The word “judo” must be ingrained in the genetic code of Luis Guardia Hanshi, an 80-year-old Cuban American who has dedicated his life to the sport and now tells his story in the book Origen del Judo Panamericano (The Origin of Pan-American Judo, Eagle Press).
“Judo arrived in Cuba in 1951 through Professor Andre Kolychkine,” Guardia says. “I started with him, and that was 60 years ago.”
Guardia, who is eighth dan in the sport’s 10-level ranking system, was one of five students chosen by the Belgian teacher to disseminate the discipline on the island and in the world.
“Initially, Professor Kolychkine trained five judokas to begin the program: Heriberto García, Fernando Chu, Francisco Moc, Julio García and yours truly,” he says.
Thanks to them, judo spread throughout Cuba.
“Heriberto was sent to Camaguey, Chu to Matanzas, Fun to Oriente, Julio to Pinar del Río and I was sent to Las Villas,” Guardia say. “Schools were founded with their professors, and even today you can see the good results, despite being a very small island.”
Guardia belongs to the fourth generation of judokas, a true living legend in this sport.
“Jigoro Kano, the creator of judo, wanted it to be known in the world, and Kolychkine was able to make that dream come true in Cuba,” he says.
“He was very strict with an extraordinary discipline, and we Cubans are not like that, but thanks to those qualities he was able to introduce judo in the island.”
Kolychkine himself had a great teacher, Guardia says, an advanced disciple of the founder of judo.
“Kawaishi Mikonosuke was the student that the teacher Kano sent abroad to make judo known,” he says. “He had the most Western mind, and he did it very well. Mikonosuke arrived in France, trained Kolychkine and sent him to Cuba.”
At the time, America was the only region that did not have a judo organization. When the sport was introduced in Cuba, the Pan-American Confederation was created, and thus the International Judo Federation made it to the five continents.
Guardia explains all of this and more in his book.
“Here you can find how the Pan-American Judo Federation was created and where the founders are, the pioneers of each country, the birth of this sport in the island and its participation in world and Olympic competitions,” he says.
Guardia has also contributed to the development of judo in Europe and the United States.
“I have never stopped practicing judo,” he says. “I left Cuba for Spain in 1973 and worked there in the technical part of the Spanish Federation, and later trained the national team. I later came to the United States and did the same in Florida.”
Guardia is a member of the sport’s Hall of Fame.
“Of the five [Cuban] founders, only Heriberto, Fernando and I are left,” he says. “I am the only one still working in judo. I help the U.S. Judo Federation in every way I can and work with the blind at their school.”
Guardia also has tasks at the Kolychkine Judo Foundation of Miami in Southwest Miami-Dade.
“The foundation was created by [Kolychkine’s] grandson in Miami, and there we try to keep his flame burning,” he says. “Obviously I am part of the fire that keeps it lit.”