Judoka from Carmacks and Carcross joined those from Whitehorse for the one day tournament. (John Hopkins-Hill/Yukon News)

Whitehorse’s Northern Lights Judo Tournament participation grows

‘With different ages, weights and ranks, you end up having kids everywhere’

Athletes from the Yukon’s five judo clubs took part in the Northern Lights Judo Tournament at École Émilie Tremblay on Jan. 20, and the uptick in competitors created some interesting obstacles for organizers.

Sylvain Racine, communications chair for Judo Yukon, said sensei Dan Poelman of the host Northern Lights Judo Club implemented a system to help speed things along.

“As attendance is increasing, we’re always facing hurdles. If you only have 10 kids competing, it’s going to go without a hitch,” said Racine.

The shiai, a term used for judo tournaments, had 87 judo players registered to compete.

“This is huge, logistically. With different ages, weights and ranks, you end up having kids everywhere,” said Racine.

Instead of using just one mat, Poelman set up two mats for ground fighting and two more stations to test athletes’ judo knowledge simultaneously.

With four stations on the go at once, Racine said some initial confusion around the judo knowledge portion was quickly remedied with the help of volunteers. This ultimately saved a lot of time.

“Once we got that established, it started to go a lot smoother. The tournament still went on past five o’clock. We would have been there until the wee hours of the night,” said Racine.

Participants in the tournament were placed into 19 different categories based on weight, age and rank, largely to ensure matchups are fair contests for all athletes.

“You can have a 10-year-old who weighs 25 kilograms and is a yellow belt. Well, you would not necessarily put him against a 10-year-old who weighs the same — and this wouldn’t happen because they’re too young — but a green belt, because their skills would not be well-matched,” said Racine.

A majority of the athletes taking part in the tournament were under the age of 10, reflecting the popularity of host club Northern Lights with youngsters.

“Sensei Poelman is phenomenal,” said Racine. “I mean it is just word of mouth. … But I think this just speaks to sensei Poelman’s reputation.”

With three clubs in Whitehorse, one each in Carmacks and Carcross, and a fledgling program in Haines Junction, judo has carved out a spot in the territory’s sports landscape.

“Judo will always be popular because of the Olympics and the fighting,” said Racine. “But up here it’s hard because kids are being pulled in 12 different directions.”

With so many other sports and activities, older athletes often have to make difficult decisions.

“As the kids age, they figure out what they like more. That’s (maybe) why you see a drop in the older kids because there is so much offered to them.”

This marked the second tournament of the 2017-2018 Judo Yukon Championship League.

Hiroshikai Judo in Carcross hosted the first event of the season and Carmacks Judo and Golden Horn Judo will each host an event before Shiroumakai Judo hosts the Yukon Open in April.

Racine said this is the biggest tournament he’s seen in his four years involved with Judo Yukon, and that it bodes well for the future.

“It shows no signs of stopping, so it’s great for years to come.”

Contact John Hopkins-Hill at john.hopkinshill@yukon-news.com

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