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Team Report – Coach Douglas Tono

Tohkon Judo Academy – Boy’s Team Members

  • Douglas Tono – Coach – Tohkon Judo Academy – Chicago, IL
  • Tatevos Manucharayan – Coach – Fresno Judo Club – Fresno, CA
  • Brad Daniels – Coach – Judan Judo – Portland, IN
  • Seth Carlson – Athlete – Tohkon Judo Academy – Chicago, IL
  • Jason Hidan – Athlete – Tohkon Judo Academy – Chicago, IL
  • Anthony Williams – Athlete – Judan Judo – Portland, IN
  • Narek Manucharayan – Athlete – Fresno Judo Club – Fresno, CA
  • Isaiah Thor – Athlete – Fresno Judo Club – Fresno, CA

“Absolutely an Outstanding Experience for All Junior Judoka!!!”

photos tohkon sanix

That would be the best description I could give for our trip to Japan. The exposure to an abundance of very good judo from the International Training Camp and the Team Competitions, the cultural experience, the wonderful hospitality and excellent organization made the entire trip a lifetime memory for everyone on our team.

Our trip started on Dec 21, 2016, at Chicago’s O’hare International Airport where the judoka from Indiana met up with the Chicago portion of the team, for our 12 hour flight to Narita Airport – Tokyo, Japan. After a 3 hour layover at Narita Airport, we caught our connection flight to Fukuoka. It was a long journey but the young judo athletes travelled well and represented the US proudly and respectfully. They were very excited and for many of them it was their first overseas flight. In Tokyo, we met up with more of the US team members from Michigan and Hawaii who were on the same flight to Fukuoka. Fortunately for us Sensei Noboru Saito was one of them so the stress of getting lost in Fukuoka was gone. Upon our arrival in Fukuoka, we were treated like VIP’s by the host organizing committee. The President of Global Arena, Mr. Isamu Kondo and his staff were at the airport to greet us with a warm welcome to Fukuoka and escort us to our bus to take us on a 45 minute ride to our final destination, the Global Arena Sports Complex.

On the first two days, they had an International Training Camp scheduled for the judoka. Over 200 competitors participated and almost all of them were junior high school age. International teams from China, Holland, Hong Kong, Russia, Singapore, Taipei and United Emirates also participated and trained with many of the top Japanese Jr. High School judoka. The camp was led by Sensei Kugisaki who was assisted by many other Japanese sensei including the All Japan Cadet Coaches, Sensei Hirano and Sensei Ikeda. Two training sessions were held each day, 3 hours in the AM focusing on newaza and 3 hours in the PM focusing on tachiwaza, with lots and lots of randori. It was a great eye opening experience for all of the US competitors to see how hard the Japanese judoka train. It was more judo than any of our US judoka are used to, but they showed a lot of character and toughness and made it through the training camp.

Each night they were all very tired and a little sore, but they all slept very well. The US boy’s teams shared a barracks type dorm room where they all lived together for 5 days. It was a great bonding experience for them. The older boys were very good about looking after the younger judoka. They all learned how important it is to have respect and patients for each other. They also learned the importance of acting respectful and responsible as representatives of the United States Judo Team.

The third day, Christmas Day, we had a light workout in the morning and then the US Teams had a few hours off to rest and relax. Our host organized a shopping trip in the nearby city of Munakata. The Team had some time to relax, do some shopping and see a little more of Japan. At 2pm they were back on the mat for a technical workshop led by World Champion, All Japan Champion and Olympian, Mr. Takamasa Anai. He was speaking in Japanese so it was a little difficult for the US judoka to follow along even with the help of the translators, but they were still able to practice the techniques and enjoy the experience.

That night, our host officially opened the Sanix Tournament with a grand Welcome Dinner for the all of the VIPs, coaches and parents of all the participating teams. It was an amazing dinner event with delicious sushi, steak and sashimi professionally carved from a huge, fresh tuna put out on display in center of the room. Food and drinks were non-stop. We had the honor of meeting the Mayor of Munakata, the President of the Kyushu Judo Federation – Mr. Fujita, the President of the Sanix Company – Mr. Munemasa, and the President of the Global Arena – Mr. Kondo. We also had the chance to socialize with many of the coaches from the other teams and countries. It was a very different way for many of us to spend our Christmas night.

