Wakefield is gaining an increasingly prominent spot on the map in the world of competitive judo - and not just because of the recent gold medal won by Kayla Harrison, who trains at Jimmy Pedro's Judo Center on New Salem Street in Wakefield. Since 2007, Pedro's has been one of several USA Judo National Training Sites.
In fact, Pedro himself was the coach of the U.S. Olympic Judo team during the London games, continuing what has long been a standout career in the martial art. The owner and head instructor of Pedro's Judo Center won bronze at the 1996 and 2004 Olympics, and he was also on the 1992 and 2000 teams. Along the way, he also won the world championship in 1999 and five U.S. championships.
Pedro is a graduate of St. John's Prep who was at home in the world of judo from a young age - literally. His father, Jim Pedro Sr., is a 7th degree black belt whose judo resume includes being a 1976 Olympic alternate and coach of the U.S. World team in 1993, as well as assistant coach of the 2012 team. "I literally started judo the day I could walk," Pedro said in a recent conversation with Wakefield Patch, recalling how even as a very small child he remembers attending competitions and being at the dojo with his father.
The Wakefield-based judo center has helped produce a number of other elite competitors. Pedro noted that Rick Hawn, a 2004 Olympian, has trained at his facility, as has Rhonda Rousey, a 2008 Olympic bronze medalist who is now well-known mixed martial arts fighter. For the 2012 games, another U.S. judo competitor was Travis Stevens, who lost a bronze medal match.
Judo's visibility and perhaps its longer-term popularity got a boost with Harrison's victory. She won the first U.S. gold medal in the sport, and in good part because of that, the word "judoka" seems to have shown up more in the media this past month than at seemingly any other time in history. That said, Pedro said that "I think judo has been stagnant for many years," while also being on the edge of exploding in popularity. One of the best things to happen to judo in the past few years, said Pedro, has been the great popularity of mixed martial arts. "Martial arts is growing due to the popularity of MMA," said Pedro, adding that this boost can be specifically seen in grappling-related arts such as judo, jiu-jitsu, Muy Thai, and others.
For those wondering how one wins a judo match, Pedro explained that the objective is essentially get one's opponent onto their back to win the match. The best throw basically wins the match, and points are also awarded for throwing an opponent onto their side.
With the Olympics just completed, Judo competitors will start working toward the annual world championships again, with the 2013 competition scheduled for Brazil. Competitors coached by Pedro will also be participating in various other events around the U.S. and the world in the future.
That said, Pedro doesn't just train world-class athletes. He reports that he has numerous students from Wakefield and the surrounding area, ranging in age from 4 to 60.
Pedro also reported that on Saturday, September 29 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., the judo center is holding a special event with Kayla Harrison to celebrate her gold medal. The public is welcome to come and participate in a group judo lesson and to take pictures or get autographs.