As Andrew Williams practiced his break-falls at Wall 2 Wall Martial Arts on Thursday, he agilely tumbled his 6-foot-3, 216-pound frame across the mat in successive motions.
Williams is a football, swimming and track and field standout at James Monroe High School.
But the rising junior’s expertise in judo has helped him put it all together.
“It’s insane,” Williams said of how much judo has aided in becoming a complete athlete. “It helps me so much mentally. I don’t get angry as much. I can control my emotions. It helps a lot.”
Williams is a brown belt, which is one step below black belt.
He captured a gold and silver medal at the Canada Cup tournament late last month in Montreal.
Williams and Chancellor High School rising junior Fiona Gordon (also a brown belt) are up-and-coming judo stars that sinsei (Japanese word for teacher) Chuck Wall said have “unlimited potential.”
Gordon departed for Germany on Friday for training camp and a tournament as part of Project 2024—a youth program targeting U.S. Olympic hopefuls in the next five years.
Gordon earned a silver and bronze in Canada last month as she’s still aiming to put together her vast array of abilities.
“For judo, there’s two parts to it. There’s groundwork and standing,” Gordon said. “So I think that groundwork is my strong suit. I can turn people over and pin them.”
Wall has made a conscious effort to expose Fredericksburg-area athletes to Olympic-level judo. He’s had athletes that have reached the highest level of the sport visit his dojo (training room) on Lafayette Boulevard in Spotsylvania County.
It’s starting to pay off.
Williams competed at 100 kg. in the International Judo Federation Cadet category and took first place in Canada last month. He was second in the IJF Junior category. His performance secured him a spot in the Cadet Pan American Championships and World Championships that will take place July 19–20 in Cali, Colombia.
Gordon took second in the 44 kg. Cadet division, while placing third in the 48 kg. U16 classification. Gordon and Williams are nationally ranked.
“I think they both have extremely high potential,” said Wall, who has operated his dojo for 15 years. “Individually they can go as far as they want to in the United States. Judo has opportunities throughout the world … It really just comes down to dedication and commitment.”
Gordon, Williams and the other athletes that train at Wall 2 Wall have no issues with commitment. Gordon has been training since she was 5 years old. She currently trains six days a week. The facility and its users are more like family than teammates, Wall and others said.
“Everyone’s super nice and super supportive,” Gordon said. “Everyone helps each other. That means a lot.”
Wall said Gordon is typically the first at the dojo and the last to leave. He said she’s always had potential, but her “awakening” occurred when she was 12 years old. He said that’s when she realized she could perform at a high level.
“We don’t force competition on kids,” Wall said. “We just open the door and see how far they want to go.”
Williams has had that door opened for him, as well. He initially tried baseball, but once he became bored with it his father signed him up for judo. Andre Williams, a Chicago native, was a college wrestler who also participated in club judo at the University of Illinois.
His son said judo is something “I can do for a lifetime,” but he hopes to play college football. The defensive end and offensive tackle is slated to be a co-captain for the Yellow Jackets this upcoming season.
“He’s got skills in so many sports and he has so many opportunities,” Wall said. “I’m just lucky to have him see that judo can help him in some of those other sports, as well.”