The history of judo in PNG: Charles Betteridge

It was a beautiful Sunday morning in June 1961 and I was at Ela Beach in Port Moresby having my usual dip in the ocean and admiring the surrounding beauty (especially the two-legged female variety) when one of my mates came along and asked me if I was interested in joining a newly formed Judo Club.

“What the hell is Judo?” I asked but, out of curiosity, went with him to the rugby league building in Boroko. In a room below the grandstand were four guys rolling over on some old bed mattresses covered over by a tarpaulin. I thought they looked a weird mob. They were dressed in pyjamas with a small dressing gown as a sort of coat.

After brief introductions, I was told to stand on the canvas (after taking off my thongs), then I was picked up and gently landed on my back all within a brief moment. Naturally I was amazed as to what happened and asked them to show me how it was done. Explanations followed on how to stand, how to grab your opponent and how to use his weight combined with your own movement to throw him. I did my very first throw in Judo, and I was hooked immediately. Even though on that Sunday morning I was only in shorts and a T-shirt I stayed on to learn more, especially on rolling, doing break falls, stance, etc.

The Judo Club had been operating only about a month and Judo was practiced on Thursday nights and Sunday mornings. It was certainly a crude beginning for the first martial arts association formed in PNG. From these humble beginnings the Port Moresby Judo Club grew rapidly. By early 1963 proper tatamis (mattings) were bought and this improved training conditions. There were two Black Belt 1st Dan instructors and grading exams were conducted every six months or so. The Club also had a good strong committee.

In early 1964 the Rothmans National Sports Foundation offered all PNG sporting clubs the opportunity to have sports experts travel to PNG to give training sessions and advice and the Port Moresby Judo Club was the very first to receive this benefit. In November 1964 John Peters (3rd Dan) and Yoshinori Takeuchi (5th Dan) came to Port Moresby to instruct members and to conduct grading examinations. I was already a Yellow Belt 5th Kyu and I was promoted to Orange Belt 4th Kyu on 10 November 1964 by the two men.

By the end of 1964 the membership had grown rapidly and we had to find larger premises in which to conduct classes. In early 1965 the Club moved to St Joseph’s Hall in East Boroko and remained there until the mid 1970s. Now the Club held classes on Monday and Thursday nights with junior classes from 6.30-7.30pm and senior classes from 7.30-9.30pm.

Besides Judo, a special Self Defence class was operating conducted by Eric Blount, a former employee of Steamships Trading Company. Eric was Steamies’ chief security officer nationwide before retiring to his hometown of Charters Towers, Queensland in late 1974. Eric formed a self defence club in Charters Towers and continued instructing up to his 90th birthday. He died in 2003,. aged 93.

In February 1965 a Japanese businessman visited the club one Thursday night and seemed interested in what we were doing. I invited him in and, as he watched our Judo sessions, he commented that a certain throw we were all doing was not quite right and that a particular foot movement was not correct. I asked him what he knew about Judo and the next few words he said knocked me over. He said he was a Black Belt 6th Dan and was in PNG looking at the fledging Palm Oil industry. I introduced Kenzo Fukuda to the senior and junior members, explaining his grade.

The entire club was stunned for some moments and before long he was surrounded by members young and old. He was very impressed with the warm reception he received and our club was to benefit from him for the next twelve months. We all learnt quite a bit from Kenzo, including the correct pronunciations in Japanese of the many aspects of Judo.

In June 1965 I travelled to the World Headquarters of Judo, The Kodokan, in Tokyo. I was by then a Brown Belt 1st Kyu and went over to gain my Black Belt 1st Dan. I stayed in the Kodokan itself for two months, trained six days a week and did contests on the seventh day. At the very end I successfully gained my Black Belt 1st Dan, having been the first person from PNG to train in the Kodokan. Other milestones were the affiliation of the Port Moresby Judo Club with the PNG Judo Federation, the Oceania Judo Union, the PNG Sports Federation and the International Judo Federation. Judo is the only martial arts affiliated to the PNGSF and is contested in the South Pacific Games.

In early 1968 I was transferred from Port Moresby to Madang with Burns Philp Automotive and the Club held a special farewell function for my wife and me. I was awarded Life Membership of the Port Moresby Judo Club and the PNG Judo Federation, something I hold very dear to this day. By 1988 the movement of Judoists out of PNG or to other parts of PNG saw its demise, even though other clubs had started at the University OF PNG and Sogeri National High School after the Port Moresby Judo Club folded in the late 1970s.

In February 2007 a reunion of five former members of the Moresby Judo Club (including my wife and I) took place at our home in Modanville, NSW. It had been 40 years since we had last seen each other and what a wonderful reunion it was!


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