Belfast Telegraph

Bangor black belt grandad aiming for more judo honours

By Stewart Robson

A Co Down pensioner, who achieved a black belt in judo two years ago, has already set his sights on his next goal - achieving the rank of second Dan.

Tom Monaghan (73) has devoted most of his sporting life to the Japanese discipline.

The fighting-fit father and grandfather from Bangor, who is also qualified as an open water swimmer and a specialist shark diver, got involved in the martial art at the age of 20, but says it wasn't always his first love.

"I started as an office boy in the shipyard in 1960," said Tom. "At that time, I met a world-famous open water swimmer called Jack McClelland. He's one of a few men who has swum the North Channel. He used to train daily at Templemore Avenue swimming baths and he encouraged me to go along with him, so water polo actually ended up being my first sport."

In 1961, Tom's short-lived water polo career ended when a severe outbreak of tuberculosis swept across the country. Tom fell victim to the disease but after his recovery, he looked for a new sport - and discovered judo.

"I joined Belfast YMCA. I had a great mentor in the late Derek Harper. He was a renowned coach for discipline and was my main mentor at the time. That then developed a keener, competitive interest in my blood." Although Tom's work commitments took over most of his life in the years after, he was still actively involved in the sport.

But it was in 2012, nearly 50 years on from first adorning the white suit, that things really took off.

"I took up a role with the World Police and Fire Games. It rejuvenated my competitive and administrative role in judo. I became an ambassador for the games and presented medals at the games as well. It really was a great honour. That year really triggered something in my head, that I should get back into the sport academically.

"I approached a local club called Murakwai where I met Scott Mayne who is now a tutor at Simply Judo club, held in Dundonald and Cregagh.

"Four senior guys in the sport in Northern Ireland prepared me for my exams in 2016 and the British Judo Association were satisfied that I passed all the tests.

"I achieved the brown belt in 1977 so there was a long gap in between it and achieving my black belt.

"I still attend the club and helped a lot of the young guys with some technical difficulties, which is great."

Tom said his family, including wife Linda, were thrilled to see him finally achieve the feat after his hard work through the year. "They were chuffed," he said. "They knew how much I had put into the sport. The examination was intense, with quite a bit of work, but it's a personal achievement. I've been told I can now work towards my second Dan (rank). There's a five years gap between each grade, but that's my objective now, in three years time."

Tom added: "At my age you need something to keep your mind active as well as your body. People say getting old isn't nice. It's not nice if you lie back and let it take a hold of your life. If you get out of bed in the morning and do things, no matter what it is, it'll help your general well-being.

"My motivation for continuing to visit the club is to act as an encouragement for the younger competitors. Although it's seen as a young person's sport, it doesn't have to end when your competing days are over. It's like your bank account. The more you put in, the more you'll get out of it."

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