Cody Eisenberg, 14, demonstrates a Judo throw on Ash McNamara at Ashland Mix Martial Arts Friday. Mail Tribune Photo / Jamie Lusch - Jamie Lusch

A Fighting Chance

He's described as polite, well-mannered by one mentor. Disciplined, hard-working by another.

Both are apt descriptions of 14-year-old Cody Eisenberg, a freshman-to-be at Ashland High.

The polite smile and shy persona quickly fades, however, when Eisenberg faces off against whoever stands in front of him in the ring.

Eisenberg has been training in the art of judo since the age of 8 and hapkido since 6.

He trains twice a week at the Medford Judo Academy and three times a week at Ashland MMA, a mixed martial arts club run by Peter Pichler.

Recently, Eisenberg parlayed those years of training into a third-place finish in the 81-kilogram weight class at the prestigious USJF/USJA Junior National Judo Championships in Irvine, Calif.

Eisenberg battled against older opponents to reach his third-place standing at what he calls "the biggest event I've been at."

"If you were tough enough, then you get to go," says Eisenberg of his invitation to the tournament.

"It's a very good tournament," says Pichler. "If it's nationals or Junior Olympics, then it's pretty much the biggest thing to get into right now."

Eisenberg was recently awarded his brown belt — a step below black belt — after accumulating a certain amount of points. Counting his recent trip to junior nationals, Eisenberg has now competed in 94 tournaments.

"I train all the time," he says. "I really love doing it. I just like the physical activity, the fighting, the self defense ... I like it all."

Eisenberg moved to Ashland from Santa Monica, Calif., last August.

He and his father, Judd, immediately sought out a place to train.

They found the well-established Medford Judo Academy and sensei Larry Nolte and Ashland MMA, a club formed within the last year by Pichler.

With Nolte, who's taught the art of Danzan Ryu Jujitsu for the last five decades, Eisenberg found a place to work on technique at the Phoenix-based dojo (club) — one of the oldest in Oregon and California.

"Cody was looking for a dojo to work with," says Nolte. "We do not do competitions like the one's he's familiar with, but his dad liked what we were doing."

"We had to work with him because all of his techniques were for competition and ours is kata-form oriented," he says of the non-combative, choreographed routines. "He's adjusted very well. He's a real nice, well-mannered kid. I'm very proud of him."

At Ashland MMA, Eisenberg gets the hands-on training needed for competitions.

"Cody came to us with experience," says Pichler. "He got choked out twice in his last competition and his dad asked us to help him defend against that. We rolled him in with the fight team and he learned to defend himself and keep himself safe."

Pichler, 42, has plenty of experience in the sport, training with mixed martial arts and ultimate fighting pioneer Frank Shamrock, among others.

Ashland MMA trains its competitors in several forms, including judo, boxing and kicking.

"We call it mixed martial arts, like what you see on TV right now," says Pichler. "I hate calling it cage fighting. It's definitely not people beating on each other — it's a real sport."

With judo, Eisenberg specializes in throws, grappling moves or choke holds, known as shime-waza, to immobilize an opponent. Strikes and thrusts are also used.

Competitors must be age 12 or older to utilize a choke hold. At 17, arm bars can be implemented.

At Ashland MMA, Eisenberg spars with opponents such as 21-year-old Jesse Sumner, who owns two Oregon state titles and is on the verge of turning pro.

"They started me slow," remembers Eisenberg, "but I started to come in more after a while."

"It was difficult fighting someone straight MMA," he adds of his training against Sumner. "They like to take it slow until they see you develop, then we go full-on. I can go full-on with these guys now."

"He's very disciplined, very tough," adds Pichler. "We had him preparing for competitions by sparring with all the MMA guys. He was in there with people much bigger and much older and he did fine."

Eisenberg, who also wrestles and plays football and basketball, has lofty goals in mixed martial arts.

He envisions a long future in the sport, maybe even a trip to the Olympics.

"That's the ultimate goal," Eisenberg says. "I'm trying to get my black belt and go to the Olympics with it. I'm trying to exceed all expectations and go all the way."

Reach reporter Kevin Goff at 541-776-4483, or e-mail

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