In 2015, Young Post spoke to judo prodigies Emma, Charlotte and Thomas de Jong, who demonstrated that the Japanese martial art and Olympic sport runs strong in their family.
Four years on, the three siblings are still shining on the Hong Kong judo scene, as they continue to bring home trophies and medals from local championships.
Packing a punch may be in their DNA, but what really drives these teenagers to excel in the sport is a bit of healthy, harmless sibling rivalry.
“We fight a lot, because judo gives us an excuse to do so,” says 16-year-old Emma, the eldest of the three.
“We get very competitive during practice, and it escalates into real fights quickly.”
The German Swiss International School student says she and her sister and brother often pretend to be following their sensei’s instructions to work on some moves, when in fact they’re play-fighting.
But this wrestling never leads to bad blood (or the actual stuff). Instead, it brings the de Jong children even closer together, and help the young judokas take their sport more seriously.
“As the eldest, I always want to be above my siblings in my sport, so they really push me to do better,” Emma tells Young Post.
Charlotte, 14, adds that engaging in real fights is their way of telling each other to stop slacking off; she says she sometimes gets frustrated with youngest sibling Thomas, when he is too relaxed during training while she wants to give new techniques a try.
“Sometimes our father has to step in, but because we fight so much, we just forget about our fights in two minutes,” the Year Nine student says.
As well as keeping each other on track, the de Jong siblings believe the best part of sharing a common hobby is having people in a support system who truly understand their struggles when they face setbacks.
12-year-old Thomas says his sisters always cheer him up when he loses in a match, and analyse what he did wrong to help him avoid making the same mistakes in future competitions. “I really like that my sisters and I do the same sport,” the Year Seven student says. But he has plans to not always need their support, saying: “I hope that in a couple of years, I will be better than them!”
Reflecting on their growth over the past four years, the de Jongs note they have developed new fighting styles to match their strengths, and have become more patient on the mat.
To Emma, the most important lesson she’s learned was realising that she couldn’t simply rely on her height to win matches, because the sport is all about tactics. Seeing that girls in her age group were becoming more serious about judo, she knew she had to up her game.
“I was too relaxed about my matches. I told myself to work harder. If other girls could do it, I could too,” Emma says.
Meanwhile, Charlotte and Thomas are honing new throws and ground techniques to match their increasing heights and strength. Thomas has learned to be more observant as well, in the hope of spotting the flaws in his opponent’s play.
“I used to be too impatient and would run for my opponents. I would then get thrown in a matter of seconds. Now I know I have to wait for my chances,” Thomas says.
Within the local judo community and at school, Emma, Charlotte and Thomas are seen as an inseparable trio. While they are all proud to be de Jongs and known for their success in their sport, they are eager to explore other potential pathways in their sporting careers.
Charlotte, who is better known at school for playing football, is reluctant to choose between her two favourite sports. She says she will keep juggling them if time allows, and strive to play both sports at university.
“I just want to get better in football, and at the same time stay passionate about judo,” she says.
Like Charlotte, Thomas is keeping his options open. The teenager plays tennis and squash as well as judo, and he is not ready to settle on one single sport.
“I’m still experimenting with different sports,” Thomas says. “Right now, I don’t want to join the Hong Kong judo team, because I know I don’t have time.”
Emma, who is also a swimmer, knows a decision has to be made soon, and she is leaning towards judo.
“I’m planning on trying out for the national team next year,” Emma says. “I’m really hoping that I will be deserving of a black belt in five years’ time.”