Cairns Southside Judo – the inclusive Next Level Good Sports club
When asked to describe what Judo is exactly, Cairns Southside Judo head coach and club founder Luke Ronlund’s says, “Wrestling in pajamas” he laughs. To be fair, Judo is a little more complicated than that. Needless to say, Cairns Southside Judo is definitely not the average Good Sports club. Or Judo club. It’s based on council land, sharing a facility with a rugby league club. It is the odd couple of sporting club venue arrangements, but the challenges Cairns Southside Judo face, Luke argues, make them the club that they are. The journey of Cairns Southside Judo Good Sports club is a story of one’s search for purpose and identity, and a major chapter in Luke’s search for his own. This one-of-a-kind sports club levelled up through the Good Sports program and have truly come into their own as a community organisation, while learning many life lessons along the way. This is their story.
Luke believes when you’re a community organisation such as Cairns Southside Judo, you need to give it your all, connect locally to grow, and make the most of any support or opportunity. One of the club’s biggest supporters is their club patron, The Honourable Curtis Pitt MP, current Speaker of the Queensland Parliament, and yellow belt in the martial art of Kodokan Judo. He’s “very proud” to be the club’s patron, and was even more proud to see his son Tristan achieve his yellow belt at the club last month. People from all walks of life find Judo and can often get so super passionate it becomes a family affair. It is certainly that for Luke as well these days, but his Judo journey started as a lone man’s quest.
Local Hero – one man’s journey through ‘Judo life’
“I started Judo at 12”, Luke begins. In his early teens he became a state level competitive player, joined the Army, moved from his hometown in Queensland to Sydney, saw the elite end of Judo clubs and competed at a very high level during his late teens and early twenties. Luke competed at the National Championship at 19, performing valiantly in a number of matches during the event despite incurring a serious knee injury two weeks earlier. He left this mat in his early twenties to coach players who compete at the national level.
Years later, he achieved the prestigious status of an international level referee and coach. Even though he was still only in his twenties at this stage, he continued on his non-competitive journey, starting clubs in the NT. “The clubs were made up of predominantly junior members”, Luke confirms. “Even though I wasn’t competing due to my injuries, I still practiced Judo like mad. I have a strong competitive streak. Competition was my only focus back then.” Given his past awards and appointments, this is certainly what one would call an understatement.
Cairns Southside Judo is a seriously inclusive Good Sports club
Today, Luke is a fifth-degree black belt in Judo, or a ‘Go-Dan’. He is also the current National Referee Director (Australian Kodokan Judo Association), an Oceania A class Referee in the world of international Judo competition, but to Luke, this comes second to the title he’s most proud of, head coach and club founder of Cairns Southside Judo. It is a fervently inclusive club. They have members like Aimee, a Type 1 diabetes competitor who wears her monitoring device during training. Vante has brittle bone syndrome, and the club works hard to help her get the most that she can out of Judo, teaching her techniques that limit the impact on her body.
To get to this part of his journey, he had to learn some serious lessons in life, and think deeply about what he really wants to get out of it. He had to become a psychology officer with the Australian Army, be deployed all over the world, then meet his wife Karen, a fellow psychologist in the US Air Force. Then everything changed. They moved to Germany, and started a family.
“What a Judo coach needs to be doesn’t begin and end with a black belt”
Luke said as a single man, it was all about winning titles and being the best of the best in competition. “I wasn’t looking outside of that as my motivation. Wasn’t looking at how I could make Judo clubs more inclusive.” Luke confirms the obvious reality that “Judo clubs are entirely dependant on having a coach with a black belt in Judo, which takes 10-15 years of training. You can’t just complete an 8-week course.” If the coach ends up ‘going fishing’ and leaves the club for whatever reason, you’ve got a bunch of parents left behind with no way of running the club. When Luke’s own kids started expressing an interest in taking up Judo, he realised what a Judo coach needs to be doesn’t begin and end with a black belt.
