JOPLIN, Mo. —
Chris Sloan, pastor of Christ's Community United Methodist Church, said it was about two years ago that a member of his congregation approached him about starting a judo club ministry.
What has happened since then has been little short of phenomenal.
Starting with six members, the club has mushroomed to around 140 and gained national recognition through the United States Judo Association.
Not only has the Joplin organization been designated the fastest growing club in America but was also listed fourth on the Top 50 list of USJA chartered clubs. The full list is available on the USJA web site, www.usja-judo.org.
The Christ's Community member who asked to start the club is Justin Weston, who holds a black belt in judo. In addition to Weston, others at the church holding black belts and helping with instruction are Ibra Brewton, David Lewis and Sloan. They are assisted by youths of the church holding brown belts.
Anyone holding a black belt is considered an expert, while brown belts are a level below that. There are a number of other colored belts leading up to brown.
Jigoro Kano, the Japanese man who created judo in 1882, saw it as a way to better people.
"This betterment of people goes along with what can be found in scriptures," Sloan said. "Judo teaches that we are supposed to give back to society, and that is what the Bible teaches."
In his journeys abroad, Kano wanted to preserve the timeless qualities of jujitsu -- loyalty, discipline, resolve, honor, morality -- and discard the traditional qualities in which the martial artist learns techniques to hurt, maim and kill. To do this, Kano made judo safe, rewarding and challenging.
Youth judo classes for 12-year-olds and up meet at the church from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. each Tuesday. On Thursdays, children from 4 to 8 years old meet from 6 to 6:45 p.m., 9 to 11-year-olds from 6:30 to 7:30 and adults from 7:30 to 9. There is also a self-defense class that is held for both youth and adults meeting from 2 to 4 p.m. on Sundays.
Although those attending are not required to go to church at Christ's Community, Sloan said some have started attending church there as a result of going to the classes.
"This is an amazing program, and we keep it very Christian," he said.
When the classes began, the church used mats that had been used for tumbling but with the program developing had to buy more and much larger mats.
Other equipment besides mats has been purchased at a cost of around $14,000, according to Sloan's estimates. The church has been able to deal with the costs through fundraisers and donations.
Although martial arts training similar to what Christ's Community offers can cost up to $300 a month, Sloan said, the Joplin church charges no fee. He added that that is no doubt part of the reason for the fast growth.
Individuals taking a class still have to buy their martial arts uniform as well as insurance. However, the church has a scholarship fund available for those unable to come up with the money.
Sloan was introduced to judo in middle school and began teaching it when he got his black belt about eight months ago.
More information about classes may be obtained though the Christ's Community Judo Facebook page or by calling he church at 417-781-8701.
Address correspondence to Rich Brown, c/o The Joplin Globe, P.O. Box 7, Joplin, MO 64802, or email richbrown@cable one.net.