The Faces Behind Uncommon Sports: Judo

Jimmy Pedro is in the center with his students behind him

When someone mentions martial arts, the first thing that comes to mind is most likely karate. What people often forget is that there are many types of martial arts that can be practiced – and one of the most commonly forgotten is judo. Judo, as compared to another martial art like karate, is much more of a grappling martial art. Judo doesn’t involve striking your competitors body in any way, it is much more like wrestling in that it’s comprised to take-downs, submissions, and hold-outs.

Someone who knows the world of judo more than almost anyone else is Jimmy Pedro. Born in 1970, Pedro has represented the United States in judo at four Olympic games and has brought home a bronze medal twice. While he is now a Shichidan, or 7th degree Black Belt, Jimmy hasn’t always been the star he is today. From the very early age of 2, Pedro was walking the mats and watching as his father instructed other judo students. “I sort of grew up practicing, watching all the kids train, and watching my father teach, and running around in the mats, ever since I can remember.”

Jimmy with his father at the Olympics

Challenges vary when it comes to different sports. Sometimes the challenges an athlete faces aren’t directly related to them participating in the sport at all. For Pedro, it was financial. “Finances were a challenge because in order to get good at judo, you need to sort of live and train outside of the United States which means many, many trips to Asia.” This great need for travel resulted in Pedro being away from home and on the road for up to 6 months out of each year.

Living a balanced life and fulfilling all aspects of life you wish to take part in isn’t easy when pursuing sports at a professional level. After graduating from high school, Jimmy went on to Brown University. While there he not only worked towards, and attained, a Bachelors of Arts in Business Economics and OBM, he was also part of their division one wrestling team, and continued to train for judo in the wrestling off season. While wrestling and judo are two very different sports, Pedro used the similarities to his benefit and utilized the wrestling season as cross training for judo.

During the time he spent at Brown, Pedro was still taking part in, and representing the United States at, international judo competitions. He would have to leave for up to a week at a time to attend these. He would discuss these conflicts with professors ahead of time and make sure to stay on top of work regardless of competition schedules. When asked about these conflicts and the professors he had, he reflected on how lucky he was to not have had to put any aspect of his life “on hold” to achieve his dreams. “They are allowing you to leave to pursue your dreams, so you need to show them that you are willing to do more work than anyone else to be given the exemption to go. And I think the one other thing I did in my life, I never put my life on hold.”

Jimmy celebrating after he won a match

Sports can often teach valuable life lessons to younger participants without them realizing it’s happening. “I attribute all of the success in my life to the sport of judo because in doing, training, you learn valuable life lessons.” Pedro is now a judo coach and coached Kayla Harrison – the first American to ever bring home an Olympic gold medal for judo. Many of the life lessons Pedro learned from a young age through judo, he makes sure to instill in those he coaches.

Along with instilling life lessons such as learning to fail and living with defeat, Pedro also insists on the importance of mental training and preparation for students. He has learned from years of his own training and training others that athletes can’t all be treated the same. Every athlete is different in what they will respond to best and how they can be motivated. Regardless of how Pedro customizes each of his trainee’s programs, mental training is non-negotiable. “We spend a good amount of time on mental preparation and how to physically and mentally prepare for events. It’s a lot of visualization and training. We will visualize achieving success every day, closing our eyes and feeling the moment and living the moment as if it is really happening in our lives and I’m a firm believer that once you can visualize success in a meaningful way, it becomes tangible, that your body then will follow through and help you get there.”

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