Judo Blog: Ron Suggs on His Judo Journey
This week’s article was sent to me by my friend Ron Suggs. It’s a terrific judo story that I wanted to share!
My journey in Judo began in 1967 at Cascade Junior High School in Longview, Washington when I discovered a book called “Judo Boy” at the school library. My inspiration for judo came from this book written by John Ball Jr and printed in 1964. I was fascinated by this boy who learned about Judo through his parents’ Japanese landscaper. The boy’s experience while learning judo motivated me to find every book I could on Judo to learn this martial art as best as I could until I could receive formal training. I was not aware of any formal Judo Dojo in the area, so tested what I had studied in the books every time my friends and I engaged in friendly rough housing. One of those friends that I practiced on was to become instrumental to my life’s journey in judo. His name was Eddie Miller.
One day in 1970, Eddie Miller told me, “There is a guy at Lower Columbia College teaching Judo”! The teacher’s name was Sensei Alex McCormick, and he became my first official Judo teacher. Sensei McCormick, by trade, was a meat cutter at the local grocery store and taught judo part time in the evenings and on the weekends often after putting in a full shift at the grocery store. Sensei McCormick had trained with Sensei Thomas Riffe (who was also a Kelso, Washington Police Officer) in 1958, and later trained with Sensei Richard Howell (who was also a high school teacher). Sensei McCormick trained frequently in Portland, Oregon at Obukan Dojo throughout the 1960’s. He continued to train at the Obukan Dojo even as he started his own classes in Longview.
Standing (left to right): Unknown, Tom RIffe, Alex McCormick, Richard Powell, unknown
Sitting/Kneeling (left to right): Wayne Kent, (behind) Joel Moore, (front) Ronald Suggs, Ron Ivanoff
After I had attended a couple of classes. Sensei McCormick told me I needed a Judo Gi in order to train in Judo properly. He told me to meet him at the meat counter at the grocery store where he worked the following day. When I arrived, he loaned me my first judo gi. I later found out that he also taught judo at the local YMCA, so I began to attend there as well. In 1972, my training in judo was interrupted when I entered the United States Army. I continued training whenever I could find a class in Judo, but the training was not as consistent as I would have liked. I dreamed of learning martial arts in Asia never realizing that one day that would become a reality.
In 1976, I switched military branches and joined the United States Navy with the idea of fulfilling my dream of training in Asia. My first duty assignment was to Naval Air Station Agana Guam. I did not find a judo dojo there, however, I did find a Korean Taekwondo Jidokwan teacher there named Kim, Jong Kyu. The Jidokwan style of taekwondo got its start in a judo dojo in Seoul South Korea in 1946. My next assignment was in 1979 at Bremerton, Washington at the Naval Shipyard. I bounced around several different dojos in the local area (one of which was with a female Sensei at the Bremerton YMCA).
In 1980, I finally got my dream assignment at Misawa Japan which is in Aomori Prefecture. There I met Isao Negishi Sensei (who had trained with Kyuzo Mifune Sensei) and Mituhito Baba Sensei of the Misawa Judo Association.
Isao Negishi Sensei holding the flag. Kyuzo Mifune Sensei Nigishi seated.
When I joined the Misawa Judo Association, I was required to take an oath to never quit judo. That was over 40 years ago, and I am still staying true to my oath. Baba Sensei and I were both military policemen and were involved joint military law enforcement operations; he, representing the Japanese military police as an officer and I, representing the American military police.
We both trained at the same judo dojo, he as a teacher and I as a student. Baba Sensei and I also trained together in defensive tactics on occasion. I trained with Negishi Sensei and Baba Sensei for three years, both at the base gym and the Misawa city judo dojo, earning my Nikyu brown belt in judo.
Back Row: Nigishi Sensei, Ronald Suggs Front Row: Unknown
While living in Japan I competed in Shiai on different occasions. One was an inter-city competition called The Shichinohe Town Cherry Blossom Festival Championship, between Misawa City Judo Dojo, and the Shichinohe Town Judo Dojo. My opponent was a Sandan in judo and I was a brown belt. I went the distance with him and lost by a wazari . The next time I competed was in Misawa Japan at a city competition/Shodan test. I had to defeat five others to earn my black belt. My first opponent was a Japanese high school student. He took me down with a sweeping throw; however, it is likely that he had connected too high on my leg as the movement severely injured my knee and I was unable to continue the Shiai. I went straight to the hospital and was told by the orthopedic surgeon after surgery that my anterior cruciate ligament (ACL)had been completely torn and he was unable to find the ends to repair it.
