The Capital City Judo Club is a humble abode. There’s no fancy equipment — just a mat, a timer and a smiling coach named Jay Watts. Absent are the tyrannical instructors and obsessive parents typical of an olympic factory.
It could be any neighborhood dojo in any city in America, only it’s not: this is where Juneau-Douglas High School senior and 2016 Junior Olympic Champion Cody Weldon learned to fight men.
Inside the dojo, half a dozen young men in white robes grapple on a gray mat on a Tuesday evening. Weldon takes ahold of a man many years his senior, an instructor named Luke Fortier, who wears a blue robe and brown belt. Holding each other’s lapels, the pair practices footwork, attempting to sweep one another from their feet for a takedown.
Weldon is not outmatched. At 6-foot-1 and a lean 220 pounds, he’s a 17 year old in a grown man’s body. It was that strength that helped him win gold in the 90-100kg weight class at the Summer Nationals Judo Tournament and Junior Olympics International competition. He also netted silver at the Junior Olympics National competition.
On a break from practice, Weldon said he attended these competitions to get mat time, and had no idea he would do so well.
“I thought I was going to get my butt kicked, to be quite frank,” Weldon said of the Junior Olympics. “I didn’t really go to the competition thinking I would win or lose, I was just trying to get matches. In Alaska, it’s really hard to find guys my size.”
Weldon had to move up an age group this year and was only expecting to win a couple of matches. Last year he won bronze in the Juvenile category at the U.S. Junior Open and silver in the Junior Nationals. This year he competed in the Junior category.
“This was the first time I had some solid success in the upper age groups,” Weldon said. “It was pretty awesome, I put in a lot of work technique-wise, a lot of hours, and it paid off. That was really cool for me.”
Having grown quicker than other judoka, Weldon had a hard time finding people in his weight class to fight against, and fought adults since he was 15 in an effort to gain experience. He said the experience rapidly improved his game but also cost him a broken shoulder in a match against a man from his dojo.
“I was initially getting thrown on my back, which would have been an instant loss, but I rolled out of it a little bit,” Weldon said. “So I was going to land on my stomach but I didn’t quite make it and landed on the tip of my shoulder and fractured my scapula. Men are a lot bigger than kids and they throw a lot harder than kids. Those were the challenges I had to face because I was a lot bigger than everyone else, so there was no one to fight except for adults.”
In addition to pure hard work, Weldon has a couple strategic advantages in the sport. For one, he’s a stellar wrestler. He was the 2015 Alaska state runner up at 195 pounds, falling to Ketchikan’s Nate Fousel, who bested him with a 7-2 decision. Weldon says his wrestling is indispensable to his Judo.
“I have a better ground game than anyone I’ve ever faced. That’s not me being cocky or arrogant, I just have never met someone who could really catch me on my ground game,” he said. “A lot of judo players, they get pinned and kind of flop around a little bit and that’s the end for them. Because I have wrestled for a few years, if I go to the mat I can keep it on the mat and do well.”
Weldon fights an unorthodox style, making him hard for opponents to figure out.
“I am left leg dominant, right hand dominant, which is nice because I can fight orthodox or unorthodox, right foot forward or left foot forward,” he explained. “A lot of the guys are right handed so they fight right foot forward. Because I am left leg dominant I am more comfortable with left leg techniques so I will fight unorthodox and it throws people off, pretty badly actually.”
Weldon got some serious attention from judo camps and colleges during the Junior Olympics, which will make choosing between wrestling and judo a tough decision. When asked what his next move was, whether he was going to pursue judo or wrestling in college, Weldon let out a big sigh and said: “It’s still up in the air a little bit.”