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27 Nov, 2019 17:20

‘Sports changed my life & mindset’: Putin says parents were against him studying martial arts, but coach talked them around

Russian president and judo black belt holder, Vladimir Putin, said he would’ve been a different person without combat sports in his life, thanking his coach for fending off his parents’ attempts to put an end to his training.

“At some point, my parents started objecting [to] my active engagement in sports. They thought it was distracting me from school,” Putin said in a new Channel One documentary about his judo and Sambo coach, Anatoly Rakhlin.

They were especially skeptical about Sambo (self-defense without weapons), a martial art specially developed for Soviet armed forces, saying: “Well, it’s almost like brawling. You don’t need to do this.”

But the coach saw real potential in young Vladimir and wasn’t willing to give up on his student so easily. Putin’s family was a modest one, occupying a single room in “a shared apartment on the fifth floor” in St. Petersburg, but Rakhlin still look the time to visit them.

“He talked to my parents; convinced them that sports will help me not only with my studies and keeping in shape, but it will also help me in life. And they agreed,” the president said.


Putin was 11 when he first came to Rakhlin’s class. He won the Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) Sambo championships in 1973 and became the city’s best judoka two years later. Despite choosing a career in intelligence and then politics, Russia’s current president has been practicing martial arts all his life, often showing off his skills on the tatami.

Rakhlin’s motto was: “If there’s character – there’ll be a result,” the head of state recalled. When choosing new recruits for his group, he turned down those who could do the most pull ups, but accepted those who “gave everything away. Their hands were trembling, their whole bodies were trembling, but they kept trying till the end.”

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He was a very demanding trainer, but his wards could always feel that he really cared for them, Putin said.

I loved him. In fact, he took me away from the street… And, by giving me a chance to go in for sports, drastically changed my consciousness and my life priorities. In this sense, he really affected my destiny.

Rakhlin died in 2013 at the age of 75. Being “Putin’s sensei,” as he liked calling himself, is just one of the man’s many accolades. The coach prepared more than 100 top-class athletes for the country during his 50-year-long-career. He headed the Russian ladies judo squad, leading them to three European titles, while also being the deputy head of Russia’s Judo Federation.

On Wednesday, Putin visited his former judo club in St. Petersburg, which is currently celebrating its 50th anniversary, and awarded medals to the athletes and veterans. “The graduates of the club win prestigious prizes, including Olympic gold medals. But the most important thing is that… it keeps working with children, just like Anatoly Rakhlin used to do it,” he said.


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