A review on SA Judo – by Des Westemberg

A true martial arts pioneer in South Africa, Des Westemberg shared his point of view of the sport in his country with this review I publish below his picture. His son found this historical document just after he passed away in 2004, at 78 years old and seventh Dan in Judo.


Des Westenberg: Historical Judo Review

I have been involved in the martial Arts for approximately 45 years. When I initially started training it involved mostly Ju-Jitsu. For recreation we would indulge in a form of Judo where no holds were barred. One seldom mcame off the mat without a bleeding nose or cut lips or some form of injury or other.

But we thoroughly enjoyed it! in fact if one came off the mat without being injured you felt that you did not have a good work out as such. Although Judo today is certainly more technical I think we were a lot tougher those days with much more fighting spirit. There were no real rules so that strangling across the mouth etc. was quite acceptable.

When rules were eventually formulated it revolved mainly around scoring which at that time was either half a point or a full point. We seldom went for hold-downs being quite content to go for strangles or armlocks. Fights were decided by the best out of three points. The first person to score two points was the winner. You could afford to take chances for if you had a point awarded against you, you could still win the fight by scoring two points.

Most of todays negative Judo is the direct result of the system being changed to a win by one point only. Players are too afraid to take a chance in case a point is scored against them with the resultant loss of the contest. This has taken the flair and adventurous spirit out of Judo.

Grading those days was done by contest ability only. You had to face a line up of seven Judo players with an equivalent grade. If you lost one fight the grading ceased there and then. One had to prove that you were better than your opponents in the line up.

When I went for my 1st Dan grading in 1952 I beat my line up quite comfortably. Joe Robinson then requested the grading panel to have a practice with me. At the end of the work-out Joe informed the panel that I was too good for 1st Dan and should be awarded 2nd Dan. This created a bit of an uproar as the panel considered me an intruder in view of the fact that I was not a Transvaler! Joe was insistent and I was graded 2nd Dan in the end.

That same year I won the S A Midlleweight and Lightweight titles and narrowly lost to Jack Burbidge in the final of the Heavyweight division. I was requested to vacate the Middleweight title in the interest of the sport to which I acceded. Becuase only top players entered championships those days there were not all that many entries and one could enter as many weight divisions as you wished above your own weight category.

At that time many ships carrying Japanese who were settling in Brazil passed through our seas and we often had Japanese players come in for a work-out. During 1957 Professor Yoshio Kihara of the Kodokan University of Judo in Tokio made contact with me at work through the medium of the P E newspapers. He and an entourage were on their way to Brazil where he was to become Director of Judo. During a subsequent work-out Professor Kihara threww mw three times with sode-tsuri-komi-goshi and I turned downed the Professor twice with de-ashi-barai.

At the time it was quite foreign to me to have my arm controlled by means of holding the end of th gi sleeve and it took me some time to sort this out. On the other hadn I could sweep powerfully with both feet which often confused my opponents. I was also very strong on the ground and I never had a Japanese who could hold me down. Before leaving the professor graded me 3rd Dan which was later ratified by the National Controlling Body.

When I went for my 4th Dan grading in 1959 there were not seven 3rd Dans available for me to have a line up so I spent five days in Johannesburg fighting every Judo player they could muster. It was a tough time for me as the altitude was beginning to have its effect and I had a few injuries that were plaguing me. My last fight was against power man Dougie Baggot, Mr South Africa at the time. One of his attacks dropped me to my knees and he had me in a kata-gatame from which I escaped. I then caught him with Tomoenague for ippon and the 4th Dan.

During 1960 I was selected to take part in the World Championships in France. Our entries were subsequently turned down as we had to affiliate to some Black country in North Africa who were not interested in our problems. Instead I captained a team to Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) where I beat Dan van der Byl who had been S A Champion previously by two ippons to nil. I swept him for the first ippon, scored waza-ari with another sweep and applied Juji-gatame. Dan refused to submit and in desperation I unfortunately dislocated his arm which put him out of the contest. Later that year the team toured Austria and Switzerland as guests of the rival world body who were somewhat anti Japanese and known as the International World Judo Federation.

During 1960 I formed the Eastern Province Amateur Judo Association. Apart for two years I was Chairman of this Association until I was ousted immediately after masterminding and staging of waht most people felt was the best S A Championship ever staged in the Republic named the 1987 S A Championships in Port Elizabeth. I had kept this Association together during thick and thin times when certain elements who wer more interested in promoting themselves than the Province did their best to disrupt everything. I am proud of the fact that from the dubious distinction of beind the Cinderella Province of Judo in South Africa I have moulded Easter Province Judo into a body respected by the rest of the republic.

