Judo at Cotham was the creation of Jerry Hicks, the art master. It was the first school Judo club in the city and one of the first in England. At 27, Jerry Hicks was every schoolboy’s idea of a Greek god, tall, handsome, perfectly proportioned and at the peak of fitness. It was not surprising that, once started, Judo became a popular activity and boys could be seen practicing in the Upper Hall during the lunch break, every day of the week.
Jerry Hicks was only the second man in Bristol to be awarded a blue belt at Judo. The first, Bob Taylor, had been shot dead when he chased bank robbers on Blackboy Hill near Durham Downs, and was remembered with an annual trophy contest in his name. So Jerry became the first man in Bristol to win brown and black belts, and before the decade was out, he had been promoted to 2nd dan. The boys practiced hard, they all wanted to be like Jerry. They couldn’t imagine anyone being able to defeat their idol, but he arranged for them a solid dose of reality.
The ‘Father of British Judo’ was Gunji Koizumi, a Japanese expert who first came to Britain in 1906 and founded the first Judo club in the country, the Budokwai, in London, in 1918. Koizumi was a legend in the sport who at that time had advanced to 6th dan black belt, a grade unimaginable for any European. When Jerry Hicks invited him to visit Cotham Grammar School, the boys couldn’t believe their good fortune.
The venerable oriental guru couldn’t have contrasted more with their local idol. Beside Jerry Hicks, Gunji Koizumi, at the age of about 70, looked like a little frail old gentleman. He conducted a class and put the boys through standard exercises, adding words of advice and encouragement as appropriate. Then came the time for randori, or free practice, in which pairs of judoka engaged in friendly competition. Gunji stood watching the class with Jerry by his side. Then Jerry plucked up the courage to ask the great man to practice with him. At this, the mat cleared to give room to the seniors. The old man smiled shyly, ‘I don’t know if I’m any good,’ he said.
There couldn’t have been a more unequal contest. Jerry tugged and heaved with all his great strength but Koizumi reacted like a heavily-loaded trolley. However hard he was pushed or pulled he moved only smoothly and partially in that direction, maintaining perfect balance. The boys began to wonder if they would see any other action. Then with a swift fluid movement Jerry hit the mat with a resounding break-fall, and proceeded to practice his break-falls for the next few minutes, until with a formal bow the two men gave the mat back to the boys. Judo at Cotham and in Bristol had been shown where it stood on a global scale.