See What Matters

The Northglenn Judo Club keeps kicking with the fray.

No question: Kids are different today, diluted versions of earlier specimens. At the Northglenn Judo Club, which meets Tuesday and Thursday nights at the Northglenn Community Center behind the Holiday Inn off 104th Street, the old-time instructors have had to adapt in a way that Bobby Knight should have and Woody Hayes could not. Dennis McGuire, who founded the club before soccer clubs and Nintendo cluttered up young schedules, remembers the early days with nostalgia.

"When the Japanese guys first came here to teach and were young," he says, "they worked the kids harder than they'd ever been worked before. We can't work the kids like that now -- the parents and kids won't accept it. Too much time. Too much intensity."

Shuichi Otaka, the school's lead instructor for the past quarter-century, nods; sadly, this is so. In many ways, the old days were easier. Senseis and their students both knew their places. Teachers pushed kids right up to the edge so that they would learn toughness and experience adversity; students paid attention and showed commitment. "But now," he says, "the kids can't take the punishment. They like softer, easier things." He shakes his head. "Sitting and watching TV."

Dennis McGuire, Page Baptist and Shuichi Otaka have spent a combined 95 years at the Northglenn Judo Club.
Anthony Camera
Dennis McGuire, Page Baptist and Shuichi Otaka have spent a combined 95 years at the Northglenn Judo Club.

"The style of discipline has changed," grumps Page Baptist, who co-founded the club with McGuire.

No commitment, agrees Doug Payne, another longtime teacher. "As soon as they discover girls and cars and football, they're gone."

"The parents just won't accept someone pushing their kids to crying these days," McGuire notes. "Anymore, you'd better make it fun, or the kid won't be there long. Before, you knew they'd be there, because the parents said they'd be there.

"No doubt. We've had to change our teaching style."

That's not the only thing that's changed at the Northglenn Judo Club. After their combined 121 years of teaching, the four men look more like Florida retirees than judo masters. They have gained weight and lost hair. They have pains that aren't even in the healing stage anymore; they're constant. McGuire nurses a bad left knee. Baptist has two, along with a bad back. Otaka and Payne's knees are shot to hell, all thanks to an unforgiving hobby -- judo -- and the kids these days.

Way back in the beginning, of course, the damn kids had nothing to do with it. The idea of a judo club was, frankly, to promote an optometry business. Naturally, it was for fun, but it was also a sort of sweaty networking opportunity. In 1961, Dennis McGuire was living at the YMCA in Waterloo, Iowa, working at the local John Deere store, filling time and his bank account between college and optometry school when, one night after returning home, he noticed some people tossing each other around on mats at the Y. "There was nothing to do," he recalls, "so I decided to try judo." The class was taught by two Germans who spoke barely a sentence of English between them, and soon it would be time for McGuire to return to school. It would not be inaccurate to say that he left Waterloo not knowing much judo.

Still, he was athletic, and he hadn't had much opportunity to test himself in his tiny Iowa high school; there were 21 kids in his graduating class, not quite enough to field a full football team, never mind other sports. Besides, something about judo's combination of wrestling and throwing -- a series of subtle, almost imperceptible hand movements to gain purchase, and then an explosion of action -- had grabbed him and wouldn't let go. He bought a used uniform and began stopping by a dojo near his optometry school in Chicago. When he moved to Denver in 1964, he would drop by the Denver School of Judo on Arapahoe and 20th streets. He was not particularly good, scarcely committed, and still many years away from a black belt.

"But," he remembers, "just as I wanted to have my own optometry practice, I wanted to have my own judo club. Plus, I'd just opened my office, and I wanted to get to know people in the community." So it was with a mixture of business sense, confidence and chutzpah that McGuire, a fine optometrist but a novice judo player, started the Northglenn Judo Club in 1965. He'd met a guy sitting next to him at the barbershop whom he'd recognized from another dojo: Dick Wright was a black belt, so McGuire invited him to teach at his new club, and Wright agreed.

At one of the first classes, 31-year-old Page Baptist brought in his three small boys -- "I'd read about this new judo program in the paper," he recalls -- and sat down to watch. But he couldn't keep still. It looked too exciting, so he decided to try it. For some reason, he attended the club's first administrative meeting as well, and Baptist, whose judo experience was still being measured in weeks, was elected a boardmember. McGuire threw in the title "co-founder" for the hell of it.

In those days, there weren't a dozen different soccer clubs for kids to choose from, so the judo club grew quickly. A couple of years after it started, a player named Joe Miley, the first Coloradan to place in a national judo competition, agreed to stop by a few times a week to teach. McGuire paid him ten bucks a week for gas money, and Miley paid him back by adding some class and genuine expertise to the place. "He was a beautiful technician," McGuire recalls, "pretty close to a world-class competitor. With him here, we could take a kid with potential and bring him a long way."

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