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,