The SANIX Team Tournament was held in the big gymnasium at the Global Arena on the fourth day of our trip. Almost 800 judoka, ages 12 – 14 years old competed. There were 89 male teams (5 boys per team with no rank or weight limit) and 48 female teams (3 girls per team with no rank or weight limit). Our Tohkon Boys Team faced a local Japanese team from Fukuoka called Motooka. The boys on the Tohkon were out sized and out matched, but they all gave it their best and fought tough. We lost 4 of the matches and tied 1, which eliminated us from the tournament. The other US boys team from Konan had similar results facing another local Japanese team. They also lost 4 and tied 1 match and were eliminated from the tournament. The US girls team won 1 match and lost 2 in their competition against a Japanese team. They too were eliminated in the first round. Even though our US teams did not pass through to the next round, our judoka all fought tough and never gave up. They showed a lot of heart and had a great learning experience.

From a coach’s perspective, another thing that I found to be absolutely mind blowing about this tournament is how efficient and precise they managed the entire event. There were 137 teams competing on 6 contest areas with only one referee per mat. There were no CARE Systems and not even an electronic scoreboard. They started the Opening Ceremony exactly at 9:30am and competition started exactly at 9:45am as scheduled. Throughout the entire day they started every match on time exactly as scheduled, the first female team match, the quarter final matches, the semi final matches and the final matches. The last match ended right at 4:25pm and they started the Awards Ceremony right on time exactly at 4:30pm. It was amazing!

On Tuesday, 12/27, they had practice Team Matches set up for all the participants. All the Teams were split up into categories based on skill level. Since it was a practice tournament, the teams were not limited to only 5 players. Many of the Japanese teams had 7-8 judoka on their teams to allow them competition time. It was great for our Tohkon Team since we only had 5 judoka our boys took turns fighting extra opponents. Each opposing team varied in size and skill level, but all of our judoka fought very well and demonstrated tremendous character and toughness. They never quit competing and never gave up not even when they were out sized or out matched. And they graciously accepted their wins as well as their losses. We faced 7 different teams that day, winning 5 matches and losing 2. Individually, the boy’s competition record was:

  • Jason Hidan – 0 wins 6 loss 1 draw
  • Anthony Williams- 3 wins 3 loss 2 draws
  • Seth Carlson – 7 wins 1 loss
  • Isaiah Thor – 1 win 3 loss 2 draws
  • Narek Manucharayan – 8 wins 1 loss 1 draw

We had to stop competing after the 7th team match so the boys could wash up and meet with the rest of the US Team. We were leaving for Nagoya to compete in the next tournament, the Sixth Annual Taisei Cup. Our new host, the Taisei Jr. and Sr. High School, did an outstanding job making all of our transportation arrangements from Fukuoka to Nagoya. They provided us with a tour guide/translator/transportation manager, Ms. Rika Nishida who did a great job looking after us making sure we made all our connections, stayed on schedule, answered all of our questions and “made sure we didn’t lose our passports”. We took a 2 hour bus ride from Global Arena to Kita Kyushu (the Shin-Moji Port) where we transferred to a Ferry boat for an overnight trip to South Osaka Harbor. The ferry boat was very nice and more like a mini cruise ship. The boys enjoyed the Japanese style bath on the ship. We all had a nice dinner and breakfast on the ship before we arrived in Osaka Harbor the next morning, Wednesday, 12/28. From Osaka Harbor we took a 3 hour bus ride to Taisei Jr. & Sr. High School in Ichinomiya City. Immediately arriving at Taisei School we received a warm greeting from the entire school and invited to participate in their Mochi-Tsuki -making mochi (rice cakes) the old fashion way. All the students and school staff were very friendly and went out of their way to make us feel welcomed. The English Language department teachers and students were especially nice went over and beyond to make our entire stay there wonderful. They took us to visit the Atsuta Shrine in Nagoya – the largest shrine in Japan. Then took us shopping in an area called Osu. All the US Team members had a great time, including the adults. They had a prearranged dinner set up for us at a Denny’s Restaurant, which was very thoughtful of them. We ended the day checking into our hotel, the Wayo Kan, a Japanese style ryokan, where you sleep on futons, have Japanese style meals, wear a Japanese robe (yukata) and share a community bath. It was a great cultural experience for our team. One thing for sure, the boys enjoyed the bath more than they enjoyed the Japanese breakfast.

