The Ben van der Eng Dojo is officially open!

The Amstelveen City Council was aware for quite some time that both BeterJudo and Special Needs Judo Foundation were looking for a suitable venue for their sport. Spring 2023, this all started to pick up speed through a great offer by the Council, by alderman Frank Berkhout: The old PE hall of the Piet Heijn School was made available to SNJF in the Amstelveen City Center. SNJF received the key in August and through incredibly hard work we managed to open a new dojo at the beginning of the new season.

Generous donation by various Dutch charity organisations allowed us to obtain a new tatami, wall protection and various thick crash mats, so as to modify the new dojo for our Special Needs judoka. And of course, it is entirely possible for mainstream judoka to use our new dojo as well. We plan to use the dojo for national and international training sessions for both mainstream and disabled judoka.

Friday, September 22nd, this all culminated:

The opening act for the new dojo was done by alderman Frank Berkhout, together with trainer Tycho van der Werff. Many prominent figures were present at the opening, amongst which national and international judo champions. The Judo Association (JBN) was present in the person of Hendrik Koppe.

Following the opening act, SNJF chairman Henk de Vries handed de official name plate of the dojo to mrs. Wil van der Eng-Kist, the wido of the late founder of SNJF, Ben van der Eng. The name of the dojo is now:

The Ben van der Eng Dojo

A special honor for BeterJudo trainer Tycho van der Werff was 

A special honor for BeterJudo trainer Tycho van der Werff is when he received the IMAF and Kodokan Nederland pin of honor from Joop Pauel, co-founder of the International Martial Arts Federation and Kodokan Judo Nederland. Also, judo legend Karel Gietelink (8-times champion of the Netherlands, former national coach) presented Tycho with a plaque with kanji symbols stating “Beauty comes from within”. Of course, theis plaque will get a place of honour in the dojo!

After the official bit and some short speeches, Tycho and his colleagues presented a short judo lesson, in which all judoka participated. At 18:00, the normal scheduled lessons resumed- after all, they have to continue too!

Click here for pictures of the proceedings

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We cannot be indifferent – the amazing accomplishments of Bronx

Article taken from the IJF website. All rights reside with the original author.
Remarkable things happen when remarkable people have remarkable ideas! Daniel Zodian is a remarkable person and is the mastermind and drive behind Bronx People, a care-giving organisation based in Bacau, Romania.

Daniel Zodian and his wife Ana were building their own family home in 2017 but during the build the motive changed and Daniel decided to open the house as an orphanage. In 2018 their dream was realised.

Daniel told us, “‘Bronx’ is a name associated with negative connotations aligned with poverty in the USA. This is a contradiction I decided to highlight. I am committed to showing that when people discover our version of the Bronx it will only bring happiness. It was that idea that gave rise to the name ‘Bronx People.’”

The Bronx name is only positive in Bacau

Bronx People is an NGO and registered charity re-homing and caring for children from state-run orphanages in Bacau. Daniel was teaching judo at the orphanages and came up with the idea of creating a special home for judo children. There were 26 in the first group and now, with a lot of work from a few key people, there is a very positive system in place.

When entering the house there is noise, lots of it, but that includes music, some of it being played by the young residents on guitars or other instruments. There is art and photography on the walls and a range of family photos that show happy Christmases, judo successes, days out, just with a much bigger family than most of us will ever experience. There are the joyous smells of home cooking and there is always someone doing homework, somewhere in the house.

Photos and sports memorabilia in the Bronx People house
Alongside Daniel and Ana there is Dana Varga, a friend of Daniel’s who was preparing for her police academy exams. Daniel had been helping Dana with her physical preparation and training but as Dana said to us, “In the end my eyesight let me down and I could not pass, so I decided to stay at the house and support Bronx People.”

Gabi Iftimescu was a student in Bucharest but says she really wasn’t happy there. “I came back home to Bacau and with free time aplenty I looked for things to do. I saw a shoebox campaign online with the idea of creating Christmas presents for delivery to children. I wanted to prepare something for them and I went to the dojo in town to deliver mine. I was told to remove my shoes and go through the dojo on to the mats. I didn’t ask why but I met Daniel and other volunteers in the dojo. I was attracted by the social side of their activities. They were so committed to gathering resources to support children, especially those with emotional issues and other social problems.”

