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Club members develop community with judo

Thrown together

Posted: August 21, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: August 21, 2012 2:00 a.m.

Senseis Mark Guerrero, left, and Richard Weiner engage in drills during a practice of the Santa Clarita Judo Club at Santa Clarita Karate in Saugus recently.

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Mark Guerrero and Richard Weiner are long-time practitioners of the Japanese martial art of judo. Twice a week at the Santa Clarita Karate studio in Saugus, the two instructors, or senseis, train fellow practitioners, or judoka, in techniques to subdue an opponent by means of throwing and grappling maneuvers.

“The thing that grabs people that’s different (from other martial arts) is the spectacular throwing techniques,” said Weiner, who has been a judoka for more than 46 years, and is currently a third-degree black belt. “It’s something that’s different than most other throwing arts, even like sambo and Greco-Roman wrestling.”

But Weiner says it also emphasizes an “economy of movement” — players are trained to use less wasted motion and aggression than one would see in a typical wrestling match, in which sheer power could overcome an opponent.

“A lot of folks come in thinking it’s a karate-type (of activity, with) punching, kicking,” said Guerrero, a sixth-degree black belt who has been teaching judo for more than 17 years. “A lot of people will put their kids in judo because they want their son or daughter to learn how to kick somebody’s butt, and it usually takes them about a year to figure out how to change their mind to what it’s really all about.”

To the senseis, the close contact and grappling prevalent in judo makes for a sport that is really all about developing a sense of community and self-respect.

“You become very close with those that you fight with, and everything’s left on the mat,” said Adam Weiner, 23, a paratrooper in the Israeli army who has trained in judo with his father and older brother Matt since the age of 6. “Judo gives you incredible self-confidence and knowledge of your body and what your abilities are physically.”

Matt Weiner, 26, hopes to also instill these values to his children.

“I want my kids to experience this as well, not even necessarily judo, but some martial art,” he said. “I think it’s a great thing for everybody to know how to do, for self-confidence, balance and self-control.”

The recent training session at the Santa Clarita Karate studio came on the heels of the first American judoka ever to garner a gold medal in the Olympics. Kayla Harrison, 22, of Wakefield, Mass., defeated Great Britain’s Gemma Gibbons in the final to win the gold, inspiring Guerrero and Weiner to have high hopes in USA Judo’s future success on the world stage.

“We’ve always looked at the Japanese and the French and the Russians as being so much better than us,” said Richard Weiner, with Guerrero adding that there are only about 40,000 practitioners in the United States, compared to the millions who practice across France and Japan.

“It’s kind of cool to be able to say all of a sudden, ‘You know what? We’re there. We’re just as good as they are,’” Richard Weiner said, who added that his goal has always been to raise more people who can teach the discipline. “America’s catching up with the elites in the world in the sport. It makes you feel good.”

The Santa Clarita Judo club meets Mondays and Wednesdays at 7 p.m. at the Santa Clarita Karate studio, 27737 Bouquet Canyon Road, Saugus. 661-296-0911, www.santaclaritajudo.com.

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