While you were growing up watching professional sports on TV, did you ever think about how cool it would be to throw a football with Tom Brady? Play a game of one-on-one with Michael Jordan? Pitch to Barry Bonds? If you are like me, then these thoughts have often crossed your mind. Although it is nice to dream about playing a sport with a future Hall-of-Famer, we all know that that day will likely never come.
That is unless you are a member of Georgetown’s Washington Judo Club. Last week, Kosei Inoue, the “LeBron James” of Judo assisted the judo club in their practices.
“It was amazing, it was really fun. The whole atmosphere of the club changed,” sophomore Jane Bullock said of Inoue’s visit. “A lot more people started coming. Everyone [was] training really hard. Everyone [was] trying to get the best experience out of it. It was a totally different experience.”
Inoue is an Olympic gold medalist, three-time world champion, and three-time all-Japan champion, making him one of only four men to accomplish such a feat. Furthermore, Inoue is widely considered to be the greatest contemporary judoka of the past 40 years. When the judo club’s practice ended last Wednesday at Yates Field House, the men and women of the club flocked to Inoue, waiting up to 10 minutes to get autographs and pictures and to shake hands with the legend.
“It was an amazing experience. I talked to [Inoue] a couple times. I [had] actually [gotten] injured from playing soccer, but he saw me sitting out and I saw him again half a week later and he asked how I was doing,” Bullock said. “He was really personable, really interactive with the club, treated us all individually. It was really impressive.”
The club that practices at Yates every Monday, Wednesday and Friday does not consist exclusively of Georgetown students. It is part of a larger partnership called the Washington Judo Club, which merged with the Georgetown University Judo club in 1985. The merger has benefited both parties, as the Washington Judo club was able to provide world-class instructors and the Georgetown Judo club use of the dance studio at Yates, one of the largest practice facilities in the area. That combination has made it arguably the best judo club on the east coast.
Over the past 25 years, the Washington Judo Club has attracted some of the best talents in the world. While Inoue is certainly the biggest name the club has ever gotten to participate at its practices, it is not unprecedented for a big name in Judo to make an appearance on the Hilltop.
“We are very fortunate to have him here,” said Sensei James Takamori, head instructor at the Washington Judo Club and one of the most respected men in judo. “In the past we have had guys from the Tokai University judo team [the Japanese equivalent of Notre Dame football] visit, which was great, but Inoue brings the club to a new level.”
No longer sanctioned as an NCAA sport, judo now serves as a club sport at many universities. At Georgetown this means a blend of instructional teaching, basic self defense and open competition. For competition, the Hoyas have team matches against universities such as the Naval Academy, Army and the Coast Guard Academy each year, and they have not lost a match since 2002. In addition to the team matches, the most active fighters also participate in 10 to 15 individual tournaments per year.
Judo is similar to many other of the martial arts, but emphasizes grappling and holding techniques rather than punching and striking. The object of the sport is to either throw your opponent to the ground or force them into submission with a grappling maneuver. Although not immensely popular in the United States, judo is a leading sport in many other parts of the world, especially in Japan and in many parts of Europe. The large international population of D.C. has helped the club grow, as the Washington Judo Club has many members who are international residents with prior judo experience.
Sensei Tad Nalls, the administrator of the program at Georgetown since 1969, said that despite the wealth of experience of many members, beginners are always welcome.
“Almost every Georgetown student that we have came here to start,” Nalls said. “No experience is needed. We have a beginner program every Monday and Wednesday at 7 p.m. People come to that with no experience and then after a few months, they almost always progress to their next belt.”
Bulloch echoed Nalls’ sentiment about the openness of the club.
“It’s really welcoming, the teaching system. I started in January [with] the club and [it] is so nice, so welcoming, so supportive, always willing to help you out. There is no segregation at all,” Bulloch said. “It’s a really welcoming environment. I’m really impressed, and I love it.”
While the club takes its business very seriously, they don’t overwhelm their members with restrictions and commitments. Attendance is not mandatory, and participants may come and go as they please.”