10 May 2023

Former NPA sensei still has the moves

| Samuel Davis
Start the conversation

AFTER discovering judo as an adult, Xavier Barker quickly realised the Japanese martial art’s lessons went far beyond the dojo.

“It’s the only sport in the world with a moral code attached to it,” the avid sportsman said.

“It deals with things like friendship, honesty and self-respect.

“Judo was designed more as a physical education program. Its founder, Kano Jigoro didn’t even want it to be a sport.

“There’s a massive skill set that takes a long time to develop.”

Having inflicted plenty of damage on his body playing AFL, the discipline’s isometric and body weight exercises helped Barker maintain his competitive edge without straining his creaky joints.

So when the young dad moved to Bamaga in 2012 with his family, he started NPA Judo Club – the most remote martial arts dojo in Australia.

“I probably bit off more than I could chew,” Barker said while laughing.

“I was a novice coach and player. I had to learn very quickly because kids ask so many questions.”

The results quickly followed.

Across seven years, Barker trained more than 450 judokas developing some of the best junior martial artists in the country.

In 2017, prized pupil Francis Newman won a silver medal at the Youth Commonwealth Games while other athletes claimed dozens of state and national titles.

But the humble sensei is reluctant to take too much credit.

“I just experimented wildly at the start and learned as much as I could,” he said.

“I travelled to meet other coaches to see how they did things, attend seminars and try to figure it out.

“We did sessions two nights a week but if we were competing, some of the senior kids would train for an hour in the morning on top of that.

“It’s easy to make a competitive judo player out of a good athlete. I guess I was lucky. There were probably a couple of thousand kids with nothing else to do except judo.”

Newman, who as a 12-year-old would regularly beat teenage boys at tournaments across the state, found the discipline required to compete in judo changed her as a person.

“I used to lose my temper really quickly,” she said.

“But judo helped me control it and not snap straight away. The other kids in the club, you could see how they were around their parents and then be on their best behaviour for Xavier.

“No one would play up around him. It was a fun thing that stopped kids getting in trouble in the afternoon. We’d just go to the gym and have fun on the mats after school.”

In 2019, Barker moved to Cairns with Dale Mears taking over as sensei before the club folded earlier this year.

Now head coach at Cairns Judo Club, Barker said many of his students are still involved in the sport.

“That’s probably the most rewarding part – that they still want to do it,” he said.

“One girl is at uni in Brisbane and still training. I still see some other kids too and have a good relationship with them.

“But our motivation was always to coach people first and not the sport.”

Start the conversation

Cape York Weekly

Subscribe to get the latest edition of Cape York Weekly in your inbox each Monday.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Cape York Weekly's terms and conditions and privacy policy.