When Brian Smith took up judo in the fall of 1997, he admits he had no idea where he would be in the sport — or how far he’d come — in a mere two-and-a-half years.
And he certainly didn’t expect this.
Smith, 16, will represent Saskatchewan at the national junior judo championships in Lethbridge this weekend, capping what has been a meteoric rise to the top of provincial competition.
“He’s well ahead of schedule, especially what we expected of him at this stage of his judo,” said Kosiekan sensei Cliff Wiens. “It usually takes someone four years to get to where he is now, just to have the ability to compete at a national championship, so he’s about two years ahead. It’s very rare to see someone get to this level this quickly.”
Smith took up the sport after members of the club did a demonstration at Peacock Collegiate. His older brothers Mark and Blair had been involved in judo so it seemed like a natural progression. “I just started coming out and got into it and I found I liked fighting and competing,” he said. “It was right after the Winter Games and people were telling me about fighting at that level, so that kind of became my goal. Then I heard about nationals . . .”
And it was about that time Smith began taking judo veryseriously. “He has an incredible work ethic,” Wiens said. “It doesn’t matter how hard we work, it’s never enough for him. He always wants to keep going and that’s a big reason why he reached this level so quickly.”
Smith’s national dreams came to fruition over the span of one weekend in early February — Saskatchewan high performance coach Ewan Beaton informed Smith he had been selected to the provincial team at a tournament in Swift Current and he was promoted to the rank of blue belt by Beaton later that week.
“That’s when it hit me that I was going to nationals, and I’ve been on a high for the last month,” Smith said with a laugh. “It’s something I’ve worked hard for. I never missed a tournament, I never missed a team training, but I still didn’t expect it at all.”
The honour came as little surprise to Wiens, though.
“I thought he had a chance at it, if not this year then definitely next year,” he said. “He’s come a long way in a very, very short time.”
As one might expect for a 16-year-old fighting in a 20-and-under tournament, this first nationals experience is going to be a learning experience for Smith, fighting in the ultra-competitive under-90 kilogram class, and that’s how he’s approaching it.
“If I could medal, that would be incredible but I’m just going to go there and fight to the best of my ability and see what happens,” he said. “I’m going to learn so much and it’s all going to help me when I get back there in the future.”
Wiens — himself a former four-time national competitor — sees a definite pattern in Smith’s future.
“Brian will gain experience this year, he’ll make his presence known next year and he’ll be a force to be reckoned with after that,” he said. “The level of competition is going to be incredible, unlike anything he’s seen in the past, but it’s going to do nothing but help him along. It wouldn’t surprise me to see him as one of the best juniors in Canada in a couple years.”
For all the success he’s had so far, though, Smith remains loyal to his roots.
“I have to give a lot of credit to the club, everyone has done so much to help me get ready for this,” he said. “If I didn’t have these kind of people to work with, I’d never have made it this far.”
Appeared in the Moose Jaw Times-Herald Mar 24, 2000