Ryan Reser celebrates his win over Chick Jefferson in the 73kg Judo match during the USA Olympic trials for wrestling and judo on June 14, 2008 in Las Vegas.
The Colorado Springs judo community gathered Saturday to celebrate some of their own and host a demonstration of the 138-year old sport in honor of World Judo Day.
Judo family, friends and guests watched intently and released a few gasps as the sounds of bodies slapping red and grey mats echoed across the towering ceilings of the newly constructed U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Museum. Judoka from as young as 8 years old attended the three demonstrations instructed by 2008 Olympian Ryan Reser.
“That’s always our goal to get kids involved, or anyone involved, really,” Reser said. “Judo is a different avenue to get in shape and be able to defend yourself.”
Reser said the sport has a broad range of benefits for people of all ages, including falling practices, a boost in self confidence and the opportunity to immerse yourself in a community dedicated to mutual welfare and benefit.
“Judo is great because it’s my journey, but it’s also your journey and the guy next to you,” Reser said. “So I want to get better, but I also want to make sure you do the same. That’s a huge piece for us: including everybody, and making sure everybody is moving on their path.”
Following the demonstrations Reser, along with five other judoka, were honored with lifetime memberships to the museum.
Ed Liddie, Joe Marchal, Charlee Minkin, Cliff Sunada and Scott Moore were honored alongside Reser for their work in the judo community following impressive Olympic and Paralympic careers.
“This has been a great opportunity for us to bring the athletes and the sport to life inside the walls of this museum,” said Michelle Dusserre-Farrell, the museum’s vice president of athlete engagement. “What I have to say to the athletes is, welcome home. These are your stories, this is your history and legacy.”
Moore was the most decorated honoree as a 2000 Paralympic gold medalist and a two-time bronze medalist. Marchal, who traveled from Las Vegas to attend Saturday’s event, was a 1988 Olympian. Sunada competed in the 1996 Olympics and is now a member of the Colorado Springs police department. Minkin, the only female among the honorees, is a three-time national champion and silver medalist at the 2003 Pan American games.
Former judoka Pat Mika, who emceed the event, said Minkin ‘threw him around like a rag doll’ years ago, and the 2004 Olympian never hesitated to work out with the men at the Olympic Training Center.
“I never thought of myself as being different,” said Minkin, who is now a judo instructor in Lakewood, Colorado. “I was always pushing myself as hard as I could no matter who I was around. It has really helped in coaching women and girls. I always say, I didn’t make it to the Olympics because I was talented, I just trained my (butt) off, and it’s really just the perseverance and dedication is something I try to instill in my students, my kids and everything.”
Minkin and most of the honorees were coached by Liddie, a 1984 bronze medalist and the director of athlete performance at USA Judo.
In front of his judo family, Liddie was surprised Saturday with a promotion to an eighth degree black belt, or Hachidan. Judo black belt levels end at 10, and most judoka stop around four, according to Liddie.
In addition to a pile of paperwork, black belt ranks are earned through lifetime achievement and giving back to the sport.
“They almost made me cry,” Liddie said. “I’ve been pretty lucky, and I’m really excited about it, especially doing it with all of my people. They are like my family.”
The familial bond was unmistakable among the judo community in attendance. Everyone seemed to know everyone, and talked about the unbreakable bond the athletes and families have with one another.
“That’s why I love Judo,” Reser said. “It’s an individual sport but I can’t practice without my team, without my support system, my coach, my family. We wouldn’t have made it this level without everybody else.”
The theme for this year’s World Judo Day, officially recognized on Oct. 28, the birth date of the sport’s founder Jigoro Kano, is “Stronger Together,” a fitting theme for not only the tight-knit judo community, but for the nation as a whole as we navigate the pandemic.
“We know we are not going to get better without another person, and so the mutual welfare and benefit makes us all stronger together,” said USA Judo CEO Keith Bryant.