New program at All Saints mixes faith and martial arts

Some of the students who participate in the Judo program at All Saints Catholic School pose in their white Judogis. Courtesy Photo by All Saints Catholic School
Some of the students who participate in the Judo program at All Saints Catholic School pose in their white Judogis. Courtesy Photo by All Saints Catholic School

For black belts Greg and Mark Gideon, Judo is more than just a form of Japanese martial arts — it’s a vessel for the brothers to share life lessons and faith with students at the All Saints Catholic Church and School.

The Catholic School Judo Program, led by the Gideon brothers and assisted by Carlos Beltran, grew out of a program Greg and Mark offered at Newman University called Judo Jamboree for students enrolled at the area Catholic schools. Because of the “enthusiastic response” from students, the brothers wanted to continue to instruct Judo. Since the schools participating were not public, Joyce Frederiksen, All Saints principal, said they had a hard time arranging transportation.

Not wanting to abandon the goal of bringing Judo instruction with a faith-based twist to Catholic students, Greg and Mark began looking for a way to bring the lessons into the schools.

Almost immediately, conversations with Frederiksen began. Within a month, a plan was set.

“The piece that we are so impressed with is how they are really working to help the students with their whole selves,” Frederiksen said. “They really focus on the kids understanding their bodies, the kids understanding that this is helping them find balance in their whole life.”

A few months after the program started, more than 90 students were participating in the program. Each session is about 50 minutes and is composed of two main sections of instruction: life lessons and martial arts training. Every student enrolled in fourth through eighth grade participates in the Judo program. Frederiksen said it’s almost like an additional physical education class because it is part of the weekly class schedule of the students.

“The study of Judo is unlike the study of any other sports activities. It is an instructional activity, not competitive,” Greg said. “It’s a really encompassing study that translates well to their academic studies and fits well with the discipline structure of their Catholic school setting.”

The students are divided by age group every Monday morning. As far as Greg knows, it is the only Judo program offered in the Catholic school system in the United States that is a part of the regular curriculum.

All of the teachings are built around five pillars aimed at guiding participants through their life. The pillars—having faith in God, always respecting yourself and others, believing in individual gifts, putting the best foot forward and the value discipline—are designed with the students’ development in mind.

“What we emphasize with the children is that all of them have gifts and in a spiritual sense, all of them have gifts from God. We help them explore those gifts,” Greg said. “It helps them in a broader sense to see what God has in store for their lives,” Greg said.

Greg said the program is already “flourishing.” After just a few months, more than 75 of the 95 students have reached their yellow belts. From there, more than 20 have gone on to receive their orange belt as well. With growing popularity, there have been requests for the trio to expand the program to include the other Catholic schools in the area.

In the fall, the team will bring a similar program to St. Patrick Catholic School for third through eighth grade students. At All Saints, they will also be adding third graders to the pool. In all, they expect to instruct about 300 students.

While the growth of the program is promising, it doesn’t come without challenges. Session sizes could get too big for the specialized attention the brothers like to offer their students. Right now, they hope to bring in international students with Judo backgrounds from the surrounding universities to help instruct the kids.

Students are not required to pay an enrollment fee and no money is collected from the school to purchase equipment. Everything is funded by donations. They hope to offer Judo to students in kindergarten through eighth grade in the Catholic school system in Wichita, concentrating on specifically on the schools in the Drexel system, or the schools where income is lower.

Donations have been used to pay for an estimated $12,000 in practice mats. Recently, Frederiksen said a Judogi—the uniform for Judo—was purchased for each of the students through private donations.

Greg believes Judo can open a door to numerous opportunities for the students, many of whom he said come from families that live beneath the poverty line.

“We’re serving the least affluent schools and the money that would be placed in our program is used somewhere else in the schools. We see it as our responsibility to step forward and lift up our share of the load,” Greg said. “There is not a child in that school or in that class who can’t grow and progress through Judo.”

Frederiksen said having the program has been “a great opportunity” for the students.

“You know, they really are working to help them better themselves,” Frederiksen said. “We are in a society where our kids are just really struggling with so many social and emotional issues and we are hoping that this Judo class will help them to find that balance in their lives.”

Over the summer, students from All Saints, St. Patrick Catholic School and Holy Savior Catholic Academy are invited to attend the free seasonal Judo program hosted at the All Saints school. The extended program is every Thursday from 7 p.m. until 8:30 p.m. So far, there are about 30 students signed up.

“It’s a little bit more concentrated because there are fewer students to work with so they get more specific instruction and attention,” Greg said.