Judo, my favorite sport

By Janet Walgren
I’ve been compiling some histories, both personal and family, during my down time. Perhaps you would be interested in learning a little about, and seeing, my favorite sport which is Judo.

Yep, that’s me throwing Jim Harrison in a women’s self-defense demonstration

I did lots of demonstrations in front of thousands of people for about ten years. Most of the self-defense routines consisted of karate and jujitsu techniques followed by a judo throw.

I broke my first board in front of thousands of people during a demonstration.  Jim sprung it on me; it was a surprise. I had never tried to break a board before. I was so nervous that I missed the boards he was holding on the first try and caught him hard with a back kick in the chest. Man did he ever deserve it. Thankfully, I broke the board on my second try or he would have broken my … when we got back to the dojo.

You don’t really hear much about Judo because judo doesn’t pay big profits like the other martial arts.  Jim Harrison promoted my karate tournament wins like crazy because it was good for business.

I was in in TV commercials,  newspaper articles, Karate Magazines, home shows, tournament half-time shows, and even featured at the 1968 World Fair because my karate accomplishments were good for everybody’s business.

In 1975 author, Bob Wall, listed me in the very first Who’s Who in the Martial Arts. Well known karate greats like Chuck Norris and Bruce Lee were also listed in that same edition.

When I was going through some of the newspaper clippings last Sunday, I found an interesting clipping detailing the tournament standings for a karate tournament. Check out the name of the winners. Chuck Norris was the lightweight finalist in the men’s black belt division.

Here is a photo of my winning back kick. I won every match with this powerful kick. Note the bend that is still in my leg. By the time my leg was straight, my opponent was out of the ring on her back side.

So why do I prefer judo to karate when I was so good at karate? Well for starters, Judo doesn’t involve knives.

For years when Jim was developing his knife defenses, he would appear suddenly and hand me a big wicked looking knife and say, “Come at me hard with a thrust!” Or, “Try to stab me with an overhand or lunge at me holding the knife like so.”

I knew if I didn’t come full force, I would get beaten up as he demonstrated what he wanted me to do. And, if I did come at him full force, I was still in for a bruising.

When people read his magazine articles about knife defenses, they said wow! They never stopped to ask, “How did he figure that out?” but I could have told them.

I like judo because it is relaxing. It is cool to throw someone and know that you really did it. It is also relaxing to be thrown. It is kind of like a nice relaxing full body massage.

Judo is a sport that requires self-discipline.

It is a great sport for young kids because they have to develop self-discipline to be able to use it. In order to learn the throws, you have to cooperate with your partner. Judo teaches cooperation.

Judo translates “the gentle way” because you use your opponents strength and momentum to throw them, and it is a life sport that doesn’t take a huge toll on your body.

My favorite judo player was a man named Paul. He was an old, tall, skinny, Ichabod Crane type of fellow who would come to our dojo to work out about twice a week.

Paul would just stand there, hardly moving a muscle as the young bucks attacked him furiously. Then there would be a slight move of his hand and a quick sweep of his foot and the young muscle head he had partnered with found himself on the mat. Paul would help the guy to his feet, but that would only last for a second before he found himself on the mat again.

The young guys had a hard workout but Paul seldom broke a sweat. I don’t think I ever saw anyone throw Paul. He was simply marvelous.

Check out this link on youtube to see a quick demonstration of the classic judo throws. This is a great credit card commercial:

I did a lot of women’s self-defense demonstrations in the 60’s and 70’s to promote the martial arts and women’s participation in them. Judo wasn’t introduced into the Olympics until 1964 and women didn’t participate until 1988 as a demonstration sport. The first women’s Olympic Judo medals were awarded in 1992. I guess that makes me a woman pioneer in women’s judo. Those who trained me were Jim Harrison, Jim Lindell, guest resident sensei Kim Jong Woo and guest sensei Dr. Park Sung Jae.


25 Responses to Judo, my favorite sport

  1. barlow says:

    there is a ccertain beat to the way they throw each other in judo isn’t there?

  2. Hi Barlow,

    Yes there is a beat or rhythm in all sports that I know of. In order to learn a technique, one must break it down into individual actions: 1. step across, bend your legs, 2. pull forward forward, 3 roll fist in gi and shoot your elbow under his armpit as you pivot… It doesn’t matter what you are doing things break down to a count. You can see it in the choreography on “So you think you can dance on Wednesday night TV. (I love that show). You can see it in gymnastics…each move is broken down to a count.

    After you have mastered a move it becomes automatic and you don’t think about it, You own it like a reflex, but to learn it, you break it down and learn the rhythm of it. In the high speed judo clip you hear the rhythm. If it were slower you could see it.

