BY AMANDA MOSES AND PAMELA STERN
In March, the pandemic halted everyone’s lives. While New York was on pause and schools shifted to distance learning, Eurydice Robinson, the Director of Youth Development & Community Outreach, found a way to proceed with all afterschool programming continuing virtually through Zoom. Starrett Judo Club’s dedicated judokas (the word for Judo students) are training at home and maintaining physical activity during a global pandemic under the direction of Sensei, Parnel Legros.
Since the creation of the Starrett Judo Club Online, members have been able to learn Japanese terminology, perform exercises, practice technique, and train for belt exams. Some of the students do not have a practice partner, so Sensei Legros encouraged the judokas to create training mannequins/partners. The judokas are also learning about vitamins, nutritious teas, and how to make healthy meals. Additionally, he created Judo Bingo, to reinforce Judo terminology and moves.
Since its inception in 1992, the Starrett Judo Club has been a staple of the Spring Creek Towers’ community (formerly known as Starrett City), where generations of children learn the Japanese martial art.
Judo is more than a fighting style, it is a physical, mental, and moral philosophy. For Sensei Legros, a former Olympian, Judo is the very essence of life. “Judo is my life. It has reshaped my life in such a way,” Legros said candidly. As a shy, introverted child, Legros found himself drawn to this beautiful Japanese martial art form, and later found his passion in competing and teaching it to others.
Legros’ Sensei, instructor, Rena “Rusty” Kanokogi, was like a mother-figure to him, and it is through this relationship that he saw the bond between master and student. The impact of Judo, and wisdom he has cultivated from Judo over the years has helped fuel the fire of his teaching career.
“I’ve been influenced by a lot of strong women in my life,” Legros says. He first credits Margaret Novack and Earl Williams, two former Starrett City Community Relations employees who saw Legros training at the Pool Club (now known as the Brooklyn Sports Club). The year was 1991, and Legros was holding onto a weighted barbell while jumping onto a bench in the fitness center. To onlookers, this looked like a dangerous and odd workout routine, but once questioned, Legros explained that this is called plyometrics (an exercise which forces the person to extend the maximum amount of energy over the course of small bursts).
“I’m training for the Olympics,” Legros recalled explaining to Novack and Williams, who were participating in their early morning treadmill jog. From this happy accident, the seeds of the Starrett Judo Club grew.
Almost three decades later, Legros’ program expanded from simply teaching junior high school students to children from first grade to high school, seeing close to 160 members and competing in national championships. Before the pandemic, Legros had his judokas practice three times a week for two hours a day. Each of their practices had a strict regiment, including warm-ups, running, Plyometrics, and of course Judo moves. With each lesson, Legros makes sure to explain the Judo philosophy—the word Judo in itself is translated from Japanese to mean gentle (ju) and way (do). It is a dichotomy because it combines gentle movements in a dynamic activity.
Over the course of the pandemic, children found refuge from school’s closures and the impact of COVID-19 through Legros’ virtual classes. The scenery may have changed, but the lessons are still the same: Students learn discipline, respect, focus, and are encouraged to never give up, which should be practiced both on and off the mat.
Screenshots by Pamela Stern and courtesy of the Starrett Judo Club