In 1962 the E.P.A.J.A. joined the S.A.A.J.A. After 16 years we we had become very despondent. it appeared that the far provinces were being completely left out in the cold and nothing was being done to promote or assist us in any way. We were always being told that ïts because you ar too far away”. Sadly disillusioned we left S.A.A.J.A. to join S.A.N.A.J.A. I was still a 4th dan after 16 years!

Immediately things started to happen. We were made to feel that we were an important part of the “family”and that we were needed. Within two years I was upgraded to 5th Dan and I also became Vice-Chairman of S.A.N.A.J.A I received the Sensei of the Year Award in 1979 and the same year my son Baden was awarded Springbok colours against the Aemricans. On 9 October 1982 I was graded 6th Dan. I was S A Veteran Champion in 1978 an 1979.

When S.AJ.U. was formed I applied to have my 6th Dan registered. My request was turned down. Three years later on 10 October 1985 S.A.J.U. graded me 6th Dan thanks to Dr Stock and Mr Kokkie Uys whom I am very grateful.

Over the years I have produced many S A Champions and several Junior Springboks and Springboks. Although I am only teaching at one club now due to commitments at my shop, i still managed to produce two Junior S A Champions namely Melody Potgister and Mornay Roux. Mornay received the trophy for the best fight of the finals. Althoug two Transvaal officials wer most unhappy with this decision wich I might ass, was unanimous, I felt the decision was correct. Irrespective of the engraving on the trophy, Mr kokkie Uys, Mr Ockert Douglas and myself were asked by the president to nominate the best fighter in the finals.

As for Mornay’s track record he took silver medal under 75 kg as a 14 years old boy at the 1987 S A Championships losing by Yuko in the finals against a opponent who fought Senior the following year. He was S A Champion in 1988 and 1989. He was awarded Springbok colours in 1990. He broke a bone in his hand during the team fights of the 1990 s A Championships and was unable to fight in the individuasl. With very little training during 1991 due to matric school commitments he still managed to once again become S A Champion.

I, with the help of Baden, started with the upliftment programme of Black Judo players way back in 1982 so much so that I was dubbed a “kaffer boetie”by some of the Judo fraternity. i did it because I thought it was good for Judo and so it was judging by the excitement generated at competitions. After ousted as Chairman things were allowed to slip until there were no Blacks involved with us any longer.

Apart from Judo I have a black belt in Karate as well as being an expert in Ju-Jitsu, unarmed combat and atemikai karate (nerve centres, death blows, unconscious pressures, etc). I have worked in close unsion with the National Education Sports Department in organising and conducting coaching courses in self-defence.

I was Manager and Coach of the S.A.J.U. team that won the P.W. Floating Trophy against expectations in 1986. During 1987 and 1988 the Manager of the Junior Springboks. Initially appointed as Coach but for some reason or other this was changed to Manager.

I am still of the “old school” and believe that discipline is an integral part of the Martial Arts. I have all my life tried to practice the five maxims of Funakoshi Karate namely charcter, etiquette, sincerity, effort, self control and one of my own – honesty. I believe that one should bow to one another to show respect for our art and as a means of advertising our sport. I also endorse a quotation of a very respected old karate sensei which I have modified slightly to include Judo namely:
“The ultimate aim of Jydo and Karate lies not in victory or defeat, but in the perfection of the character of its participants”Gigen funakoshi.

To end, some of the highlights of my career:

a) When my son Baden was awarded Springbok colours
b) Being graded 6th Dan by S.A.N.A.J.A. and S.A.J.U.
c) Being invited to tea and supper and attending a training session by Sensei Isao Okano (who was Olympic Champion in 1964 and world Champion in 1965) in tokio
d) Receiving a memo from Sensei Theuns Frase after he had conducted a course in Port elizabeth in which he states:
“Baie dankie vir alles Oom. Dit was so ‘n baie aangename naweek en praat nie eers van die gasvryheid nie. Dit is regtig iets wat ek sal onthou. Oom is een van die aangenaamste persoonlikhede wat ek nog ontmoet het en ek het net respek vir Oom. ”
The above made me feel very good at the time except for the “Oom” part. However I had the dinstict impression that things changed somewhat when we joined S.A.N.A.J.A.
e) Staging the first ever S A Championship in Port Elizabeth
f) Staging the first ever Judo test match in Port Elizabeth the Springboks versus the Germans.

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