  3. Hi Janet,

    I just happened by on your site doing keyword searches and wow… you have known lots of great competitors. I enjoyed reading about your fights and recognition. We just had Joe Lewis out for a seminar in San Diego and he still looks to be in great shape.

    As far as Judo being relaxing… I’d bet that is kind of like tennis being relaxing… it is if you are good at it. 🙂

    You did not really say much about your karate training other than apparently learning with Jim Harrison. Anyone that ran into you in a dark alley would have certainly been surprised!

    Anyway Great post.

    John W. Zimmer

  4. Connor says:

    Those are awesome photos! My wife said “that’s awesome to see a girl kicking a guy’s butt”. 😛

  5. Saraswathi says:

    Hi Janet,
    Really informative and lovely post!!!

    Thanks for sharing this wonderful information about your favorite sport Judo. It is really nice to know that you are a good karate and judo player. I did not know about the sport “Judo” earlier.

    And you look very pretty in all the paper clippings of yours. Loved that picture of the “winning back kick”.

  6. gibgnab says:

    Hi Janet,
    I have added you in my Blogroll list 🙂

  7. Hi John, I took a look at your blog. Wow! it is amazing that Joe Lewis is still doing his thing. I’m totally jealous.

    As far as judo being relaxing, it really was for me and I got whipped on a regular basis.

    Jim Harrison was my instructor for judo and karate. He was also my husband so I got 24/7 uki duty. All my training was with men. My first karate lesson was the night before Pat Burleson’s All American Championships in Ft. Worth, TX.

    I went to do a women’s self-defense demo then Jim registered me to fight. Jim taught me a back kick then told me to kick as soon as the referees started the match. He told me that if I kicked and kicked and kicked until my opponent was out of the ring, I would win. And, if I didn’t move immediately, I would get hurt. I took second place against some pretty high ranking women because I was too scared not to.

    Connor, Thanks! I’d be happy to give her some tips if you ever get out of hand. lol

    Saraswathi, Thanks!

    Gibgnab, Thanks! I would love to have you shamelessly promote your blog here too. Please leave a link so we can check you out.

  8. alpini says:

    Hello Ms. Walgren, I hope you are alright….
    First of all, your black & white judo and karate pictures are really great.

    I have some questions for you :
    1- Judo was so popular in the past as an olympic sports. Nowadays it seems that judo cannot attract young generation anymore despite its beauty. Aikido and kickboxing are more trendy ; judo classes are so rare….Any reasons ?
    2- What I heard from a judo expert : In the golden days of judo, lighter weight judokas could beat heavier weight opponents. After many modifications, advantages now belong to heavier judokas. Do you agree ?
    3- You say that : Your opponent was out of ring due to your powerful winning kick.
    If you practised the same kicking style to a male opponent, would it be possible to see him out of ring as well ? What are the main differences between practising with men and women ? Is it a different focusing and feeling ?

    If you reply my questions , I’ll be so happy….

    Take good care of yourself,

  9. Hi Alpini,

    Thank you for your complement! Those were the good ole days, now it’s the good OLD days:)

    Classic judo attracts gentle people whereas karate attracts guys who want to be tough on the streets. The preference for karate reflects the society we live in. It has always been more popular.

    Classic judo favored skill and if you were shorter, you had an advantage with the shoulder throws. Tall guys did better with foot sweeps. Technique was important. Modern judo is more like fake pro-wrestling, not very pretty to watch and I wouldn’t like to practice it.

    I always trained with men which made me a more powerful competitor in the ring with women. We had a news paper reporter come to our dojo who asked the same question. My back kick worked equally well on him and he wrote about it in the Kansas City Star newspaper. A Golden Gloves Boxing Champion also asked about it… yep, it worked on him also.

    Gender isn’t something you think about when you are working out in the martial arts, well at least I didn’t.

  10. mormonsoprano says:

    Janet, you are amazing! Thank you for sharing all of the photos and newsclips. What a fascinating life story you have! “Relaxing” to get kicked?! Ok, whatever you say. This is an art form I have absolutely no experience with – but great admiration for anyone who can perform.

    It must have been really something for people to see a beautiful blonde in the 1960s (literally) kicking butt. You are one of the true pioneers for women athletes everywhere. Thank you! (Do you still do all of that kicking? and Do you teach?)

  11. MormonSoprano,

    Thank you! Judo really is relaxing. I don’t practice anymore but I used to teach Judo, Karate and Jujitsu for a period of almost eleven years when I was the co-owner of the Bushidokan dojos in Kansas City.

  12. Steve says:


    I stumbled upon your website, and really enjoyed reading about you and seeing your photos. I am 45 years old and have only been in judo for 2 years, but I am obsessed…progress is maddeningly slow! But I wanted to tell you I like your writing style, too. You should write a book about being a female martial arts pioneer….maybe part auto biography, part instructional.

