8:34pm UK, Sunday February 07, 2010
James Matthews, Scotland correspondent
A British man has entered the realms of 'judo royalty'.
Only a handful of people - usually Japanese - are ever given the status of 10th Dan in judo, but the honour has been bestowed on the President of the British Judo Association, George Kerr.
It signs him up to one of the sporting world's most exclusive clubs and he now joins the ranks of the Japanese masters who brought judo to the world.
The Edinburgh-based 72-year-old was given the award by the International Judo Federation (IJF) in a ceremony at its "Grand Slam" tournament in Paris. It makes George one of only seven people in the world today who hold the 10th Dan status as recognised by the IJF, judo's governing body.
The award recognises his life-time contribution to the sport as a competitor, coach, referee and administrator.
He said: "It's a great honour. I'm really over the moon and slightly embarrassed at the same time because a lot of my Japanese contemporaries, who are older then me and technically better than I ever was, have not been similarly recognised. But I'm delighted and it's a great achievement for Scottish and British judo. I think it's great for my country."
The Dan is a grading in judo. Anyone starting judo begins with a white belt and works their way through yellow, orange, green, blue, brown and black.
The black belt is known as a 1st Dan but very few reach the level of 9th or 10th Dan, both of which are denoted by a red belt tied around the judo suit. The only British 'judoka' to reach 10th Dan status previously was Charles Palmer, who died in 2001.
Having grown up in Edinburgh, George Kerr won a scholarship to practice judo in Japan, the home of judo, in 1957. Today, Britain's judo players travel back and forth to Japan on a regular basis but, in the 1950s, it was a rare adventure.
"I couldn't fly to Japan in the 50s. I went by boat from Marseilles in 4th class steerage. A £100 bought me a canvas hammock and a blanket.
"I spent four years in Japan. The first year was very difficult because I couldn't speak the language, but the whole experience gave me an insight, not just into judo, but the moral code that it teaches - be polite, never beat up an inferior opponent etc. I got that straight from the Masters themselves.
He added: "The most striking difference between Japan and the UK then was the level of training. At that time, judo players in Japan would train twice a day and do in a month what we in Britain would be doing in a year."
As a competitor, George was one of Britain's best and he won a gold medal at the European Championships in 1957.
He found success as a coach, too, guiding the Austrian Peter Seisenbacher to judo gold in the 1984 and 1988 Olympics. He also coached at London's Budokwai Club where, in the 60s, he counted Mick Jagger as one of his students.
Subsequently, George founded the Edinburgh club which has produced a string of top-level judo players such as current day contenders Euan Burton, Sarah Clark, Sally Conway and James Millar.
Today, George combines his BJA duties with coaching youngsters at his junior judo club in Edinburgh. They know now, if they ever doubted it, that they are learning at the knee of the Master.
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