Growing up during the 60's and the Cold War, I recall vividly images of Khrushchev pounding his fist at the United Nations. His motorcade actually drove by my house in Pittsburgh during a rare visit to the U.S. Then there was the infamous Cuban Missile Crisis which created fear in my mind for our very own survival.
In addition to judo, I was a hobbyist (perhaps a nerd) into photography with a darkroom, and an avid shortwave radio listener. Radio Havana Cuba was easy to pick up back in 1968. I enjoyed their music plus the propaganda they sprouted was a glimpse for me on how communist block viewed world events.
When I started Goltz Judo of Claremont, California in 1988 my fascination with Cuba came full circle. Among the first people registered in the class was Orestes Joaquin (OJ) Soler a seasoned judoka who's family defected here in 1964 from Cuba following their revolution. OJ and I have grown to become best friends.
Me with (the late Keigi Horiuchi) and OJ Soler in 1988 & 2007
OJ Soler circa 1960 with his dojo teammates in Havana Then In 2012, I got to go to Cuba with OJ including a stop at their National Olympic Judo Training Center. We also visited the town of Trinidad where OJ was born including a stop at the church where he was and baptized. Here are some photos of the highlights taken over the last decade.
Over the years many more Cubans entered my life through judo. They have become friends and colleagues such as USA Judo Board Member, Gerry Navarro and Johnny Prado who has been picked to coach the US Olympic Judo Team in Tokyo.
Left: Pedro Kolychkine, OJ, and Larry Labrador
Middle: Me, Pedro Fleitas, and Humberto Becerra
Right: Ruperto Arteaga and me
Left: Amarilis Savon with Humberto at a clinic they did at our friend Jovany Varela's Dojo in Torrence, CA
Right: OJ, Cuba's famous Coach Ronaldo Veitia and me at Cuba's National Olympic Training Center
Left: Me with Osmil (Os) Milan
Middle: Me and Hector Estevez at the Leon Medical Clinic
Right: Me with Jose Rodriguez
Left: Delcides Diaz, OJ, me & the late Luis Guardia
Right: Me, Israel Hernandez & OJ
Recently Sergio Sanchez wrote a heartfelt essay on the meaning of judo in his life. Sergio runs the Ryoku Judo Dojo in Las Vegas that has been a powerful force at tournaments both on a local and national level. His history starting judo as a young shy kid is remarkably similar to mine. I appreciate his willingness to allow me to share his memoirs with you in by blog this week.
The Meaning of Judo in My Life
By Sergio Sanchez, 5th Dan
Judo is an important part of my life. Many years ago (I am getting old), I discovered judo and my life changed forever.
Today I asked myself why I love judo and I found many answers. I started as a student, years later I decided to teach judo and I got my two boys involved in the art. So I am a Judoka, a Sensei and a Judo Parent!
As a judoka, my life changed when I started judo. I was a shy, lonely kid that got in trouble for fighting sometimes. After judo, I discovered a new world
I made new friends, I was part of a special group of people ( not everybody can be a judoka), I was part of a team, won and lost matches, won medals, I celebrated my victories and cried with my defeats, I trained like crazy, felt buckets of sweat coming out my pores, I bled and got some broken bones (check out my fingers) and make sacrifices. But I know what judo gives me (notice I didn't write gave me) goes beyond all that.
Judo made me a better person, taught me to face the obstacles I found in my life ( too many ) without hesitation and never giving up. Judo made me stronger physically and mentally. Many times I fell and I always got up and kept fighting (I am not talking about judo matches; these are easy compare with the battles life puts in front of you). Judo gave me discipline and perseverance. Judo gave me an excellent self-defense art and gave me confidence. Judo gave me a new life.
Judo taught me that "Surrender" is not part of my vocabulary and that I will always be a JUDOKA.
As a judo parent, Judo gave me two boys that make proud every day not because they have great Judo and win medals ( they do ) but because their discipline, dedication and perseverance in life is something incredible. Thanks to judo they are great students and excellent human beings. They live the judo lifestyle and love it!
If I wasn't a Judoka, I will still get my two boys to Judo every day, for sure!!
As a judo sensei, I learned a lot and had a lot of rewards. Fortunately, my students perform well in tournaments and win medals and trophies, but that is not it.
Nothing compares to having a skinny shy girl joining your Dojo because she is being bullied and feels insecure, everybody is picking on her and calling her names. Behind her hair she hides a sweet face and all her insecurities.
Months later she is part of the group of judokas that train hard, she makes new friends and wins a Gold Medal in a National Tournament.
Now, she walks straight, smiles all the time and can't stop talking!! You've got to love this!!
Or the overweight boy with no athletic abilities that had trouble performing the easiest exercises or drills, he had difficulties keeping his balance and staying up.
But he worked hard without missing a day and one day he won his first medal and his smile filled my heart, his Dad celebrated like his son won the Olympics!
Same kid a year later won a Silver Medal on his first National and..... more celebration! Way to go Champ!!! Priceless!!!
I have many more examples of success but it will take a lot of pages and time.
Thanks to judo, I can change lives, educate and help other people. Thanks to judo I can have fun while doing all this. Thanks to judo, I see my students become better people, go to college, become pilots or doctors, great human beings.
Thanks to judo I feel proud and happy for them! Judo is not just a lifestyle, but to me it is a GIFT.
I can't understand why people stop doing Judo or why sometimes parents allow their children to get lazy or find excuses not to bring them to the Dojo, I guess they have no idea the benefits of judo and how judo can help them in the future.
That is the reason it hurts when they lose a match, cry, get hurt or they get in trouble. It is also a great feeling when they win and they raise a trophy or wear a medal on their chest. But losing a student is the worst feeling, it is hard to understand why they walked away from judo.
They are a part of my life; you have to be a Sensei to understand and I hope everybody understands that no sports or activities can compare to judo or Martial Arts.
Judo is a GIFT....don't throw it away!!
Thank you to all my judo students, friends, family for being part of my life.
- Sergio Sanchez
Footnote: Sergio urges everyone to support this online petition to liberate Cuba!
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