Judo team to hit the mat at nationals
By Ann Patton , Academy Spirit staff writer
/ Published February 05, 2010
U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. --
Members of the Air Force Academy's competitive Judo club will test their skills at National Collegiate Judo Association's national championships in California In March and is training for USA Judo's non-collegiate tournaments and events.
Judo, meaning "soft" and among the world's most practiced sports, is the ancestor of the Japanese fighting art Jujitsu, a hallmark of Japanese culture.
The National Collegiate Judo Association falls under the global International Judo Federation. Competitions also have both male and female divisions, with each having seven different weight classifications.
The sport is similar to wrestling but uses more throwing techniques, joint locks and chokes. Competitions fall into one of two categories: novice for members under the rank of brown belt and standard for those above.
Ron Lopez, the Academy's head Judo coach and a Colorado Springs Police detective, has 30 years of involvement in coaching wrestling, swimming and Judo. He sees the sport as perfect fit for cadets, both historically and physically.
After World War II, Gen. Curtis Lemay introduced it to the Air Force. The sport was added to the 1964 Olympic Games in Tokyo.
Coach Lopez said that Judo, with its basic fighting style involving grappling, throws and submissions, forms the groundwork of the unarmed combat training that cadets learn at the Academy.
"Judo also teaches the cadets discipline," he said. "It is a weight-class sport, so, like wrestlers, Judo athletes have to have low body fat and must have the dedication to cut the weight to make their division."
Judo also teaches cadets how to leverage momentum and an opponent's weight to defeat that person in a competition or real fight, Coach Lopez said, thus aiding them in defeating a bigger and stronger opponent. Cadets also learn falling techniques, skills which will save them from injuries on the mat as well as the battlefield.
The team has between 17 and 20 cadets of various skill levels who attend on a regular basis. Coach Lopez said among the cadets are three yellow belts, two green belts, one first-degree brown belt and four first-degree black belt.
The team practices three days a week in the Cadet Gym, plus two hours on Friday with athletes at the U.S. Olympic Training Center. Joshua Lopez, Coach Lopez's son and a senior at the Academy, trains at the Olympic Training Center as a player and coach for the Academy Judo team.
Senior Nolan Brock said it felt "pretty good" to beat Army at the NAF Judo Championships during the military academies' match Nov. 15 during the National Armed Forces Judo Championships at Fort Leavenworth, Kan.
"I first started Judo when I was a semester exchange cadet at West Point," Brock said. "I was a white belt with most of those guys, and they used to throw me around at practice quite a bit," he said. "I'm glad we won because now I can brag about it to them."
Six cadets brought home medals from the championship. Maria Phillips took gold in the novice women's division. Brock, Ross Gourley and Joshua Johnson and won gold, Mike Wilcox won silver, and Andrew Oury won bronze in novice men's competition. Brock also took a silver medal in regular competition.
The astronautical engineering major said the experience will be valuable to him as an Air Force officer because it has built his confidence in his ability to singlehandedly defeat an opponent in unarmed combat.
Oury, a freshman, said he can use the training to outthink and outperform opponents in real time under constantly changing situations and challenges. He looks forward to earning a black belt.
Phillips, a sophomore with a major in operations research, stressed it is important for women to have the ability to be aggressive too.
"I'm not saying they should be super-manly, but I think everyone needs to have a fighter instinct and ability to make accurate decisions on the spot," she said.
The Texas resident also appreciates the team spirit.
"Every time I go to practice I learn a lot, not just from the coaches but from teaching members too," she said. "It's a really great environment to start getting involved with the sport."
Brock said the best part about the team is its relatively small size.
"We know each other on a personal basis, which really builds team cohesion," he said. "It's nice to come off the mat after a fight and have six or seven or your teammates there to congratulate you and pat you on the back," he said.
Coach Lopez said working with cadets is a coach's dream.
"You have the best of the best here. You don't have to deal with outside distractions and personal individual issues because the Academy has already taken care of those issues," he said. "I love coaching champions, and when the cadets come to me they are already champions. I just have to turn them into Judo champions."