Kicking Ass, Gently
by Lynnea Dally


Bodies twist, smash, and slam together as students furiously dance each other to the ground in the amazing sport that is Judo, the “gentler” Japanese martial art. As they try to pin each other down, sparring opponents flip, throw, and “fly through the air like gymnasts,” according to their instructor Daniel Alef.

Dan walks amid the melee, correcting form and encouraging victory as he goes. In the words of the club president Bob Wilson, “Judo makes you realize that you’re made out of something special”.

The Judo Club has been around for about a year and regularly boasts about 30 attendees a week. “It’s a great way to meet people” says regular Steven Kandel. The club welcomes newcomers and the curious; you don’t need a Gi to start enjoying Judo, new members simply start out learning the basics of how to fall, throw and pin.

Even after practicing falling time after time, newcomer Jonathan Mak said, “I had fun! I didn’t get beat up too badly because they teach you about safety.”

The regulars learned more nuanced techniques, from kneeling cross-faced back throws to standing throws on a crash mat. You’d never guess there were so many ways to flip and pin someone down. Judo teaches you how to subdue your opponent using throws, flips, chokes, and pins, teaching a practical form of self-defense.

Chokes and arm holds definitely can be dangerous, so the sport inspires a respect for your opponent that, according to Steven, other sports don’t offer as much. In Judo Club, everyone is respectful and nobody pushes anyone too far. The moves inspire friendship; it’s pretty hard not to get close to someone who will be pinning you to the ground.

Meetings start off with a serious work-out, “We don’t need to go to the gym on Friday!” says Clay Barber between exercises. The club goes through a series of exercises that would do any Jackie Chan training montage proud (including jogging for a minute while carrying a like-sized member). Of course, everyone only does what they’re comfortable with, and the instructors make sure that people are not being pushed too hard.

The club was started by a group of about 5 friends and has grown to about 50 members, usually boasting about 30 attendees per practice session. It is overseen by Daniel Alef, Steve Hoit, a world masters Judo champion, and Derek Alef an Olympic athlete slated to compete in Bejing, Margo Kimura and Vu Nguyen. The club occasionally attends clinics, tournaments and hosts other dojos.

Meetings are held Saturday nights from 6 to 9 pm upstairs in the Rob Gym rope room (room 2112, upstairs) and offer extra training days for the dedicated. More information about the club can be found on their facebook group: Judo Club @UCSB.