Club Profile: Judo Gym
Madison, Wisconsin

A lot of people in Madison, WI, probably don’t know much about judo, said Osmil Millan. Still, he is confident that just around the corner from his dojo in the state’s capital city could be a future champion, so for kids who need the help, he offers classes free.

“Somewhere in our neighborhood, there is a potential Olympian,” said Millan, who is also starting a program for military veterans with disabilities, “also free of charge.”

Millan started judo in Cuba in 1956 but he traces the roots of his passion to 1953, when the Kodokan sent All Japan Champion Sensei Takahiko Ishikawa to the island nation to train Cuban judokas in competition skills. Judo there exploded in popularity, overcoming the need for what many would now consider basic necessities.

The 30-by-30-foot ‘mats’ at his dojo had “a border of 4-inch by 4-inch wood, filled with sawdust and a canvas to cover it, which when training became very hard, so two or three times during practice, we had to stir up the sawdust to continue practicing.” Millan became a national junior champion several times over, practicing six days a week, two or three hours each day.

“I came to this great country in 1962 at the age of 15, due to Fidel Castro’s regime.” A younger brother immigrated to the United States months earlier. Their parents later fled Cuba by boat.

“There were 30,000 of us refugee kids from Cuba in camps in Florida,” Millan recalled. “We were all sponsored by different groups and sent all over the U.S. My brother and I landed in Superior, Wisconsin, where I went to school and graduated from the University of Wisconsin, Superior.”

Millan went on to teach high school, work as a railroad engineer and then as a supervisor for a large jewelry company. He owned jewelry stores before he retired. The judo remained with Millan wherever he went, and he eventually became an international B-level referee officiating in several countries, and an international coach.

Now his focus is on building judo in Wisconsin. In addition to teaching eight classes every week, he holds clinics every two or three months to promote the sport and get as many involved as he can, inviting two sensei to help with the clinic and demonstrate their favorite techniques. Millan hosted one clinic in August with renowned Los Angeles judoka and coach Hayward Nishioka that drew black belts from several Great Lakes states.

“Judo is my passion,” Millan said. “My focus is giving back to the sport I love … My goal is to make judo the number one martial art in Wisconsin.”

For more on Millan and Judo Gym, go to the club’s FACEBOOK.