Judo was founded in 1882 in Japan by a young scholar named Jigoro Kano (1860-1938). Kano wanted to develop a system of physical education suitable for the newly emerging Japanese public educational system. He derived judo from the ancient art of jiu-jitsu. The system he developed is based on two key principles: maximum efficiency and mutual welfare. It aimed to teach how to subdue without injuring the opponent. According to Kano, “Judo is a teaching for life itself and with it we learn to overcome the pitfalls and obstacles of everyday living”. The school where he taught his first students in Tokyo, called Kodokan, is regarded as the world centre of judo. Every year it attracts thousands of judokas of all ages and skill levels.
The first dojo (judo school or club) in Canada was opened in Vancouver in 1924. Judo Canada, the official national governing body for the sport, was incorporated in 1956. Today an estimated 30,000 Canadians participate in judo programs in approximately 400 clubs across Canada.
Judo is the way to the most effective use of both physical and spiritual strength.
The history of Judo NB – as told by one of its founding members Carl “Dutchie” Schell
In 1955 a few of us were hanging around the Saint John YMCA when we saw two young men in “pajamas” come into the gym and spread out two 10x10 square tumbling mats on the floor of the gym and after doing some stretching exercises began “dancing” in their bare feet on this mat area – apparently in some sort of wrestling. These two young men were Heinz Wazal and George Taenzer, recent young emigrants to Canada and now living at the YMCA. Soon a few of us became interested and found out they were practicing what they called judo and that they had reached green belt rank in Germany in a judo club operated by a judo black belt, Peter Neufeld, who in turn was taught by Julius Flack an Austrian black belt. It seemed judo was active in Europe for years but was unknown in eastern Canada, at least in the Maritime Provinces. But before long we had a group practicing judo twice weekly. We did not know of any judo being active in Canada but in 1956 we heard that a Canadian judo association was being formed with six Japanese/Canadians being involved in forming the Canadian Kodokan Black Belt Association.
We decided to form our own judo club, without a black belt, and I was chosen as President, and was to write a constitution. George Stears chosen as Secretary and Larry Melvin as Treasurer and a judging or technical group was formed with Heinz Wazal at its head. Heinz’s friend, George Taenzer, had decided to move to the USA and work for Kodak. We had NB’s first judo club and some of us began searching for a black belt to teach us. This was thought necessary as it was believed such was the only way to learning the many “tricks” of judo. Black belts we were told were like magicians!
In March 1956 we saw our first real black belt. We had discovered that a Mr. Frank Hatashita was operating a judo club in Toronto and he had done so since 1947. He was contacted and told about our club and its dilemma. Mr Hatashita agreed to send his then chief instructor, a Mr. Vern Fagan, to Saint John for a month, for free, providing we paid his transportation cost and gave him a place to stay which we immediately did, and Mr. Fagan showed up! He was around 5’6 and 150 lbs. He showed us a whole new world of judo. He did have a “Bag of Tricks” but there were no tricks, just beautiful, skilful movements with which he could take any of us into the air and back down on to our backs on the mat. Mr. Fagan had been taught such judo by Mr. Hatashita. I was hooked on judo from this point on and here I am, almost 60 years later, still involved and writing this story!
After Vern Fagan’s visit to our club in 1956 it led some of us to making a trip, or trips, to the Hatashita judo club located at 131 Queen St., East in TO. Later we found out it had been there since 1947. It was our first experience of a true judo dojo and the atmosphere that went with it. It was like a judo home! I had one big advantage, I had a job that took me to Toronto and Montreal every spring and every fall and I also found another judo home when I sought out the Seidokan club in east Montreal. Again, I was treated as a visiting dignitary even though I was low on the belt grading scale. All the instructors at these clubs were Canadian/Japanese black belts. I believe they are referred to as nisei, being second generation Japanese/Canadians. I became part of two most interesting judo (Japanese) communities and I had the great opportunity of sharing a beer or two with some of them after every workouts. Most interesting times!
In the late 1950’s the Saint John Judo Club at the YMCA continued to operate and we introduced many new Y members to judo. At the time one must be an adult to join a judo club! I certainly changed that later on. As time went on we were also fortunate to have certain black belts visit our club from time to time. For example, Peter Neufeld, who had been Heinz Wazal and George Taenzer instructor in Germany, now migrated to Canada and stopped in Saint John to instruct us for a while before moving on in Ontario. In Dec. 1956 I was graded green belt by Peter during his stay. Later on in March 1957 at the Seidokan in Montreal, after a strenuous workout, I was graded blue by Mr. Harold Tokai and James Saimoto, instructors there. Still later in May 1958 I was graded brown belt by Jon Bluming, a Dutch judoka who learned his judo in Korea and was at the time a 6’ 3”, 180 lb. 3rd Dan at 23 years of age. He was the most skillful judoka we had ever seen or experienced. We had heard of him and that he was in Halifax. We wrote him and asked if he would come to our club to instruct for a week or so, which he did. I was graded brown belt by Jon before he departed from us to travel across the USA on his way to the Kodokan in Japan – that was his goal. Judo was his life! He did reach Japan and the Kodokan where some time later he reached the high rank or grade of 6th Dan in judo of the Kodokan and as he was also practicing karate, he was graded 6th Dan in karate by the famous Mas Oyama. He was an exceptional on-the mat judo player, maybe a bit controversial, but still a top on-the-mat judo player anywhere.
