His parents — both judokas — met on the judo mat, his uncle coached international medalists in the sport and specialized in filming judo events for the international federation, while his grandfather also coached the sport.

“My Dad came to Bristol [in England] where my grandfather was coaching, and my parents literally met on the judo mat,” says Willingham of his journey into the sport.

“It was every aspect of my family’s lives as my uncle set up Fighting Films, which specializes in judo films, and from the early 1990s he worked for the International Judo Federation.
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“But my parents never forced judo on us, their kids. It was a case of we could if we wanted to but it was part of us — we’d spend a lot of time going to judo tournaments they were going to anyway.”

Despite a national title at under-21 level, Willingham plays down his own judo prowess, although there was a time when he threw himself headlong into seeing how far he could get into the sport.

“I went for it for a season but then got injured and went traveling,” he recalls. “Then I came back and got a job as I was an adult.”

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