Vladimir Putin doing JudoMany people don’t know that Russia’s President Putin has been a long time practitioner of the sport of Judo. In sixth grade he took up the Russian grappling sport of Sambo, and then Judo. He eventually graduated to the high rank of 5th Dan in Judo, authored a Judo book, and a few years ago put out a DVD titled, “Let’s Learn Judo With Vladimir Putin.”

I also practice and teach martial arts, and I subscribe to the blogs of some well known martial artists. One extremely skilled martial artist, and someone who I have the greatest respect for, recently wrote a post expressing pleasure that Putin’s practice of Judo has helped to popularize martial arts.

Certainly it’s good to see a well-known figure publicizing martial arts. However, I’d be happier if it weren’t someone who is essentially a war criminal. Under Putin’s watch, hundreds to thousands of civilians have been kidnapped, tortured or “disappeared” in Chechnya.

Russian police in Russia itself are notorious for torture. And within the military, humiliation and torture of recruits is common. Journalists and human rights activists who try to speak out about these matters take their lives into their hands.

Consider the murders of opposition figures and journalists such as Anna Politkskaya, Yuri Schekochikhin, Galina Starovoitova, Sergei Yushenkov, as well as imprisonments of human rights defenders, scientists, and journalists like Trepashkin, Igor Sutyagin, and Valentin Danilov.

Some might say, “Well, we are speaking of him as a sportsman, not a politician.” I know that’s the argument of those who are against politicizing the Olympics, for example.

But why should we legitimize him in that way? If an ordinary citizen committed such crimes he would be a terrorist. Why should someone be allowed to hide behind the veil of presidential authority and therefore excused from responsibility from terrible crimes?

As a human rights blogger, I condemn Putin’s human rights record. As a martial artist, I still condemn him. Being able to throw someone to the mat does not excuse murder.