IF JUDO in Britain had the same following as football then Kendal Judo Club would be in the Premier League alongside and equal to the Liverpool and Manchester Uniteds of the soccer world.

It all started in a very low key way in June 1958 when a petro chemical student Peter Llewellyn was surveying Shap Fell for a company.

He placed an advert in the Westmorland Gazette announcing a demonstration by members of Furness Judo Club in the YMCA on Highgate Bank.

Around 20 men and women turned up to watch and by the end of the year Kendal Judo Club had been formed as a part of the YMCA.

Training and instruction was given on old flock mattresses which was like trying to play football in ankle deep mud.

Eventually the club bought a mat comprising 40 one-yard squares of inch thick rubber which, because the room in the YMCA was used by other activities, had to be put down and taken up each time they practised.

Because they could only practise one night a week at the YMCA and an increasing membership, the club eventually found, with the help of the Governors of Kendal Grammar School, their own dojo (a place where judo is practised) in the Blue Coat School.

With Alan Campbell teaching “Night School” classes in the sport, the membership increased by leaps and bounds and by 1967 there was a thriving league being contested between Barrow, Ulverston, Millom and Kendal clubs.

The “Father of British Judo” Gunji Koizumi paid the club a visit, a very rare occurrence for a club outside of London, and Kendal was on the road to becoming a force at national and international level.

This was consolidated when Geoff Gleeson, a top international competitor, visited a couple of months later.

When British team captain Tony Macconnell came to live in the area, the club became a fighting force with which to be reckoned, regularly winning medals at major events.

Players like Maurice Albon from Lancaster who, despite weighing less than eight stone (just over 50 kilos), in a sport which had, at that time, no weight categories, was Kendal’s first international player.

Other early successes were Brian Cox, finishing No.2 in the country at the National Trials in 1973 and Hilary Campbell, who became the first Cumbrian woman to be awarded a black belt.

Other frequent winners were Alan Campbell, Dave Park (the club’s first home-grown black belt), Steve Faulkner (No.1 in the country at his weight) and Louis Horn.

This was a period when Kendal judo players went to a competition there was at least one medal brought back to the club and by 1985 Gary Davis, now club chairman, and Mike Liptrot, currently the club’s senior coach, were North West champions and both made the national squad, Mike at both junior and senior level.

By this time the club was active off the mat running such events as, the still remembered today, Kendal Gathering Castle Hill Bonfire Night throughout the 1970s with the help of one of the original members - Arthur Mayo of Middleton’s.

The club were also supplying officials to the National Association. British Judo Association schemes to ensure competitions were run to the highest standards were introduced by a group who included Dennis Aris, and his wife, the late Stella Aris and Peter Holme.

That trio invented a form of competition elimination, which is still being used throughout the country today.

Peter went on to be part of the organisation of every major European, and World Championship held in this country, culminating in being given the job of Sports Manager for Judo in the 2002 Manchester Commonwealth Games.

He was also a National Referee for 25 years and had three books on judo published throughout the world.

By the early 1980s, under the guidance of British team manager Tony Macconnell, there was a group of about seven young judoka training full time at Kendal, all living in Tony’s cottage in Lambrigg.

All became top international competitors with the highlight being Neil Eckersley winning a bronze medal at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games.

With more and more players wanting to join this group, Tony’s cottage was bursting at the seams so, with the help of West Midlands Businessman Colin Draycott and Brian Cox of Kendal’s Cox & Allen Builders, the old Salvation Army Hostel in the New Inn Yard was converted into the Kendal Judo Centre.

There was no other dojo like it in the country. It had accommodation for 42 players, a kitchen, living room and, total luxury, a traditional Japanese Bath. The mat was laid on a sprung floor, something else rarely found even today.

This new venue attracted players from all over the world. The Swiss were the first squad to come. The Australians sent their best young players, as did the Italians, the Israelis, the Belgians, and Norwegians.

The Swedish team came regularly and then the Japanese Student squad came for a month and to top that the Communist Chinese National Squad in their first trip to the western world came to Kendal for three months.

By the time they left they had absorbed enough judo knowledge to gain several world championship gold medals.

‘Tony Mac’, the dojo and the surrounding countryside, which offered hard training, not only attracted squads but world-class international players who used to come to prepare for the major tournaments.

Such people as Michael Swain, who chose to train at Kendal instead of the West Coast of America for the 1988 Olympics - he went on to win gold in Seoul.

Perhaps the highlight of the visitors was the Japanese fighter Yasuhiro Yamashita, generally recognised as the best judo player in the world ever, who was mobbed by Japanese tourists whenever he stepped outside of the club.

Sadly because of the economic downturn in the early 1990s, the Centre had to close but still continued as a club with regular success. However, the club continued to attract top players and became the venue for a “Judo 2000 Programme.” This turned into a regular national squad training sessions, which with the local successes it produced resulted in the club being given the status of a World Class Skill Centre.

Then in 2004 the news the club had been waiting for – thanks to SLDC, UK Sport and a number of other sponsors the go ahead was given for a new state-of-the-art dojo to be built just off Parkside Road.

Under the direction of John Asplin of Time & Tide and Cox & Allen Builders, the dream became a reality. With two full-size contest areas on a sprung floor, a large spectator seating area, a kitchen, changing and showering facilities there is nothing to match it in the North of England.

Indeed the venue is so good it has been chosen to host the English Open Championships for several years also the National Team Championships and in March this year the National Cadet Trials.

The club’s Annual Winter Training Camp attracts top players from all over the country and is considered the hardest and best training week of the year.

All this, under the watchful eye of Head Coach Mike Liptrot, rubs off on to the local players and the national and international success of people like Michael Horley current American and Scottish Open Champion and British No. 2 at his weight.

At the other end of the age scale is Nick Hill, who is the current British Masters Champion. Danny Harper, Aaron Asplin, Jack Lashley, Nathan Hogg are all regarded as serious opponents whenever they step on the competition mat and there are other up-and-coming players ready to step into the limelight The latest accolade for the club is its selection in the official 2012 pre-games Training Camp Guide. This means that judo squads from all over the world could choose the club as their preferred site in the build-up to the London Games.

Sadly we do not have room to acknowledge all the people who, along the way in the last 50 years, have given time, expertise and support.

However their contribution to the club’s success is much appreciated and admired throughout the country.

A large number of people will turn up at the Golden Anniversary Dinner at The Castle Green Hotel in Kendal on March 21 (the same weekend as the English Open being held at the dojo).

For tickets and further information get in touch with Peter Holme on 0775 4410387 or e-mail peterholme@aol.com.

In following its motto “Far better it is to dare mighty things than to rank with those poor timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat”, Kendal Judo Club has put the town on the sporting map at its highest level and will continue to do so for the next 50 years and more.