Dr. Rhadi Ferguson jokes with students during his January 15 evening class.

By Libby Baldwin

Back in 1997, Miami native Dr. Rhadi Ferguson took a risk.

Dr. Ferguson, now 43, had just graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering and taken a desk job, but a lifelong passion for martial arts instilled by his parents just would not burn out.

So he quit his post-college career before it really began and moved to the Olympic training center, ultimately competing in Athens in 2004 with Team USA Judo. He earned his master’s degree and Ph.D. in education while simultaneously training for the Olympics.

“The Olympics was tumultuous and educational at the same time; it takes a lot from you, but you learn so much about yourself through the process,” said Dr. Ferguson. “You learn how tough you are and how tough you aren’t.”

Although the gold medal went to his teammate Jimmy Pedro, Dr. Ferguson said he is proud to have finished as one of the 16 best judo athletes in the world in his weight class. “I won the opportunity to walk around and say ‘I’m an Olympian!’” he said with a laugh. “People always ask if I won the gold, and I reply by asking how many Olympians they already know. There just aren’t a lot of us walking around on the planet.”

An award-winning judo coach with a dizzying list of accomplishments, Dr. Ferguson could have gone anywhere.

So he opened his own judo school in a modest 1,200 sq. ft. building on Falkenburg Rd., where he teaches nightly classes to all types of learners, including those on the autism spectrum. He now offers weekly classes to local homeschool students.

“I coach. I teach. It’s what I do,” said Dr. Ferguson, who has taught exercise science courses at UCF, UT and HCC.

Dr. Ferguson’s focus is on self-defense and good citizenship. His key to effective teaching is getting to know how each child learns and is disciplined in his or her home.

“The educational system thinks if you’re not teaching K-12, you’re not teaching,” he said. “But I have every type of learner in here.”

Dr. Ferguson wanted to give homeschooled students the chance to learn social skills and conflict resolution in a healthy environment, one that “doesn’t belittle them; where they can be empowered and see what happens when iron sharpens iron,” he said.

Homeschool classes are available every Wednesday for $60 per month, and are open to ages 6-18.

To sign up for classes, call 501-2827 or visit www.tampafloridajudo.net.