Janet Yoshie Ashida Johnson, 59
Spencerport resident is a world-renowned judo instructor, Olympic level coach and international judo competition referee. She shares the lessons and values she’s learned
By Christine Green
Q: How long have you been practicing, coaching and refereeing judo?
A: We moved to Brockport in the summer of 1970. Although I had been taking classes regularly since 1968, my dad did not let me start classes again until the spring semester of 1971. I started teaching the judo for children’s program at The College of Brockport in 1975 after earning my first-degree black belt. I am also a certified IBSA [International Blind Sports Association] referee and serve on the referee commission for USA Judo.
Q: What are some of the most interesting places you have traveled as a judo referee?
A: Last year I traveled to Baku, Azerbaijan, to attend an International Judo Federation referee and coach seminar. In São Paulo, Brazil, I refereed at the Parapan American Games. In Fort Lauderdale, I was able to attend a fabulous clinic by the Pan American refereeing director and serve as a referee evaluator for the US Junior and Senior Open Championships. I also attended the Quebec Open, not only to referee, but to support some of our referee examination candidates for international and continental level certification. Every candidate the USA Judo Commission put forth to take an examination in 2017, for international, continental, and Pan American certification passed. Most of my travel is domestic.
Q: You seem to truly enjoy working with children. How did your work as a teacher inform your coaching and visa versa?
A: I’ve taught for 33 years in kindergarten, first grade, looping K to first, and ending in universal pre-kindergarten, with the vast majority of the time teaching in an inclusive classroom. Teaching provided me with a large and continually developing tool bag for delivering new information, motivating children, developing self-awareness and self-discipline skills, individualizing instruction as needed, and accommodating kids with challenges. Most importantly, I have developed a deep and driving awareness that learning, improving, and honing one’s own skills and personal development is just as important as sharing what you know with others.
Q: What is it about judo that you love?
A: Not only do I highly value all the things that make judo unique, I have met some amazing people and made some incredible friendships and connections all over the world. I was fortunate to grow up with my father as my sensei. He was the U.S. Olympic judo coach in 1976, and was an Olympic referee in 1984. I believe he is the only American to have been both Olympic coach and Olympic referee in judo. I have been blessed to meet and get to know many Olympians and world champions, international coaches, and referees who are incredible people in their own right as well as notably talented in the sport. Judo also brought my husband and I together, and helped with the adoption of my son from Japan.
Q: If you had to give one piece of life advice to one of your judo students what would it be and why?
A: Striving to exhibit honesty, integrity, perseverance, knowledge, foresight, mutual welfare and purity of spirit, which are embedded in the sport of judo. All that will help you become the best person you are capable of being. Practicing being the best person you can be every day is the way to become the best person you can be.
Q: When you aren’t doing judo what kind of hobbies to you have?
A: We have three dogs and keeping them exercised, groomed and socialized keeps me busy. I also recently purchased a horse after 28 years of not having one. He keeps me busy as well. I substitute for a very limited core of friends, and volunteer in universal pre-kindergarten singing with them, doing special events for them, and getting my still needed “kid time.” Not exactly a hobby but most importantly, I am a wife and a mom.