Tomorrow (Wednesday 28th October) is World Judo Day which is celebrated on the birthday of the founder of judo, Kano Jigoro Shihan. To celebrate World Judo Day, each year a theme is chosen to illustrate the educational values of judo. This year’s theme has been chosen with the current global Covid-19 health crisis in mind, to show that we are ‘Stronger Together’.

This week to celebrate World Judo Day we will be sharing stories from members demonstrating how they have become ‘Stronger Together’ during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Danny Harper from Craven Judo Academy has overcome many challenges during lockdown, from fundraising to build a permanent training venue to issues with his own mental health.

The Covid-19 pandemic seemed to affect the judo community in a matter of hours. I remember returning home from the British Schools Judo Championships on Sunday 15th March not really knowing what to think about the virus.

The following Monday afternoon I was travelling to Bentham Judo Club to run a session when Boris Johnson gave a speech stating we should only partake in essential social contact. I waited in the car park and turned all my members and their families away saying I was acting on Government advice with immediate effect.

What immediately came to mind was the uncertainty, what’s going to happen to my livelihood, what’s going to happen to wife’s livelihood as a personal trainer; both careers that require a degree of non-essential social contact? How were we going to pay the mortgage, the bills and keep food on the table for our young family?

Personally, during the first few months of lockdown I did feel like I lost my identity. Amongst all the uncertainty I put on a brave face, but I struggled to comprehend a life without judo. I felt isolated from my friends and being reduced to social contact through a screen was tough for a man that is used to close contact on the tatami. I didn’t know it at the time, but my head was a mess. Therefore, to start counteracting these feelings I started to set goals for myself and the club, as these were things I had control over.

It took me a few weeks to plan how to keep our club identity going. I started by producing daily lockdown activities for our members to engage with. Over time, like many clubs, we went on to deliver virtual classes via Zoom.

In the background, our club committee’s anxiety was building as to how we would be able to return to ‘normal’.  We were training out of four different educational establishments and our worry was that schools may not be permitted to rent out their spaces once they reopened.

It was during this period that our committee and members pulled together with our local community to accelerate our long-term club development plan. We began looking at a new central venue in which our mats could be laid permanently, thus allowing us to be masters of our own destiny in terms of Covid security in creating a safe environment for our members and enabling us to safeguard the future of our club.

Working with our local BJA National Development Officer; Dermot Heslop, Ingleton Parish Council and Craven District Council we found a space at a local community centre. However, to create a judo specific venue would require alteration of part of the building. Drawing upon the experiences of some of our current members and their families we put forward a strong case for the academy which, after months of negotiations, was approved.

The cost of the project was budgeted at approximately £12,000 – £15,000. The club had funding saved specifically for a permanent venue, but it was unfortunately short of the total required. We put bids into local charitable trusts, visited local businesses to source raw materials and we even set up a Crowdfunder page to help raise additional funding. Sport England also helped us by matching whatever funding we raised.

Our members set up sponsored challenges to raise further funding. I myself ran a marathon from Kendal to Lancaster, with a couple of our judoka helping me by running the final 4 miles with me! One of our members completed a sponsored 100 Rubik’s Cube challenge, completing all 100 one after another! Finally, we all came together as one club to take on an epic socially distanced sponsored walk up Ingleborough, one of the Yorkshire 3 Peaks. All this hard work paid off; by everyone working together we managed to raise the full £15,000 and work started immediately.

It was not just our club that pulled together to help. Members, coaches & parents of Bacup Judo Club as well as our newly elected North West Area chair, along with a willing team of volunteers from our club helped us to install our new sprung floor in just 1 day! A local joiner whose son had been a member of the academy for many years also mucked in and helped us make the necessary adaptations to the venue and make it fit for purpose. In the final few days of the summer school holidays we had a team of teenage volunteers from the club to help us with re-painting the facility. Finally, our club Chairman came in on an evening and weekend allowing us to benefit from his trade as a floor fitter to ensure the mats were laid correctly and adding the necessary padding to the perimeter of the tatami.

At the time of writing this article the final completion of our project is only waiting on the dojo’s wall cladding to be fitted in the next 2-3 weeks.

We now have a dojo that all our members can be very proud of for years to come and we only managed to get this far because we all came together, in the clubs time of need, and demonstrated that we were indeed ‘Stronger Together’!

On a personal note, to cope during those difficult first few months, I made a commitment to get myself fit and healthy again. I started running and have slowly built up the distances and I now run at least a half marathon every Monday and have done for the last 22 consecutive weeks. In doing this I have also shed over 21kg since lockdown began.

During the time of suffering alone, I felt no one was really feeling the same way as me, everyone was just carrying on around and that I was wrong to be grumpy and depressed. This all changed however when I saw one of my fellow area coaches share an image on Facebook “The truth is my head’s been a mess for months”. This truly embodied how I was feeling, and I shared it instantly. The amount of comments and private messages I received was incredible. There were messages of support; “you’ve got this” and “I’m here for you” which was very humbling but what really made me step up and improve my attitude was the amount of friends who spoke up and said “me too”, “let’s help each other”. I realised I wasn’t the one feeling this way and coming together and sharing our experiences would ultimately help us get through this difficult time.

I went on to organise social events with my senior teammates at Kendal Judo Club and attended socially distanced circuit training sessions with another group of judoka and this really did help me through that rough patch.

I’ve never really had issues with my mental health in the past, but I’ve now seen first-hand that speaking out, chatting to colleagues, friends and family really does help! I guess what I’m trying to say is that when battling with poor mental health we are 100% ‘Stronger Together’.

We are calling for all judoka, clubs and judo fans to share how you are #StrongerTogether.

Share your photos on social media using #StrongerTogether #WorldJudoDay or share them with us via