Young people compete in Judo Junior Olympics

When people think of Texas tough guys, visions of cowboys with lassos, boots and ten-gallon hats tend to come to mind. Few seem to realize that Las Colinas has consistently hosted the USA Judo Junior Olympics Tournament for several years.

A national event, the Judo Junior Olympics brings some of the best young fighters from across the country together to compete for a chance to advance to the international level.

Judo is a modern martial art founded by Japanese polymath and educator Jigoro Kano in 1882. Literally translated, judo means ‘gentle way.’ It was Kano’s intention to use judo as a means for weaker fighters to overcome more powerful opponents with maximum efficiency and minimum effort.

“Dr. Kano was a pacifist. He didn’t like violence,” national referee Randy Silsby said. “He wanted people to be able to defend themselves without the option to kill someone. It’s the gentle way of life.”

There are no punches or kicks in judo. It’s throws, hold-downs, and once a competitor is old enough and attains a high enough rank, chokes and arm bars come into play. The only joint allowed to be attacked is the elbow.

“Jujitsu uses thumbs, wrists, knees, and ankles as attack points: all very vulnerable joints,” Silsby said. “We try to prevent injuries. If you get an arm bar around someone, more than likely your opponent is going to tap out.”

As a student of judo for over 42 years, Silsby knows his stuff. He recently retired due to a back injury he received three years ago. The damage was non-judo related, so his way remains gentle.

Mike Takata was another judo competitor turned referee at this year’s tournament.

“It’s our job to manage the mat,” Takata said. “We look at the action, determine if there are scores or penalties to grant, and then award the winner.”

There are two types of judo: positive and negative. Examples of negative judo include someone stalling for time or engaging in foul play.

“You want the positive judo,” Takata said. “You want the players to come out and try their techniques. I think the rules favor the offense more than the defense.”

Judo has a built-in code of conduct often referred to as the spirit of judo. Any sort of action against the spirit of judo may result in disqualification and removal from the entire tournament. In other words, don’t mess with the juju of judo.

Competitor Giovanna Prado was definitely on her game as evidenced by the two gold medals dangling from her neck after Saturday, June 25’s, award ceremony.

“I love judo,” Prado said. “Traveling, fighting other people, and getting to win.” At fifteen years old, Prado has been practicing judo since she was three.

Alison Miller, nine-years-old, also started judo at a young age.

“I’ve been doing judo for three years,” Alison said. “I really like it, because when I go to practice, I get to spend time with all of my friends.”

Not only has judo made it possible for Alison to form friendships, but it has also provided her with self-awareness and allowed her personal growth.

“I used to be really mean,” Alison said with a laugh. “But doing judo now really helps me.”

Alison’s senior instructor, Bruce Bender, agrees that judo does so much more for his students than teach them a way to defend themselves.

“The competition is great for the kids, because they have a chance to make friends all over the world, and they keep these friends,” Bender said. “I have students that met kids in the Dominican Republic that still keep in contact on Facebook. You learn different cultures from different people, and it’s just interesting.

“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Discipline and respect are huge components of the sport,” he said. “There are a lot fewer injuries in this sport than there are in others. Judo is one of the safest sports in the world today.”