Sosnowiec is full of people and their stories. Jerzy is one of them. Read the interview with a man of thousand passions and great lust for life.

Jerzy Kulawiak, Polish Veteran Judo Champion, was interviewed by Rafał Opalski. Photos: Rafał Opalski

When did you win your latest Polish Veteran Judo Championship?

That was in 2018, for the third time in a row.

And how old are you?

I’m only 75 [laughs]. And I’ve been practising judo for over 50 years – since I was 24. I started when I left the army. In the army I was in a reconnaissance unit: mine cleaning, chemical weapons, knowledge of armament of foreign armies, aviation, topography and shooting. My military service was very difficult, but I was a good soldier. I tried hard, did not get into trouble, got no punishments and won the first and second degree model soldier diplomas.

That was between 1962 and 1964. Here is a photo of me doing a one-arm pull-up – a very difficult exercise. I enjoyed practising on a pull-up bar and this is why I had a good life in the army. When I was in the former Yugoslavia, I could bear the temperature of 45 degrees in the sunshine. But I also like running on snow and ice-bathing in Lake Stawiki in the winter.

Winter swimming in Lake Stawiki. Photo: family archive

Winter swimming in Lake Stawiki. Photo: family archive

How did your fascination with sport begin?

I was born in the last year of the Second World War. I was very frail: skin and bones, as they say. I nearly died three times. When I was born, I was so weak that I shouldn’t have survived. Then, when I was 3, I ate too many green unripe sour cherries with my older brother and we were delirious. My mum took us to doctor Wysoka at Modrzejowska street and she saved us. She gave us some medicine and we slept for three days non-stop. And the third time, when I was seven, I had an appendix surgery; the doctors said I could have a cardiac arrest, because my heart was beating very slowly. But then, as a teenager, I began doing exercise – chopping trees with an axe, jumping. I had no sports equipment; my dad was running a company, but there were seven of us at home, so you know… And as he was the so-called “privateer”, he had to pay a supertax in the amount of PLN one million. It was only after he wrote a letter to Bierut [President of Poland in 1947–1952] that the supertax was ultimately remitted. So I made bodybuilding equipment myself – pull-up bar, two cans flooded with concrete, depanders made of car springs… Expander was the only item I bought, but the rest I had to make myself.

Jerzy Kulawiak in his youth. Photo: family archive

Jerzy Kulawiak in his youth. Photo: family archive

And how long have you been winning awards in competitions?

Since 2016. Before that, I had no idea that such competitions for veterans even existed. Nobody told me that. There had been no such options available in the old days. I coach youngsters in Będzin on a voluntary basis twice a week. The other coaches convinced me to participate in the competition.


What did you get these medals for?

They are all for winning the first place. I’m a three-time Polish champion – in 2016, 2017 and 2018. I also won the Polish Veteran Cup and Slovakian Open Championship in 2019. I’ve been a judo instructor since 1972. After six years and a bucket of sweat, I finally got the title of judo instructor and black belt. I’m also a co-holder of Guinness record in the length of training session from 2016 – 260 competitors were practising judo for 72 hours non-stop. I’m going to a judo championship in the Canary Islands at the end of July.

Do you practise any other martial arts?

I also do aikido and a bit of kendo. When it comes to kendo, the equipment is very expensive, so I practise without the armour. Before that, I used to practise bodybuilding. And look at this photo – handstand on head only. I am leaning against the wall and standing on my head – that was a few years ago.


How old were you back then?

That was a few years ago – I was 67, maybe 68. And here’s a jump from a height – 4 km in tandem.

Photo: family archive


You lead a very active life – what else do you do?

Here are my sailing licenses – yacht helmsman and motorboat helmsman. I’ve sailed in Mazury, Solina and Dziećkowice. I was sworn in as a horse rider following the horse-riding course in Białka near Krasnystaw. I also travel a lot. I have the Arctic Circle Crossing diploma. I’ve visited half of Europe. In 2016, in the spring I was in Morocco, whereas in the autumn I went to China and visited Shanghai, Beijing, Shaolin Monastery and Great Wall of China. We went in a group of different people, both young and old, and I was the first one to arrive at the top. I walked up over one thousand stairs that are up to 40 cm high. I enjoy getting tired. I’ve travelled by plane about 20 times. Parachute jumping, ballooning over Kraków-Częstochowa Upland, flying a glider over the Beskid Mountains, flying a light aircraft over Silesia and flying a helicopter over the lower Caucasus.

Apart from doing sports, I also like gaining knowledge. I retired and completed two semesters of studies at the Humanitas University in Sosnowiec. I did not complete the major in environmental protection, because I preferred to leave and I travelled half of Europe. I took a break. After the break, I enrolled at journalism and social communication and completed one semester. I passed the examination in law before a board and had no special privileges. When I was walking through a corridor, the students bowed to me: ‘Good morning, professor’ [laughter]. I completed two years of German language, but did not complete the third one. I was an honorary blood donor. I also took part in the “Jeden z dziesięciu” [One out of ten] game show 4 years ago. Right now I’m getting ready for another edition – I want to take part in the autumn…

Photo: family archive


And what did you use to do for a living?

I had a metal and roofing shop, Kulawiak, for 30 years. It was established by my father in 1947 and I took over the company after his death in 1977. My father died at the age of 56… I also had a stonemason’s workshop. And here is my apprenticeship certificate. When I was 18, I graduated from the vocational school. All grades on my certificate were A’s and B’s. I have a commercial driving license and I can drive anything except for buses. I am a civil engineering technician and apprentice. I’ve completed a pedagogical course to teach students. Here are my master craftsman’s certificates in roofing and tin-smithing.

So what are your plans for the future?

I want to take part in the Polish Championship in the autumn this year, and then in the World Championship in Kraków in 2020. And I’m going to write memoirs. I have a book by Ewa Pilawska on how to write memoirs. I’v also collected a huge number of life wisdoms. Plato said about the old age: “He that has a gentle disposition shall better accept the old age”, whereas according to Benjamin Franklin: „He who has no time shall never get old”. Somerset Maugham said: ‘The greatest art of living is to know how to age gracefully’. So, do not grumble.

Thank you for the interview.