Millbrook High junior Matthew Flores said he started taking karate when he was five years old to help him deal with his anger. It has worked.
He added judo around seven years ago because the idea of throwing people appealed to him. That, too, has worked.
Flores is known around school as a wrestler, but he has emerged as one of the top young judo athletes in the country. He currently is ranked No. 2 in the nation in the 90-kilo juvenile division and is one of eight athletes who will represent the United States in the Pan American Juvenile Judo Championships in El Salvador in July.
“All this is new to me,” said Flores, whose summer activities also included a third place in the Junior Olympics U.S. Judo competition in Irving, Texas, last week, and a U.S. Judo Association competition in Hawaii beginning on July 4 before the Pan Am trip. “I’m still getting used to it.”
Flores is a second degree black belt in karate and he will be tested soon for his third degree black belt. He is a brown belt in judo.
Kathy Olevsky of Karate International said Flores’ demeanor doesn’t give any hint of his expertise in martial arts.
“He doesn’t have a ginormous personality. He is very disciplined, very quiet,” she said. “He has developed into a fabulously mature 16-year-old.”
Flores, 5-foot-10, said karate helped him control his emotions when he was younger and through the years he has learned that work is a better path than shortcuts.
He walks 1 1/2 miles every day to his workout and to his mentoring of younger students after school. He works out almost every day.
Judo appealed to him, he said, because of the throws, but he has grown to love the people who are involved in the sport.
“It is a small sport, especially in North Carolina,” Flores said. “You learn to connect with everybody, even on a worldwide basis. They are good people.”
He was 13-8 as a high school wrestler last year in the 182-pound class despite giving judo his priority. He said there are more differences than similarities between wrestling and judo, particularly in scoring.
“In wrestling you keep scoring,” he said. “But in judo there is only one point. You end the match with a throw, or a pin, or by submission.”
Millbrook coach Scott Saby said Flores is very good when the wrestlers on are their feet and Flores’ judo skills are apparent.
“But it is like I told Matt, he needs to have more mat time,” Saby said. “Judo is his priority and I understand that and I know he has only so much time for wrestling. All wrestlers have their strengths, and Matt’s definitely is when he can use some of the skills he has from his judo.
“Although judo is his love, he is going to be one of our leaders on the wrestling team for the next two years. He is an exceptional young man.”