Trinidad and Tobago judo is reinventing itself. That is the message from local instructor Mark Littrean, who is the head of the Queen’s Park Judo Club, and an executive member of Judo TT, the governing body of the sport.
The Judo fraternity has been dormant for some time in T&T, but finally is beginning to emerge again as an alternative sport for youngsters and young adults in the country.
The former Trinidad and Tobago Judo Association (TTJA) rebranded itself two years ago to the current Judo TT image, and the emphasis is now on young judoka across the country. The TTJA had been established in 1966. However, there had been a number of years in which the previous administration was unable to galvanise the sport into wide-scale recognition.
"It had a lot to do with our failure to effectively promote the sport," Littrean said. "We never really put together a comprehensive and effective programme where we were able to promote the sport."
Littrean has been practising the art for 29 years, starting when he was in university under the tutelage of Kiyoshi Shiina, a Japanese instructor based in the US. He currently holds the rank of fourth dan, or fourth-degree black belt and was nominated for the WITCO Sportsman of the Year Awards twice during the 1990s. In 1996, he established the Queen's Park Judo Club which has been in operation ever since.
"What motivates me is the mutual respect," he said. "It changes lives... in this sport, people will be able to go hard at each other and at the end there's still a bow." It was this motivation that led him to establish the QPJC in an attempt to help decentralise and spread the art. The TTJA was the only fixed point where enthusiasts could get top-level judo training.
Nowadays, under the new direction mandated by both QPJC and Judo TT, some young talents are beginning to emerge, which augurs well for the sport in the Olympic context.
"We have Luke Walker from St Mary's College," Littrean said.
Walker is a 15-year-old 2nd kyu or blue belt.
He added: "Xavier Jones recently returned from the USA Judo Junior Olympic International Tournament in Dallas, where he came second in the boys over 64 kilogramme division."
Jones is a 14-year-old judoka from Fatima College who Littrean said could be in contention for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. "Gabriella Wood is undoubtedly one of the leading female judoka right now," he said further. The St Joseph Convent Port of Spain student recently won silver at the Pan Am Open Junior circuit last month.
As a part of their strategy to raise the profile of the martial art, Judo TT has negotiated with the"Citizen Security Programme" to administer judo in at-risk areas. The judo governing body also received funding from the programme for a six-month period between May and November this year.
The QPJC under the Judo TT umbrella has also spearheaded the secondary school programme, which includes Dunross Preparatory, Maria Regina Grade School, Holy Name Convent, Fatima College, Queen's Royal College and St Joseph's Convent Port of Spain.
The QPJC is located at 33 Picton Street Newtown, and sessions range among children starting at six-years-old, to teenagers and adults. Children train on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, while the adult class takes place on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays.