Antonio Graceffo takes you to the other side of the world in this video supplement for his Destinations column, appearing monthly in Black Belt magazine. In Part 1 of his trip to Vietnam, he discusses the nation's rich martial arts history. Graceffo is a freelance writer based in Asia.
Two-Time Black Belt Hall of Famer Hayward Nishioka has been campaigning for judo in the United States to harvest more shodans (1st degree black belts) Shodan literally means student. It's analogous to being a freshman in college. It's not the end but the beginning according to Jigoro Kano, the Founder of Judo.
A very dear friend and sensei of mine the late Allen Johnson, may he rest in peace made a home at Emerald City Judo. In Redmond, Washington.
The late Allen Johnson receiving his Rokudan with Greg Dean, Mike Hyatt, me, and Nelson Salazar of Emerald City Judo in Redmond, WA - Greater Seattle.
Sensei Allen Johnson’s Legacy and Impact on Emerald City Judo Club’s Journey
Allen Johnson in Viet Nam
Allen's crash landing story and US Masters (2012 )Winter Nationals (2013)
Allen was an American Hero, a decorated veteran who passed away on April 4, 2018 (Video Tribute 1 & Video Tribute 2). Allen as mentor played an instrumental in helping this dojo codify, understand the promotion process and optimize their impact on their community.
The leaders of Emerald City Judo submitted their own written account of how they develop students at their dojo to understand accountabilities through the kyu stages and preparing them for what's needed to earn their shodan.
Emerald City Judo Club’s Essay on Learnings Along the Way of the promotion process
Senseis Greg Dean and Nelson Salazar presenting Amanda Rasolmoff her shodan promotion certificate.
The road to earning one's shodan in judo is one of the most rewarding things anyone can pursue. Many will find it challenging, life changing and full of its own ups and downs. You must be able to persevere throughout its journey just to achieve it. So how does a dojo help its students get there?
We at Emerald City Judo have experienced our fair share of awarding many students over our 22+ years through many kyu ranks, and for those that have persevered, their shodan.
While it's not an easy road to get students from white belt all the way through to their shodan, it is a rewarding experience for both the student and the sensei's.
We learned early on that to continue to grow and maintain a solid student body across all age groups, we had to start with the young kids. We needed to establish and grow our kids' program which helped in getting new adults, i.e., parents onto the mats and joining in with their kids. By helping cultivate our youth program we began establishing ourselves in the early days as an up-and-coming judo program serving the surrounding communities next to Microsoft's headquarters in Redmond, WA.
For a time in the first half of our existence, we'd seen many students come and go. It was great to see the growing number of students we had in our classes, broken out across all levels and kids in the first hour and non-beginners in the second. We grew what we called a very long tail of students, i.e., lots of beginner belts with few higher belts, i.e., brown, and black.
Image above: Features the village that supported the journey of both Amanda and Leah Hiatt
Image above: Amanda earned her shodan after starting judo at 5 years of age.
Image above: Many of the older kids in this picture have persevered and earned their shodan and the others are still on their journey, all supported by the village around them of Sensei's, family, and friends.
Image above: Leah earning her shodan after having started at 4 years of age.
Key Learnings Over the Years
Like many dojos out there, we brainstormed on what was needed to get our students from white to shodan, and there were several things we realized were necessary to establish in order to get it done!
1.Retention of our student base was paramount.
2.Optimized and disciplined promotion process where students knew what they were accountable for to earn their promotions.
3.Increased number of similar aged student groups to ensure more like-for-like training partners.
4.Ensure beginners, especially kids, were engaged, having fun, and enjoying their experiences.
5.Establishing the notion of young leaders that act as mentors and student coaches for youngsters, as well as adults and young adults.
6.More social events to increase camaraderie with families and students.
7.Encourage students to compete and establish a competition team which for us, has been very successful and rewarding
8.Encourage those that don't want to compete to serve judo in other ways; help at tournaments, be good training partners for competitors, work ibn katas, help clean the dojo, etc.
9.Develop a platform for students to aspire to reach and achieve bigger things in their journey.
10.Cultivate potential candidates (juniors and adults) for refereeing as another means to serve the greater judo community; i.e. community outreach to high schools and middle schools to share judo and hopefully attract new students. As an example, our dojo has a been a great source for high school wrestling programs in our community, both women and men's programs.
