The Rise of Recreational Judo

Interview and article written by Lishan Sharples - March 22, 2015


"My first Judo class was tough but exciting,” reflects Brian Shipper, a longtime Judo practitioner and instructor with the Police Judo Association, an independent and non-profit judo organization that began in the VPD gymnasium on Cordova Street in the early 1990s.

“In the 70s, I began practicing at the Vancouver Judo Club on Hastings. When I was in my early twenties I quickly realized that Judo was a great fit for me. I enjoyed the discipline, embraced the competitive aspect of the sport, as well as the relaxed atmosphere and diligent work ethic of my classmates and instructors. I also appreciated all of the instructors, black belts and more experienced people in the way they looked after me.”

Brian’s first experience is one that is shared by many others who have participated in Judo. “Judo strengthened my spirit and confidence and this has forever played an important role in my life outside of Judo,” Brian reflects. “My first instructor and first great influence in the martial art, Mr. Tamoto, taught quality Judo techniques in a very supportive environment. Mr. Tamoto’s own instructor was a student of Jigoro Kano, the founder of Judo, so I was always aware of how fortunate I was to be taught by someone who closely represented the revered lineage of Judo.”

As a long time instructor in Police Judo, Brian has witnessed the original Police Judo club grow to three locations throughout the Lower Mainland as well as several more in the process of being established. “I met Tim Ladler at the Vancouver Judo Club, a black belt who practiced Judo in England. He was later a Judo BC Team coach who had a long history of involvement in Judo as both a martial art and as a sport. I began helping Tim at the SFU Police Judo Club and it grew from there.”

Brian, timing the students during a judo specific cardio exercise Brian, timing the students during a judo specific cardio exercise (photo credit: jane)

Tim Ladler is a former Sergeant with the RCMP and currently retired Inspector with the Vancouver Police Department. As the Club grew and attracted more members, both Tim and Brian noticed that the competitive one-on-one sparring sessions, called “randori”, were causing a significant number of injuries to the participants, many of whom were police officers who are required to be healthy in order to perform the rigorous duties of being a law enforcement professional. They both noticed that many of the new participants at the SFU Club were interested in new experiences and enjoyed the Judo workouts and philosophy, but were deterred by the competitive aspect.

As a reaction to this, Brian and Tim began adopting a style of teaching Judo that focused on low-risk, high-yield techniques, many of which were practical to law enforcement professionals. Competitive “randori” was eventually omitted altogether, and was replaced with more cooperative drills that focused purely on improving one’s technique.

“Most, if not all of the participants at the Police Judo Club just wanted to practice Judo technique, learn practical self defense, and get a good workout in,” explains Brian. “No one had any aspirations to compete in tournaments, so we began focusing purely on the recreational and technical side of Judo while promoting a supportive and positive atmosphere without the competitive atmosphere. This was much like the way Mr. Tamoto ran his club.”

Chin-I working with Nitish Chin-I working with Nitish (photo credit: jane)

While the structure of the class focuses entirely on exercise, and practicing good technique, the intensity of the class remains high. Each class begins with a 30 minute Judo-specific workout that involves resistance exercise circuits and partner drills. Break-falls are always practiced in order to establish a unity of purpose and engrain one of the most important safety techniques for participants, regardless of belt color. “We believe that in order to have a valuable experience, you must look after yourself and look after your partner,”Brian explains. “Regardless of our experience, we all must practice and maintain our fundamental technical abilities.”

The rest of the class revolves around learning techniques through the instruction of the many experienced and NCCP Coaching Certified instructors. “We focus on low-risk high-yield Judo techniques and we are fortunate enough to have many experienced instructors available who observe and encourage proper technique from all of the participants."

“We expect our higher belts to participate in the NCCP coaching courses so they are able to assist our newer students in a safe and enjoyable manner. We control our entire curriculum and we are not influenced by outside agencies. We have a strong mentorship program thanks to our partnership with high-level Judo black belts and use-of-force experts and are always providing presentations or clinics to our students from these experts. We want to always be expanding our knowledge base.”

The Police Judo Club also goes beyond offering a recreational Judo program. For the past 3 years, The Law Enforcement Judo Association has provided a youth Judo program at the Ray Cam Community Centre. This program is managed by Police Judo black belt Yoon Choi, along with the assistance of other Police Judo Club volunteers. For the past five years, black belt member Chin-I Hsiang has co-ordinated and led the SFU Police Judo Junior programming which also includes an annual summer camp. In addition to this programming, all three Police Judo Clubs support the registered charity, the Yo Bro Youth Initiative, with volunteers for programs such as food drives. In addition, Club volunteers assist Yo Bro founder Joe Calendino with leading martial arts based fitness classes for many at-risk youth.

Whether you are entirely new to martial arts or have many years of experience under your belt, Police Judo offers a new style in the instruction of one of the most well known martial arts. With recreation as the focus of the class, students of all abilities can experience recreational Judo which focuses purely on the execution of good technique, providing a hard but meaningful workout, and giving the opportunity to expand their knowledge of Judo and self-defense in a structured, safe, and supportive environment.

Toby, explaining judo drills Toby, explaining judo drills (photo credit: jane)

Today, the Police Judo Club has over 250 members in three different clubs throughout the Lower Mainland (Tactical Training Centre in Vancouver, The Justice Institute in New Westminster, Simon Fraser University in Burnaby). From its inception, the Judo Club has maintained a strong relationship with the law enforcement community. Toby Hinton, a longtime police officer with the VPD and the Clubs first black belt, helped secure the Clubs first location and shift the focus of the curriculum from competitive Judo to recreational and law enforcement based control tactics. The Club has also benefited greatly from the continued support and law enforcement experience of VPD veterans Al Arsenault and Mark Steinkampf, as well as Special Constable Chin-I Hsiang, a black belt from Taiwan. Combined, the Club’s instructors have well over a century of Judo and law enforcement experience.

To be a part of this growing Recreational and Law Enforcement Judo Club, inquire at www.policejudo.ca.