With help from former Sterling Elementary School PTA President Maryann Rogers and encouragement from then Sterling Elementary Principal Christine Ermold, the Sterling-Soldotna area witnessed the creation of a new sports-recreational program: instruction in the Olympic sport and self defense art known as judo. The date was February 14, 2012. Rogers, herself an advanced brown belt student of judo, spearheaded the undertaking enlisting her two children, Max and Daisy, as well as husband Brent. The principal recruited husband Bob and son Luke, then Maryann, Bob and others went forth into the community testing the waters for curiosity and interest, eventually seeing some 70 kids and adults from the surrounding communities registered and beginning to learn ukemi (breakfalls), kias (judo yell) and lots of interesting judo techniques. Yes, they all agreed, a smaller person can in fact learn to control and even throw to the mat larger or heavier or stronger persons, and even get lots of exercise together with some discipline for younger class members trying their first after school physical and recreational activity.
We started practicing in the Sterling Elementary gym with borrowed mats later picking up surplused KPBSD wrestling mats. Younger students practiced for an hour under Mrs. Rogers. Older students and adults then followed with an hour and a half under the instruction of Sensei Bob Brink and the four brown belt teaching assistants. After the first year, it was agreed that the two part class might be a little ambitious for our new startup program and so the corporate entity for Sterling Judo Club, 49th State Judo & Self-defense Inc., board reorganized the program into a twice-a-week practice from 6 to 8 p.m. where younger students were able to depart after an hour and all others continued for a full two-hour session of instruction and practice.
This new activity seemed to appeal to families and adults more interested in the ancient Japanese art involving some 65 throwing techniques together with a handful of hold downs and submission techniques (the submission techniques are limited to older students). No “judo chops,” kicking or punching, but parents could see that this after school program was more of a fun filled activity based on non-aggressive self-defense as well as Olympic judo.
Many of the Sterling Judo members with quickly increasing knowledge and physical ability have accepted the further challenge of joining in competition with students of similar age and weight from other clubs. The club has several State Judo Champions from the last two championships as well as numerous medal winners from the monthly competitions held in Anchorage. With members from as far away as Cooper Landing, Kenai and Soldotna joining many from Sterling, a growing group of all ages enjoys the fun of class practice and learning an exciting new skill set, some Japanese language and judo history and culture. All Sterling Judo members are winners!
A key part of the successful program are the judo brownbelt teaching assistants. The current three assistants are all fathers and joined along with or after their children first joined.
Clayton Holland, one of our brown belts has been in Judo for three years. He started after a friend invited him to watch a class. He soon realized that Judo would be a great way to stay in shape and to learn self-defense. Mr. Holland practices and competes with his daughter and son. This long time KPBSD educator also enjoys competing even though he admits that, at his age, it is nerve racking (2014 State Champion)! He is also vice president of the judo corporation.
Paul McConnell has been practicing Judo for two years. He started coming to Judo “just to watch” his three children practice. It wasn’t long before he couldn’t resist the on-mat fun and soon decided to sign up. He enjoys helping the students especially leading warm ups and teaching the beginner class. He also says that his judo training is helping him to improve his own combat and self-defense skills. Mr. McConnell has worked for the Alaska Department of Public Safety 18 years, and admits that his growing judo skills help him at his regular job. Mr. McConnell says the best thing about Judo is the physical fitness, and “mutual welfare and benefit” judo offers. He also doubles as corporate secretary.
Bob Ermold, the club’s senior active brown belt is also a long time educator for the Kenai Peninsula School District. He joined Sterling Judo Club from program inception together with his son, Luke. Eight year old Luke was considering Judo, but unsure if he would like the activity. Mr. Ermold has been practicing Judo for three years and says the best thing about Judo is “to get better at Judo you need to help others”. Mr. Ermold added that it is great to have a program that is on the Kenai Peninsula and this activity is easily accessible. He also serves as corporate president.
In addition to judo classes every Tuesday and Thursday evening from 6 to 8 p.m. during the school year, the club has hosted three self-defense classes for girls and women. Club member and Asst. Sensei Kati Gibler, a second degree blackbelt now living in Nevada, travels North to conduct this very popular program. A fourth self-defense class is presently in the works.
Like judo practitioners Gibler and Rogers, Alaska is home to many second and third judo practitioner families.
New students may register at the class anytime (except that our youngest beginners–those 8 and 9–can register in Sept. and January). Members pay a modest annual registration fee and the cost of their uniforms, but there are no tuition or instruction fees. This is an all-volunteer community program.
Finally, the club is about two-thirds along with its fundraising goal of $7,500 for the purchase of a 30’ x 30’ judo competition mat and one crash pad. Donations are welcome and encouraged along with new members interested in studying judo.
— Jacob and Nick McConnell