SEATTLE (AP) _ A federal judge has ruled that two young judo competitors and their team captain do not have to make the traditional bows before approaching the mat.

U.S. District Judge Carolyn R. Dimmick also directed that the issue of whether the bows violated the religious freedom of Leilani Akiyama, 10, and her brother, James Akiyama, 12, both of Bellevue, should be heard by U.S. Judo Inc., the national governing body for the sport. The girl is a three-time national judo champion.

At issue in the case, filed in May 1996, are the bows that judo competitors often are required to make to the mat and to a picture of Jigoro Kano, the modern founder of the sport in Japan.

The children's mother, Mariko Akiyama, stepfather John Holm and team captain Jay Drangeid, 36, say bowing would violate their religious beliefs.

``It's against all my beliefs as a Christian,'' Drangeid said.

Judo traditionalists defend the bowing as a nonreligious display of respect and gratitude to the sport, instructors, tournament organizers and practicitioners of higher rank.

Bowing is not required at all tournaments, but since refusing to bow, the two youngsters have missed about 15 competitions.