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Kids Flip Over Judo; Dad, Too

August 06, 1987|RAY RIPTON | Times Staff Writer

When Dan Alef's son, Derek, was 8, Alef enrolled the boy in a judo class at Sawtelle Judo School in West Los Angeles. The father was looking for something that would give his son "a sense of physical confidence."

When Derek went to his first class, his 5-year-old sister, Heather, tagged along and pestered her father to let her try judo holds.

Alef said the school's head instructor, Ted Kawasaki, allowed Heather to do warm-up exercises with Derek and the other boys and that Heather proved to be physically capable so Kawasaki let her try wrestling with the boys.

"And she pinned one who had been doing it for quite a while, so he let her stay," Alef said.

Heather stayed around long enough to become adept at judo and to acquire physical confidence. She became so confident that last year she won a championship in the ages 9-and-10 open category at the U. S. Judo Assn.'s national championships.

Heather said last week that she had nagged her father to let her try judo when she was 5 because she wanted to be like her big brother. In July, she and Derek became about as similar as they could be in judo when each won national championships at the USJA's annual tournament. Derek won the boys age 13-14 open title, and Heather won her second straight championship, this time in the girls 11-12 open division.

Even Alef, who dropped his legal practice several years ago to go into the venture-capital business, has become part of the family judo act, though he has not risen to the heights of his offspring.

He took up judo a few years ago because "I had to. I used to criticize Derek for not doing well. One day he told me: 'If you think it's so easy, why don't you try it yourself.' I did, and sometimes I wish I hadn't."

He has come up against bigger, stronger, better practitioners of the sport and been thrown by them. "I have broken a rib three times," he said with a grimace.

Judo has not treated the younger Alefs so roughly.

Heather "is the youngest brown belt in Los Angeles," said Kawasaki, 63, a sixth-degree black belt. She "has always placed in her age group and has very good potential of developing herself to be a national competitor."

Derek, a second-degree brown belt, has competed in four USJA nationals and placed highly in his other three tournaments. Last week he and other California youths left for Kyushu, Japan, for judo competitions with Japanese.

Kawasaki said there is "a very good possibility that Derek will place" in the Kyushu tournament because "he might have a height and weight advantage" over the Japanese. Derek is about 6-feet tall and weighs 147 pounds. A wrestler on the Santa Monica High School freshman team this year, he won a league championship at that weight, his father said.

Kawasaki said that Derek's wrestling experience gives him an advantage over judo opponents because "the techniques are very similar. He loves to do takedowns. But he is going to have to develop more standing techniques to throw an opponent within a limited time, three minutes in a tournament."

He said that Derek, however, "is a very tough boy." He may learn quickly how tough he is when he tries out for the 1988 U. S. Olympic team at the U. S. Judo Open in Colorado Springs.

Alef said that the open is one of three Olympic trial tournaments held for aspirants for the U. S. team and that he thought at first that Derek should not be allowed to go to one of them. "He could possibly go up against some U.S. Olympic medal winners (from 1984)," he said.

He said he told Derek he would let him go to the Colorado tourney if he started working out five days a week. "He has, and I told him he could go."

Derek doesn't know whether he will "do well or not" at the Olympic trials. "I'll just try to do my best."

Heather "loves to do mat holds," attempting to pin opponents within a 30-second time limit, Kawasaki said. He said that, like Derek, she will "have to learn how to do standing techniques, which she's developing right now."

Heather and Derek have to learn how to be "more obedient," Kawaskaki said, although both have made progress. "What I always stress in judo is not to brag too much," he said.

Heather thinks she has learned greater self-discipline from judo, and Derek believes he has become more mature through the sport.

"I have learned to show respect for my elders," Derek said. "That's a good point," said Alef. "When an instructor tells them to do something, they don't argue now."

Kawasaki, a product development engineer for a lighting company, said three other students of the judo school did well at the USJA nationals.

He said Michael Dimier, 17, a first-degree black belt, won a national title in his age group and that twin brothers Naoki and Yuji Mayeda, 15, finished second and third for their age group at 121 pounds. Derek said that the Mayedas were on the Santa Monica High freshman wrestling team with him and that all three hope to wrestle for the varsity next season.

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