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 email@example.com,
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Many scientists have oriented towards brain research and have found that there are significant differences in brain anatomy between left and right-handed people. Although we use both brain functions in everyday life, one side of our brain is still more dominant than the other. It has been proven that right-handed people's left side of the brain is more dominant, with centers that control speech and language. On the other hand, the right side of the brain has more control over our emotions. In left-handed people, this division is reversed. Also, in left-handed individuals, both brain hemispheres are equally developed, in comparison to right-handed individuals. This allows them a quicker transfer of information between hemispheres. Also, the excess fibers are an advantage that permits left-handed persons everyday adjustment to the world of right-handed people.
A significantly larger number of neural fibers in the brains of left-handed people is responsible for a quicker transfer of information between brain hemispheres, which is the reason behind better spatial orientation and a greater success in math, art, architecture. Also, if a left-handed person needs to perform a task with his or her right hand, he or she will do it better than a right-handed person would with his or her left hand (e.g. writing). Left-handed people have a totally different approach to problem solving than their right-handed peers and show enhanced abilities in divergent thinking, i.e. finding different solutions to the same problem (thanks to a better intuition and a greater diversity in ideas). Research has shown a larger sensibility among right-handed persons to their right side, while left-handed persons are equally sensitive to both sides of their bodies. The right hand is a bit larger and stronger in right-handed people, whereas, in left-handed individuals, both hands are equally developed.
Mothers that are over 40 years of age during pregnancy have a greater chance to give birth to a baby who will become left-handed. The chances for this to happen are 28% higher than in women who are in their 20's. Interestingly, as many as 90% of babies suck the thumb of their dominant hand while still in their mother's womb so the ultrasound can also give you an idea of what the baby will be like once it is born. As already stated, the connections between the left and right side of the brain are faster among left-handed people. This means that information is transmitted in a faster manner which makes left-handed people more efficient in processing a larger amount of information that are emitted through both sides of the brain. This is one of the main reasons why various research has shown a large rate of left-handed persons among professional athletes, especially in one-on-one sports, i.e. sports that include two opponents such as tennis, table tennis, baseball, martial arts or fencing.
Research has proven how visual information received by the sportsman (fighter or player) is processed by the right brain hemisphere. This is why information, in case the athlete is left-handed, travels faster to the brain center that is in charge of motor skills in as much as 20 to 30 milliseconds. Thanks to these better spatial skills and a quicker motor skill reaction, left-handed persons are more successful in martial arts. So, the advantage or left-handed persons in martial arts are both physiological and tactical. The reason being a faster connection between the left and right side of the brain hemispheres and, simultaneously, a more frequent usage of both brain hemispheres thanks to which they are, in addition to a better spatial assessment, capable of thinking and reacting faster.
Also, left-handed people are extremely adapted to those who are right-handed because they constantly come across them. In comparison, right-handed people adapt much more difficultly to their left-handed opponents. Sportsmen whose left hand is more dominant present a much bigger threat because of their "reversed” body stance. In all sports where athletes face each other, left-handed ones have a significant advantage so the same goes for martial arts. Their abilities are best seen in sports where a very quick reaction is necessary to confuse the opponent who is used to fight a right-handed person. The reason is simply because right-handed athletes are used to fighting right-handed opponents.
To simplify, a left-handed athlete is used to right-handed opponents and has frequently had the chance to fight them and has also trained among them. On the other hand, right-handed athletes rarely have the chance to train with or fight against a left-handed peer and this is where their shortcomings are best seen. So, when faced with a left-handed opponent, a surprise element comes into play which is an advantage for the left-handed person. A left-handed fighter leads his attack with his right hand and his fighting tactics are developed by using the right side of his body. He does this so he can give a stronger, faster and a more precise punch with his left hand which, in turn, confuses the right-handed fighter unadapted to this style of combat. Right-handed athletes develop their fighting tactics and punches with the left side of their bodies so they can hit more precisely and strongly with their right hand (after the left hand, they cross their punch with their right hand) so fighting against a left-handed opponent is confusing for them.
These left-handed advantages have been spotted a very long time ago so, more than 3000 years ago, a fighter named Ehud won and killed the evil Moabite King Eglon which was described in the Bible. According to the legend, Ehud came from the Benjamin tribe for which some biblical experts believed was trained by a warrior squad to use their left hands. Also, according to a legend, the Roman Emperor Commodus loved to fight in the Roman arena where one special characteristic helped him to be invincible- he was left-handed. Most martial arts fighters have used 90% of their time fighting right-handed opponents. This means that they will be very surprised to get punched from the other side, which is something they do not expect to happen. This advantage has helped left-handed fighters to be a bit more dominant in martial arts (55%) in comparison to their right-handed peers.
First in boxing and, a bit later on, in other martial arts sports, the stance in which a left-handed fighter sets his right hand and leg forward, leading the fight with his right hand and then turning his right hip and punching with his left dominant hand is called the "southpaw stance”. According to some legends, a 19thcentury fighter called William "Bendigo” Thompson is responsible for introducing the southpaw stance. Some other boxing experts consider the left-handed boxer Al McCoy to be responsible for endorsing the stance. He became a world champion in 1910 and his nickname was Southpaw. According to some legends, the very name comes from baseball. Some sports historians claim that the term was coined because of the baseball pitch orientation (the pitch, i.e. its lines are oriented towards the west) so that the Sun wouldn't shine in the players' eyes. This is why the left-handed pitcher has his left hand turned towards the south. In the beginning, the term "southpaw stance” denoted something unusual and was known to be used in sports since 1840.
The advantages of left-handed fighters aren't expressed only among boxers (or in savate-boxing, kickboxing, Chinese boxing, etc.), but also in karate, tae kwon do, kung fu, capoeira as well in wrestling, judo, ju jitsu, aikido, MMA, fencing and other martial arts disciplines. The technique of performing certain grips is a bit different in left-handed fighters, their creativity is somewhat larger and their ability to adapt in using their right or left hand needs to be significantly bigger. This is why some left-handed fighters' techniques (certain punches, various punching combinations, throws, levers, pinning their opponent to the ground or choking) can greatly confuse a right-handed athlete. As said before, when a right-handed fighter is faced with a left-handed one, there is an element of surprise. The surprise is even greater if a left-handed fighter started the fight in a classic right-handed stance (his left hand and foot are set forward) and then, during the match, he switches to a southpaw stance, i.e. makes a switch-hitter. The term "switch-hitter” is used for those fighters who deliberately switch from a right-handed stance to a left-handed stance or vice versa, in order to confuse their opponents during combat.
Left-handed children who were forced by their parents or teachers to write with their right hands has caused a large number of (originally) left-handed people to use both their right and left hand efficiently. This is especially present in Asia, i.e. among the Chinese, the Koreans and the Japanese because their script (because of its characteristics) cannot be written by using the left hand. This is why there are only 2% of left-handed people registered in China, i.e. only this amount of people have declared to be left-handed (they eat by using their left hand), while in Japan, this percentage is a bit over 4%. According to this statistics where, allegedly, there aren't more than 2-4% of left-handed people in Asia (which is impossible), we shouldn't be surprised that a term for left-handed fighters isn't specified in Eastern martial arts, in comparison to the "southpaw stance”.
However, people cannot be simply divided into two homogeneous groups (left and right-handed ones). It is more of a continuum on which ends there are two smaller groups of exclusively left and right-handed fighters. Most of us are somewhere in between, having a stronger or weaker predisposition to use our right hand.
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