He entered into the judo junior national championships with the idea of gaining experience, and walked away as one of the top young fighters in Canada.
Langford judo athlete Josh Van Meurs, 16, earned a solid fourth place at the junior nationals in Sept-Îles, Que., in early July. He faced some of the best young judo fighters in the country in the tough and highly competitive U17, 73 kilogram weight class.
“I was fighting some tough opponents of all shapes and sizes. It was a very good tournament,” says Van Meurs, a judo brown belt. “All those guys are built and highly determined, and all wanted the same thing — to win and go to the worlds.”
Facing bigger and often more experienced opponents, five-minute matches gave Van Meurs time to probe and take advantage of weaknesses. A demanding martial art of grappling, throws, chokes and holds, he won four of six judo matches — all fought within a gruelling few hours — to take fourth out of field of 16.
“My first match I was originally losing the fight,” Van Meurs said. “But I looked at him and figured out what to do — in 10 seconds I had him out by a nice big throw.”
“His first nationals was about getting experience. We had no desire or emphasis on winning,” notes Mike Turner of Kokushikai Judo, Van Meurs’ coach. “But the fact he was fourth place in his first run says a lot.”
Earning one of two provincial slots for the national championship was no easy feat. After a strong second at the B.C. championships, Van Meurs lost his next qualifying match to a less experienced opponent.
He came back in Kamloops with another strong second, and in Edmonton came out first in U17 — and to top it off, he beat a long-standing rival.
“It was a rough journey,” Van Meurs says. “But the nationals were great. I’m going to return next year to do better in U20.”
In the meantime, the Belmont student will keep up a rigorous training schedule in preparation for next season’s tournaments. Judo by any stretch is a mentally taxing sport where injuries are frequent, and as Turner notes, best started at a young age.
“As guys move up the ladder, it gets rougher each time. We have a strict no-blood policy, but it’s a physical combat sport,” Turner says. “To do judo, it’s best to start as a kid for the benefit of conditioning. Judo is a great sport for kids. It keeps them in shape.”
Van Meurs is following in the footsteps of his father Al, who as a younger man also competed at the national championships. “I’m back at it occasionally,” he says smiling, “but I’m not as serious as these guys.”
With nine years of judo under his belt, Van Meurs has his sights squarely set at the highest levels of the sport — a national championship, which is a springboard to the world championships.
“Josh just doesn’t want to play at judo, he wants to be a competitor,” Turner says. “His dedication will carry him a long way.”
“I know the heart of the sport, the traditions of the sport,” Van Meurs remarks. “I want to be good at it, I’m determined to make it to the Olympics one day. I just love the sport.”