The History and Success of Bedford Judo Club during COVID – 19

Bedford Judo Club was founded in October 1951 by John & Arthur Zwetsloot from the Netherlands. The club has always been a multi-national club and became a member of the British Judo Association and affiliated to the Budokwai and the London Judo Society, and later to the Renshuden – who provided coaches and examiners in the early years. They helped train up our own members to become coaches and examiners.

Thanks to John Ryan and Ken Maynard, who not only conducted our Dan Gradings but also trained up our own Senior Examiners. The club has had many different venues over the years – from small halls with straw tatami, covered with a canvas (mat burns galore!) During the national power cuts, members would bring along various oil lamps to light the dojo, so we never lost a practice! To our present dojo at the Academy School, Bedford – with a semi cushioned floor and a 14 metre x 14 metre mat area. With many thanks to Dino at AVA Sports for all his help and advice on judo equipment. Some of the Judoka who have been associated with the club and helped us develop our judo are as follows : Charles Palmer, Geoff Gleeson, Eric Dominy, Ken Maynard, John Ryan, Ray Topple, Pat Walker, Brian Jacks, Seth Birch, Ray Ross, Roy Inman, Neil Adams, Paul Eales, Tony Skinner, Steve Sweetlove and of course many others.

Eric Dominy would conduct gradings wearing his Gi, sometimes going on the mat to fight with players “to get the feel of their judo”! Ray Topple would often visit the club giving his time and expertise to teach members the skills of refereeing. Many members became referees mainly due to Ray’s enthusiasm and his great personality. Roy Inman had a great input in the club, with coaching and training sessions. Roy invited two of the club coaches to one of his National Ladies Squad sessions at Crystal Palace to coach them on ‘ne-waza’ – a great compliment to the club. During the past 70 years the club has regularly conducted Mon, Kyu and Dan gradings, refereeing, coaching courses and examinations, workshops and an excellent mat practice. Hundreds of club members have gained their Dan grades, our first Richard Revels, the youngest, Laura Allen – at just 15 years old and the oldest, John Devoy,  at 66 years old. Quite a number went on to become members of various national squads.

Over the years we have had numerous Judoka who have worked unstintingly in the development of Judo at the club, amongst these are : Andy Maddox, Dick Copperwaite, Robin Gell and Tony Barton – Tony sadly passed away last Summer, he was one of the longest serving Senior Examiners in the BJA, also our club secretary and treasurer. Each of these members have completed over 60 years of judo and all are level 3 coaches. We have survived the pandemic, already hosting two Dan gradings, one in September 2021 – where we received great support from Kim Tilley (Area Director of Examiners) and Dave Clarke (Area Chair) who came along to assist. The other Dan grading was held in December 2021 and both examinations with the club’s head coach – George Woods, 6th Dan on the panel of senior examiners.

Two club members were sent on a coaching course, both successfully passed. A beginner’s course was run with good results. The junior section is back to normal numbers but the seniors seem to be slower with their return. Most important in the return to judo was the communication with members and keeping them informed of progress, assisting them in their contact with the BJA and being helpful and friendly.

The coaches and committee members maintained regular contact during the pandemic, where conditions permitted – outdoor meetings were held to discuss current regulations and a potential re-start back to Judo. One of our old members, Pete Swettenham, 5th Dan, who runs numerous clubs in Surrey, came along to give his advice and expertise on this matter (thanks Pete!).

We are extremely lucky with our new club secretary – Gail Allen, who has had a major input into the re-start back to Judo – she has a great personality and her communication skills are excellent. The information and help from the BJA was invaluable and enabled us to form a ‘re-start’ plan, the introductory membership is an excellent idea and has gained many new members. We would like to thank the BJA and in particular to Dave Clarke, NHC Area Chair and Sarah Walker, Membership Team Leader at British Judo, for all of their help and assistance. We are looking forward to getting back to normal and another 70 YEARS OF JUDO!!


We caught up with Richard Copperwaite to find out more about Bedford Judo Club and get an inside peak at one of the great junior sessions that are held at Bedford Judo Club

Join Bedford Judo Club today! Contact 01234 768601

Address: Bedford Academy, Mile Road, Bedford, Bedfordshire, MK42 9TR

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