As our Saint John (YMCA) Judo Club grew it was often talked about moving out and finding a true judo home of our own like the Hatashita or Seidokan clubs. One rainy evening, Harry Thomas, a club member and I, went out and rented an abandoned, decrepit, tinsmith and roofing company workshop for the grand sum of $20 a month. We decided to leave the comfortable home with showers at the YMCA for an unheated, without water warehouse! We were joined by 3 others, namely John Crawford, Doug Kearns and Ken Meating and together we created what was to become the Judo Shimpokai which still operates today. The YMCA club, of which I was the first president, closed in the early 1970’s. Also the people I mentioned disappeared from the judo scene not too long after the Shimpokai was established and became well known. The creating in 1959 and the building of the Shimpokai is a story of determination in itself. I became the leader, the head instructor, janitor and, fairly early, the owner of the Judo Shimpokai. In my reading and searching for judo information I came across a book called “The Fighting Spirit of Japan” written by a Mr. E. J. Harrison. Mr. Harrison was at one time a foreign correspondent for a British newspaper. He lived in Japan and became one of the first occidentals to obtain a black belt at the Kodokan. We contacted him and ask him if he could come up with a name for our new club, which he did. He suggested the name, Shimpokai. Also, upon request, he accepted to be the honorary president of our Shimpokai. We were very proud indeed. E.J. Harrison became well known, even famous, in the world of judo. The book I mentioned introduced us and the western world to the judo of Japan.
The Shimpokai was the first judo club to concentrate on judo for children. I saw judo as a wonderful sport (not self-defence) and our membership became composed mostly of young boys and later young girls. In fact, as years went by, we established separate classes for young boys and girls as they composed most of our membership. I like to think I was far ahead of Judo Canada in this respect. As I said earlier, when I started judo it was for adults only and mostly for its self-defence aspect not as a sport. It was 1964 when it got recognized as an Olympic one. Some people in judo were not supportive. Most adults came to judo for self-defence purposes, and many still do, whereas children see it as a competitive sport unless they’re taught otherwise. I always saw it as a sport and a great one for kids!
1959 – The CKBBA held its first Canadian Judo Championships with Fred Matt, formerly of Germany but now a member of the Toronto Hatashita club, placing first. Matt later placed first for Canada at the Pan Am Games and later on makes a strong showing at the Worlds in Japan.
1960 - I decided to take a 5-man Shimpokai mudansha (non black belt) team to Montreal to compete in what was then known as the Eastern Canadian Championships. The tournament ceased some years later but the name, Eastern Canadian Championships, was resurrected and used in more recent years as a yearly tournament hosted by the Central club of Edmundston. In any case back, in 1960 we caused quite a stir at the Montreal tournament by beating Toronto’s oldest club, the Kidokan and the tournament home club the, Seidokan before losing to the Ottawa Hatashita which then lost out in the final to the powerhouse, Toronto Hatashita. At the time Hatashita had 37 affiliated clubs throughout Ontario! Also, Frank Hatashita was soon to become the President of the Canadian Kodokan Black Belt Association and stayed as president for many, many years. His club continually produced the most skilful young, black belt players in Canada.
1960 – The Saint John YMCA club gets three shodan promotions from the CKBBA, they are: Heinz Wazal, George Stears and Larry Melvin, all present when judo started in NB.
1961 – The Shimpokai receives it first black belt promotion from the CKBBA, namely Carl Schell, formerly president of the YMCA club and now chief instructor and founder of the Shimpokai.
1961 – The first New Brunswick Black Belt Association was formed with Carl Schell chosen as President, George Stears as Secretary and Larry Melvin as Treasurer and Heinz Wazal as member at large – a four man Yudanshakai or Black Belt Association! I wrote a constitution and established a grading syllabus for our new NBBBA. It had taken us six years since judo`s beginning in NB in 1955 to form our first black belt association in 1961.
1962 – A judo club, with support of the two Saint John clubs, was formed in Moncton and later one was formed in Fredericton. Leo Bourque was our man in Moncton and in Fredericton, Don Nason started Fredericton’s first judo club. Our small NBBBA was expanding judo in NB. On the other hand, somewhat later, a M. Grelier began judo in Edmundston. M. Grelier may have had some connection either with Quebec or judo in France or Belgium. There is also a judo club across the Bay of Fundy at the RCAF base in Greenwood, NS., in 1962 with a Mr. Ken Greer a black belt as its instructor. We began to exchange visits. There was also a judo club in Maine at the US Strategic Air Command base, in fact, back in 1956 Vern Fagan took us there for a weekend practice and their members came to our NB competitions each year. Also some years later, judo also was beginning in the Campbellton area with a woman, Margaret Gallant starting a club there. Margaret is still involved in NB judo today and much later judo started in the Miramichi and Shippegan areas.