The Kodokwai Judo Club – Veterans Victorious (written by Eddie Ferrie - 5th Dan)
I remember going to the Kodokwai in the early days, when I was a sixteen year old brown belt, like a series of scenes from a film now. I recall getting off the bus and walking along the windswept cobbled back streets of South Shields, rounding the corner into Hartington Terrace and seeing the club sign that hung outside, creaking in the wind that always blew off the river. It reminded me of the sign for the Admiral Benbow in Treasure Island as it hung, creaking and swinging in the wind. On closer inspection it was one of the old Milom posters that depicted two judoka fused in a swirling uchimata and it was a pretty fair representation of what to expect when you went inside: no pirates, but some very colourful characters and lots of action. I remember the mixture of trepidation and excitement and the way the heart would always begin to beat faster as you pushed open the weather beaten black door at the foot of the bleak, wooden stairway that led up to the dojo. As the door opened the sounds from the dojo would come floating down the passageway. Sometimes there would be voices, people talking and laughing, but at other times you would hear whispers and the sounds of feet sliding, shuffling and spinning on the coarse white canvass, grunts and shouts and bodies banging into one another or being slammed into the mat with an exultant ki-ai. The Kodokwai: the place for practising the way. There were always black belts on the mat at the Kodokwai, even when they were thin on the ground at other clubs in the area. I remember as a brown belt being thrown time and again by a smiling Joe Foster’s lethally precise tai-otoshi, being winded by Willard Scott’s spinning oguruma and flattened by Tommy Clark’s unstoppable harai-goshi. Sometimes the only thing that seemed to be improving was my ability to breakfall. Joe Foster was reputed to be one of the youngest black belts in the Western Hemisphere at the time. He earned his dan grade by line up at the age of 15 when he took a ten man line up to the satisfaction of Mr Newman and Mr. Gleeson. He also had the distinction of having fought for his country as a teenager alongside Messrs. Petherbridge and Mitchell against a Japanese navy team. The Kodokwai was the venue for hard randori of the big throw, knock them flat, drag them around, roll-about rough and tumble kind. Judo there was judo in the raw. In the winter there was usually an icy patch on the mat where the roof leaked: there were no showers and there was no heating. The craftier dan grades used to manoeuvre the unsuspecting to the icy patch and despatch them in one swoop with merciless ashiwaza. Hard practice was the order of the day, although the point of the practice was always the skilful exchange and execution of techniques, both standing and on the ground. The people training there were never professional, full time judo players, most were working men who had full time, physically demanding jobs and did judo as a hobby to keep fit. They were tough, hard men: welders, carpenters, bricklayers, miners and seamen who also enjoyed the esoteric elements of Japanese culture and philosophy, the language, the self defence tricks, the fascination of the multitude of judo techniques and the simple rough and tumble pleasure it afforded them. That was thirty years ago and while the location of the club and its facilities have changed a number of times the same hard core of judoka are still practising that were there over thirty years ago. What makes their story remarkable is that they have never lost their enthusiasm for their sport and members in their forties, fifties and even sixties have been quietly and consistently winning medals at British, European and World Masters level! Unsung heroes Tommy Moyse, 5th dan, Joe Foster,6th dan, Tommy Foster, 5th dan and John Gibson, 4th dan, are all true amateurs but have all won gold, silver and bronze medals over the years at veterans world championship events in Ireland, Hungary, Austria, Japan and Canada. In the 2005 World Veterans in Canada Willard Scott took gold in the over sixties class under 90 kilos class, to go with the two bronzes he had won in previous events.Tommy Foster got silver in the over fifties under 81kilo class and Ian Robinson, 3rd dan, took bronze in the over fifties heavyweight class. A judo club is made up of its members and the Kodokwai’s members have a couple of centuries of experience between them! A number of members and ex-members have earned international honours at junior and senior levels including Sarah Clark, who was coached by the much loved and greatly missed Willard Scott, who was taken from us in 2014, holds the distinction of being a three time Olypian. Former British Champions include Scott Burlinson, John Tierney, John Curry, Paul Ajala, Tony Reed and Eddie Ferrie who have all represented Great Britain internationally, Frank Malloy is also rmemebered for having won the Goldberg Vass trophy while training at the Renshuden in the 1960s. Joe Foster and John Gibson have seen their sons follow in their footsteps and earn their dan grades, bridging the generations through judo, both currently holding the rank of 3rd dan. Now the grandchildren of Tommy Moyse and Joe Foster have entered the frame to continue the Judo tradition in their families.
The Kodokwai is a members’ club and is run by committee and is non-profit making. It was started in 1948 by Harry Marr (1930 – 2002) who was the first dan grade in the northern area and the club was originally located in Westhoe village TOC ‘H’ - an arcane address that no-one can explain now! Over the years it moved to Hartington Terrace, Garwood Street, Bolingbroke Hall and on to Hudson Street. Now we are here in 2015, and the club has moved again to a unit off commercial Road. A bare unit has been converted to the premier judo location in the north east of England, and one of the best privatly run judo facilities in the country (if not the world). The renovation of the premises was carried out by club members , who have got together to raise funds and worked together to create this 'Dojo'. Students receive instruction from Joe Foster 6th dan ,Senior Coaches Eddie Ferrie 4th dan and John Tierney 4th dan. The junior section is coached by Jimmy Conroy 3rd dan and they train from 6.00 – 8.00pm Monday and Wednesday. Visitors are always welcome and the club seniors currently practise on Monday and Wednesday from 8.00 to 9-30pm and Saturday afternoons from 2.00 till 3.30pm.Monday is the busiest night and there are often between twenty and thirty dan grades on the mat, including regular visitors from Stockton and Middlesborough. Sessions usually comprise uchikomi, crash mat practice, tachiwaza and newaza randori with built in technical instruction. The club has a permanent mat area as well as weight training, changing, showering and sports massage facilities. It is located 10 minutes walk from both Chichester and South Shields Metro Stations, and has ample parking outside and nearby.