By Riley Malinowski

James Colp was en route to Vancouver for the 2020 Pacific International Judo Championships in March when his judo season came to an abrupt halt.

Colp, a National Level A judo referee, just finished officiating a tournament in West Edmonton Mall when COVID-19 forced the cancellation of Pacific International, and shortly after Judo Canada cancelled the remainder of the 2019-2020 season.

Colp, while no longer permitted to practice his judogi and tussle at the dojo, has kept connected with the sport and his fellow judokas by attending Zoom classes run by his hometown club in Selkirk.

“The classes are a nice way to see how our judo family is doing,” said Colp, a second-degree black belt.

Colp described the classes as a “ragtag” of various judo content, such as trivia, sports psychology, nutrition, etiquette and snippets of past judo team trips.

Airton Nakamura, Judo Manitoba’s provincial head coach, has also held online classes via Zoom, but has seen attendance numbers dwindling in recent weeks.

Online is so limited, it’s just become boring for the kids,” Nakamura said.

Nakamura says judo is difficult to teach online, and the majority of his classes focus instead on coordination and fitness instead of technique.

“Honestly, they’re not learning physical judo, maybe just some names and stuff like that,” he said.

Judo Manitoba is about to enter Phase One of their “Return to Play” guidelines, which will allow Nakamura to reopen his dojo, as long as social distancing rules are respected — which effectively means no physical judo will take place in the opening phase.

While Nakamura plans on resuming classes soon, Colp says other clubs across the province might face more difficulties in returning to the mats.

“One of the bigger things that we’re dealing with right now is a lot our dojos are in schools and until the schools open back up for extracurricular activities, we’re probably last on the list of people to go back,” said Colp.

“We’re pretty limited…it’s not like we can just go back on the soccer field.”

Nakamura has a facility in Winnipeg specifically for judo, but will still need to follow different guidelines as the sport progresses through different phases of “Return to Play.”

For example, in the second phase, judoka will only be permitted to practice with one other person for the duration of the entire phase.

Masks could fall off while practicing judo and Nakamura says Judo Manitoba’s doctor suggested they’d be ineffective at preventing the spread of COVID-19.

Colp recalls how quickly ringworm tore through the sport a few years ago.

“That’s a really good example of how quickly anything can spread in judo.”

Many of Manitoba’s top judoka have put their competitive career on hold for now, but Nakamura says there are not many people in the world practicing right now and the best thing a young athlete can do is stay fit during the pandemic.

Colp hasn’t fought in an official competitive judo match in over a decade and planned on making a return to the tatami this year, but Nakamura says competitive judo is now unlikely to resume, at least in Canada, until a vaccine for COVID-19 is developed.