Taylor Takata makes it clear that he wants it all. But do not call him selfish.
Less than three years after competing in the pinnacle of the sport, the 28-year-old judoka has turned the page to the next chapter in his life: club instructor. The 2008 U.S. Olympian opened Hawaii Judo Academy last July and enrollment has grown steadily at the small Aiea dojos that Takata, his family and friends refurbished.
“I’ve been really fortunate that I’ve had support from judo people and it’s been going pretty good so far,” said Takata, who is from Wahiawa. “Slowly, we’re getting interest from more and more kids.”
Takata, who competed at 145.5 pounds in Beijing, spent nearly a decade pursuing his dream in competitive judo.
“It was a decision that I had made prior to even trying to make (the 2008) Olympics,” Takata said of retirement from competition. “I was like ‘I’m going to give this one last shot and that’s it and it is what it is.’ I have other goals and other dreams and one of them is to open a judo club.”
Despite being an elite-level judoka, Takata said he welcomed the challenge of teaching those new to the sport.
“It’s a different challenge, but the thing that I like is that it’s still a challenge,” Takata said. “The biggest thing that I like, or what I’m in it for, is I like to see change in the kids. When these kids come in the first day, they don’t know anything about judo and some of them need some discipline in their lives, and that is just one of the things that judo can teach.”
Much of Takata’s youth was spent training at Shobukan Judo Club in Liliha under the tutelage of head instructor Lloyd Migita.
“He kind of grew up with judo and, as with anyone who gets involved to the extend that he has, judo will always be in the blood, and the only way, after competition, to be involved, is to gravitate toward instruction and teaching,” Migita said. ”I think it’s great that he opened his own club and he certainly has a lot to offer to Hawaii judo because of his past national and international experience. We do have a lot of promising students that do well in national competition and I’m sure there’s a lot of students that are looking for higher goals and achievements, and the more talented judoka we have teaching, the more beneficial it is to the students.”
But for Takata, it goes beyond winning as a model of success.
“One of my goals for this club is not just to teach judo, but I want to show people all these great character traits that they can learn from judo,” he said.
Takata, who has competed around the world, took special notice of the judo clubs in Europe, where, he says, membership sizes of 400 to 500 children alone are not uncommon.
“They have a big recreational program where the kids don’t compete; they do judo for fun and they do judo for all the good things that judo has to offer, Takata said. “But in Hawaii, we just rush the kids into competing. It’s almost like if the kid is not a good competitor, then they’re not good in judo, but you can be a good judoka and never compete in a tournament in your life.”
Takata sees himself less as a technical instructor and more as an encourager.
“If you try to push your kids too hard and try to be too strict, all the kids are going to give up and quit. I push them and I challenge them with high expectations, but I don’t push them away,” Takata said. “Competitive judo is not for everybody. Judo, I think it’s the best sport in the world, where you have these things that you can teach these kids like discipline and respect, but you don’t have to be an Olympic champion to learn that. Me, as a coach, if I just push the kids away, I’m not giving them that opportunity to learn those things.”
Ultimately, Takata wants to grow his club into an empire with no boundaries.
“I want to build a business doing judo and I want to help kids, not only on Oahu, but all over Hawaii just reach their potential in whatever it is, whether it be in judo or in life,” he said.
CORRECTION: Taylor Takata spent much of his youth training at Shobukan Judo Club in Liliha. An incorrect name for the club was given in a previous version of this story.