After spending five months practicing judo in Japan, senior Nathan Swanson-Dinsmore returned to the U.S. with a reinvigorated passion for the sport and an ambition to revitalize the judo club that once thrived on campus.
“Since coming back, I’ve wanted to bring judo back to Western and be able to introduce the sport to students who are interested in grappling,” Swanson-Dinsmore said.
Not only does judo wield the capacity to train the body and mind, but also involves unarmed combat derived from jiu-jitsu, the Japanese art of physical, weaponless fighting.
As the president of Western’s wrestling club, Swanson-Dinsmore said he originally hoped to seek out more opportunities to practice wrestling in Japan. After much consideration, Swanson-Dinsmore said he added judo to his agenda in anticipation of the exchange program abroad last spring and summer.
“For five months, I trained to get ready to hopefully join the judo club at Yokohama National University where I had decided to attend,” Swanson-Dinsmore said.
After settling into his new territory, Swanson-Dinsmore said he began practicing four times per week at the resident judo dojo.
“I had amazing opportunities to compete in many different places in Japan, as well as become good friends with the other club members,” Swanson-Dinsmore said.
By the end of his journey, Swanson-Dinsmore said he attained the brown-belt ranking and has seen much improvement in his basic skill set.
Prior to his journey abroad last year, Swanson-Dinsmore said he began honing his judo abilities at the Whatcom Judo Dojo, which currently practices at the downtown Bellingham YMCA Tuesdays and Thursdays from 7:30 p.m. until 9:30 p.m.
At regular meetings, Swanson-Dinsmore connected with a number of alumni and former members and heard stories about the original judo club in its glory days during the early 2000s. Eventually, Swanson-Dinsmore said he grew more invested in the idea to resurrect the club after its account through the Associated Students was officially deactivated in April 2017 because it hadn’t been renewed since 2015.
Associated Students Program Director Jenn Cook noted all the hurdles that would need to be cleared in order to successfully reinstate the club. Speaking with AS Activities Council members and administrators through the Western Involvement Network, filing and paperwork would be the primary objectives.
After that point, Cook said club members would gain access to funding and the ability to reserve communal spaces on campus for practice.
As to why the judo club disbanded in the first place, Swanson-Dinsmore cited the lack of strong student leadership combined with renovations at Sam Carver Gymnasium that posed difficulties for the club to acquire temporary accommodations.
Due to the entry cost at the YMCA, along with securing reliable transportation and the time spent commuting, Swanson-Dinsmore said the logistical issues likely contributed to greater complications with managing the club in the past.
With sights set ahead, Swanson-Dinsmore said he aims to recuperate an equal number of participants similar to past peak levels of engagement with the student body.
“As the club is now young again we have not made any plans for major changes yet, however we will most likely make changes as the club progresses,” Swanson-Dinsmore said.
One of the main obstacles he specified will be finding time and necessary accommodations for space on campus.
In addition to routine practices, locating permanent storage space for the training mats has been rather challenging for Swanson-Dinsmore, along with carrying that burden on behalf of the team as club president.
“We have been moving between Carver and the [Wade King Recreation] Center due to the fact that the Athletics Department assumes priority over club sports and [AS] clubs,” Swanson explained.
Previously, scheduled games and official tournaments for varsity sports have taken precedence over other recreational, student organized activities, said Swanson-Dinsmore.
To give perspective, the wrestling club schedules roughly 70 practice sessions in total, and approximately 20 percent of coordinated practices are routinely cancelled or temporarily moved elsewhere with authorization from the athletics department. In other words, wrestling club members are not permitted to practice in Carver Gym facilities about 15 times during the competitive season between fall and winter quarter.
Swanson-Dinsmore said he anticipates the judo club will encounter a similar dilemma with acquiring accommodations for space and equipment storage despite the organization not being a fully established club yet.
“Athletics does not contact any of the clubs directly in any way,” Swanson-Dinsmore said. “[The department] works with the administrator for sports clubs, Caitlin Somers, and Cook to inform us of the schedule.”
Mainly the issue concerns where the wrestling mats are allowed to be stored, Swanson-Dinsmore said.
“With the growth of our club, using only four of our seven mats would be dangerous due to issues involving space and possible collisions,” Swanson-Dinsmore said. “It’s a problem when clubs that are attempting to be competitive do not have consistent access to practice spaces.”