A fresh start for this martial art: Judo Club prepares to amp up operations next semester after recent revival


The Judo Club has had a storied history at the College of William and Mary for decades now – it has experienced waves of inactivity throughout the years when senior members graduate and leave behind vacancies in leadership. However, despite the organization’s dormancy, two students, Ellie Baranowski ’26 and Alek Danielyan ’26 have worked to restart Judo Club this year.

Judo, which translates to “gentle way,” is a Japanese martial art that emphasizes the philosophy of being a good, well-rounded person and is one of the only martial arts in the Olympics. And for many members of the club, the highlight of the martial art form is its reliance on technique rather than physical strength, which allows anyone to succeed in disarming their opponent, regardless of size or stature. 

“One of the really helpful things is if you’re small like me, it’s really easy for me to take down a six-foot tall, 200 pound [person] because I know how to use the techniques to my advantage,” Baranowski, the club’s current president, said. “So it’s very customizable to your body type, which is really fun, especially for girls and self-defense.” 

During the club’s three meetings a week, members are split into groups based on attendance and what they want to learn that day. As a technique-focused martial art, a crucial aspect of judo is strategizing, understanding human reactions and body positioning. 

“If we have a large group of beginners or people who just started, then we want to get them really solid on basics,” coach Fiona Gordon ’25 said. “A lot of the foundations in judo are the more important part of what we learn, so if you have a solid foundation, you can build upon that.” 

This semester, the club has primarily been run as a beginners’ class but welcomes members of all skill levels. Earlier this semester, the club promoted many of its members who had become more advanced, which means that when the club resumes next semester, there will be greater diversity in the skills taught to members. The club also recently elected its first official executive board since its re-launch, setting up for a more streamlined semester in the spring with more competitions and socials. 

The club will additionally welcome a new coach next semester: Michael Harrington ’12. Harrington previously coached judo in Japan, an incredibly prestigious accolade within the sport. With an official coach, the organization will transition away from student-teaching in hopes that a professional coach will enable the club to have a more permanent presence on campus.

In line with ramping up their training, the club is also looking to host more in-club tournaments each semester. They recently had their first tournament of the year Saturday, Dec. 2, in which Baranowski was the referee for all of the matches. The event had different weight categories and even featured a table running with the times and scores.

Baranowski also hopes to improve the standardization of members’ gear as the club aims to enter more collegiate competitions. 

“I really want to get patches so that if we ever show up to a collegiate tournament, we have William and Mary patches,” Baranowski said. “Judo is very specific about where you can customize your gear. They’ve gotten more lenient with it in the last two-ish years, so you can have them above the belt, on shoulders, up on your elbow, and you can do it over your heart if it’s your club.” 

Baranowski predicts the club will join the National College Judo Association and will be subsequently invited to compete at large collegiate tournaments, and currently her goal is to get on the list for a tournament hosted by Texas A&M University every April. 

The organization also hopes to improve the quality of their equipment. Currently, they are practicing on wrestling mats. Since wrestling mats are about three inches thinner than typical judo mats, members are more prone to soreness during the hands-on practices. Despite these limitations, the club hopes to continue to attract new members and launch self-defense programs for the greater College community. 

“I really would like to run self-defense clinics with sororities, police departments because there’s a lot of really good principles with self defense, so I’m hoping to do that next semester, maybe in the fall,”  Baranowski said. 

Though they do plan to help the broader College community, Judo Club also works to build a strong inner-club community and has provided and created a space in which members can grow both in the sport and as people. Members support each other in and outside of the sport while also getting a workout in through frequent practices and competitions.

“Judo is a really healthy environment in general to be in as a club and is a group of people who are very aware and constructive in what we’re doing,” member Sara Oversteyns ’26 said. “We are supposed to all take care of each other and if you accidentally hurt someone you make sure that they’re okay. You check up on people if they don’t show up. Besides judo being a really good workout, it’s also a really healthy mindset to be in.”

Oversteyns, a member of the St Andrews Joint Degree Programme, participated in judo while in Scotland. Despite the smaller size of the club at the College, she says that she has found both programs to be great forms of exercise and supportive, healthy and constructive places. 

“The judo club here is so new,” Oversteyns said. “At St Andrews, it has existed for more than ten years, I think, and so they had people who had competed in judo competitions, really experienced people in their 30s, 40s, 50s, who would come and teach. Here, we have students teaching, which is great but just very different. Also the club there is way bigger.” 

Overall, the club’s goals for the future are to increase its membership, raise awareness about its existence and stress its inclusivity, regardless of experience or knowledge level. Members do not have to be competitive if they do not want to be, and they are allowed to customize their judo experience, regardless of if they want to compete nationally, have fun or simply just meet new people.



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