LEMONS TO LEMONADE- A History Of My Life In Judo

History in the making: Kenneth Guge at the 2013 San Jose Buddhist Level D Olympic Trials Judo Tournament
2013, San Jose Buddhist Tournament, waiting my turn at the Level D Olympic Trials © 2016 Kenneth John Guge III, all rights reserved

The Strange But True Story Of  My Judo History

Beginning Judo is dedicated to being a resource for the new and returning Judoka. I, the author, would like to share with you a little history about me and how I got into the sport of Judo-
My name is Ken, and I am a Judo Instructor at Central Coast Judo, as well as Inner Strength Martial Arts. I’ve been a practitioner of Judo since around 2002. I achieved the rank of Shodan (first degree Black Belt) in 2014, and have been instructing since June of 2012 (more on that below).

The Club’s Beginnings

The original name for the Judo Club was Five Cities Judo. The dojo had its humble beginnings in a old packing shed owned by the family that started the club. From there, it moved into a building known as the Japanese Historical Center, built around the turn of the last century.

The Japanese Historical Center was originally a social center for the small but growing Japanese farming community in the area. The building had a large single common room and a stage. It was used as a school to teach children. It was a place to teach adults English. It was a common hall used for dances and other social gatherings. As time marched on, it was used by the local Boy Scout community for their den and pack meetings. Eventually, it shared space with the Judo club that I would eventually join. This building had history.

Enter, Me

By the time I began training, the original Sensei (teacher), Sensei Mario, was sharing time with his son, Sensei Greg, teaching the students. By that time, it was mostly Sensei Greg doing the teaching.  Shortly thereafter, as we knew was going to happen, Sensei Mario retired, handing the full reins over to his son. The vast majority of my time was spent under this young man, who had been raised in a very Judo-centric family environment. Sensei Mario was a Judo Olympian in 1980 and an Olympic Alternate in 1984. Many other members of his family were also avid trainers in the sport of Judo. Even his Grandmother was an avid practitioner.

The old building we trained in was a great place for our club. The large single room was perfect for a club the size this one was. The stage was used by the Boy Scouts for storage. The floor was an old raised wood floor. It had bows in the wood and gaps between the slats. I couldn’t even begin to tell you how many coats of paint must have been applied to those walls over time. The windows were the old counter-weight kind with sticking pulleys and dry, frayed cords. The wood holding the place up was rotting and devoid of all sap. I’m sure the only thing holding it up was the termites that were all holding hands to add to the overall structure’s integrity. This building had character.

Team Building

Every Monday and Wednesday, Sensei Greg would show up before the kids class, and put down the tatamis. Then, Greg would run the kids class, then the adult class. After practice, the adult class would stack the tatamis back up so the hall could be used by the Boy Scouts the next day. New faces would come and go, or stay and become regulars. Every practice was ended with a smile on everyone’s face, and we all enjoyed our time there.

One day, Sensei got us all together to do something about those gaps and bows in the floor I mentioned earlier. We spent a good day working on that project-crawling under the building, propping the floor up, cutting the braces and piers, lowering the floor back into place, and all that fun stuff. While we were working on all this, in between helping us work on this project, Sensei was also manning the Barbecue. We were having Santa Maria Style BBQ that day; a staple here on the central coast. The whole project was a great team building exercise, and the results were spectacular if I do say so myself. We put a lot of time and sweat into that project, and we were proud of what we had accomplished that day.

Then, it happened

Not two weeks later, arsonists burned this old building to the ground.

Years of history, years of memories, gone. The old sapless wood, all silver and warped, went up like a roman candle. 100% destruction. Nothing but a few scraps of charred tatamis remained, and a very small pile at that.

The arsonists were eventually caught because of their own stupidity. Turns out, one of them kept a couple of souvenirs that belonged to the boy scouts. I think it was a hatchet and an American Flag. Whatever the evidence was, it was enough for a conviction.

From the Ashes

We spent the next month or so in limbo, as Sensei Greg looked for a new spot to train. Sensei pulled a few strings, and we got a temporary location during the summer in a local school gymnasium. By the end of summer we relocated into a small but workable spot on the second floor in a building that was mainly office space. However, the rent was the right price so contracts were signed. Sensei Greg also found a sweet deal on some new tatamis a martial arts supply company had stashed in a warehouse somewhere. With that, we were back in business.

After all this time in transition, Sensei Greg wanted to mark the occasion. Five Cities Judo was no more. His dad, long since retired from teaching Judo, was living the good life down in Mexico (or so I would hope). Our club had a new location, new tatamis, new lease on life, so a new name was called for; Enter Central Coast Judo.

What can I say? It was an eventful time for us as a club, full of trials and tribulations. The thing is, it wasn’t over yet. Not too long after settling in to the new location with the new tatamis and the new name, Sensei Greg retired.

The Phoenix Rises

It was fairly abrupt, and took all of us off guard. However, it was what it was. As a group, we just couldn’t see us just giving up now. We’ve come too far, and been through WAY too much to just end it. So, we decided to take over. While we figured out where and what to do from there, we went from Dojo to Dojo, doing what we could to keep up with our practices and to remain in as much of a cohesive group as we could. Because of our past experiences combined with what we were going through at this time, we gave ourselves an unofficial club nick name, Ronin Judoka. Judo practitioners under no one’s banner.

Central Coast Judo got their “I”s doted and “T”s crossed eventually. Central Coast Judo was able to get its Charter through the USJF with help from the Judo community at large. We moved into the Pismo Beach Veteran’s Hall, where we’ve been ever since. We kept the name, Central Coast Judo with Sensei Greg’s blessings. We even adopted a club mascot- The Phoenix, as we have risen from the ashes both literally and figuratively many times over our turbulent past.

A piece of history. CCJ logo with the Phoenix mascot

Thank you Llyn H. for this design. You did a great job

And so it Begins

In the beginning, I trained the kids class, while our head instructor, Sensei Troy taught the adults. Sempai (upperclassman, or head student) Chris has been our behind the scenes man. He mainly took care of the accounting and dealing with the city in regard to the Vet’s Hall. As time has marched on, Sensei Troy has achieved Nidan (second degree black belt). He has also taken a step back from the role of regular instructor. I have taken over the regular club duties for the most part as head instructor.  I am now the main istructor at Central Coast Judo, and I am also teaching at Inner Strength Martial Arts.

2 Comments on "LEMONS TO LEMONADE- A History Of My Life In Judo"

  1. What a great story and I also think very highly of the articles describing the preparation for a Shiai.

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