As Aarian Imada, a first-degree black belt, calls instructions, children willingly fall in line.
The scene was repeated numerous times during the hour of beginning judo class, which the children attended on a recent summer evening. About 10 to 15 students participate in what has become one of the most popular programs at West Coast World Martial Arts, 1010 W. Las Palmas Ave.
“Parents of my current students have informed me that since their child has been learning judo, they have been more respectful and disciplined at home, as well as in school,” said Imada, who started teaching the martial art to local children in December. “Judo is a great confidence builder for children who are more reserved. The change in my students is just remarkable.”
The 22-year-old Imada plans to continue her biweekly sessions of beginning judo throughout the year. The classes provide an opportunity for the children — most between 4 and 11 years old — to learn the sport at a young age.
The instructor is a student at California State University, Stanislaus, where she studies child development.
“I believe I am the only instructor in the area with a year-round program, teaching judo to children,” Imada said. “Instructing judo is a way for me to gain experience in teaching, and allows the children to have something positive to do in Patterson.”
Judo, an Olympic sport since 1964, means “the gentle way,” which might seem strange for a sport in which the focus is knocking down one’s opponent. Jujitsu student Jigoro Kano started the modern form of the martial art, known as Kodokan Judo, in Japan in 1882.
Unlike karate and other martial arts, students of judo learn to knock down their opponents at close quarters without the use of physical violence.
“Believe it or not, there is actually no such thing as a ‘judo chop,’” Imada said. “Judo is the only martial art that does not include kicking or punching, which is good, because your child won’t get in trouble for punching or kicking their peers in school.”
Imada — like her uncle Vaughn Imada, vice president of the U.S. Judo Federation — has become an ambassador for the sport, competing in several national events since taking up the martial art as a child in San Jose.
“My uncle is my inspiration,” said the 2007 Patterson High graduate.
Another local practitioner of the martial art is Jordan Imada, 8, who is a veteran of more than a year of judo training. Jordan, a yellow belt, is Imada’s nephew and helps her demonstrate moves to newcomers to the sport.
“He does a really great job, leading as the highest ranking student of the kids’ judo class,” Imada said.
During a recent class at the local gym, she worked with students dressed in the traditional uniform, called a “gi,” as they practiced falling and throwing their classmates.
The children tossed each other to the mat not with aggression, but with grace and determination.
“The kids really enjoy this part because they are able to send their friends flying through the air, and nobody gets hurt,” Imada said.
Students also practice back falls and side falls, which help the practitioner avoid injury in combat.
“After that, we move on to mat technique, which is very similar to wrestling,” Imada said. “I end class with some races, which include sprints, to improve the students’ motor skills and encourage friendly competition. The kids get a good, hard workout, which leaves them tired and ready for bed in the evening.”
Judo emphasizes discipline, respect and a tradition in which students learn from their opponents in practice and competition, Imada said.
“Through judo, I was able to develop a strong sense of belonging,” she added. “I want to bring that sense of belonging to the children of my community.”
At a glance
What: Beginning Judo for Kids
When: 7:30 to 8:30 p.m. Mondays, 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. Saturdays
Where: West Coast World Martial Arts, 1010 W. Las Palmas Ave.
Cost: $50 per month
Information: Aarian Imada, (408) 607-2351