American's gold could be good for judo here

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Judo means "gentle way," but before she tried it three years ago, Katherine Berk had never thought of judo as a sport for women. The martial art involves grappling, holding and throwing the opponent to the mat, not something Ms. Berk wanted to try at first.

"I always thought it was a man's thing," said the 53-year-old pharmacist from Baldwin Borough. "I never saw women doing it."

At the Olympics in London, Kayla Harrison, a 22-year-old from Ohio, made clear that not only can American women do judo -- they can also win at it.

On Thursday, she earned a gold medal in the women's under 78-kilogram division, becoming not just the first female judo champion from the United States, but also America's first gold medalist overall in judo.

In the United States, where judo is vastly overshadowed by more popular Olympic sports such as swimming, basketball and track and field, Kyu Ha Kim, the grandmaster of Kim's Martial Arts & Fitness studio in Brentwood, hopes that Ms. Harrison's win can give the sport a boost.

The sport of judo has long experienced more popularity in Asian countries such as Japan and South Korea, where Mr. Kim, who is now 77, was born and lived until the mid-1960s, when he moved to the United States to teach judo.

Interest in the sport has waxed and waned here, he said, and at his Brentwood studio, he has a committed group of about 100 people who regularly attend classes and practice.

This morning, there were seven students at the studio -- Ms. Berk and her daughter, Georgia, and five men all wearing the traditional gi, the cotton uniform -- practicing their holds and throws.

Watching coverage of Ms. Harrison and others compete in judo has made for an exciting week, said Ursula Reis, 64, who is Mr. Kim's fiance and his office manager. And it's been good for the sport, she said.

"I think it will let people see that it's not just a brute sport," she said. "It's a fun exercise."

It's been about three years since Ms. Berk and her daughter began taking classes in judo. This morning, they were moving through the rhythms of the martial art, practicing striking and throwing techniques.

Georgia is 13 years old, nine years younger than the new women's champion in judo. Watching Ms. Harrison did make her think, she said, of where she could go with the sport.

"I'd like to shoot for something like that," she said.

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This story originally appeared in The Pittsburgh Press. To subscribe, go to Kaitlynn Riely: or 412-263-1707.


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