What Judo Means to Judokas

BY AMANDA MOSES

For almost 30 years, Spring Creek Towers (SCT) has offered a Judo program under the tutelage of Coach Parnel Legros, a United States Judo Federation’s Coach of the Year and former Olympian. Unlike other martial arts, Judo is an overall ideology that combines moral codes of conduct along with physical and mental training.

On its surface Judo is a sport that’s main objective is to throw down, take-down, immobilize, pin or force an opponent into submission. In addition, to its combative training, Legros teaches his students (also known as judokas) how to behave with discipline, respect, focus, and to never give up. He encourages each judoka to apply these lessons both on and off the mat.

Nina Rubin enrolled her son in Judo last September, and since then she has seen a transformation in her son’s character. “I enrolled my son into Judo because I wanted him to become stronger and behave better. Since he’s been in Judo I noticed that he’s become more mature. Legros is a very direct teacher and he teaches the students to become better people,” Rubin said. 

Legros has his judokas practice three times a week for two hours a day. Each of their practices have a strict regiment, including warm-ups, running, Poly-metrics (short intervals of jump exercises which help increase a person’s strength), 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.

“My favorite thing about Judo is that it makes you kind and respect others by teaching you to throw them without hurting them in a match,” said Dominick Bonserio, whose favorite position is Koshi-guruma with Tai-otoshi leg. “I feel stronger when I am able to throw people and I get to cheer my friends when they throw people,” he said proudly.

Legros teaches his students to not meet force head on but to respond in a gentle, yet at the same time strong way. Judo is a technique that mirrors or responses to life situations, instead of reacting without thinking, this form of martial arts teaches us to assess what is happening and the implications of our response; each act of defense is done in a way to protect the judoka and their opponent from getting hurt. Legros teaches his students how to fall correctly, and how to get back up stronger each time.

“There is no other sport like Judo. You can beat a person in a match and then go out and have dinner with that same person,” Legros said.

For Legros, Judo is not just a hobby—it’s a way of life. He began learning Judo in secret, since in his homeland, Haiti, this form of martial arts was illegal to practice. Despite the obstacles, he spent years training, and he continued learning it when he moved to America. He fine-tuned his skills and competed in hundreds of Judo matches over the decades. His hard work earned him Olympic medals. “It was quite a journey. You had to be locally a champion, nationally a champion, and you had to have competed at the Pan American games. Then you had to make it to the World Champion-ships. It was only then that you could qualify for the Olympics. It’s not easy, but if you can stomach it, you can do it,” Legros said.

“When you lose at tournaments, Judo teaches you that it’s okay. You can handle it,” said Adam Farag, who believes that he has gained both an outer and inner strength.

All of Legros’ judokas practice his motto: “If something is hard I want to master it.” A lesson the students have come to terms with when entering nationwide competitions.

Kelsey Billups is confident that her Judo training will continue to help her on and off the matt because she remains focused and disciplined. “Judo is super fun, and it’s showed me to always be mindful. If I’m going to school, I make sure I have everything I need in my backpack,” said Billups, whose favorite move is Obi-tori-gaeshi. “Every time I go against someone I become stronger. I feel like I learn more,” she said. 

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Legros says that he chooses to be an instructor and share his knowledge of Judo because it’s a way of life that when mastered should be shared and passed on.

Maynard Upshure, 11, has been practicing Judo for over two years. “I joined Judo because I wanted to be a part of an afterschool activity, but in return I found something even better. I found something that I really enjoy, I like everything about Judo,” said Upshure, who credits this program for the amazing friends he has made.

If you are interested in joining Spring Creek Towers’ Judo program, please contact 718-240-4530.

Photos by Amanda Moses