    Do you still practice judo at all?

  13. Hi Steve,

    Thank you! I am 61 and do not still practice Judo although my sons do. I practice sitting at a desk at least eight hours a day and physically it’s killing me. I appreciate your encouragement to write a book. I can’t tell you how many people have told me that and I like the topic and focus that you suggested.

    Currently I am interviewing people and writing their stories for a book project for my work. When that project is completed, I will write my book (probably several books… I’ve lived an interesting life).

    I hope that you keep playing Judo. I found it very fun and rewarding.

  14. nold says:

    Thanks for dropping by my site.

    I must say that you had a really impressive career as a martial artist. i’m sure that you contributed greatly for the advancement of the discipline in your place.

    You should write a book!


  15. Thanks Arnaldo! And I will write a book about my martial arts experience… Coming next year some time:)

  16. Mysin says:

    I don’t know if you will be able to help me. I used to live in Bremerton Wa. I took Judo lessons from a couple there in a private dojo. Now this was at least 15 years ago. I think his name is Al and his wife’s name is Jan. Anyway, I was there doing lessons on and off for about 2 years.
    Mostly loved the experience, i think. Just wondering if you know who I am referring to, I can’t remember their last name.
    I think Iwent to a tournament in Spokane, I beat a black belt as a green belt. It was fun and certainly fueled my desire to learn more. I don’t know how ‘relaxing’ it was, but I love to sweat.

  17. I wouldn’t know who you are talking about but one of my sons might. Their dad’s dojo is in Missoula and they went to Spokane to compete. I’ll ask them next time I talk to them.

    I’m glad you enjoyed the sport:)

  18. Searched the web for blogs about judo and luckily I found “Reflections”. I really enjoyed reading this. You have really trained with some of the best martial artists in the world! Cool YouTube-video as well. Thank you.

  19. Ms. Walgren,

    Thanks for building a STRONG foundation for Bushidokan Karate in Kansas City, and across the nation! Your story will be told at our dojo and will help motivate women and men….THANKS!


    Stacey David Stillwell
    Blue Valley Bushidokan Academy

  20. Thanks for the comment. I appreciate the response. I just purchased a home with a 30X40 building that my son, Keli Harrison is turning into a gym with a dojo and climbing wall. It should be a fun property and will continue a tradition.

    Funny side note: When Keli proposed the project, I goggled my name and found an article on the top women fighters of all time. My name was 4th and 6th on the list because they didn’t know that I was both Janet Walgren and Janet Harrison.

    Thanks for telling my story. I will be developing a website in the near future to tell what I know about the history of the early days of Karate in the US.


  21. John Kim says:

    Who taught Jim Harrison, Judo?

  22. Hi John,

    I don’t remember. Jim was already a black belt, sensei and dojo owner when I started taking lessons. I know he learned in St. Louis and that we were registered with the Korean Yudo Federation. The names I remember were Jong Woo Kim who came from Korea and taught in our Bushidokan dojo for a year and Sung Jae Park who came in as a guest seisei from time to time. He was from St. Louis or somewhere in Illinois. Sorry, it’s been too many decades.

    Jim Lindell was also a Judo sensei when I started at Bushidokan.

    I will research your question and get back to you with a name.

  23. CW says:

    Things I remember about Janet when I worked out at Bushidokan in Mission Kansas many years ago.

    Janet fought men at the Dojo and did quite well, infact she was intimidating because you were fighting against a women who could knock you on your Ass.

    Janet is a member of Trias’ International Society, an elite group with very few members, to be invited to join you have to be an outstanding competitor in the martial arts.

    It would be nice if Janet would expand on this some time and mention some of the members just a couple are Jim Harrison and Joe Lewis.

    Second: Jim Harrison
    This is Jim’s Judo teacher, but was Jim Harrison’s Karate teacher Bob Yarnall?

    A little information about Bob.

    Bob Yarnall, a shorin-ryu instructor, opened his first dojo in 1962 in St. Louis, Mo., where he has remained to this day. A student of James Wax, Yarnall has instructed such pioneers as Jim Harrison, Parker Shelton, and Bill Marsh, who was a successful competitor in the European karate circuit. Yarnall is probably the best-known exponent of Matsubayashi-ryu in the U.S. and has been a long time member of Trias’ United States Karate Association.

  24. Hi CW, My son Keli Harrison said he would call his dad, Jim Harrison, this afternoon and ask him who his judo and karate instructors were. I do know that Bob Yarnall was part of Jim’s training. I just don’t know if that was an instructor or fellow student relationship. Bob Yarnall was definitely a powerful force to be reconed with and enjoyed a good reputation with Jim and in the Bushidokan dojos.

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