Following their first trip to the State Judo Championships, Bethel’s Yukon Kuskokwim Judo Club is back on the mat for the last few practices before summer break. After taking home multiple titles, the team is amped to return next year.
It’s Monday evening practice at the Bethel Cultural Center. Sensei, or teacher, Louise Russell had just finished leading her excited students through warm-ups.
“Yeah, they definitely have the potential to do great things," she said. "So, we’ll see. Right now, we’re just trying to get through promotions and end of the semester excitement."
Students started to then pair off to practice throwing. Soren Nelson laid out the throwing basics: “You off balance them, then you go into the throw and then you finish it."
Nelson took a third place medal at the State Championships this year for the nine-to-ten year-old age group. Finishing in judo means getting your opponent on the ground. The trick is to throw them off balance.
“Open them up and just get them on their toes so it’s easier to throw,” said Nelson.
Nelson had six match ups, or fights, for the tournament, which is a lot. Nelson’s toughest competitor beat him at two matches, using the drop shoulder throw. That's one of the throws Bethel’s Judo Club is practicing now.
Emily Madison, who came in first for her weight class, says it’s not just knowing how to throw, but anticipating how your opponent is trying to throw you. Madison smiles, remembering how she threw someone.
“I kept seeing what throw she was trying to do and I countered that. I tried a toshi, and when she went foot sweep, I timed it right and then did a foot sweep on her,” said Madison.
As students gain in higher belt ranks, they learn more challenging moves, like the chokehold. Lindsey Beans-Polk is a fifteen-year-old blue belt and came in first place for her weight class at the State Championships.
Beans-Polk says when you do a standing choke from behind, you place your arm below the opponents Adams apple, cutting off the flow of blood to the brain.
“We have to be very careful, because if you do it too long, or the ref doesn’t watch, they could knock out. And it’s very important that you know how to revive them, which is part of training for a green belt,” said Beans-Polk.
Students don’t get to practice chokeholds until they are a green belt or higher. So far, Beans-Polk has never had to revive anyone, but by the time she’s a purple belt, she’s sure she’ll have to.
“Usually the ref will say matte before somebody is knocked up. And matte means stop,” said Beans-Polk.
Beyond chokeholds, all Judo students must live by one thing in a match: balance. Beans-Polk recalls, in one of her more difficult matches at State Championships, just how hard it was to stay focused on remaining balanced.
“I wasn’t paying attention to Kuzushi, and Kuzushi in Judo is a big part. It means off-balance, and it makes everything so much easier,” said Beans-Polk.
And this is something Beans-Polk plans to practice before next year’s Judo State Championship in Anchorage.