Come down to St. John’s Lutheran Church gym on Tuesday or Thursday evenings and you can learn the basics of Judo. But you will also learn something more. The three senseis (teachers) aren’t doing it for the money – they are doing it for the love of the sport.
Senseis Joe, Kurt and Jeff are all second degree Judo black belts. Joe’s daughter Erin is also involved in teaching the classes; she is a first degree brown belt.
Judo can mean many things to many people. For some, it’s a fun sport, an art, a discipline, a recreation or a social activity, a fitness program, a means of self-defense or combat or a way of life. For these three senseis, it’s about having fun.
Sensei Joe has been practicing Judo since 1968. He competed at the University of Alabama and at competitions all over Long Island. Erin has taken second place titles in many competitions throughout the tri-state area. Senseis Kurt and Jeff have also competed locally. Between the three men, they have a combined 100 years of Judo experience.
Judo, which means “the gentle way,” teaches about flexibility, balance, leverage and movement. The class teaches students about “Maximum Efficiency” and “Mutual Welfare and Benefit,” two of the founding principles of the sport.
“We teach the very basics here – holds, throws, falls, etc.,” Sensei Joe said. “But it is quite a workout. Judo is a very safe sport, compared to other forms of martial arts. Sure you will get some bumps and bruises.”
The participants in the summer session are all newcomers to the sport. And Sensei Joe said they are quick learners. “It’s different than when we were kids sitting on the mat for six months,” he said. “When we did get on the mat, we just kept getting knocked down. We are teaching them the skills here and they are getting instructed by three different black belts at the same time.”
“It is fun learning from three different teachers,” said newcomer Jim F. Judo goes across all lines, Sensei Joe added, saying this is a sport almost anyone can do. “It is a fun sport but it is hard work,” he said.
A typical class starts off with a basic warm up. After stretching, the students did breakfalls, and rolls. This week they learned a new technique called Ippon Seoinage, a single arm shoulder throw. They also practiced different types of holds, such as scarf, shoulder and pillow holds. “There are 67 different throws in Judo – they are only going to get through about four,” Sensei Joe said. “We are not Olympic athletes; we just love the sport and are here to teach them the basic skills.”
The trio has been teaching Judo at the church for the past eight years through the Boy Scouts. The summer session runs from the end of June through August twice a week from 7 to 9 p.m. The class is looking for a space to use year-round for their classes in the area.