Loras judo instructor to hang up his black belt
DUBUQUE, Iowa (AP) — At Loras College, there is only one sensei.
His name is Terry Smith, and for the past 57 years he has been teaching judo to any who entered his dojo. To some at the college, his status is mythical.
“He’s a legend walking among us,” said TJ Miller, head wrestling coach for Loras. “Everybody knows Terry.”
However, after decades of teaching young adults the various throws and takedowns that comprise judo, a 100-plus-year-old Japanese martial art, Smith is calling it quits.
“I just kept getting older, and all of my 21-year-olds just kept turning 18 again,” Smith said. “I think I’m ready to leave it behind me.”
The Telegraph Herald reports that a fifth-degree black belt, the 75-year-old Smith has been the head instructor of the Loras Judo Club since it was founded in 1961.
Since then, he has taken several students to national tournaments. One even was named an alternate for the U.S. team in the 1992 summer Olympic Games.
Smith has earned accolades of his own. He placed fourth in a national judo tournament in 1981.
“We had a lot of success throughout the years,” Smith said. “There were some really talented athletes.”
Judo focuses on utilizing throws, joint locks, chokes and takedowns to pin an opponent.
Smith was introduced to judo by a friend when he was 14, and he spent the next four years as a member of the only local judo club. When that club closed down, Smith approached Loras College about starting a new group.
Smith wasn’t a student, but school officials agreed and granted Smith use of the school’s wrestling room.
For the next 57 years, Smith taught judo two nights per week and on the weekends. He never became a student at Loras, and the position always was voluntary.
“I have been around to see nine college presidents come and go,” Smith joked. “I still haven’t graduated.”
Smith described his club as purely recreational and open to experienced judo practitioners as well as novices.
Mark Ludescher, a student of the dojo club in the early 1980s, said many people viewed Smith as a mentor.
“Here was this guy that looked like Abe Lincoln and was just really motivational to everyone,” Ludescher said. “I think a lot of people looked up to him.”
For Smith, assuming the role of sensei also granted him the ability to impose his strict appreciation of grammar and manners. Sentences needed to be constructed properly when addressing him, and hats were not allowed to be worn indoors.
“You cannot start a sentence with ‘Me and Terry,’” Smith said. “If I was able to pester my students long enough on stuff like that, it would usually stick.”
Those decades as head of the judo club also have allowed Smith to form many strong friendships. He has attended many of his students’ weddings and is godfather to 12 of his students’ children.
“I still keep in regular contact with at least 200 of them,” Smith said. “Nearly all of my close friends have come from judo.”
When asked why he was retiring from the judo club, Smith offered a simple answer.
“I’m an old man,” he said.
But it’s not the end of judo at Loras. The club will be taken over by some of his former students.
More than the competitions and the nights spent teaching students proper throwing techniques, Smith will miss interacting with the people who called him sensei, he said.
“I’m really going to miss them,” Smith said. “I have a lot of great memories, and I don’t have any regrets.”
Information from: Telegraph Herald, http://www.thonline.com