The list continues but ideas that I'm sure many of you have encountered and have implemented as well. This helped ensure our long tail base of students in the kyu ranks continued to grow. Our challenge however was one of retaining those many kyu ranks to stay on their journey long enough.
The one thing that helped was retaining a core group of families and their kids from the very youngest of ages from the beginning as well as adults passionate about learning the art and deeper meaning of judo.
We were fortunate to carry many of these kids through to their shodan. We were able to carry many older adults, most being parents, through to their shodan as well (see image below). Also, we now have a healthy group of new brown belts (sankyu to ikkyu) getting closer to their shodan too.
Image above: Kaleb center in blue, earning his Shodan after having started at 7 years of age.
Image above: Adults beginning their journey with their kyu promotions.
Image above: Adult parent Eduardo earning his shodan, having started with his children.
Image above: Help them achieve their goals – Leah at 2018 European Cadet Championships.
Image above: Emerald City students and Sensei's giving service to judo as referees. The two youngsters are now shodans.
Images above: Developing young leaders and ensuring kids have fun.
Image above: Emerald City Judo kids having fun!
Image above: the late Allen-Sensei addressing our students and conveying wisdom.
Image above: Allen-Sensei always leaning in and helping our kids and coaches during tournaments.
Image above: Lucky group of students learning from Sensei's Gary and Allen (Red White obi's). Amada is the girl in blue belt (first row, 2nd from right) who persevered, stayed on her journey and is a shodan.
Allen-Sensei was an inspiration and role model for the three of us owners and instructors of Emerald City Judo Club – Thank you Sensei Gary Goltz for bringing Allen-Sensei into our lives! His presence continues to be missed.
For someone well into his seventies, he continued to inspire our members by continuing to compete at senior master's level. He helped us organize our students (adults and young adults) who were willing to serve at tournaments (rather than compete) to manage mat tables, be runners, manage athletes, etc. He was a great mentor who helped instill in us and our students, that our combined service to judo and its community would benefit everyone involved…that key tenet of Kano-Sensei, Jita Kyoei - Mutual welfare and Benefit is more than just words, it truly applies!
By focusing on our service to both judo and our community, we've been privileged to help guide many of our early students through their journey in kyu ranks and on to receiving their shodans (as you see in the images throughout). We've been fortunate to experience and guide two main groups of youth and adults in our 23+ years of our dojo's journey. The most recent being the images at the beginning of this essay.
Many of the students in these images we've helped from their earliest beginning by stepping on the mats at four to seven years of age, and those that have stepped on the mats with their children, through their competition experiences, refereeing pursuits, broader service to judo, then on to university and into the work force. It's been great making a positive impact to the lives of so many students through judo.
Our world has changed now, and despite this new age of Covid these past 18+ months, with pandemic shutdowns and great uncertainty for many of us who own and run our schools, we must persevere for our communities, and continue to keep the dreams alive for all our students, young and old.
The pandemic has taught everyone to rethink their priorities, with health and learning new things being top of mind. It's been scary for sure, but it's also helped our dojo and community be rejuvenated with new students where we as a community will continue what we've learned and help them through their journey to shodan.
I'm always looking for new subjects to write about regarding judo as well as contributions from my readers. Please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org,
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Team Competitive Edge, coached by Jackson Rudolph, Reid Presley, and Cole Presley, has become one of the premier teams in the sport in recent years. The team consistently takes home individual overall grand championships and they are the reigning U.S. Open ISKA Team Demonstration World Champions. Moving into the 2022 tournament season, they have made a huge move to deepen their roster and add seven junior competitors to the team. The new additions range from proven champions bringing their talents to the squad, some skilled workhorses who have previously joined the team for the Team Demo division, and some promising young stars who will be making their debut in the black belt division this year. Keep reading to learn more about each of the new additions (ordered alphabetically).