Agriculture at the Bronx People house. A lot of fresh food is grown to be used by the extended family.
Bacau is not a place with broad opportunities but the Bronx People group finds opportunities for everyone. Gabi continued, “I was passionate about writing and photography and also social sciences and so I changed my life completely and went to study in Brasov, social sciences. I finished and graduated and since then I have been living and studying in Bacau.”

During our interviews we hear a shout, “Alex!” It’s really loud. There is no speaker system in the house but a call from Daniel is one responded to by all. He keeps the schedules and programmes and chores in order and everyone works for everyone. Cooking, growing food, painting walls, cleaning the yard, it doesn’t matter eBay needs to be done, there is always someone to do it for the benefit of everyone.

Mealtimes require major organisation
Dana said, “We have to work in other jobs outside the home. I’m working my way up in economics since my studies. We have to work in other jobs in order to support ourselves. We live in the house as the parents of the group we look after but there is no money to pay for that. Some of the older ones have small jobs at the local sport hall but in general they are studying and living and just being children.”

There is some money coming from sponsors. Daniel used to have a construction company, which he doesn’t run any more, but he had built a strong network of contacts. He built the first house and the summer dojo himself, with the help of some of the children. Everything that is built for the purposes of learning, leisure, sport and fun is open to the local community as well as those who live in the Bronx People project. This way the community and even some people from further afield can see the good that is being done here. Spreading the word about the project brings some financial assistance.

There are many opportunities for personal development. Daniel says, “Practising judo brings discipline, motivation, friendship, and having access to this very different set-up from the state system. The staff in the state system are there to work and earn wages. We could even consider the children there are treated like documents or numbers with a need for the correct boxes to be ticked and the signatures to be obtained. It’s not like that here.”

Daniel finished nursing school and also studied architecture. By law there must be a qualified nurse on sight and also a social worker and therefore Daniel and Dana have completed studies which fulfil that brief.

Daniel lets us see a little of his personal motivation, “We cannot be indifferent. We are human and so we must care. I consider what we do as the desired norm’, shouldn’t everyone care this way? For me it’s normal, it’s a lifestyle choice to live with goodness.

Daniel Zodian showing us a traditional brick-built Romanian kitchen in one of the new Bronx People houses.
Actually I think many people would like to do the things we do but they don’t have the courage or the lifestyle or perhaps the innovative thinking to really give the support they believe they should. By accepting sponsorship we can help people to contribute and feel good, to know they are part of a positive change for young people who really need that.”

There is magnetism about the house. Once people visit, they want to return and do more. One idea to make use of all the good feeling and the desire to help came in the form of a new judo tournament. Bronx People wanted to run a big judo competition to attract many people and to publicise our project. Maybe it could even attract more sponsors.

Denisa Deliu is a judoka and coach who has worked with the EJU and IJF in the past and has a lot of experience. She agreed to become the competition manager. In 2022 the event attracted competitors from 6 countries, including a huge, high level team from Turkiye. The event was a great success and will run again later this year.

The 2022 Bronx People ‘Judo Without Barriers’ International Tournament
Information about the tournament information, ways to donate, social inclusion projects, other fundraising activities and the impact Bronx People is having on the community can all be found on their website:

Gabi said, “Seeing what we do, via the website or in person, not just in the house but beyond, is important. We also link with other NGOs to do joint projects which impact the community; long-term sustainable projects, many of which can apply for finance from government or private donors. There are projects in schools with children who have mental disabilities and with a lot of our projects we find there are many opportunities for us to offer access for new children to judo. There is a lot of competition for private funding and demonstrating that Bronx People can have long term impact is tough but we are getting there.“

Daniel told us about what is in pipeline too, “Mr Vizer has supported us to begin building a special house close to our first one, specially for mums who are raising children with difficulties. We are also now building a medical centre and a house designed to cater for the needs of children with disabilities. It’s becoming a small village rather than just our original house but funding all that is really challenging. We won’t stop, though, there’s too much good being done and the benefits for these young people are life-changing.”

