Five days a week, Bruce Henry checks himself and his kids into a padded room.
No, they’re not clinically insane, but it’s probably fair to say the family is crazy about judo.
“It’s a good way to burn energy,” said Daniel Henry, 18, the oldest son and a black belt holder. “And it’s a fun way to throw people around — legally.”
Daniel is fresh off an appearance representing Team BC at the Canada Winter Games in Prince George, and will soon depart for a one-year, full-immersion program at the prestigious International Budo University in Japan.
Sister Haley, 15, is a two-time bronze medalist at the Canadian National Judo Championships. Little brother Anthony, 13, is currently the top point-holder in B.C. in the U16 boys classification, where he hopes to earn a berth in this year’s national finals.
All of them train at Campbell River Judo Club, where Bruce, 46, is a black-belt instructor.
So of course he must have dragged the kids as toddlers to the mats to take up the sport of his youth, right?
“Oh, no,” Bruce said with a laugh. “I’m here because of them.
“I sort of left (judo) behind when I started working and got married. Then I had kids, and now I’m back doing it more than I did then.”
Judo is a modern martial art emphasizing throws, chokeholds, arm-bars and other submission holds. While best recognized for its dramatic, over-the-shoulder or hip throws, much of the action takes the form of wrestling, with points scored for controlling an opponent on his or her back. Strikes with hand or fist are prohibited in competition, though wins can come through submission holds that force the opponents to “tap out” by slapping the mat or the victor — a practice recognizable by fans of mixed martial arts and adopted by MMA from judo. So why would a girl want to subject herself to that from older and larger boys on the practice mat?
“You get to throw them back, two times harder,” Haley said with a sly smile. “I grew up seeing them do it for years, and I wanted to take part.”
When Daniel moves to Japan this year to train at Budo, it will be his second stay in the country. At age 15, he studied there on an exchange visit through Campbell River’s sister city, Ishikari.
“He left here a blue belt and came back with a black belt,” Bruce said. “He skipped brown.”
Daniel will study language and sports medicine, but much of his time will be devoted to Judo at the martial arts sports academy whose alumni have included national team members and Olympians for several countries.
“I’ll get to train three-and-a-half hours a day, six days a week. It’s going to be a lot of judo.”
And as Daniel and Haley got their starts in Judo, Anthony was not far behind. Starting in the tot class offered at the Campbell River Club, he tried his first competitive match at age four in a class with six- and seven-year-olds.
“He hung around the club all the time, when he was smaller than everybody else,” Bruce said of Anthony. “He was like the mascot.”
The youngster said judo has always been fun, but he began to take it seriously at an early age.
“When I was six years old and started winning my first fights, it was kind of like, ‘Yeah, I can do this,'” Anthony said.
He was training for an entry-level spot at nationals last year when the age classifications were changed, leaving him a year too young. That’s left him even more hungry to make it to the nationals in Quebec this May, in what will be his first year of eligibility.
Haley has been there twice, earning bronze medals at U-15 two years ago and at U-16 last year. She has also competed “up” in classification, against U-21 competition.
“There’s a lot more guys in judo than girls,” she said. “But when you get up to the higher levels of competition, the girls are amazing. They’re a lot more experienced, a lot smoother with their fighting.”
Both Haley and Anthony said they plan to stay with the sport after their competitive years, returning to coach and train others. Before that, however, Haley has another key goal to achieve.
“Only one other girl in the history of the (Campbell River) club has gotten a black belt,” she said. “I want to be the second.”
That first woman was Marion Sloan, all the way back in 1980. Coincidentally, Sloan was Bruce Henry’s first instructor when he joined the club as a 13-year-old.
The Campbell River Club, founded by 6th-dan black belt Bruce Ramsay in 1966, was expanded approximately three years ago and is now Vancouver Island’s largest dojo with more than 2,500 square feet of mats.
That expansion, along with the success of competitive members like the Henrys, national and Canada Winter Games qualifier Kelsey Painter and national qualifier Jake Misky, has led to a resurgence in the club’s enrollment. In mid-March, the club will send more than 20 members to the Edmonton International competition, a record number.
“The last three years or so it’s really been hitting a high mark,” said Bruce. “From tots, right on up, we’ve got a full house.
“Hey, it’s the perfect place to throw kids. It’s literally a rubber room.”