Johana Harewood-Pope, a student of judo at Santa Monica Judo & Jujitsu Kai (a highly decorated, decades-old martial arts program of the Santa Monica Family YMCA), took first place in the 27 kilogram novice division. In short, the young Santa Monica native is currently the best 8-year old judo yellow belt in her weight class, in the country.

The Winter Nationals is the premier competitive judo event held each December in southern California. This year it was held at Azusa Pacific University’s Felix Event Center. In attendance were over 800 competitors from all over the United States as well as visiting athletes from other countries. It was Johana’s first national-level competition.

Johana has just entered an elite group of over 80 national champions who have been trained in her storied Santa Monica-based program. Coach of each of them: Jim Nieto, a septuagenarian and 5th degree black belt who has taught judo & jujitsu there for over 50 years. Nieto briefly taught a young Rhonda Roussey, the now-famous judo player and MMA fighter. His assistant coaches are his wife of over 40 years and 1st degree black belt, Nancy Nieto, and former collegiate competitor and 1st degree black belt, Blaine Pope. Blaine is also Johana’s father.

“Johana surprised all of us—coaches, parents, and opponents—with the skill she recently displayed on the mat,” Pope said. Her proud father added, “If her performance at WinterNationals is anything to go by, then Jo has a very promising future in this sport.”


  • Jim Nieto, Head Judo & Jujitsu Instructor

(310) 384-0976

  • Nancy Nieto, Assistant Judo & Jujitsu Instructor

(310) 497-2649

  • Blaine Pope, Assistant Judo Instructor

(347) 623-7560


Blaine Pope


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