USA Judo

Club Profile: Cohen Brothers Judo

Vernon Hills, Illinois

The name of the club never changed. It didn’t need to.

Aiden CohenCohen Brothers Judo was run by Irwin and Steve Cohen, Olympians, champion judo fighters and brothers who built a cornerstone club in the United States, producing some of the finest players the country has ever seen.

Irwin, the head sensei, passed away last summer. The loss was mourned by so many whose lives were shaped by his coaching and presence. But the club remains very strong with a shining future, under the leadership of his two sons, brothers R.J. and Aaron. “All the time, we think about what our dad would do,” said Aaron, who heads the club in a spacious dojo of the Chicago suburb, Vernon Hills. And their uncle, Steve, still comes to the dojo regularly to coach.

So, the sons are the new “Brothers.” Irwin Cohen, dad, remains a real presence in their hearts and minds, and his brother is still very much a part of this club on the mats.

The goals remain the same, too. Irwin and Steve’s objective for Cohen’s Judo Club was never to produce just judo champions; it was to develop champions in life, Aaron said. “The successes go beyond winning in sport. The club is equally proud of the students who have gone beyond the mat to become successful doctors, lawyers, businessmen and coaches.”

Adrian CohenCohen Brothers Judo has about 70 members, including a big group of 4 to 12-year-olds, some cadets and few juniors & seniors– “pretty spread out,” Aaron said.

The focus is on fundamentals, working hard on a few throws and ground moves to get the technique and footwork down early.

More than 20 kids from the club competed at the Wahadachi Judo Tournament in Milwaukee on Sunday. “We did great … I think every kid medaled. We have some great kids in the club.”

On Saturday it was a wrestling tournament. Aaron Cohen is an assistant coach at Deerfield High School. “We had our conference championships. We won. We’re pretty good. We’re ranked number 15 in the state. We’ve come a long way.” When Cohen started there 11 years ago, Deerfield was about the worst in Illinois at 0-18. “Now we are 25 and 2.” Aaron currently has 3 of his past students wrestling Division 1, including Jeremy Fahler who is 184 pounds at the University of Iowa, Artie Bess 285 pounds at University of Iowa & Lenny Bloom 149 pounds at University of Wisconsin. R.J. and Aaron also run an off-season wrestling club at their location to help students from around the area to give them a unique style that no one else can offer.

The young Cohen brothers (Aaron is 31, R.J. is 34) grew up very much like their dad and his brother, training, traveling and competing together. They continue to bring lots of top fighters from around the world into the club, many of whom they’ve met on their own travels competing. Aaron thanks other top judoka in the United States for helping him, Olympic silver medalist Jason Morris included. “Jason Morris helped me out a ton … he’s one of the best ever.”

Uncle Steve, “he guides us. He’s like our voice of reason. When we want to do something, we go to him and he points us in the right direction.” He coaches at Cohen Brothers, so he knows where the students are developmentally. “He helps us put together our curriculum… He’s one of the best coaches ever.”

And, always, there is dad. “Dad was all about the club and making the kids better, and that’s what my brother and I want to do, to continue the legacy. We do everything for him … This is what my dad would have wanted.”

Pointing to the future of Cohen Brothers Judo, Aaron mentioned that R.J. has three sons, Aiden who is 7, Adrian who is 4, and Jayme who is 2, ‘brothers’ in training.

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Story by Ernest Pund, USA Judo Communications