For Bernie Mattie, the sport of Judo isn’t just about beating your opponent — it is a true test of respect, persistence and honour.
“It teaches kids mutual welfare and respect for your partner because without your training partner, you can’t get anywhere,” said Mattie, head instructor who had been with the Smithers Judo Club for the past 20 years.
“It teaches kids that life is all about ups and downs, and in judo it’s not about how hard you can throw, but when you fall, you learn to pick yourself back up again.”
The Smithers Judo Club isn’t one that normally advertises for new members on an annual basis.
However, this year is different.
This year marks the 60th anniversary since the club was first created.
Henry Boas, a former Smithers resident, helped found the club back in 1954 with Henry Murphy and Ron Toews.
“I wanted to do judo, I found some people who were interested and so we started the judo club,” said Boas.
“I like the philosophy. You’re working together with a mutual prosperity. The better I make the students, the better I become,” he said.
“The other thing that’s really great is with children that are introverted, they’re kind of fearful and once they learn how to fall, learning how to fall takes time for most people, and once they’ve done that they’ll lighten right up and have a ball.”
While Boas left the club in 1967, his love for judo extended to many of the cities he travelled to.
“Everywhere I’d go, if there wasn’t a judo club, I’d start one,” he said, adding that he has also helped start or took over clubs in Houston, Nelson, Cranbrook, Campbell River, Prince George, Kamloops and Penticton.
The Smithers club became a part of Judo B.C. in 1981.
Since then, it has kept its numbers steady with 12 members and Mattie as the full-time instructor.
The club focuses on a core group of students, developing them not only into judo champions but into well-rounded individuals as well.
“We had a building year about four or five years ago, a lot of the kids who came through went off to school or university and then you slowly build back up again,” said Mattie.
“Judo is a close contact sport. One of the benefits is life-long learning skills. Once you teach a child to learn how to fall, everybody slips and falls — we ski, we bike, we snowboard, and it can really make a difference.”
Over the years, the local club has also been quietly training its students to compete in competitions around the country.
Many of its members have gone to the national judo competitions and this year they have a few students competing for spots with the 2015 Canada Winter Games.
Josh Bazil, 15, has been with the club for four years and said the competitions are his favourite part.
“I like it because it’s fun, especially when we go off to competitions. You get to know a lot of people,” he said. “I’m hoping to try and get a black belt.”
Despite the competitive aspect, the philosophy still remains the same.
“What I really loved about the sport is that you would have two athletes who are rivals and they would exhaust themselves having an incredible match and after the match, they’re sleeping and resting with their backs together. It’s competitive, but there’s so much respect.
“These kids might not be overly well-coordinated but they have tenacity and heart. But you can’t train heart. If you have enough heart, all the other stuff takes care of itself.”
The first class of the year is Oct. 7 at St. Joseph’s School gym at 7 p.m.