Walk into École Émilie Tremblay (EET) on a Monday or a Thursday evening and you may be surprised to see that the usual school gymnasium is transformed into a dojo, complete with a giant tatami (floor mat) and filled with students, donning their crisp white judogi, diligently training in the Japanese martial art of judo.

The Northern Lights Judo Club, which runs out of EET in Granger, is in fact just one of the four clubs of Judo Yukon, along with Golden Horn Judo Club, Shiroumakai Judo Club in Riverdale and Hiroshikai Judo Club in Carcross.

Judo is a growing sport in the Yukon, with new students of all ages joining all the time. Classes range in skill level and age group, from age four to adult.

Students are encouraged to progress at their own pace and to work with instructors to set their own individual goals. They can choose to work towards grading exams, in which they are tested on both theoretical knowledge and practical techniques, in order to achieve the next belt colour or stripe.

Right now, many Judo Yukon students are excitedly training for competitions, such as the Judo Yukon Open Championships coming up in April at the Canada Games Centre. Judo Yukon is very proud to be sending 10 representatives to the Edmonton International Judo Competition. Most of these young judoka are under 14 years old and practise three times per week as part of the elite team.

Judo Yukon’s Head Coach Bianca Ockedahl stresses, though, that the main focus of judo is not competition. It is about being active and having fun while learning skills such as confidence and discipline.

“Practising judo develops physical skills like coordination, speed and agility, which are transferable to lots of other sports,” she says.

As an example, she points out that classes will often incorporate some tumbling and gymnastics. Mostly, though, it’s about feeling good. “As long as they’re having fun on the mat, that’s all that matters.”

In the Yukon, judo is a family affair. Parents and kids can participate – both in and outside the dojo – with family classes and activities. As a volunteer-run organization, Judo Yukon relies on the involvement of people in the community it has built.

“Judo in the Yukon is very much a little family,” says Ockedahl. “Everyone gets involved and helps out.”

It may not be so little for much longer, though, as Judo in the Yukon continues to grow at a steady rate.

“Every year we get more and more people enrolling,” says Judo Yukon President Richard Zebruck.

Zebruck points out that Judo Yukon’s enrolment has more than doubled in numbers since he himself joined back in 2008.

Especially noticeable is the increase in the number of girls who are signing up. Ockedahl couldn’t be happier about this trend and she hopes to continue to foster its growth by introducing a girls’ club on Friday nights starting in April.

“I want to give girls a place where they can come out, practise some judo and just be themselves,” she says.

Though the registration typically opens in August for a September start, Judo Yukon invites interested kids and adults to come observe or try out a class any time. For more information, check out their website at www.JudoYukon.ca.