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Back with black

Tom Filipovic began competing in judo when he was 10 years old. He eventually achieved his brown belt, but never took the next step to get his prestigious black belt.
Quinn Clemas, Kristen Yawney, Fred Wilkinson and Tom Filipovic receive their black belts Monday at the Prince George Judo Club.

Tom Filipovic began competing in judo when he was 10 years old.

He eventually achieved his brown belt, but never took the next step to get his prestigious black belt.

University, his career (he owns a construction company), marriage and being a proud dad of a two-and-a-half year-old son took priority, until now.

Thirteen years later, Filipovic, 29, a long-time judoka with the Prince George Judo Club, received his coveted first degree black belt, the pinnacle of martial arts, after a grueling test in front of a panel of B.C. judo judges on Sunday.

Fred Wilkinson, 46, first took to the judo mats as an 11-year-old, grappling with Aline Strasdin at the Prince George Judo Club when they were both kids. Strasdin is now the head instructor at the club and a provincial coach with Team B.C.

But like Filipovic, life took precedence for Wilkinson. He went to university, began his career, (he's a full-time firefighter with the City of Prince George), got married, and is raising a family.

Monday night at the PG Judo Club, Wilkinson and Filipovic were beaming with pride as they strapped on their black belts, having successfully completed a journey that took several years to complete.

"It's a big weight lifted off our shoulders," said Filipovic. "We helped push each other [over the years] since we both understood the magnitude of it. I've been doing judo since I was 10 years old and I finally got the time and the attention I needed to get to it."

"It's definitely a good feeling," added Wilkinson. "We had to text each other [to motivate each other]. It's very hard to balance life and family."

A black belt is not easy to achieve.

Wilkinson and Filipovic had to accumulate points through volunteering at provincial judo tournaments and take coaching seminars.

They also endured hours and hours of practicing kata, a series of throws and movements that had to be done in synchronization.

They then had to perform them in front of an adjudication panel of top B.C. judo officials who graded them, which happened on the weekend in Richmond.

Besides Wilkinson and Filipovic, a couple of teenaged PGJC judokas - Kristen Yawney, 16, and Quinn Clemas, 19 - earned their first and second degree black belts respectively.

With the black belts achieved by Yawney, Wilkinson and Filipovic, it boosts the number to 54 since the club began in 1967.

Brendan Bellavance, 17, from the Hart Judo Academy also received his first degree black belt in Richmond.

For Strasdin, who coaches Bellavance at provincial and national tournaments, it was her goal to help them all achieve their black belt.

"It's easier for the youth such as Quinn, Kristen and Brendan because they're competing," she said. "For adults, they have to volunteer at provincial tournaments, do coaching courses. It's an achievable goal for any adult, but it's harder."

And she knew there was extra motivation for Wilkinson to achieve his black belt. His son Kyle, 15, already has his brown belt.

"It's typical of adults, focusing on their jobs and family," she said. "I told Fred if he didn't do it, Kyle would get his first, that it was time to complete the ranks. I wanted to help him get to his black belt, that there was unfinished business."

She helped them out by imitating the kata grading panel at the club.

"We tried to simulate the stressful situation and it definitely helped prepare them," she said. "They did really well. They practiced three to four hours a week on top of everything else. For the kids, they've been doing kata grading exams since they were 10 years old. The adults haven't gone through formal grading."

In Richmond on the weekend, Clemas' kata grading panel had 14 people on it, while six people each were on Wilkinson's and Yawney's panel.

As for the future, Wilkinson and Filopvic have different goals in mind with their black belts. Filipovic would eventually like to compete, while Wilkinson would like to get into coaching.