Challenge #5: Judo @ Redcar Multisports Club

I went through most of my adult life without owning a set of pyjamas. It was a point of principle, I just didn’t understand them. Mrs W, as a confirmed pyjama lover, just couldn’t understand this and persisted and persisted until eventually at some stage last year I was lulled into owning a wonderful set of Marvel lounge wear, that some would class as pyjamas (and since have been supplemented by Superman and The Muppets sets).

Why am I telling you about my night time wardrobe? Because I was presented with a beautiful, pristine white set of pyjamas about a month ago. Except these ones are special, only to be worn when participating in a particular Olympic Sport, which if you are reading this, you already know, is Judo.

The gentleman who generously lent me the use of the kit is one Mr Alan Cawthorne. A current employee of MFC Foundation, a former employee of the famous Teesside ICI plant and all-round Teesside sporting hero (he has an award to prove it…). On the night that the footage below was filmed, he and the club were being assessed by the Duke of York community initiative team who were looking to see if they could be supported as an award holder.  The club (Redcar Multi-Sport Club) is also a Premier League 4 Sport venue and have thriving table tennis and archery sections as well, which could be handy for challenges further down the road! It is great to see such a community initiative being successful, especially in an area such as Redcar, which has a lot of economic struggles, and especially since the collapse of the ICI plant, and then the SSI closure last year, both of which supported a large percentage of the local population.  I am a massive believer in sport being a positive force in the community, and being at the club for a couple of sessions it is clear to see that lots of families are benefiting from the set-up, physically, socially and mentally, and this applies to both the young people and the adults.

This video comes from a session I attended this week, my second judo session. The coach was different to the first week, I later discovered that it was the father of my original coach. There were lots of young people in attendance, and a variety of belt colours. Allow me to briefly explain: your expertise as a judoka is displayed by the colour of the belt that you wear, I, for example was wearing a white belt, for beginners, my fellow students were in a veritable variety of colours ranging from yellow to orange to green. To progress from one belt to the next you need to be able to demonstrate a certain set of skills at a grading, and if you are successful, congratulations, have a new different coloured belt! Kind of like a martial art equivalent of River Island.  The progression is demonstrated in picture form below:


You can imagine the benefits that this structured approach can have for young people, the discipline required to move up and the rewards for demonstrating skill are tangible.  Not only that, but also your skill and effort gains you respect amongst your peers, which is, I imagine, maybe more important to both the young people and their parents and families. The activity is clearly a popular choice for parents to send their children to and I wonder if it is the discipline and respect ingrained with judo, and other martial arts, that encourages this attendance.  With my baby due any day now I wonder if one day he will go to judo or whether we will make different choices, the young people in attendance certainly seemed to enjoy it.

Anyway, this is my attempt at being a judoka:


Judo, literal translation from Japanese “gentle way”, was nothing like gentle. My first session took place in January and I experienced being thrown down onto the floor in four different ways by a teenager.  I also didn’t get the memo of wearing a t-shirt under my judo pyjamas so the rest of the participants, i.e. three teenagers and ten pre-teens, had a horror inducing view of my upper torso, not sure whether that was more embarrassing for me or for them.

Dave, the lead judoka coach, had clearly put together a session mainly for my benefit, lots of cool throws to learn. Firstly though, I had to learn how to fall. I fell in a few different ways and then in increasingly acrobatic ways (forward rolls over each shoulder, think how people land from a jump when free running) onto a crash mat, probably good practise for future gymnastic challenges!

We then got into the throws, some good modelling was provided by Dave, and sometimes by the young judokas, who were noticeably keen to show off their skills in front of a newcomer. I cannot remember the names of the throws we were taught but I know that it certainly will take me a lot more practice to be able to use my body weight in the correct way, it definitely helped me that I was at least 40kg heavier than any other participant in the session. It’s also true that the bigger they are, the harder they fall, I know this from the bruises the following day.

This brings me to another positive point about taking up judo; in competition the judokas are split into weight categories, which means that bouts are more down to the skill, technique and tactics of the judoka rather than simply being able to overpower through size. Having said that, on the amateur level it is still an effective self-defence martial art with it’s emphasis of using the mechanics of the body and the physics of movement to be able to overcome

Judo was inducted into the Olympic Games in Tokyo 1964, though women were only able to win medals in the sport from Barcelona 1992.  Great Britain has, so far, failed to produce an Olympic champion, but we have won 19 medals in the sport, so surely a champion is just around the corner, hopefully, when the sport returns to Tokyo in 2020. However, there have been many famous names that have won medals, going back to Neil Adams (2 silvers 1980 & 1984), Nicola Fairbrother (silver in 1992), Karina Bryant (4 successive Olympic Games, finally winning bronze in London 2012) and most recently, Sally Conway taking our only judo medal from Rio 2016 with a bronze in the <70kg category.

Possibly the highest profile judo moment came from London 2012 when Gemma Gibbons, in her 2nd choice weight category and ranked 42nd in the world, fought in the semi-final match knowing that if she won she would fight for gold in her home country. When she knew victory had been sealed, against the world champion at the time, Audrey Tcheumeo, she looked up to the heavens and said “I love you Mum”. Eight years previous her mother, Jeanette, had sadly passed away as a result of leukaemia, and we were all right there behind Gemma and proud of her achievements in representing the country.  If you don’t know what I’m talking about then please watch this and read the profile, it gets emotional mind…

The BBC created a video for BBC Teach on Gemma which is really interesting. She takes you through her life in judo and how she became an Olympic champion.  It is truly inspirational and educational, please give it a watch if you have any interest in judo or in sporting stories:


If you have been inspired by anything you have seen/read here and fancy giving judo a try, or interested in getting your children enrolled in a class, then click on this link for further information. What have you got to lose?

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