The new houses are under construction
Daniel Zodian and his team are living a difficult and unpredictable life, one filled with challenges and sad stories but they are proving that their adherence to judo values and their determination to be part of the solution, is the right way to support young people who need more love and care in their lives. Daniel only sees the positives in his lifestyle.

All donations and support will be gratefully received. If you’re ever in the area, go and say hello and you too will feel inspired!

Good news from Croatia and Romania!

Good news from the EJU Festival in Poreč, Croatia: Our rules (yes, the ones we have been working on since the end of the nineties) are now accepted as THE rules for Special Needs Judo. And, our divisioning system FCS is also accepted as THE system to be used in order to give Special Needs judoka a safe and fair competition experience. Below is a nice article from the Romanian paper Dešteptarea.

(Photo: EJU. Artikel: Dešteptarea, Translation: Google Translate. Link to original article)

From June 10-21, 2023, Croatia hosted the eighth edition of the EJU Judo Festival, the event ending with a series of activities dedicated to Special Needs athletes and coaches.
At the invitation of Denisa Marian (Deliu), advisor to the president of the European Judo Union, Romania was represented by CS Bronx Powerlifting Club Bacău, through coaches Daniel Zodian and Maria Budău, athletes Ionela Ivan, Grafian Cojocaru, Alexandru Zodian, Oana Panțiru, but also by the president of the club, Gabriela Iftimescu. Since the beginning of 2022, the club has brought to Romania the largest adapted judo campaign through which it proposed to children with mental disabilities a form of alternative therapy, through sports, in which no less than 729 children from the municipality participated Bacău, within the project “Judo is played, CE Spui?”, financed by the In Stare de Bine program, supported by Kaufland Romania and implemented by the Civil Society Development Foundation. In the year 2023, the campaign is to be expanded nationally, in 10 counties in the country, through the project “Judoka, rei!-Unde terimileri dispar…”, so that the educational and therapeutic value of judo is more and more intense promoted.
During the event, the participants enjoyed sessions of adapted judo, theoretical and practical seminars related to approaches to disabilities, the division of athletes according to the level of disability, but also the rules of Special Needs competitions, as well as games and activities informal, such as t-shirt painting or crafting. At the same time, the festival brought along judokas and coaches big names from the world of judo, such as Nuno Delgado and Malte Geppert, coordinators of the Judo for Children program in the European Judo Union, Marina Drascoviç, coordinator of the adapted judo department of the European Union of Judo, Barbara Matic, double world champion, and Olympic champion of Slovenian origin Tina Trstenjak.
Following the festival, where organizations from all over the world that work with judoka with mental disabilities were present for dialogue and exchange of best practices, the official regulations for holding Special Needs judo sports events will be published on the EJU website, as well as the way of recognition, definition and framing of disability, so that, at the European level, organizations can develop a unitary work system, removing organizational and participation conflicts.
The CS Bronx Powerlifting Club Bacău team, which, from 2021, was joined by Denisa Marian, is going to implement the first judo festival adapted alongside the European Judo Union. More than a sport, judo is a way to grow, push your limits and develop, an aspect that the Bronx Sport Club team wants to highlight by offering judo programs for typical children, but also atypical, to reach all schools in Romania, to students, physical education and sports teachers, but also to parents looking for a form of therapy for their children. The Fall School is just one example of a judo program that has been successfully implemented internationally and that can be fruitful in schools, but also in sports clubs, regardless of the sport practiced.
“Working with athletes with intellectual disabilities starts with understanding them. In people suffering from an intellectual disability, there are, according to doctors, deficiencies in two areas: at the level of intellectual functioning, through incapacity or reduced capacity for learning, motivation, decision-making and problem-solving, with an IQ below 70, and at the level of adaptive behaviors, which means the ordinary skills by which we survive in everyday life, from communication, interaction and self-care capacity. And judo comes and folds on every practitioner, because the needs of play, confidence, courage, interaction and communication are needs of every human being, regardless of abilities or disabilities. And, to quote our friends from the Special Needs Judo Foundation, promoters of adapted judo in Europe, SN judo is created for all judoka. Every participant will have the opportunity to enjoy and compete in judo together, at their own level, in the safest way possible. And this can be done because we made sure that the rules promote safety”, explained Daniel Zodian, CS Bronx Powerlifting Club Bacau coordinator judo coach.