Introverted former RCMP officer expands dojo to spread the health benefits of judo

Former Junior Judo Champion and Provincial Judo Champion, and current Policy Review Chair with Judo Ontario, Wade Banman has been practicing judo since the age of 15.

Wade Banman may approach his business in a “gentle way,” but he’s certainly seeing some powerful results.

Banman, a retired RCMP officer who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, operates KMK Judo in Pembroke. For him, practicing the martial art has been both a mental and physical lifesaver.

“In my life, (judo) became a survival skill. I also learned there was more to it. Every time I was on the mats, I was much calmer and better able to focus,” he says.

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Today, he’s passionate about creating a space where he can share his skills in judo, which translates to “the gentle way,” to help people suffering from PTSD and anxiety. 

“When you have PTSD, you get stuck in a moment. You get stuck sometimes so hard that you can’t move, it’s so real everything comes back as if it was the same day right at that moment happening. I’ve learned over time how to step through it a little bit, but it’s only been judo that kept me going and pushed me forward and helped me realize how much calmer I can be,” explains Banman.

To build his business, Banman enrolled in an Enterprise Renfrew eight-week startup program and, much to his own surprise, won a $4,000 grant toward his business.

“I’m terrible at doing pitches. I’m not good out in public. I’m an introvert,” he says.

Banman is putting the funding toward re-branding, marketing and advertising, upgrading his laptop and purchasing a new crash mat.

And he’s busy putting the finishing touches on a new dojo: a ground floor commercial space on Pembroke Street. At 1,500 square feet, the new space is more than double the size of his previous dojo and will allow him to accommodate 24 students at a time with two instructors on the mats.

“In the old location, I could only have 14 students and that was feeling crowded,” explains Banman. Based on inquiries, he is expecting his student roster to jump from 25 to 80 once he has the space to welcome them.

“While he self-identifies as an introvert, this enhances his ability to bring mindful awareness to teaching judo,” says Heather Inwood-Montrose, small business advisor with Enterprise Renfrew. “During Wade’s grant pitch, the evaluation committee recognized that, despite being nervous, Wade was deeply committed to sharing the practice of judo to help people overcome mental health challenges, in addition to bringing a valuable healthy activity to the community.”

A small child trapped in an abusive home, Banman says he discovered judo at age 15 and recalls how it changed his life.

“All of a sudden I was doing really well in school because I was now able to focus, whereas before I was all over the map,” he says.

Judo helped him stop the bullying that dogged his school days and deal with his abusive stepfather. As an adult, the training came in handy in policing. He says the centering and mindfulness help him navigate his PTSD to this day.

“I see so many people out there that are dealing with so many issues in their life and I believe that if they could do some sort of martial art to help them focus, we would see a better society of people and not people going off and doing road rage stuff.”

In this vein, Banman plans to branch out into studying the health effects of judo. Collaborating with Julia Rose, who is one of his students as well as a registered social worker and psychotherapist, Banman intends to apply judo to somatic therapy and study the effects.  

“As a therapist and judoka, I believe judo offers an opportunity to increase personal body awareness, practice grounding and presence, bring intentionality to breath and relaxation, and release stored survival stress,” says Rose.

Together, Banman and Rose plan to launch a study that will document the effects of judo on the nervous system and how it helps people suffering from PTSD and anxiety.  They plan to start with 30 subjects — 10 children, 10 teenagers and 10 adults — this summer.

“We’ll begin the study with teaching people how to centre themselves and reset their nervous system in what is essentially somatic training,” says Banman.

Somatic therapy helps to release stress, tension and trauma from the body. The plan is to offer a program that marries the foundations of judo with the principles of somatic therapy to teach self-regulation strategies to children, youth and adults.

“The movements (in judo) are circular and fluid, with a focus on intentional relaxation and release of tension in the muscles. With consistency in practice, students experience benefits to their mental, physical and emotional well-being,” says Rose.

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