Olympic oriented on the mat

    Imagine five long minutes on the mats. You are doing your best to keep your mind and body alert. The crowd is surrounding you with noise. Your opponent is a survivor of 10, maybe 15, years of intense training, and to win you would have to slam him flush against the ground. All the while you know you’re there to represent your school, your state and even your country. Each five-minute match is a chance to prove the value of the years of dedication you’ve put into practicing judo.

    This foreign and even intimidating scene is a common reality for Michael Harrison ’12. He has practiced judo for seven years, and is co-president of the College of William and Mary’s Judo Club. His co-president Chris Bahls-Mariles ’12, has been practicing the sport for 10 years.

    In his seven years, Harrison has competed and ranked in countless local and national competitions, and has recently delved into participating in international competitions.

    “My favorite tournament was probably this summer. I went to Pan-American Championships and I got third place there,” Harrison said. “It’s a lot different because it’s more like you are competing for your country, so it’s honorable and fun because your teammates are from all different parts of the U.S.”

    Harrison spoke more about his experience than his growing number of medals.

    “Hopefully I’ll participate in the Olympics eventually, either 2012 or 2016, and after that I want to open up my school and give back to judo,” Harrison said. “And I might move to one of the Olympic training centers after I graduate.”

    His competitions abroad have prepared him for Olympic-caliber matches, although Harrison admitted that international games are a whole new level of intensity. With steady training, he hopes to be ready to compete in the Games eventually.

    “I would not want to fight Michael in a competition,” Bahls-Mariles said. “He is set on winning, and he is a very imposing individual. He knows what he’s got to do … but the second he bows out he’s back to good old Michael, laughing.”

    Harrington said that even though he is not in the right place to train for the Olympics, Judo Club helps keep him on his game. During school it is difficult to travel to large competitions, so Judo Club provides people to practice and learn with.

    “It’s not about beating up on each other,” Bahls-Mariles said. “You get a lot of anime types who are coming and are ready to rip someone’s head off, but that’s not what judo is about.”

    Although on the mat the main goal is to throw down your opponent, the sport involves more than having bulky muscles or being the most aggressive. Judo becomes a passion for some because of the philosophy and lifestyle behind the sport.

    “People who do judo are very relaxed, outgoing, good people,” Bahls-Mariles said. “It’s the philosophy, it’s the trust thing. If you come into judo you’re trusting someone with your body … and to do that everyone has to have the upmost respect for each other. It’s a very beautiful thing.”

    Harrison and Bahl-Mariles believe judo can be a positive force in a person’s life. This benefit is a contributing factor as to why they have put so much effort into creating the Judo Club. Only one year old, the club has a core group of 20 members that includes students and people from the surrounding community.

    “I like teaching new people what judo is and the importance of judo and how it helps you in everyday life,” Harrison said. “Most of them are new; that’s what I also like about it — teaching new, fresh people.”

    The co-presidents share a strong vision for the Judo Club’s future, beginning with better training resources and more competitions at the collegiate level, although they already do compete with other colleges in the area. More than anything, they hope to strengthen the presence of judo on campus. Their core group already includes judo novices, community members from Norfolk, three girls and a College staff member. No matter their level of experience, they learn something new every practice.

    “You have to be really patient with judo because it takes a long time to get good at it, so you have to learn that you have to do more listening when you first start judo,” Harrison said. “I’m still learning and I’ve been doing it for a long time. You can learn a lot from judo, even when you’re old.”


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