Judo thrives despite misunderstood image
It might be one of the oldest and most misunderstood sports in Oregon, but Judo has a passionate following and one of the most gratifying missions of any contact sport - it teaches you how not to fight.
Of course, there's still that competitive instinct that drives players all the way to the Olympic Games, but outside the gym the goal is a level of personal confidence that leads to conflict resolution outside of violence - even for someone like 1970s martial arts screen legend Bruce Lee.
"Most people go into martial arts to learn how to fight, how to protect yourself," says Rod Conduragis, who competed for a spot on the 2008 U.S. Olympic Judo team, "but all good senses will teach you how not to fight.
"Bruce Lee was very skilled in Judo. If you remember the movie 'Enter the Dragon,' there's a classic scene where he convinces a guy to unload on a boat, a Chinese junk rather than fight. When you train in a martial art, you learn how to walk away."
Judo competitions work on that theory, too, with players aiming to throw their opponent and control them on their back, much like in wrestling, which can happen in a split second in many matches.
Or they can control their opponent for 30 seconds, even though they're not on their back, and choke holds are allowed at higher levels. The choke holds can lead to players passing out.
"I had one match where a guy got me and he thought I was going to tap out, but I thought I could get him," Conduragis said. "I passed out and woke up staring at the ceiling."
Competitors from around the Northwest congregated at Warner Pacific College on Saturday for the 54th annual Obukan Judo Dojo.
Divisions were organized for boys and girls and men and women, white belts through black belts.
Judo competitions happen almost weekly throughout the Northwest. Judo dojos appear throughout the state, but the two major ones are located in Portland - Obukan Judo, which practices at Peninsula Park Community Center in North Portland, and Ojukan Judo, which practices at the Oregon National Guard Armory in Hillsboro.
Oregon State also has a judo club.
Saturday's competition included nearly 100 participants, including Ken Davis, an 11-year Army veteran who lost his sight during a stint in Baghdad, Iraq. Davis found his way into Judo seven months ago and says it's become a major joy in his life.
"I like the technique," he said. "Just the way if feels, the way it moves." Davis, a white belt, finished second in the heavyweight division.
Dick Brenneke, a longtime administrator in the Obukan Dojo, says a background in football or wrestling can often lead players to judo. Brenneke, who has traced the Obukan club history back to 1924, played football as a lineman from sixth grade through Jesuit High.
He says judo involves many of the same elements as being a lineman.
"What I learned as a lineman is that you didn't have to be bigger than who you were up against," he says. "As long as I could get under him, I could beat him."
Brenneke said the lessons of skill and technical ability being more valuable than simple strength hit him the first time he beat a close friend in competition.
"He was a weightlifter and outweighed me by 70 pounds and had been in judo since the age of 6," Brenneke said, "but I beat him in a tournament."
Then the long-term value of the sport showed up as well.
"He got up and congratulated me," he said. "He was one of my teachers and was very proud of the progress I'd made in the sport. I was pretty proud, too."