Judo: Waiakea alum Yamamoto quickly regains championship form at Junior Olympics

  • LIAnn Yamamoto holds her gold medal at the USA Judo Junior Olympics National Championship in Anaheim, Calif.

Judo is like riding a bike for LiAnn Yamamoto, who discovered over the summer that a learned skill never goes away.

The 2018 Waiakea graduate and four-time BIIF medalist competed at the USA Judo Junior Olympics National and International Championships in Anaheim, Calif., where she took first and second, respectively.

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“It was happy with my outcome because that was kind of my first tournament since high school,” she said. “I feel like I still got it.”

There are tons of things to do in Anaheim, like a visit to Disneyland or Knott’s Berry Farm.

But it’s hard to shake the judo bug, especially when you’re good at it. Besides, she jumped in with a crowd and found the competition somewhat similar to the HHSAA level, where Yamamoto took gold in the 109-pound division in 2018.

“I decided to enter because many of my friends from Shudokan judo club were entering, and I thought it would be a great opportunity to go.

“The competition felt like another high school state tournament, but a little tougher. It was a great opportunity to see how judoka from across the nation and some other countries play like.”

Judo isn’t all that popular in Argentina, which is the home of soccer great Diego Maradona. History buffs might add that Eva Peron and Che Guevara are from there as well.

“I lost against a girl from Argentina, who was much taller than me,” Yamamoto said. “I don’t usually play tall players, so I definitely learned something.”

Yamamoto trained with Mike Hayashi’s Shudokan club and her Hilo Hongwanji club.

Waiakea senior Dean Miura, a two-time BIIF champion, and 8-year-olds Lia Kobayakawa and Kayoko Kobayashi earned titles in the international division.

“Hayashi sensei was so kind to let me train with his club, but I also trained with my club, Hilo Hongwanji as well,” Yamamoto said. “My judo goal is to possibly enter more big tournaments. I want to enter a lot of senior national tournament one day. “

For now, Yamamoto is majoring in Japanese studies at UH-Manoa. She plans to study abroad for a year in Okinawa next month.

“I plan to do judo up there,” said Yamamoto, who’s fluent in Japanese and should in fine.

There are lots of judo dojos in Okinawa. It’s like MMA gyms in Las Vegas. Throw a rock in any direction and it’s bound to hit something a club.

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Yamamoto hold two memories from her summer California trip, one a fruitful trip and the other a lesson that she’ll never fall off a bike.

“A fun memory on our trip to California was picking fresh strawberries on the farm, which were really good,” she said. “The best thing about judo is the feeling of winning after training so hard.”

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