“I got back involved with Judo when we moved back to Queensland from Germany – I didn’t want to get into it as much as I used to, because Judo tends to come in and take over my life”, he chuckles. But in 2013, the inevitable happened and Luke started Cairns Southside Judo. “I founded it with a friend of mine who sustained a long-term injury”. This marked the start of Luke’s mission to build an incorporated, strong, inclusive junior Judo club. To achieve this, he felt he needed to ‘rewrite the rulebook’ and he actually did. He created Kouketsu Na Judo, which translated means “Judo with Integrity”. It is a concept that centres around safe, supportive, inclusive and enjoyable grassroots judo practice, and sees Judo as a means for intellectual and moral personal development.
Self control, respect, courage, politeness, honour, modesty, friendship…sincerity.
The whole basis of Kouketsu Na Judo is our 8 values. Self control, respect, courage, politeness, honour, modesty, friendship…sincerity. We have these values written everywhere in Japanese and English on our certificate and all around the club. They’re so, so important. In class, I’ll say Modesty is a great one, the kids love it. When you win, don’t gloat about it, because the other kids will feel bad. It doesn’t matter how long you’re with the club, I want it to be a positive experience.
Courage is probably the value Cairns Southside Judo use in practice and competition the most, but not in the way you’d think. “I say to my members, “if you get knocked down, you get up. You try again.” And they do because of the other values. It’s moral courage. Sticking by a friend. Looking after someone who’s being bullied. That’s what gives them the strength. That’s something I’m so, so passionate about”, Luke says proudly.
I want their Judo journey to be the best it can be no matter how long or short it is. If you leave Judo, I don’t mind as long you’re going on to do positive things with your life. Judo’s not about competition, I don’t push that at the club especially not on the kids. We do love to compete though. We took 10 people to nationals, we’ve taken club members to Japan to rub shoulders with the absolutely best of the best at the Kodokan Judo Institute. They trained with Japanese kids and had an amazing experience. We have also met with high ranking Judo figures visiting us here in Cairns from Nagasaki and they said they absolutely love our approach to Judo. Approach to training that is effective, but mostly about being the best person you can be.
Going Next Level with Good Sports and in life
If you’re confident on the mat, you’re good to go in life, Luke believes. “I match girls with boys, for so many reasons. I want them to believe in their abilities, and be battle ready for the world as a whole. It’s not always a fair and just place. But if you’re a girl going toe to toe against a boy on the Judo mat, mark my words you’re more prepared than most.”
Luke first heard about Good Sports after participating in other local sporting initiatives. “Their accreditation process was there, but it wasn’t the perfect fit. The Safe Food Handling policy that we found through the Good Sports Healthy Eating program was a sign it could be the right option for our club. They recognise the needs of smaller, unusual clubs as is the case with us.” Cairns Southside Judo just reached Level 3 Good Sports accreditation, proudly announcing it on social media. The club found they could progress to Level 3 by formalising their expectations of behaviour, which are now “clear as day, especially with the Tackling Illegal Drugs, Spectator Behavior, Smoking Management and Alcohol Management policies. It’s been an excellent experience levelling up through Good Sports.”
For Cairns Southside Judo, they have the policies there if they need them, not to address existing situations. “The policies are there to keep you on the ball should an issue arise. It’s like a member protection policy, which is something unique to Judo. The policies go hand in hand with many of our 8 key values – particularly the ones regarding positive social values like self-control and respect.”
Tangible rewards that come through Good Sports
Luke believes in the tangible rewards that come through Good Sports. He’s seeing initiatives such as the Healthy Eating program pay serious dividends in the long term.
Absolutely I would recommend Good Sports without question. It engages with clubs on a grassroots level. It’s all about looking for ways it can do good for the club. I have a lot to do with the State and National Judo organisations. I always encourage Judo clubs around Australia to join the Good Sports program. Because at the end of the day I’m all about grassroots. Elite Judo competitors started at little clubs that encourage them to be part of a team. It teaches them to be the best person you can be.
Luke sums up his journey with Cairns Southside Judo with something he tells his students almost every week. “You’re helping me to live by these values too”.
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