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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, January 6, 2006

Physically and mentally beneficial, it's also fun

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By Leila Wai
Advertiser Staff Writer

Kelli Omatsu, 10, left, throws Braxton Chong, 7, to the mat during judo class. Students as young as 6 learn to tumble, fall and throw. Besides the physical aspects, judo also teaches students to be mentally alert.

JOAQUIN SIOPACK | The Honolulu Advertiser

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What: Hodokan Judo Club

Classes: Junior Class (approximately age 12-younger)—Monday, Wednesday, Friday, 4:30 p.m. to 6 p.m., Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Senior Class (approximately age 13-older)—Monday, Wednesday, Friday, 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

Where: 2804 East Manoa Road

Information: 988-5686

Fee: $10 per month

For lists of other clubs, go to 50th State Judo Association: www.50statejudo.com or Judo Black Belt Association of Hawaii: www.hawaiijudo.org

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On Elise Chong's first day of judo, her brother Braxton was hit in the face and started bleeding.

She quit immediately.

A few months later she returned to the sport, because "I saw that (Braxton) was getting really good and I knew I could come back to it eventually," she said.

Elise, 9, and Braxton, 7, are members of the Hodokan Judo Club, one of many judo clubs in Hawai'i.

Elise, who has been involved in judo for the past eight months, said she now likes the sport because, "it's kind of fun; you get to learn a lot of stuff like throwing. I can throw my brother."

While the younger students enjoy the physical aspects of judo like throwing, it also improves other facets of everyday life.

"It keeps you alert," Sensei George Tsubota, Hodokan's head instructor, said. "It's really good for the health, physically. Mentally, we try to stay alert, so we can concentrate on school work and regular work.

"It really builds character and confidence, through competition."

As members of the 50th State Judo Association, Hodokan members participate in monthly competitions. The association has more than 1,000 registered members who compete within their age, weight and ability level.

To win a judo match, a competitor uses a throwing technique, a hold down on the mat, or submission holds.

Tsubota stressed sportsmanship as one of the main teachings in his club. Members also learn discipline and respect.

Students as young as 6 years old are enrolled in Hodokan's junior classes, where they learn to tumble, fall and throw. Around age 10, they learn more advanced techniques, including throwing and pressing.

Kento Hall, 9, and brother Kai, 6, participate in the junior class. Their father, Bill, has a background in judo and Kento was born in Japan. The family wanted to perpetuate the Japanese culture.

"It teaches them discipline and physical training," Bill Hall said. "It can be very competitive, but I'm not having them in it for the competitive side."

Although Kento and Kai said what they liked most about judo was throwing, Bill liked that they are learning how to protect themselves when they fall.

"It definitely comforts me when they're on scooters and bikes and things like that," he said.

Around age 13, members usually enroll in senior classes, where students start honing their skills and learning even more advanced choking methods.

Tsubota trains his students to use the skills they learn in the gym in their lives.

"Some people can tell you are a martial arts student," Tsubota said. "The way you carry yourself and your movements, your alertness, they can tell."

Tsubota, who has been involved in judo for more than 50 years, started participating at his father's suggestion.

"I got beaten up when I was young. So I did it just to protect myself," he said. "After that, nothing happened, so it was all right. And still is."

Tsubota, 75, said he remembers his fellow classmates returning from the Korean War saying how much judo helped them during battle. He has since enrolled his sons and later grandchildren in judo.

At Hodokan, all instructors are volunteers, and advanced students help out the younger members. More than 30 instructors teach Hodokan's 142 students.

Kauila Kealoha, 42, and his daughter, Jordan, 13, started together about six years ago, and help out with the junior class.

Kauila Kealoha signed Jordan up because "she had all this energy and needed to focus it on something."

"When I was younger, my sister used to beat me up, and I used to beat her up," Jordan said. "So my dad signed me up."

She likes it because she learns responsibility, and "I can defend myself if something happened."

Kauila Kealoha, who also has played softball, basketball and volleyball, said judo's biggest benefit for him is the exercise.

"Physically, it's pretty demanding," Kealoha said.

Although it is rare for judoka to start around Kealoha's age, he said the stretching and strengthening he gained from joining have been extremely beneficial.

Plus, he added, "If you have a bad day at work, you can take your aggressions out here."

It also has increased his father-daughter time with Jordan.

"We've always been really close," the air-conditioning controls worker said. "But we can go home and fool around. Every once in a while she wants to wrestle with me. She says, 'Come on dad, I can take you.' "

Reach Leila Wai at lwai@honoluluadvertiser.com.