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Local judo team scores big

SAN MARCOS — San Marcos is rapidly on its way to becoming the judo capital of Southern California. Head instructor Paulo Fernandes and 17 of his students from the Carlson Gracie Judo and Jiu-Jitsu Academy took 12 medals at the USJA Winter Nationals in La Verne, Calif. on Dec. 6.
Judo is a Japanese martial art that uses the strength of an enemy against him, allowing a much smaller fighter to unbalance and throw a foe to the floor. That’s exactly what happened at the Winter Nationals. Fernandes’ team went up against 580 other competitors. Many of the opposing teams fielded 50 to 60 people. Yet, Fernandes and his fellow competitors, most of them children, brought home five gold, five silver and two bronze medals and placed fourth overall.
“The feeling you get when you’re throwing someone … feels good, you know?” said Brandon Walensky who placed second in Men’s Blue Belt, 15-16.
Competing is not at all foreign for Fernandes, who took two golds at the 2003 Pan-American championship and was a national champion in Brazil for 10 years in a row. Fernandes retired several years ago, but he competed in the Winter Nationals, taking home the gold medal for his category.
“I just did this tournament to incentivize my kids,” he said. “I ended up taking first in the nationals just to help them out.”
Fernandes has been studying judo and jujitsu for 34 years — since he was just 4 years old. He gave up a 14-year career in the banking industry to become a dojo sensei. Fernandes attributes his recent success to his soft touch with the young students who make up a third of the dojo’s membership.
“I work them very hard without letting them know I’m working them hard,” he said. “That’s the secret to my success. I make the class really fun … Always with a smile on my face. I don’t do any type of punishments.”
“I do not force anyone to do tournaments,” he added. “Ninety-five percent of my 300 students are noncompetitors.”
Fernandes is quick to lay the credit for the win at the feet of his students. They are dedicated, often coming into the dojo six days a week, two hours a day he said. This regular schedule is part of the appeal of the studio which is easily the largest of its kind in the county. Brenda Adams’ daughter Maya, who finished second in lightweight female, white belt, is one of the diligent students.
“We like it because they’re open every day,” Adams said. “A lot of the places, they’re not very structured or they’re only open a few days a week.”
She said that judo has helped Maya and her brother and classmate Calvin become more athletic and also more focused at school.
Carlo Navida has two winners enrolled at the academy. Nathan Navida took home the silver in middleweight, 9-10, yellow belt and Christian Navida was first in middleweight, 5-6, white belt.
“I just wanted them to do something physical … and also to defend themselves,” Carlo Navida said. “One aspect that we didn’t expect is the social part of it. They don’t see it as physical activity so much so as a social gathering … They’ve made a lot of friends here.”
Information on enrollment and upcoming dojo events can be found at or by calling (760) 752-1445.