Cluarankwai Judo Club

Practicing the martial art of judo since 1949

By Gill Sherry

The first thing I ask when I arrive at Cluarankwai Judo Club is what the name actually means. Apparently, it translates to The Way of the Thistle and is a combination of Japanese and Scottish Gaelic. I have to admit, it’s the perfect name for a Kilmarnock club that practices the unarmed Japanese martial art of judo.

The name also supports the club’s motto, Defence not Defiance. The thistle represents all round defence with the seeds scattering for new growth.

The club is a not-for-profit organisation that relies completely on its voluntary committee members and coaches. This includes Steven Ross and Adam Muirhead who are happy to tell me more about the East Ayrshire club.

“We’re one of the oldest judo clubs in Scotland,” Steven begins. “We’ve been consistent since 1949.”
The club can also boast having the largest purpose built Dojo in Scotland as well as some of the best facilities in the UK. Adam confirms that the new hall was opened in 2007. Part-funded by The National Lottery as an extension to the existing premises in New Mill Road, it hosts local and national judo events throughout the year as well as regular classes for members.

All twelve qualified coaches began as juniors at the club, working their way up to senior members and then to voluntary coaches.

“Some maybe left in between and came back,” says Adam. “My dad came when he was younger but he moved away from it. I started coming when I was eight and he watched. Then he started getting back into it and started coaching.”

Contrary to what some may think, judo is actually a family sport. And, as Steven mentions, it’s never too late to start.

“We get parents bringing their kids along… and they’ll sit and watch for a few weeks. Then they’ll ask if they can try the senior session.”

The club runs classes on Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings plus one at the weekend on a Saturday morning. Everyone aged five and over is welcome.

“I read the other day that Judo Scotland has changed the minimum age from five to four,” says Steven. “I think four is a bit young. We like to take them at five because they’ve just started school so they’re getting a wee bit more authority. They’ve learnt how they should behave at school.”

That said, the coaches try and make it fun for the youngsters, keeping them involved and active with what Steven refers to as ‘judo games’.

“They don’t actually realise they’re doing judo. They’re just having fun.”

The club’s junior membership applies to kids aged five to 13 but, as Adam clarifies, classes are not just age dependant.

“We try and split it up… so different coaches will be working with different age groups. It’s progression. If they’ve moved from their age group and they’re getting better, they can move up and work on different stuff.”

And there are other things to consider, as Steven reveals.

“Physically, you get some big 13-year-olds and some small five or six-year-olds. You don’t want that difference. We split them up as best we can according to ability, size and weight.”

He’s also keen to point out that judo is all-inclusive.

“You can start at any age, any ability. If you have a disability, it doesn’t matter, there’ll be some form of judo you can do so you’re always included. Everybody should be able to come along and try some form of judo.”

To encourage new members, the club offers taster sessions to give people an idea of what to expect.

“We tend to give them a free month,” says Steven. “The last thing we want, for parents more than anything, is kids coming for two or three weeks, splashing out on membership and a new gi and then they say, ‘It’s not for me’. So we give them a month and if they love it and want to keep coming then we’ll sign them up. We’re maybe a wee bit more relaxed than we should be, but we don’t want to put pressure on people.”

“And they can borrow a gi for the trial sessions,” adds Adam.

A gi, in case you’re wondering, is the kimono used to practice judo. In Japanese it literally means thing to wear and is short for Judogi.

The club currently has around 100 members, all taking advantage of the first-class facilities and UKCC qualified coaches.

“It’s a brilliant facility,” says Steven. “It’s perfect and purpose built for judo. That’s why we’re still here coaching and training.”

They both admit that with their qualifications and experience they could easily set up their own judo school, earning money rather than giving their time for free. Neither, however, has any intention of doing so.

“I think what we’ve got here is a good thing,” says Steven. “Why leave? If we show you the main dojo, you wouldn’t want to go and coach anywhere else.”

He’s right, it’s huge and very impressive. The club also has two large changing areas for men and women (including disabled access) and a gym for cardio and strength training. It’s easy to see why Cluarankwai Judo Club is considered one of the best and safest judo facilities in the world. It’s also reassuring to know that all funds are invested back into the club with health and safety always a priority.

“We bring the local schools here,” continues Steven. “We used to go to the schools but we got a grant… we pay for the buses to get them to and from the club. They come here for an hour and a half taster session.”

And with one eye always on funds, the unpaid staff go way beyond their official duties.

“The committee and the coaches are essential,” Steven reiterates. “If they’re not here coaching they’re probably here painting or fixing the roof… most of the work gets done by us.”

The team now also includes a new female coach, Claire Rimicans, as Steven confirms.

“I met Claire at a couple of coaching courses. She’s been training here and helping out a wee bit so I think she now feels like part of the team. She’s good with the kids and sometimes some of the teenage girls ask for a female coach.”

No doubt a lot of people, kids and adults alike, take up judo as a form of physical fitness or self-defence.

However, as Adam tells me, the sport has other benefits too.

“It’s discipline. If you’re working with your partner you’ve got to control yourself, so you’re not hurting them. You’re also working in time with your partner so it’s about co-ordination.”

“One of the big things with judo is respect,” adds Steven. “It’s not just about respecting coaches, they should respect everybody that’s in the building or everybody they’re at school with… and respect for yourself as well. We try to get that across, that’s the idea.”

Judo also builds confidence, bringing the quiet kids out of their shell. At the same time, it can help those with behavioural issues, the changes evident within just a few sessions. And then there’s the competition programme.

“There’s competitions for all grades,” Adam confirms, “but we’re not too pushy. We’re not going to push someone if they just want to come along and enjoy the club. Or if they just want to compete at club level. There’s no pressure.”

For those who do wish to compete further afield, there are opportunities to take part at regional, national or international level. Others may be happy gaining promotion to different coloured belts (red, white, yellow, orange, green, blue, brown and black). Some also take part in other complementary sports.

“A lot of people do judo and rugby, or judo and gymnastics,” Steven explains. “With gymnastics the agility and strength go quite well with judo. With rugby it’s the tackling, strength and fitness, so there’s a lot of people who do the two.”

I’m not surprised to learn that Steven and Adam have both earned their black belts. What I didn’t realise, though, is that there are different ranks within that black belt category, allowing players (or judokas) to progress even further.

Judo is, without doubt, a rigorous and demanding activity, the rules of which are complex. It focuses on respect, strength, agility and technique. But, for those starting at the very beginning, Steven has this advice:

“Come along, speak to the coaches. If you want to sit and watch first to see what happens, or if you want to grab a gi and join in… there’s space here.”

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