Back Row: Unknown, Ronald Suggs, rest is unknown Front Row: Nigishi Sensei, Baba Sensei
I continued to train in judo despite not having an ACL, however I feel that the time off from judo due to the injury, which included time in the hospital for surgeries and recovery, was the cause of my inability to earn Shodan before leaving Japan in 1983 and thus only earning my Ni-Kyu in Judo before I was transferred to my new duty station in San Diego California. I did receive certification in Nage No Kata while I was in Japan.
I arrived in San Diego, California at Miramar Air Station and started teaching Judo, Taekwondo and Hapkido. I believe that my judo training compliments my taekwondo self-defense and that my Taekwondo and karatedo training has improved my judo Atemi waza, so it made sense to me to teach all three styles.
I also trained at Sensei Jesse Jones class at a recreation center on Clairemont Boulevard. At Naval Air Station Miramar we trained at the old swimming pool locker room because the pool was no longer in use. I eventually negotiated with the base command to move the entire martials arts programs on base to an old airplane hangar called the Red Barn. This was a huge improvement of a space for judo. We had variety of black belts coming by the Red Barn to help with the teaching because I was still a brown belt, and was teaching defensive tactics at NAS Miramar Police Academy. One of the black belts who came to teach was Sensei Walter Dean.
In 1985, while assigned to the USS Okinawa I competed in the United States Navy South Pacific Sports Conference and won the gold medal in the 209lbs and over Judo competition. I qualified to go to the Navy training camp on Naval Air Station Memphis, Tennessee and compete for a spot on the United States Judo Team. Sensei Jerry Hays was the team coach. I began my training with the group, however the rigors of hard training complicated by the fact that I was still missing my Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL), was causing my knee to be extremely painful and go out on me frequently. I was forced to make the hard decision to withdraw from the training camp and go home. In 1987, I was on the organization committee and was an official at United States Judo Association National Junior Championships in San Diego. Sensei Jesse Jones hosted the event.
I continued teaching Judo, Taekwondo and Hapkido on base until 1988 when I was medically discharged from the United States Navy. In 1988, I opened a Judo, Taekwondo, and Hapkido school on Miramar Road just outside of Miramar Naval Air Station. While teaching in this school in 1989, 30th August I was promoted to 1St Kyu in judo. . The school on Miramar Road was closed in 1990 and reopened at the Longview YMCA in my hometown of Longview, Washington and this same year on September 1st I was awarded Shodan in judo by United States Judo Association. In Washington, I was looking for a space to teach in where I had more control of the space and eventually found the perfect space at a local dance studio. On December 9th, 1991(rank number 1-8235), I was awarded Shodan in judo from United States Judo Federation. I taught Judo in Longview, Washington at the dance studio until 1992 during which time
I was promoted to Nidan by the United States Judo Association.
Further in 1992, I mortgaged my house to buy a building in Kelso, Washington to have a place to teach Judo and other martial arts. During all the changes my students continued to do well in Judo competitions in the Pacific Northwest. The Kodokan promoted me Shodan 13 January 1992. The United States Judo Association promoted me to Sandan on May 02, 1994. In 1996 I sold my building in Kelso, Washington and started teaching at a variety of locations including Grange Halls and such, until I settled into teaching at Longview, Park and Recreation. In 2000 I went to The Washington State Criminal Justices Commission training to become a State certified Police Trainer in Defensive Tactics Instructor.
Around 2000 I joined the Pacific Southwest Judo Association which became my Yudanshakai. I joined this Yudanshakai because Sensei Jesse Jones and Sensei Walter Dean (who I had known and trained with in San Diego, California) were both members of this Yudanshakai. On December 14, 2000 I was promoted to Yodan judo by the United States Judo Association and the Kodokan promoted me to Nidan January 17, 2000, Sandan June 16, 2008, and Yodan October 7, 2015.
I had started to work for Cowlitz County in 1996 and after receiving the instructors training in defensive tactics began teaching this to Cowlitz County Sheriffs and corrections officers. I also taught martial arts in Cowlitz County at Recreation Centers from 2000 until 2009. In 2007, was contacted by a victim rights group in Cowlitz County to help a woman who had been assaulted with a knife while working at a convenience store. She was traumatized and unable to return to work as she feared for her safety. I taught her Judo for eight weeks; she regained her confidence and was able to go back to work. I received an award from the National Crime Victim Rights Week in 2007 for my efforts.
