The Sports Sermon: The Gentle Way at Georgetown


Georgetown is all about world-class programs. From finance to athletics, we take great pride in being ranked alongside the best. Among the celebrated top tier programs here on the Hilltop resides yet another notable group of competitors—the Washington Judo Club, which includes members from the University and surrounding community. The club has been producing nationally acclaimed competitors under the instruction of venerable coaches for over half a century. As a novice member of the club, being thrown week after week  by these competitors has been a lesson in personal development.

The Washington Judo Club was founded just after the end of World War II by James Takemori and Don Draeger with the Pentagon as their home for practices and training. As Draeger moved on from the club, Takemori took the reins and eventually merged his group with the Georgetown University Judo Club, led by Michael “Tad” Nalls, in 1985, building the program that exists today.

Nalls had taken over as the head of the Georgetown University Judo Club in 1969 and ever since had maintained close relations with Takemori and his club. Under the leadership of Takemori and Nalls, Washington Judo has flourished, becoming one of the premier organizations for the sport of judo in the U.S.

Finding a more respected and accomplished member of the judo community than Takemori would be a daunting challenge, as the 87-year old 9th degree black belt ranks as one of the highest in the U.S. He has used his seasoned method of tough love accentuated by a peaceful demeanor to train competitors since his return from fighting in World War II as a member of the storied 442nd Infantry Regiment. Takemori is joined by Nalls, a 6th degree black belt and international referee, in teaching everyone from us novices to the more than 30 black belts.

With the expertise of additional instructors ranging from 4th to 8th degree black belts, Washington Judo Club lays claim to instruction that can be matched by few other organizations in the U.S.

“We are the biggest club in the area and one of the highest levels because in most states you might not have 31 black belts. We have 31 plus very high ranking black belts, so our level of coaching and our expertise is exceptionally high,” said Nalls. “People who were running other judo clubs used to come here to train, and we taught them, so when we hold clinics we’re usually the clinicians or the head instructors.”

This congregation of judo talent and experience does not disappoint in molding quality competitors. This past week Virginia Beach hosted the Judo Senior Nationals, where our club made a strong showing.  Three members won a total of four gold medals and eight other members finished in the top ten. Washington’s competitors participated in an array of divisions, with Ojito Ernest winning gold in the Male 55 Kg, Angela Moran placing first in both the Visually Impaired and Female 48 Kg, and Dimitri Nazeri taking the top spot in the Masters division.

From the list of gold medalists alone, it is clear that Washington’s judo is not limited to a specific demographic as our practices include an array of faces and personalities. The accommodation of differences in the club is representative of the sport at large, giving it a substantial international appeal in Europe and Asia. The sport underwent numerous changes in recent years to make it more accessible and attractive to countries without a large judo presence. These changes will hopefully make judo a mainstay in martial arts.

For me personally, judo has been a lot more than a sport; it’s taught me a new understanding of respect that can really only be learned from the challenges judo presents. Takemori’s reinforcing presence and the welcoming community of players provides an optimal forum to build upon the discipline that is necessary to successfully compete.

Even though judo lacks a significant commercial presence in the U.S., the Northeast’s premier judo club has swelled with talented athletes as well as with beginners with a sparked interest. Takemori and Nalls have effectively constructed a competitive atmosphere that is able to foster improvements for black belts and newcomers, such as myself, alike.

The old gym at the top of the hill may not seem like the most appropriate residence for a world-class judo program, but nonetheless, the humble attitude instilled in judo athletes has allowed them to thrive on the Hilltop. Such a mixture of expertise and experience as our group has is hard to come by, even for Hoyas, making the presence of this legendary program all the more unique of an opportunity for Georgetowners.


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Steven Criss

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