Jon Semetko trains students in judo at Top Defense & Fitness gym on Monday in Logan.

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A Logan High School teacher and Cache Valley Judo Club head coach recently won a gold medal at the USA Judo 2021 Senior National Championships in Reno, Nevada.

Jonathan Semetko, who also teaches special education at Logan High, competed at the event on May 15. For Semetko, who’s been training judo for most of his life, winning nationals for the first time is the culmination of years of effort and good timing. This year, Semetko said he had “the right mix” of good training and competitive performance while remaining relatively injury-free.

“Some days you’re SpongeBob with your foot in a bucket of fish,” Semetko said. “And some days you get to be Bruce Lee, and everything comes together the right way. Luckily, that’s the kind of day I had.”

While Semetko’s teaching career informs his judo, the converse is also true. Through struggle in martial arts, Semetko said he’s learned to confront anxieties and fears while developing resilience.

“In life, at some point people figure out that most of the struggles are internal,” Semetko said. “I’d definitely say I take significant lessons in my teaching from that. Because I realize that the other person is not most of the problem; most of the problem is me, my understanding.”

“Understanding comes slowly and painfully,” Semetko said. “It’s something you have to do a lot.”

While judokas incorporate submissions against their opponents, typically, judo is known for its high-amplitude throws.

As with any contact sport, judo can be physically taxing. One young man competing during the event on May 15 was escorted off the mat after having his elbow dislocated during a grappling exchange. Laying casually on the mat, wiggling the fingers of his grotesquely bent arm, he called to his coach to “pop it in” so he could continue.

Injuries, though some are worse than others, can be a part of the game — and it’s something Semetko knows all too well.

“I played contact sports my entire life, including judo,” Semetko said with a chuckle, “and so I have a couple boo-boos.”

As an athlete approaching the age of 40, Semetko said the secret to injury prevention and management is to accept there are no secrets. Staying conditioned both physically and mentally, while taking time away from sport to nurse legitimate injuries if needed, is the best way to stay on the mats.

And staying on the mats is what Semetko intends to do in both competitive and instructive roles.

Now, ranked in the top spot of the heavyweight division in his age group, Semetko said he’ll have to keep competing to maintain his rank. In July, Semetko will compete in the U.S. Open International Tournament in Orlando, Florida. He’s also eligible for other international tournaments abroad and is competing in November at the World Master International Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Federation Championship in Las Vegas.

With several of his students competing at national-level tournaments and opportunities for Semetko himself to compete at the international level this year, he has no shortage of judo to immerse himself in before making decisions to compete at other major international tournaments.

“I have plenty to keep me busy and help me know what my next step beyond the national level should or shouldn’t be,” Semetko said.

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