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Sampson Sampson is a name not easily mistaken. He has gained something of a cult status for his unusual title, while achieving much more besides in the Islington community.

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Not satisfied with owning one of the oldest barbers in the country – Sampson’s Cuts is located in Highbury – the 53-year-old has also coached judo since 1978 at Sobell Leisure Centre and recently received a prestigious World Judo Federation award for his contribution to the martial art.

This year marks the centre’s 40th anniversary, and Sampson celebrated his affiliation to the Hornsey Road club in style with the award of his eighth Dan – an internationally recognised title in world judo.

“Becoming a hachi, which translates as ‘master of masters’ is a unique achievement, given I jumped from sixth to eighth Dan at an age when I’m still physically active,” Sampson told the Gazette.

Sampson was one of the very first pupils who joined the newly-opened Sobell club as a 14-year-old in 1973. Now he runs the judo classes and is proud of what he has already given back to the community.

“We have done a lot of work with children who have disabilities and we’ve used the skills of judo to help children learn discipline,” he said.

“I see a lot of kids who are out of control these days, so I try to use judo to teach how to behave and how to follow orders.

“We want to take more young people on, and anything we can do to get children off the streets and teach manners, discipline and healthy living would make me very happy.”

The club has over 200 students, and Sampson has found further success in the formation of a new organisation called ‘Judo For All UK’.

Forty-two countries from the WJF have joined this movement, which began as a reaction to what Sampson cites as the loss of grass roots in the sport.

“We are seeing judo become more money-orientated – ‘win at all costs’. Not everyone can become a champion; for every champion, there are 10,000 people left behind,” he said.

“You find nowadays that a lot of schools aren’t interested in people who have no ability. Children are being selected because they are Olympic-orientated – it’s all about getting medals and getting funding.

“I got to the point where I had two choices: I was either going to give up judo altogether, or do something about it. Now what started as a small spark at Sobell Judo Club has gone viral.”

By providing an education for every student, whether they have ability or not, Sampson believes judo enthusiasts will in time be rewarded with a more attractive spectacle.

His vision is as much about changing people’s perceptions on judo as the martial art itself.

“Judo on the TV at the Olympics is aggressive, it’s arrogant. They spend five minutes trying to grab a grip, and breaking them,” he added. “It’s not really exciting to watch.

“It’s not about winning through sheer aggression and brute force, but through cunning and skill, where the small person can beat the big person.

“What we’re trying to do is very traditional – we have a lot of salutations and etiquette formalities. We have created an environment of respect between winners and losers.

“When I go to a competition, it’s like a circus – everyone is shouting and screaming. You can’t even hear yourself make decisions. I’m not willing to let this fantastic martial art get destroyed.”

Education of parents, coaches and spectators is an important facet of Sampson’s quest for improvement and he trains his instructors to teach a specific way, based on the skills he hopes to implement in all his students.

All instructors must complete Levels One to Three in coaching, and Sampson has also redeveloped the rules in line with the European contest regulations.

By Sampson’s own admission, he faces a mammoth task, given the sizeable extra funding and heritage of the International Judo Federation (IJF), which is guided by the Olympic Committee.

Having likened the WJF’s recognition of his intentions to a “little corner shop being acclaimed over Sainsbury’s”, Sampson is keen to wrestle some of the government funding away from the competition.

“They have got millions at their disposal; they’ve got professional people in place,” he added. “I’m trying to establish something that is completely non-funded.

“We’re not recognised as a national governing body, but we are recognised as a national body for traditional Kodokan Japanese judo. We’re trying to bring back traditional fighting skills that have been excluded from the IJF.

“We are trying to reinstate groundwork grappling. So many fights these days are stopped within seconds of one opponent falling to the mat under the assumption that it is not exciting.

“I will be coaching right until the end! I’m only 53, so I have a lot of years ahead to re-establish judo. If you want to keep something alive, you can’t forget about its past.”

Sobell Judo Club provides classes for novices and those of a world- class standard. For more information on class times and membership fees, please call 020 7607 1607 or visit www.sobelljudoclub.com

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