USA Judo

Club Profile: Spring Park Judo Club
Garland, Texas

Kaoru Ishii was the captain of his judo club at the Shibaura Institute of Technology in Tokyo when the legendary Kyuzo Mifune made occasional appearances in the dojo donning his red 10th-dan obi.

“I was a college student. He was like a god,” said Ishii, founder and sensei of Spring Park Judo in Garland, Texas. In conversations with Mifune, Ishii recalled, he would simply respond, “yes, yes ... yes.”

Ishii is one of those rare teachers in the United States who witnessed  instruction by renowned and early practitioners of the sport in Japan, even training at the Kodokan in Tokyo with his college club. “Everybody went once a week and there were very famous people at that time … but it was very tough,” he said.

Ishii came to Redwood City, California, in 1966 after being hired by Ampex Corporation to work on the first VCR technology. Within months he began teaching at Redwood City Judo. In turn, the kids on the mat helped Ishii with his English – “they laughed at me all the time,” he joked. Corinne Shigemoto, who went on to become an Olympc coach and USA Judo’s director of events and membership, was among the young students there helping Ishii with his English.

The lessons and style of teaching from Japan travelled with Ishii to the states. Another of judo’s first generation who trained under founder Jigoro Kano was Seiichi Shirai. He also trained with Mifune and eventually married Mifune's niece. Shirai taught at Ishii’s college dojo two or three times a week. Ishii recalled a story that Shirai would tell about the importance of repeating a lesson:

The mind is like a tea cup. And if you fill it again and again with green tea, the cup will eventually turn green, absorbing the lesson. “And that’s the way,” Shirai would say, “I would repeat a story, over and over and over again.”

At Spring Park, a typical class is one hour and fifteen minutes beginning with warm-up and exercises. For novice judoka, Ishii emphasizes instruction in falling techniques, ukemi. New students do not practice free randori for 1 ½ to two years. Instead, they learn throws with uchikomi and moving uchikomi. “I do lots of uchikomi,” Ishii said.

Practicing ukemi is very important, said Ishii, because judo is a sport of speed more than strength. If a judoka is not trained in falling, “the body becomes stiff, the body cannot relax,” said Ishii, and then a judoka cannot explode with the speed needed to execute a winning throw.

Another lesson that Ishii recalls from Shirai was about gaijyu and naiko. While the outside appearance of people in dealing with each other should be soft and gentle – gaijyu, the mind and the heart inside should be strong like steel – naiko.

Again, this is how Ishii teaches his students. “The outside of you is supposed to be soft, gentle,” said Ishii. “But the inside of you, the mind, is supposed to be very hard like steel.”

Training at Spring Park is challenging. However, said Ishii, “I am not forcing it at all, but very gentle.” Among other things, Ishii relies on the example of his senior students to demonstrate endurance and perseverance. And when students endure a long, hard practice including 100 or 150 uchikomi, this not only makes them strong physically but also mentally. This is one way in which Ishii works to accomplish his first objective at Spring Park, to make his students both physically and mentally healthy.

To learn more about Ishii and Spring Park Judo, go to www.springparkjudo.org.

Story by Ernest Pund, USA Judo Communications