Photo Courtesy: Kellie Austin Bodiford via Facebook
Bodiford is twelve years old and hails from Lebanon, Tennessee, a product of Premier Martial Arts Lebanon (formerly known as Success Martial Arts Center), where the Competitive Edge coaches have all earned black belts. He has five years of martial arts experience and was the 2020-2021 ProMAC Southern Region Champion in four divisions. He also finished the 2021 NASKA season in the top ten for creative, musical, and extreme forms and weapons. Bodiford is one of the competitors who has stepped up for Competitive Edge in the past, joining the demonstration team to help them secure the 2021 U.S. Open ISKA World Championship.
Riley Claire Carlisle
Photo Courtesy: Mallory Parker Carlisle
Carlisle (pictured with coach Sammy Smith) is a 10-year-old rising star from Starkville, Mississippi who has been training for four years. In the underbelt division, she has won grand championships at the Battle of Atlanta and numerous regional events. She holds multiple divisional and grand championship titles from the ProMAC circuit, and has amassed over ninety divisional wins in recent years. She is moving into the black belt division in 2022 and looks to continue her winning ways.
Photo Courtesy: Priscilla Molina via Facebook
Molina is a 13-year-old world champion from San Antonio, Texas with 10 years of martial arts training under her belt. She has won many grand championship titles on the NASKA circuit, and has claimed world championships from NASKA, ISKA, ATA, and WKC. At the 2021 U.S. Open, she became the reigning ISKA world champion in 13 and under girls creative/musical/extreme weapons. She is a versatile competitor who can win with extreme bo or kama routines, performs beautiful traditional forms, and is a solid point fighter as well. She is an active member of her community and participates in a variety of leadership programs, making her a great role model for younger members of the team.
Photo Courtesy: Michael Molina via Instagram
"Super Bomb" is the 9-year-old brother of Kodi, who is a world champion in his own right. In his seven years of experience, he has already won a variety of titles across multiple leagues, including NASKA overall grand championships at the 2021 Battle of Atlanta and AmeriKick Internationals. Since he began training at the age of two, his regimen has included strength, speed, agility, and conditioning training at "Rojo Dojo", where a number of world champions and national contenders gather to train. He is known for his incredible performance ability, always putting on a show when he graces the stage.
Photo Courtesy: Bobby Benavides
Richmond is yet another world champion being added to the Competitive Edge roster. The 13-year-old from San Antonio has been training for five years and has accumulated several grand championship titles, including wins at prestigious events like the Diamond Nationals and U.S. Open. The young star is a well-rounded athlete, not only because he competes in a variety of divisions at sport karate tournaments, but he also finished in 7th place in the pentathlon at the 2021 AAU Junior Olympics which included the high jump, long jump, 100m hurdles, 1500m run, and shot put, resulting in him being named an All-American. He is currently recovering from a knee injury, but his high-flying routines will be back on the mat soon.
Photo Courtesy: Gabrielle Dunn
Wiersma (pictured with coach Gabrielle Dunn) is another rising star moving up from the underbelt division who is expected to make waves in the black belt division. She first moved up into the black belt ring at the WKC world championships, where she won her first world title. The 9-year-old Georgia native was the 2021 Underbelt Competitor of the Year for ProMAC and she secured underbelt grand championships at the Battle of Atlanta and U.S. Open this past year.
Williams is a 16 year old from Lebanon, Tennessee who trains at Premier Martial Arts Lebanon. His eight years of martial arts training has culminated in black belts in Tang Soo Do and Tae Kwon Do. He is on an upward trend as a competitor as he has started breaking into the top four in his divisions, which are some of the most stacked on the NASKA circuit. Williams has been a great asset to Competitive Edge in the past, stepping up to fill in for team demonstration, such as in the world championship effort at the 2021 U.S. Open.
The Competitive Edge coaching staff told Black Belt that they are thrilled to take their roster to another level with these moves. They believe that these new players will create the perfect storm to win more overall grand championships now, strengthen the team demo, and build a great foundation for the future of the program.
Between rounds Font's corner told him to keep backing Aldo up and he did for much of the second but whenever he eased off, Aldo moved forward landing hard punches. Meanwhile, Aldo followed his corner's instructions to the letter coming out firing vicious legs kicks, at their urging, to start the third. When Font missed on a takedown, Aldo trapped him on the mat and controlled him for most of the round. The final two rounds were much the same as Font had his moments but inevitably ended up on the ground beneath Aldo who rode him out to take the decision.
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