Judo redefining athletics at Boys and Girls Club | Community recreation feature

Harold Yamada (back left) and students at the Bellevue Boys and Girls Club, where Yamada teaches Judo classes.  - Courtesy Photo
Harold Yamada (back left) and students at the Bellevue Boys and Girls Club, where Yamada teaches Judo classes.
— image credit: Courtesy Photo

Harold Yamada's introduction into teaching Judo was only partially by choice. After years of training with his father, Yamada earned his own black belt and when he did, immediately understood the responsibility that comes with such a distinction.

"When you get a black belt, it is your turn to come back and give back," Yamada said.

So for more than a decade, that is exactly what he has done.

The elder Yamada began teaching Judo at the Bellevue Boys and Girls Club more than 50 years ago and continued doing so until health forced his retirement in 2005. With his father out of commission, Harold knew it was his time to take on a larger role and carry on the traditions of the martial art in the community.

"He was a tough instructor, but a good one," Harold said of his father. "I wouldn't be the way I am today without his way of teaching."

While Yamada still competes in tournaments around the country, the brand of Judo he brings to the Boys and Girls Club is tailored for the age groups and focused on safety.

Chris Burnside, the senior athletic director at the club, said Yamada always makes sure all his students have grasped a concept before moving on and reduces the risk for injuries.

"He does a great job teaching them the proper techniques," Burnside said. "That helps alleviate some of the injury concerns."

Yamada first teaches students how to fall safely before moving to throws and pins. Only those who remain in classes until age 13 will have a chance to learn the more sophisticated techniques and Yamada remains certified by the three major agencies of the sport in the US, in addition to undergoing continuous concussion training.

While the physical benefits of Judo are one of the reasons Yamada enjoys teaching the sport to youngsters, he said it is growing their confidence and self-esteem that keeps him coming back. While his own methods have been adapted to fit the current times and practices for dealing with young people, Yamada still emphasizes respect and accountability. The results, for some, can be life changing.

"A lot of kids are really shy or timid when they come in," he said. "I want the kids to get something out of it in terms of confidence. And the respect, that is the biggest thing."

Burnside agreed, saying that some of the kids who come to the club are searching for an authoritative voice in their lives.

"It is great for a lot of kids," he said. "It helps with discipline issues and teaches them respect."

For those unsure if Judo is a good fit, the club offers a trial period. More information on registration is available at

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