On Thursday morning, 12/29 we hopped on the bus to go to Taisei School for the Taisei Cup Tournament. It was a big honor for the US Team because we were the only international team invited to participate in this tournament. For the boys, this was a Team tournament and an Individual tournament. For girls, it was only an Individual tournament. There were 38 boy’s teams participating which were separated into preliminary pools of 3 or 4 team each. It was a round robin competition in the pool and only the number one team from each pool advanced to the Quarter Finals. The Tohkon team and the Konan team were placed in separate pools of 4 teams each. The Tohkon team fought very hard and tried their best but they were out sized and out matched. They lost all 3 of their matches. In the individual tournament all of the Tohkon team judoka competed in the lightest weigh category, -60kg (132lbs). Our judoka were way undersized for this division with our lightest competitor, Jason at 74 lbs and our heaviest competitor, Narek at 128 lbs. The other three Tohkon competitors all weighed around 100 lbs. But they all tried their best and didn’t hold anything back. I am proud of their courage and their positive attitude. Many of the Japanese judoka that they practiced with and became friends with at the Sanix tournament were also competing in this Taisei tournament. It was great to see our judoka watching and cheering on their new international friends. After the Taisei Cup finished, our host took us to a historical park called Meji-mura. The Taisei English Club students were assigned to each of the US Teams to be our tour guides and translators. They took us all around the huge park explaining the different buildings and attractions. At the end of the park tour the Japanese students gave each of the US Team members a nice souvenir gift as we parted company. After a very tiring couple of days, they had to go home and tend to their school work and get some rest. They were wonderful hosts and we really appreciate all they did for us.

We had a very nice dinner at a Korean style BBQ with the Taisei Administration and staff. The dinner was delicious and the kids had a great time, especially with the all you can eat desserts. This was our final function as a team and marked the end of our SANIX/TAISEI trip. We returned to our hotel for our last night in a Japanese ryokan and our last night in Nagoya. The administration, staff and students at Taisei Jr. and Sr. High School took an extraordinary amount of time and effort to make us comfortable and extend wonderful hospitality. We cannot thank them enough for all their kindness and hope to be able to someday return the favor.

Friday morning, 12/30, the US Team split up for their return trip home. Our host took some of the team to the airport and some of us to the Nagoya train station. Our Chicago, Indiana, and Michigan members caught a Shinkansen Express train to Shinagawa station in Tokyo. We spent a day and a half in Tokyo doing some sightseeing, shopping and eating. Highlights of our stay in Tokyo included a visit to the Kodokan where we took a picture with the statue of Kano Sensei. Unfortunately, the Kodokan was closed for the holiday so we could not go inside. We also visited the Senso-ji Temple in Asakusa and the famous “Hachiko” statue in Shibuya. From the 2nd floor window of train station we watched in amazement, at all the people crossing the big intersection outside Shibuya station. We braved the crowds and made the trek across the busy intersection to do some shopping and search for a place to eat. The kids found an all you can eat Shakey’s Pizza where we ate dinner and slowly acclimated back to American food. We spent the night in the Shinagawa Prince Hotel with regular western style beds and a great breakfast buffet. It was a very comfortable night in preparation for our 12 hour flight back home to Chicago. It was an uneventful flight and we made it home safely. Our Indiana team members had another hour and half flight to go before they made it to their home.

The entire trip was a great experience for all the Team Members, both young and old. The exposure to excellent judo at the International Training Camp and the Tournaments was an eye opener and great learning experience for our junior judoka. Traveling together and living together as a Team was a great experience for all the boys. The camaraderie they built between themselves and the international friendships they developed is priceless. The Japanese culture and hospitality they were introduced to was absolutely wonderful. My hope is that the adventure that these junior judoka experienced will propel them to the next level. Encourage them to continue their judo careers and train harder and become our future champions and hopefully our future Olympians. I also hope that we can build on this experience and develop our own International exchange program and bring top level judo competitors here to the US on a regular schedule.

We cannot thank all of our gracious hosts in Japan enough for everything they did for us to make our trip a lifetime memory. We have many people here in the US to thank including Sensei Noboru Saito for making this trip possible and including us and allowing us to form a Tohkon Team. We must also give a special thank you to Mr. Robert Fukuda, USJF Executive Director and Mrs. Julie Koyama, USJF Development Chair for their support to help make this trip affordable for our judoka. In addition, we must also thank Ms. Lia Hatashita for outfitting our US Team with beautiful sweat suits and polo shirts. It made us all look good and feel like a team. All the team members are grateful for the generous support from everyone involved to make this trip possible.

Thank you very much.

Douglas Tono
Tohkon Team Coach