Taking mostly first-time competitors, Juneau's only judo club represented the capital city well last month by becoming state champions.
All six Capital City Judo Club kid competitors brought home a trophy, as did two of the three adults who attended the 51st annual State Judo Competition held March 20 in Anchorage. Juneau competed against three clubs from Anchorage as well as clubs from Fairbanks, Sitka, Ketchikan and the Mat-Su Valley.
Club sensei Jay Watts, who joined the club in 2002 when he moved to Juneau, took first place in the Men's Middle Weight Senior and Men's Middle Weight Masters divisions. Bryan Olson took second place in the Men's Light Weight Senior, and Kelsey Blacks, 17, took home a second-place.
In the kids divisions, first place went to Cody Weldon and Kylie Lager, second place went to Tiana Horvath, and third place went to Brandon Lapierre, Kelly Olson and Chris Coulson.
"They exceeded my expectations," Watts said. "Only one had competed before, so I could not have asked for a better performance. I did not expect to bring home four state championships."
Although the group needs to work on combination techniques and matwork, Watts commended them on using their favorite throwing technique.
Because judo, a Japanese martial art, is a grappling art, there are throwing techniques, matwork techniques and striking techniques, Watts explained.
"In competition, we are only allowed to use the throwing techniques and matwork techniques," he said. "You win by throwing your opponent for a perfect score or you can win points with smaller scoring throws."
One can also win by pinning his or her opponent for 25 seconds, or by submission.
"Submission techniques allowed are armlocks and strangulation techniques," Watts said. "You win if they tap out or pass out. They usually tap out."
There is one referee, who judges the throws and keeps control of the match, and two judges. For kids, the tournament is categorized by weight and age. For adults, there is the senior division (anyone age 17 and older) and masters division (aka "geriatric division" for those over 30).
"Yep, you're pretty much washed up in judo by age 30," Watts said.
The state tournament is double elimination, so competitors have from two to five matches depending on how they perform.
Two-year judo veteran Kylie Lager, 9, said she likes being able to see her friends and "learn new stuff almost every day."
"It feels pretty good (to be a champion)," she said.
Like Lager, Tiana Horvath, 11, likes learning new things about judo and competing. A two-year veteran, she said it feels good to be a second-place winner.
"Judo is fun, and it's not just about throwing people," Horvath said. "It's about learning stuff and having fun. I've learned I don't know many throws - a lot of throws, a lot of pins, a lot of escapes - and some of them I can't even remember the names."
For four-year judo veteran Cody Weldon, 11, competition was a long wait.
"It was really boring," he said. "I had to wait six hours to play six minutes."
Weldon took a first-place trophy after playing twice.
"The first time I was nervous, the second time I was kind of confident," he said. "I was relieved and glad at the same time when I got first place, because I wasn't sure how well I did. It was complicated."
Like Weldon, who said he mostly enjoys matwork, 9-year-old Brandon Lapierre takes pleasure in randori, free practice or sparring.
"All the things we've learned we get to do on the mat, like share and show each other what we do," he said.
Lapierre feels proud of his third-place trophy.
"My first match was easy, but my last one was a little bit hard but fun," he said.
Four-year veteran Kelsey Blacks, 17, took second at her first tournament.
"It was very cool," she said. "The person I lost to was very good, so I didn't feel too bad losing to her. It was thrilling. You got a lot of stuff going on through your head and it all happens at once."
One of the oldest members of the club, Blacks likes that judo is not just a boys sport.
"And small or tall, it doesn't matter how big you are, you can play," she said.
PARENTS and TEACHER
Parent Liz Lapierre expressed her appreciation to the community for supporting the club at a recent bake sale fundraiser. She also commended sensei Watts, who teaches the kids Monday and Tuesday nights and the adults Monday through Wednesday.
"(Watts) donates his time to do this," Lapierre said. "He takes time away from his family to do this with the kids, so it's pretty cool."
Watts, also a Dzantik'i Heeni Middle School math and science teacher, said he teaches judo simply because he loves the sport.
"When I received my black belt, I made a promise to myself that I would pay back all of my great judo teachers by teaching others," he said. "My teachers taught me because they loved the sport and to contribute to the sport of others."
Capital City Judo, which was formed in 1992, consists of two classes - the kids class, which currently has about 30 students, and the teen/adult class, which has about 15 students.
Contact Neighbors editor Kim Andree at firstname.lastname@example.org.