Yarra Judo: from mat to classroom

Words by Clare Nolan Photo supplied by Yarra Judo

Martial arts expert Neel Beyers has been involved with the sport of judo for nearly 50 years. He started as a youngster joining a local class with a friend and just kept going. Today he is a third dan, which is a ranking three levels above a black belt. “Black belt is first dan, and then after that you go second, third, and the highest is tenth dan,” he explains. His son Carstens Beyers, who is 17, has a brown belt in judo and will most likely grade for his black belt at the end of the year. 

For Neel and Carstens, judo is part of their lives. Neel runs Yarra Judo in Eltham, a judo school that trains students between the ages of 4 to adult. The first class on Saturday morning is for 4 to 6-year-olds where the focus is on fun. As I watch this lively training session there is a lot of laughter from the kids on the mats and it’s clear they are having a great time. The youngsters go through different drills pretending to be slow moving elephants, frogs hopping, and crabs walking forwards and backwards. 

Neel works with the kids, teaching them basic judo techniques and focussing on their coordination and balance. He has a great understanding of what’s required to keep them engaged. “With the little ones, when I do an activity, it doesn’t go for long otherwise they lose attention and wander off somewhere else” he explains. 

All the kids wear a judo-gi which is the judo uniform and belt. At this age they aren’t expected to wear the full kit but when they see the older kids wearing them, they want to look exactly the same. 

There are some special guests in class today – members of the Australian and Victorian judo teams. With all the students gathered on the mat, Neel arranges the big kids and little kids in two lines facing each other. Although the older students tower over the younger ones, he asks the little ones to practice their throwing techniques by throwing the big kids to the ground. The parents watched on in excitement, capturing the moment on their phones. 

As the big kids crash to the mat, the little ones puff out their chest and move down the line to face their next opponent. It’s like watching a mouse take down a lion. 

When class has finished for the day, I catch up with Neel and Carstens to learn more about the sport of judo. It’s considered a combat sport but there is no kicking or punching. Matches are won by being awarded points and you get points for different throws and holds. There are 67 different throws in total. The waza-ari and ippon are the two main scoring categories. And fights go for four minutes, but you can win a match in as little as one second. 

Carstens takes his judo career seriously. He trains six days a week, every week of the year, and has been recognised as a prospect for international competition by the Judo Australia Cadet Development Squad. He has more medals than he can count, but the one he earned for winning the National Championship earlier this year is his favourite. 

Away from judo, Carstens has a busy schedule. He is currently in his final year of high school, is learning to drive a car, and is also studying a VET course to get his pilot’s licence. And after this interview he has to go home and mow the lawn! His dad Neel is very proud of him saying, “He always works very hard”. 

When I ask Neel what he enjoys most about being a judo instructor he tells me, “I teach because I love working with the kids and I love to see how they progress. I want to develop their focus and discipline, and to turn up on time. And what they learn in judo they can take into the classroom.”

Neel has created a fantastic community at Yarra Judo where the students learn more than just the basics of the sport. Every week they improve their fitness, their resilience, and their confidence. It’s a club where a little mouse can take down a great lion. 
For more information you can visit their website, https://yarrajudo.com.au