Judo isn’t quite the kind of sport that takes to high schools across the nation.
The sport requires immense self-control, sacrifice, emotional shackling to a point, even. Take a pounding, practice being thrown, zip that mouth instead of yapping in victory or defeat — it’s not an easy hand-to-hand combat activity for most teenagers, let alone adults, to conquer.
And yet, there’s ‘Iolani’s Dane Yamashiro, winning his fourth Interscholastic League of Honolulu individual championship. There’s Punahou’s Taryn Ichimura, capturing the girls 122-pound division at the ILH tourney at McCabe Gym on Friday. Her teammate, Jenna Enoka, withstood a strong challenge from another Punahou player, Sarah Obra-Nakata, to take the 98 weight class. On the boys’ side, Colby Watase of ‘Iolani was the only one besides Yamashiro to collect a second ILH crown in a row.
Yamashiro, who won the 220 title as a freshman, has won at 285 the past three seasons and is a two-time state champion. He’ll get his shot at a third state crown on May 6, when the Atlas Insurance Agency/HHSAA Judo State Championships are held at Stan Sheriff Center. At 250 pounds, he’s solidly built, a stone wall with quick hands and feet, seemingly without a vulnerable spot to attack.
His coach at Wadokan Judo Club, Harvey Fung, is one of several former players who give Yamashiro workouts on Tuesday nights after school practice is done. Pung, at 250 pounds himself, is the smallest of Yamashiro’s sparring partners.
“There are six guys and they’re all black and brown belts. Dane goes against three hard guys in a row, and then he rests before he’s back on the mat,” said Fung, who is also head coach at Castle. “Last year was worse. There was no competition in the ILH, so he used to come (to Wadokan) Tuesdays and Thursdays.”
Yamashiro is the kind of individual athlete who brings up coaches and sparring partners frequently. He credits players and coaches from Castle and McKinley for helping him progress — ‘Iolani has one other judooka in the 285 class, Charles Kam. Yamashiro defeated Kam by pin in Saturday’s final.
Like one of his club coaches, Bryan Fujiwara (Wadokan/Moanalua assistant), Yamashiro plans to attend Illinois Institute of Technology.
Ichimura is a highly competitive weight class (122) and is the highest-seeded player from the 2016 state tournament to return. Sienna Ho of Moanalua, her opponent in last year’s state final, graduated. Ichimura defeated Taylor Lau of Punahou on Saturday for her second ILH title in a row. She doesn’t assume anything, however. Not a No. 1 seed. Not an easier field.
“I definitely think I have an experience edge, but I always have the same nerves. The excitement hasn’t changed,” said Ichimura, who is unbeaten this spring.
Like Ichimura, Enoka became a back-to-back ILH champion who was a state runner-up in 2016. She lost to Amanda Higa of Moanalua in the state title matchup last season and has no idea if Higa will be healthy and suited up for this year’s states. Preparing for the ILH season and the physicality of the OIA’s players, Ichimura has relentlessly worked at her craft.
“I feel like I use the same things as last year and refined them better,” said Ichimura, who has been a player at Hodokan Judo Club since she was 7.
‘Iolani, spurred by Yamashiro and Watase, won the boys team title by a wide margin.
Punahou, with champions Enoka and Ichimura leading the way, captured the girls team title.