Anaheim CA–Its another night of training at Orange County Judo Training Center in Anaheim, CA. Eric Saenz bows to the gentleman standing 5 feet away from him, and at the call of “Hajime” by head instructor Juan Montenegro, he moves towards his opponent and takes a grip while looking for an opening to throw his opponent to his back. Eric, who stands at 5’9″ and wears size 12 shoes, matches up well with his opponent who is a father of two of the students at OCJTC. Eric Saenz is 12 years old.
Eric has played and excelled at basketball, and baseball at his young age; but it is judo that has captured his imagination and its the sport that gets his attention. Eric trains 3-4x a week under the watchful eyes of senseis Juan Montenegro and Glen Waipa.
“Eric has what it takes to make it to the highest levels in this sport. He trains very hard, is a quick learner, and he has the physical size to go with it. If his desire matches his abilities, he will go very far.” according to Juan.
That talent combined with Juan’s coaching, led to Eric placing second in the Junior Nationals this year in Irvine, despite having less than a year of instruction. Most of his opponent’s had much more experience, but Eric dominated his opponent’s and only lost in the championship match by a penalty point.
“That won’t happen the next time” says Eric. “Competing in Irvine was a great experience, and losing that way in the final will only make me train harder” he added.
“I couldn’t be prouder of Eric, and I’m thrilled with the instruction he gets from Sensei Juan” the father of Eric, Eddie Saenz, commented. “My job is is simple. I just need to support Eric in his goals. We looked into several other martial arts studios, and then we heard about Sensei Juan’s program and decided to try it out. We both thought Orange County Judo Training Center and Sensei Juan were the right place and the right instructor for Eric.”
While Juan is happy for the success his student had at the Jr. Nationals, he is more concerned about preparing him for the future. He stated, “I think its great that Eric did so well, but its more important that he gets ready to compete in the teenage and adult divisions. There is a lot of work to be done. I think he will have an advantage because our club and his training partners are strong in all aspects of judo. If Eric stays focused, and concentrates on judo, I think he will transition to those divisions and win”.
In the meantime, Eric will keep training under Sensei Juan with the other students at OCJTC. He said, “I have a lot of fun on judo nights and I learn something new every class. All of the students and instructors are great, and we really support each other.”
As to the future, Eric says “I just want to be the best in Judo, My goal is to become a blackbelt, and maybe someday go to San Jose St, and train for the Olympics. After that, I want to teach and pass on to others what I have been so lucky to learn from Sensei Juan & Glen”
For now, the basketball, and baseball coaches will have to wait.