He’s the biggest guy in his class and he’s got a black belt in judo.
Bryan McLachlan doesn’t, however, go around swiping lunches or stuffing kids in lockers. He fights anybody, any age, and does so fairly and politely, with a smile.
A sensei with the Vernon Judo Club, McLachlan is keen on teaching the martial art while still competing at the masters 81+ kilogram level.
At 43, McLachlan is a well-respected elder in the Japanese Cultural Centre dojo, where he can be found being challenged by the younger and faster members.
“They’re tough to catch,” laughs the amiable father of three. “It’s the old Bugs Bunny, Roadrunner cartoon. They’re going around like Speedy Gonzalez and it’s like, ‘I catch you, you’re dead but I gotta catch you.’ The kids here are a blast.”
The Savoy Equipment employee is one of four Vernon fighters who will represent B.C. at the national championships, July 4-7, at the Richmond Olympic Oval.
McLachlan needed a combative class during university in Lethbridge and the highest-ranking black belt in Canada at the time ran the judo club.
“It was one of those things that once you got into it, you thought, ‘Hey this is a pretty cool sport.’ You get to go to some pretty good places. Nationals last year were in Toronto, this year they’re in Vancouver and the year before that, they were in Edmonton.
“Life interferes with the training camps, but competition wise, I did four tournaments this year. I usually fight in the brown/black belts division. I usually give up 20-plus years to my competitors, and I have to work on Monday. I just go out and do my best.”
McLachlan joined the Vernon club three years ago and teaches under longtime head sensei George Okazaki, a fourth-degree black belt. He loves seeing athletes train hard and travel.
“I’ve seen kids go to Florida and Hawaii, all over and do Pan-Ams. It’s the camaraderie. It’s nice to see kids at this age hanging out together. Yah, I’m the parent and I’m still 60 pounds heavier than them, and old age and treachery does overcome stupidity. The kids here did good this year.”
Teenagers Brendan Yakura, Jason Holmes and Devin Dunlop will accompany McLachlan to the Canadian tournament.
Yakura turned 13 in April and earned his green belt earlier this year. He will fight in the Under 15, Under 46 kilogram category.
In judo since age seven, Yakura claimed first at the B.C. Open in Burnaby and the Pacific International in Richmond, while placing second at the Prince George Open and the Edmonton International.
Said Yakura: “I didn’t have too many goals at the beginning because it was just going to be a regular season going to the basic tournaments, but since I finished first, I decided, ‘I’m doing OK.’ I’ll go to a few more and I started placing more so I sort of set my goal to place in whatever tournaments I went to and I’ve been doing that so far.”
Yakura, whose father, Dean, is a third-degree black belt sensei, will rely on quickness at nationals.
“Since I’m not as muscular or as big as the other guys, I use more of my speed. A bit of my strength, but it’s more my speed because all the other guys are a bit slower so I’ve been using my speed to get around them and throw them quickly.”
The Grade 7 Kidston student also enjoys soccer, skiing and snowboarding.
Holmes, a Grade 11 Kalamalka student, has spent five years in judo. The green belt will grapple in the U18, 66-kg class.
“Really, you have to be an aggressive fighter, whether it’s defensively aggressive or offensively aggressive,” said Holmes. “I usually do leg throws, that’s what I end up going for. I don’t do drop throws, but sometimes you get bolder and bigger throws.”
Holmes won a couple of matches, but didn’t podium this season. He earned enough points in a large division to qualify for nationals.
He also enjoys snowboarding and snowmobiling.
Dunlop is in Grade 10 at Seaton and took up judo eight years ago. The blue belt will fight in the U18, 73-kg division.
“I got points at tournaments and training camps and my best finish was second in Prince George,” said Dunlop, who also works out at home and goes for lots of runs. “I’m more an aggressive fighter, using leg picks, getting down low.”
Dunlop is high on Okazaki’s teaching style.
“He’s a really nice instructor and a good one too. He doesn’t get mad ever and he has good suggestions and good pointers for you.”
Okazaki trains the quartet 90 minutes twice a week in Vernon and one two-hour Sunday session in Kelowna.
“They’re doing really good this year and it’s really nice to have four going,” said Okazaki. “We have 88 people in the club so we use the upstairs and downstairs so it’s pretty good. I think these four will inspire others in the club.”
McLachlan, a first-degree black belt, says Donna Hanson, a former student of Okazaki’s, recently returned to help the growing club.
“She’s a fifth-degree black belt. She has nationals experience and refereeing experience,” said McLachlan. “Her provincial coach in Alberta was my first coach and we come from the same background. We’ve kind of said, ‘You can do judo competitively or you can do judo socially’ but ultimately it is all one in the same.
“You go out, you have fun and wrestle around with the kids. You eventually get bigger. At the last tournament, my son (Gabriel) didn’t have anybody to fight so I did an exhibition match with him. I figured I might as well take the pounding now because he’s 11 and when he’s 16, it’s really gonna hurt.”
The judo club website is: www.vernonjudoclub.ca.