By: Jon Rombaoa
Judo will take over Honolulu this weekend as the Neal Blaisdell Center Arena will host the United States Judo Association/United States Judo Federation's Fifth Annual Grassroots Judo, Youth, Team & Kata National Championships.
About 800 judoka representing 17 states and five different countries will compete in the national tournament and more than 2,500 tourists are expected to visit Oahu for the week's festivities.
Kevin Asano and Taylor Takata, Hawaii's two most successful athletes in Judo history will also be participating in tournament, not as competitors, but as coaches. Pearl City High School graduate, Asano is a 1988 Olympic silver medalist. Iolani graduate, Takata is a 2008 Olympian and former No. 1 ranked player in the world in his weight class.
Asano believes spectators of the tournament can expect to see a great amount of talent and skill the in hundreds of players that will compete.
"They are going to see some of the top junior players from around the country," Asano said. "So these are players that are shooting for maybe a spot in the olympics or in the world team."
This year's HHSAA girls state champion, Haylie Shinsato, of the Mililani Hongwanji Judo Club and this year's HHSAA boys state champion, Weston Kogachi, of Makiki Seidokan Judo Club, are both preparing to represent Hawaii in the competition.
"Our biggest competition here would probably be the States for high school and I've been to the Nationals before and it's way bigger," Shinsato said. "800 competitors and so much more competition. It's going to be big."
Despite the size of the competition, Shinsato and Kogachi are both determined to remained focused on training by preparing their own mind and body.
"In Judo, mental strength is a key element in the sport," said Kogachi. "When you stay mentally strong and stay confident that you can do it, that's what got me through (States)."
Shinsato says training months in advance and preparing yourself ahead of time is key to advance through the large amount of competitors.
Hawaii will be represented well among the hundreds of competitors from around the country as Takata believes Hawaii judo players have the skills to put them through to success.
"I think Hawaii in general has really good judo, per say. I think that a lot of the juniors from Hawaii do really well in the Nationals," said Takata. "I think a lot of the kids in Hawaii have a good chance to take medals and be pretty successful here."
Asano and Takata both hope that everyone who comes out to the tournament can come away with a positive experience.
"I want them to maybe in 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 years, they'll look back and say that was a was a wonderful time in Hawaii." said Asano.
"I want my students to do well. I want them to be successful and if they go out and fight their best and do what they can do, I think that it would be a success for me." said Takata
The tournament starts on Friday, July 4 and extends through Sunday July 6 at the Blaisdell Center Arena. Tickets are available through Ticketmaster (800-745-3000 or ticketmaster.com) or at the Blaisdell Center Box Office (808-768-5252) which is open from Monday through Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.