The Gentle Martial Arts

Kaitlin Dryburgh- 2nd August 2023

“The Gentle Way”, that is the meaning of Judo. Although perhaps the first imagery conjured up by martial arts is of the high energy, violent and combative moves seen in movies and popular culture (for example the upcoming Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie). Self-defence is still one of the core foundations to martial arts, yet they also bring the opportunity to maintain a life of balance, inner-peace and reflection. Judo is no exception, and it’s been helping Scotland find it’s inner-peace for well over a hundred years, not only that Scotland contains some of the sport’s rising stars. 

This calm but also combative martial art derived from the principles of Jujitsu and is based on the principle of ‘minimum effort, maximum efficiency’. Although a very physically demanding sport Judo is focused on the improvement of the individual through spiritual and moral training. It may surprise many to know that Judo is one of the most practiced sports in the world. Judging by the sheer number of people who participate worldwide, 20 million, that makes Judo one of the top five sports globally.

Judo has many strong links with the UK and Scotland. Turning the clocks back to 1899, this was the first time the UK was introduced to the earlier forms of Judo when a delegation from Japan came over to England to showcase the martial art as part of a sponsorship programme. Although this didn’t instantly create a generation of Judo loving Victorians it planted the seed and helped to create the London based Budokwai Dojo, which still remains the oldest in Europe. In fact even the likes of Emmeline Pankhurst spoke of the early form of Judo as a way for the suffragettes to evade capture by the police. The image of a Victorian lady with all her layers of clothing throwing a policeman on the ground is a very amusing image indeed.

However, fast forward to present times the UK has approximately 50,000 individuals partaking in Judo and 5200 of those are members of Judo Scotland. Perhaps the sport took a little longer to find its way up north of the boarder, however when it did find us Scots it stuck. One of the 146 registered clubs in Scotland and indeed the oldest, the Cluarankwai Judo club in Kilmarnock was established in 1949 and has laid witness to the increasingly popular martial art in Scotland. From the 50-60s the rise in appetite for Judo grew exponentially, from starting off on mats made from sawdust and Judo uniforms that were maybe a little too big and thick to ever properly dry, always leaving the individual slightly damp, the sport has upgraded greatly. Training facilities and coaching improved and so did the uniform (known as a Judogi), which now makes it much easier to move in. Judo also benefited from a boost in recognition when it became included in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. Although it wasn’t until the 80s when women were open to compete in Judo events. Fun fact, even though Judo is a product of Japan, there are more people in France who count themselves as regular Judo participants than those in Japan. Judo was also the first martial art that used the coloured belt system to signify rank within the sport. Now it’s a very common feature with many other martial arts adopting the practice.

In recent decades Scotland really has been at the forefront of British Judo and even European Judo in many respects.

One of the most appealing aspects of Judo and perhaps other martial arts that encompass a less combative style is its inclusivity. All ages are encouraged and included in this sport, from young children to those who are well past retirement age. In-fact Judo Scotland recently sent a delegation of it’s top Judoka masters to Japan to visit the home of Judo, train at one of the world’s oldest Dojos and immerse themselves in the culture. Among the group was Rick Kenney, now 70 years old he achieved his promotion to 8th dan, (The Dan system is key to the promotions within Judo). This makes him one of three in Scotland and only a handful more through-out the UK. Although Rick still manages to practice Judo every so often, he spends most of his time coaching, and has done for many many years. Since the 70’s Kenney has run Judo clubs all over Scotland, while also becoming one of the longest serving examiners in Scotland. Often in sport seniors are pushed out, clubs have less space for them, and as data shows participation in sport declines as you get older. Yet Judo has that sense of inclusivity that many more sports should be aspiring to.

Additionally Judo has become one of the most popular and valuable sports with those who have a visual impairment and as it stands is still one of only two martial arts included in the Paralympics. With only slight adjustments from the able-bodied version visually impaired Judo really does allow for full participation.

Across the spectrum there are Scottish Judokas that are reaching the very top of the sport, from young to old, able bodied and disabled. Castle Douglas native Sean Allan brought back a gold for Team GB at the very recent 2023 Berlin Special Olympics. Then there’s Sarah Addlington who while representing Scotland has won a grand total of 75 medals, including commonwealth and European gold and was selected for the team who went to 2020 Tokyo Olympic games. Coming up in the ranks is Dumbartonshire local Rachel Tytler who went on to win a Bronze medal at last years Commonwealth games. Rachel like many others in the sport is on an upward trajectory taking advantage of Scotland’s passion for Judo with it’s continues expansion and investment in the sport.

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