gymnasts, the diverse list of celebrities who hold judo black belts is testament to the sport’s universal appeal.