By Ivan Huang
In a practice room at the Wellness Center, Mitchell Palacio, 58, dons a blue robe held together by a sturdy black fabric belt that represents his rank, years of experience and the obstacles he had to overcome to achieve such a status.
He has been teaching judo at City College for 35 years and has a seventh-degree black belt in judo, a martial art that he started practicing when he was four years old.
“My father came from Hawaii to San Francisco and opened a judo school,” Palacio said. “He taught me a lot of the basics in the movements early on, and I kind of honed in on the skills by myself through many years of training.”
From being a competitor and teaching judo in his own dojo (training facility), Palacio has had an illustrious competitive career as a judoka (judo practitioner).
“In my competition career, from high school until my retirement, I was ranked top two in the United States,” Palacio said. “I took second place in the Olympic trials, which meant I stayed home and the other guy went to the Olympics.”
Palacio transitioned into coaching after retiring from active competition.
“I’ve coached all the major events in the world,” Palacio said, including “the ‘96 Olympics, World Championships, Pan American games in Cuba and all the A-events from France to Germany.”
With a successful career as a competitor and a coach, Palacio learned the importance of an education early at City College.
“When I first came in as a freshman at City College, I met Norman Travis, who was the physical trainer and physical therapist at the school,” Palacio said. “I learned the importance of education to get a master’s degree, so I could teach at a college level.”
Even before Palacio took over as head of the program in 1978, City College’s judo program was very popular.
“We had eight judo instructors teaching, and six to seven sessions of judo ranging from 1 p.m.-7 p.m. every Monday through Thursday,” Palacio said. “Judo here at City College was huge.”
He has been the only judo instructor at the school for the past 35 years.
“Brad Duggan who was the physical education department chair at the time, gave me my first opportunity to teach here,” Palacio said. “He was the one who started the judo program here in the late ‘60s and he’s probably the best beginning judo instructor I’ve seen in the world.”
Palacio is also president of California Judo Incorporated, the state governing body for judo.
Despite the seriousness of judo, which is designed to teach you how to submit and throw opponents around, Palacio has a reputation as a jokester.
“I like the vibe Mr. Palacio gives off,” sophomore Terrence Cheng said. “A lot of times he jokes around and makes fun of you but ultimately, in the end, if you ask him to show something, he will actually take the time out and show you how to do it correctly.”
Students get to show off what they have learned at a final tournament at the end of the semester.
“The tournament is more about our students learning how to put a judo tournament on, and not so much having a big tournament,” Palacio said. “The students learn about people, how to manage people, social skills, leadership skills and things of that nature.”
Now in its 27th year, City College’s tournament has grown to be one of the largest in the state.
The City College of San Francisco Invitational Judo tournament will be held on April 7 at the Wellness Center in Room 200 at Ocean campus.