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By Anmargaret Warner
Gustavo Sanchez sometimes goes by “Gerifalte,” the Spanish word for gyrfalcon.
The arctic birds have always interested him for their strength and cunning, especially during the hunt.
Yet when he sits outside the Ocracoke Coffee Company, a small cup of espresso in his hand, he is easygoing and smiling.
If it weren’t for the USA Judo logo stitched across his polo shirt and stamped across his three-ringed binder, it would be difficult to guess that Sanchez is a fourth-degree black belt in judo. The highest level is 10, and Sanchez says those who reach this level are in their 90s.
“For 25 years I’ve been having to adapt to many places,” he said about his recent move to the island. “It’s time to get roots. I think this will be my home now.”
Sanchez, 56, and his wife Patricia Lopez (a brown belt) moved from California to Ocracoke in May. They both work at the Ocracoke Day Care Center during the day, and in the evenings, they teach judo at Angie’s Gym on Sand Dollar Road.
They already have 22 students. He insists that anyone from age 5 to 100 can participate.
“I don’t know if some very long time ago someone brought judo to Ocracoke, but I feel that I might be the first,” Sanchez said.
Jigoro Kano developed judo in Japan in 1882. Originally called “Kano’s jiu jitsu,” the sport involves throwing the opponent and fighting on the ground. It uses a high level of physicality and concentration, with strikes, kicks and other maneuvers aimed at immobilizing the opponent.
“We learn to dislocate almost every single articulation of the body,” Sanchez said. “But in competition, in order not to hurt the opponent, we are allowed just to dislocate the elbow.”
It’s more than just a fighting sport for Sanchez, who grew up in Colombia, South America.
“I’ve lived my live through the judo philosophy, which is honesty, honor and loyalty,” he said. “All action in my life is rooted in knowledge in judo.”
When Sanchez learned of the sport at the age of 9, he was hooked.
But it would be five more years until Sanchez could find a studio where he could start practicing.
“It wasn’t easy because we were living in cities far from the capital,” he said. “When we moved to Bogota, the first thing I did–before work or anything–was look for a judo club.”
He moved to Bakersfield, Calif., in 1990, and later opened his own studio, Gerifalte Judo.
On Ocracoke, Sanchez hopes to coach his students to a level where they can attend competitions across the state. The closest club to Ocracoke is in Jacksonville, Onslow County.
Sanchez has big ideas about where he can go with judo.
“It has always been my dream to take a student to the Olympics,” he said.
This dream is not far-fetched.
USA Judo ranked Sanchez as the “No. 1 National Master Athlete in USA” in 2011 and 2014 in the 73 kg category.
His record speaks for itself.
He has won both the California and the United States tournaments many times. Sanchez has even represented the United States in world tournaments. Already, some of his students from Bakersfield have become California state champions.
Sanchez’s classes are Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings.
For more information, check out “Ocracoke Judo” on Facebook.