In 2008 I was awarded 1st place for the most USJF life members. In 2009 I moved to Lane County Oregon where I purchase a building to have as my permanent dojo. I have attended many Kata clinics at the local, state, and national level and have even hosted Kata clinics at my dojo, however I have never sought any further Kata certificate since leaving Japan in 1983. In 2012 I was promoted by both the United States Judo Federation and the United States Judo Association to Godan in Judo.
In 2015 I was able to accomplish something I had wanted to do for many years. I got to return to my dojo in Misawa Japan to visit my old Sensei, Nigishi Sensei. I was also able to meet with Baba Sensei before leaving the country. In 2022, I passed the online Course for instructors/teachers’ certification with the United States Judo Federation (USJF). I am a certified national coach by both the United States Judo Federation and United States Judo Association. I am a Presidents Club Life Member with the United States Judo Federation and a Gold Patron Life Member with the United States Judo Association.
Ron Suggs on ladder, Baba Sensei on the left, Nigishi Sensei on the right.
After all the years of dedication to judo one may ask how judo has been a benefit to my life off of the mat. Judo has been of benefit to me in my career in law enforcement by providing me with greater opportunities in that field. In addition, Professor Kano’s philosophy and teaching impressed upon me the value of education leading me to continue my education as an adult and obtain my Bachelor of Science degree in Social and Behavioral Sciences.
His teachings also led me to strive to improve my character development in the spirit of mutual benefit (Jita-Kyoei) and welfare of others. I still own the building/Dojo in Swisshome, Oregon and continue to teach judo, host clinics, and promote judo in this dojo where someday my journey in judo, and life, will conclude.
This past weekend I helped out at the Couchigian Memorial Tournament and Amarilis Savon Clinic, in Las Vegas. It was hosted by Nevada Judo, directed by Sergio Sanchez and Marcus Martin. Enjoy these photos!
The venue has an appropriate name which I took the liberty of Photoshopping a little bit!
April - 2023
22nd Saturday - Arizona State Championships, Tucson, AZ
29th Saturday & 30th Sunday - Golden State Open, Azusa, CA
May - 2023
20th Saturday & 21st Sunday - Senior National Championships, Spokane, WA
27th Saturday - 7th Annual Nagase Cup Tournament, Piano, TX
June - 2023
4th Sunday - Nanka Spring Tournament, Westminster, CA
16th Friday to 18th Sunday - USA Judo Junior Olympics, Shreveport, LA
24th Saturday - Sensei Gary's Birthday Scrimmage, Claremont, CA
25th Sunday - U.S. Adaptive Judo Championships, Riverside, CA
July - 2023
16th Sunday - CA State Games, San Diego, CA
August - 2023
6th Sunday - Nikkei Games Budo Tournament, Cypress, CA
September - 2023
17th Sunday - Nevada State Judo Championship, Las Vegas, NV
24th Sunday - Nanka Fall Tournament, Westminster, CA
October - 2023
1st Sunday - Capitol Open Judo Championships, Sacramento, CA
22nd Sunday - Fresno Invitational Tournament, Fresno, CA
29th Sunday - Fight for a Cure Women's Tournament & Clinic, Riverside, CA
November - 2023
1st Wednesday to 3rd Friday - IJF World Veterans Championships, Abu Dhabi, UAE
5th Sunday - Nanka Team Tournament, Westminster, CA
19th Sunday - Presidents Cup National Championships, Irving, TX
December - 2023
8th Friday to 10th Sunday -Nanka Winter Nationals & Clinics, Azusa, CA
April - 2024
7th Sunday - Nanka Spring Tournament, Westminster, CA
May - 2024
5th Sunday - Nanka West Coast Invitational, Westminster, CA
June - 2024
28th Friday to 30th Sunday - USJF & USJA Summer Nationals, Tacoma. WA
September - 2024
29th Sunday - Nanka Fall Tournament, Westminster, CA
October - 2024
20th Sunday - Nanka Team Tournament, Westminster, CA
December - 2024
6th Friday to 8th Sunday -Nanka Winter Nationals & Clinics, Azusa, CA
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, thanks.