The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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Aggie judo fighting through uncertain fall

via @aggiejudo Instagram

The Texas A&M Judo Team was established in 1962.

The Texas A&M judo team has been one of the most successful club sports teams on A&M’s campus, winning four straight Southwest National Judo Collegiate Association. The team amassed 20 Texas Collegiate Championships over the last 30 years, recruiting nationally and internationally ranked athletes and implementing a successful scholarship program.
However, the COVID-19 pandemic has not been kind to the sport, which emphasizes contact between people in both practice and competition. The team’s biggest contest of the spring semester, the NCJA championships in California, was canceled shortly after spring break. Team members said they fear they will not compete again for the rest of 2020.
Psychology senior Rylie Knight, who transferred to A&M after running track and cross country at Southern Arkansas, said the weeks when the outbreak occurred, which shut down A&M, were hard to process.
Knight said she had finished up a competition at A&M and was looking ahead to the NCJA Championships, but learned that after returning from spring break the event had been canceled, and there would be no more practice for the rest of the semester.
“It hit pretty hard cause I had just worked all semester to get to nationals, and then I was being told that I can’t practice,” Knight said.
Bob Perez, head coach of the team since 1993, said the Aggies had to make many changes to safely practice and work out as a team.
“We started practicing two weeks ago, and it’s been no-contact with a limited number of people coming into each practice,” Perez said. “We’re really just working on drills and conditioning right now.”
Despite the new look to practice, Knight said the team is seeing the benefits of the time they get to spend together.
“Even if practices are non-contact, it’s still something because it gets me back with my friends and gives them a reason to come back to College Station,” Knight said. “We have a lot of out-of-state and out-of-country people, so I’m glad to have them back to at least get something out of it.”
Perez said some of the returning athletes have opted to be away from judo for the semester to attend to whatever needs have arisen due to recent circumstances.
“Some of the athletes have decided to take the semester off to heal their bodies and just try to revitalize themselves after this summer,” Perez said.
Netherlands native and economics freshman Dario Maaskant said the team’s goal is to stay in shape and is hopeful the modified workouts will help them.
“We do a lot of elastic band training, practice throws with the dummies,” Maaskant said. “Overall, just a lot of judo stuff without having actual contact with each other. We all want to stay as fit and tournament-ready as possible.”
Maaskant is one of many freshmen having to adjust to college life under unforeseen circumstances. On top of that, he also has to adapt to being in the U.S., and he said he will take this opportunity to focus on academics.
“On one side, I’m not going to have some of those experiences, but on the other side, it may be easier to get to know studying in college,” Maaskant said. “Maybe that’s the one good side in all of this.”
Perez said one of the biggest obstacles for the club is that there hasn’t been a regular turnout of people interested in joining as there has been in years past.
“It’s a big difference compared to normal because we usually have 30 to 40 new people come out to give it a try, and we’ll probably keep half of them,” Perez said. “This semester, we’ve only had maybe 10 people that are interested, but what makes that more difficult is that we can’t really do the full range of judo, so it’s hard to keep them interested.”
Team-bonding has been challenging according to Perez, but the club knows the time and effort will be worth it.
“It’s difficult,” Perez said. “It’s hard to find that teamwork and that bond, and it’s definitely a bit slower this year.”
They may not be as close as teams in years past, but the Aggies have been making sacrifices for each other, Maaskant said.
“We still try to hang out at a safe distance in a safe environment,” Maaskant said. “But if one of us gets infected, then the whole team gets shut down, so we have to be as safe as possible.”
Though she was new to the sport, Knight said she has found a new home with the team.
“I didn’t know anybody, but I wanted to learn martial arts and self-defense, and along the way, I found a team to be a part of again, and I really love that,” Knight said. “They’re great people, and they’re some of my best friends, so I’m glad I did it.”

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