Western Washington University’s Judo Club isn’t like other sports clubs. It has a no experience required policy and they welcome newcomers with open arms.
“We get really excited about new members,” said Maria Matson, a WWU alum and current member. “That's also part of the reasons why we want the club to grow. We want Western to really know about this.”
Four students of Western’s judo club participated in The Battle by the Lake tournament in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho on April 9. With all doing well in their respective divisions, Western came out of the tournament earning 3 medals.
Ian Llaneza, a third-year at Western, received a bronze medal at his second tournament in three years of Judo experience. Llaneza returned from Coeur d’Alene proud of himself and his team's performance.
“We did pretty well in each of our divisions, just being able to be on the podium is pretty good,” he said. “Especially with the divisions being five to six people in them. You're doing four to five matches, maybe in each division, so pretty big mountain to climb there.”
The Battle by the Lake judo tournament was the first competition Western’s club attended since 2019, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The last tournament was the Washington State Judo Competition in 2019, where Llaneza earned silver.
Since, the club has grown and is vying for success at multiple tournaments in 2022, with two coming up in May.
“We've put together a pretty good team,” Llaneza said. “We're going to try to head out to all the tournaments that are available to us, locally.”
Western’s Judo Club advertises itself as an accepting organization for anyone, at all levels of skill.
“We are inviting, we don't discriminate on your level of skill in judo,” Llaneza said. “We don't force you to do competitions.”
Ralph Bajema, 86, a club sensei and black belt, is aware that some judoka would rather not fight in tournaments.
“Those who want to compete will compete. But to be involved in judo, you do not have to be competitive,” Bajema said. “If you win a judo match, you're humble about it. You don't downsize your opponent.”
With such an inviting atmosphere, the club has many new members who have seen personal success in their most recent competition.
Mikala Conway, a first-year at Western, joined the club a year ago and earned gold at the Coeur d’Alene tournament.
Conway refers to sensei Bajema while advertising Judo to newcomers.
“If an 86-year-old man can do judo,” Conway said, “any college student can.”
Western judoka are aware that their sport is lesser-known, though they continually strive to see new members; either for exercise, fun or competition.
“Go out to your community and try new things like judo, wrestling, whatever it is,” Llaneza said. “Look out for the Western Vikings in our next tournaments!”
Jack Glenn (he/him) is the editor in chief for The Front this quarter. He began working at the Front in the spring of 2022 as a sports reporter.