January 21, 2020

By RYAN HORNE

Attention all muggers and thieves. If you ever see the Burgess family walking down a dark alley, you’d be wise to steer clear before you find yourself face down on the pavement. They may look nice (and they are), but they’re also masters of the art of judo. And they’re all members of the Asahi Judo Club located in Kitchener.
It all starts at the top with the president and father, Mark, who happens to be the most prolific judoka of the family with a third-degree black belt. Wife Robyn, a second-degree black belt, works full time at the K-W Gymnastics Club just a few steps away from Asahi. Monika, 16, a first-degree black belt, and Cameron, a 15-year-old brown belt, are the kids of the family who love the sport just as much as their parents.
“I always joke that ‘a family that fights together, stays together,’” said Robyn. “We do so much as a family and a lot of people who have teenagers don’t have that luxury.”
Mark has been involved with the club since 1984 when he started out as a student in his teens and stopped fighting competitively in 2005. He said his kids’ interest in the sport is genuine and it came without any pushing or prodding from him or Robyn.
“We didn’t ask our kids if they wanted to go to church on Sundays either, they just do,” said Mark.
Mark finds it difficult sometimes to wear both the father hat and the coach hat when it comes to his two kids.
“It’s tough because when you’re dad and when you’re coach sometimes the kids don’t have a chance to get a lazy day,” he said. “It’s both the most difficult and most rewarding thing I’ve ever done.”
Monika is skyrocketing up the junior judo ranks as she won silver and a bronze medal at the Commonwealth Championships in Cardiff, Wales last January. She could have easily won gold if not for a bum shoulder which she injured in an awkward fall early in the final match of the over 20 division.
“The best I’ve ever done was seventh, so I was kind of proud of myself,” said Monika, who has aspirations to compete for Canada in either the 2016 or 2020 Summer Olympics. “It’s easier for me because no one really knows me in those tournaments so I feel like I do better.”
Cameron will be competing at a higher level when he turns 16.
Monika, who started fighting at age three, said she can’t remember a time when judo wasn’t a part of her life. When the kids were young, the family used to sit in their hot tub and quiz each other about throws and different judo moves. Judo has always come home with the family. Whether it’s watching a live stream on the Internet of an important judo competition halfway around the world or teaching one last move before bed, judo is 24/7 in the Burgess household.
“If he (Mark) figures out something cool, he’ll show us in the living room,” said Monika.
It seems that all the Burgess family vacations turn into judo competitions. The family has had the privilege of travelling to Ukraine, Germany, Wales, Mexico, Iceland, Portugal and Morocco all for judo.
The Asahi Judo Club has been in Kitchener since 1967 and received a certificate of thanks from the City of Kitchener in 2007 for 40 years of contribution to the growth of parks and recreation in Ontario. The club is one of the largest in Canada and currently has 176 members. Mark has seen groups come through the club in stages. Some will head off to college and a new fleet of fighters will enter.
“I want everybody who comes here to reach their genetic potential,” said Mark.