Most Viewed Stories
Fighting with a passion
Ernest Smith runs Barstow Judo Club
BARSTOW • Much like in many other towns, the local sports landscape boasts stories of accomplishments in familiar physical endeavors, like baseball, football and soccer. But in Barstow, a less well-known sport has been taking hold and has people of all ages hitting the mats: judo.
Tucked away in Jasper Park off West Main Street is the Barstow Judo Club, which has been training aspiring judokas for 41 years. It was started in 1971 by black belt Ernest Smith. After joining the Marine Corps and fighting in Viet Nam, Smith decided to pursue something he loved, which is practicing and teaching judo.
With his ties to the Marines, Smith opened the original Barstow Judo Club at the Marine Corps Supply Center. It now shares space with the karate club at Jasper Park.
Smith gives instruction at the club on Tuesday and Thursday evenings. All skill levels train together, about 30 at a time. Judo techniques are practiced, such as holding - which is similar to wrestling - throwing and choking. There are 40 basic throws and 17 advanced throws, with new throws always being added.
“Every year they come out with a new throw,” said Smith before a recent class. “Sometimes the committe accepts them, sometimes it doesn’t.”
Throws are a big part of the sport, as are holding and joint locks, and self-defense kicks and punches. The belt and the age of the judoka determines what techniques can be done. Those under 12 can throw and pin; at 13, they can choke, and also arm bar, if they’re a brown or black belt. The black belt is the highest level.
“A black belt, of any age, should be able to hold his own against anybody,” said Smith.
The instructor has taught all ages in his 57 years of practicing the sport. He trained a kid who grew up to be a Navy SEAL, who, he said, “Got tough from judo and had no problems adjusting to the Navy.” He has trained 16 national champions since opening the Club in ‘71. Twice he has trained students who went on to be Olympic alternates, at the ‘92 Barcelona and ‘08 Beijing Games.
It’s a goal of the Club to train to win at the Olympic level, which is a process. Competing in Nationals is a step, and for any kids who decide they want to go to Nationals, there’s a special training program that begins once school lets out. Training starts at 7 a.m. each day with a four-mile run, some wind sprints, push-ups, exercises designed to get the trainee in top physical condition.
While some might think kids aren’t equipped for such intense training, Smith says the results are hard to ignore.
“Some people disagree on how much kids should be expected to do. But I started pushing kids and they started winning,” he said. “The techniques were working because the kids were in shape. If you want to win, you have to train hard, you have to be tougher than who you’re fighting. I learned that in the Corps.”
Over the years, Smith has brought several students overseas to train. The judokas get to immerse themselves in a judo culture, which includes a stringent training program. While Smith believes in a tough training regimen, even kids who are used to his methods are challenged by what they experience on the trips.
“We don’t train hard enough in the US. In Seoul (Korea), they train six hours a day seven days a week while in high school, and continue in college. That’s how you win gold,” he said. “Our kids don’t train like that. When I bring a kid over there, it’s a real eye-opener.”
Whether they have competing in mind or a desire to learn about judo or just want to stay in shape, Smith welcomes anyone to explore the sport to which he’s devoted so many years. He’s had some families join the club over the years, after parents watching their kids discover judo decided to give it a try themselves. Age is irrelevant to learning judo, according to Smith.
“As long as you can breathe, you can fight.”