(L-R) Jack Yonezuka, Nicolas Yonezuka and Nick Yonezuka pose for a photo.
There are two types of sports: one that relies on teamwork on the field of play, and one that puts all the weight and responsibility on the individual competing. USA Judo athlete Jack Yonezuka prefers to go solo, relishing the sole responsibility for his wins and losses.
“I like knowing that I’m the reason why I won,” said Yonezuka. “It's me who put in the work, and worked every day.”
He didn’t always have an affinity for individual sports. The 19-year-old actually started out playing team sports growing up.
“I was always an active kid, so I wanted to try everything,” he said. “I tried t-ball, basketball and wrestling. But by a certain age, I realized I liked judo the most.”
However, at a young age, he would get super nervous before a judo competition.
“Between 5-8 years old, I would cry before every competition because of it,” he said. “But after that, I loved competing.”
Around 11, he decided to focus solely on judo. It had quickly become his favorite among all the sports.
“I was also the best at it at the time too,” he admitted. Although that’s not surprising, considering that judo runs in his family.
Jack’s father, Nick, made the 1980 U.S. Olympic team. Nick now runs the Cranford Judo Karate Center (JKC), which was originally founded by Nick’s father, Yoshisada Yonezuka, a two-time U.S. Olympic judo coach. Now, Nick’s two sons train at the center, including Jack’s older brother, Nicolas. The 20-year-old is a two-time junior world team member, and is ranked 45th in the world in the 81-kilogram weight class.
But despite growing up in a family famous for judo, the youngest Yonezuka said they “didn’t put pressure” on him to pursue the sport.
“They let me do what I wanted,” he added.
Pictures of the two senior Yonezukas hang on the judo center’s walls. Jack Yonezuka shared insights on what he’s seen of his father in action.
“I’ve seen one video of my dad getting thrown by [Toshihiko] Koga, one of the top Japanese guys,” he said. “But there’s not really much footage from back then. A lot of the photos he has of him and my grandpa are hanging up in my judo club, so I get to see those every day.”