Story by Petty Officer James Stenberg, Naval Hospital Pensacola
Anyone walking into the Fred G. Smalley Youth Center aboard Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla., on a Tuesday or Thursday evening may be greeted by the loud slaps and sounds of bodies hitting mats compliments of the Bushido Sports Judo Club, which holds judo classes for children and adults.
Founded in 1882 by Dr. Jigoro Kano, judo, which is translated as the “gentle way,” teaches the principle of flexibility in the application of technique. Judo relies on flexibility and the efficient use of balance, leverage and movement in the performance of throws and other skills. Technique, skill and timing, rather than the use of brute strength, are essential components for success in judo.
Most judo classes begin with ukemi, literally translated as “receiving body,” which is the art of knowing how to respond correctly to an attack and incorporates skills to allow someone to do so safely.
“The first thing you have to learn is how to fall,” said Navy Lt. j.g. Andy Barker, a nurse with Naval Branch Health Clinic Naval Air Technical Training Center. “If you do not learn how to fall correctly, then you are going to get hurt.”
Break falls are used in judo when being thrown, which happens frequently. There are two types of ukemi in judo: falls in which the arm strikes the mat and falls in which the body rolls forward in a somersaulting motion.
“What we try to prevent is [students] putting out their hands when they fall because that’s going to cause an injury,” said Barker. “Getting students comfortable with falling is paramount because that’s what is going to prevent the majority of injuries.”
Judo also has a myriad of health benefits. For both the young and old, the physical exertion performed on a constant basis can help build muscle, increase cardio and lower cholesterol.
“Judo is a sport that is physically enriching,” said Sensei Gerome L. Baldwin, 65, head instructor, Bushido Sports Judo Club. “I can do stuff out here that people my age or even half my age can’t do; its physically enhancing. Everything we do is for a different part of the body.”
Judo not only works out the body, but it also works out the mind. Taking judo builds self-confidence, trust, self-discipline and respect for oneself and others. There are specific rules and regulations that students must follow in judo, such as respecting the teacher and the opponent. Just like in the military, discipline also plays a key role. Following instructions and focusing on the techniques teaches them how to prevent serious injury and improve skill.
“My father got me into judo when I was a kid,” said Barker, “and I have been doing it off and on since I was about 14 years old. I think [discipline in judo and the military] complement each other. Getting into [judo] at such a young age definitely helped me going through boot camp, later on in my career with officer development school and just day to day attention to details.
“We get a couple of kids in here that have attention [problems] and we, [the instructors], believe that the discipline helps them focus. We see the kids really want to do this so they focus more, which in some ways is therapeutic.”
Combining physical activity, self-defense skills and discipline, judo is a great activity for all ages.
Sensei Paul Shaffer and Sensei Baldwin have over 100 years of combined judo experience. Both are retired members of the United States Armed Forces and spend their time instructing as a way to give back to the community.