Celebrating it’s 40th Year as a BJA Club 1972 -2012
Taken from the Sherborne St John, Villager Magazine with permission from the Author
One of the Pleasures of being involved with the Villager is the view it affords you into parts of Village life that would be invisible to you otherwise. Despite living in the village I genuinely had no idea that Sherborne St John was home to a Judo club – and a very successful one at that.
As somebody who has been a self diagnosed sporting junkie through most my life, judo has always been on the outer rim of my universe, a bit like Halleys comet it would exist out of sight until maybe the Olympics threw up a British medallist, or Brian Jacks won TV Superstars whereupon it came sharply into focus for a few bright moments, before disappearing again until the next time.
For Len Dunce, founder of the summit Club, Judo is not like that. It has been central to his life for the past 40 years, as he himself admits
‘Its’s a way of life, I couldn’t pack upif I wanted to, I can’t stay away, I’d be lost without it’.
So, the Villager wanted to know, how was Len drawn to the world of Judo?
Len Dunce (LD)
‘I started back in 1969, I was going to the Gym regularly, doing circuit training and I was a getting fed up with that, and wanted to try something different, so I went along to the Basingstoke Judo Club (BJC) to give it a try.
They showed me a few moves, a few throws and things, and I just took to it. I loved the physicality of it, and loved learning how it worked, I was interested in the theory, it’s like a science. Also the camaraderie was fantastic, I’ve still got a lot of friends from those days at the club. John Gowland was my first Sensei….
The Villager (TV): Sensei means teacher?
LD: Yes that’s right, he, John, really was the leading figure around at the time. He ran BJC and that was probably the only Judo club around here at the time. He was the United Kingdom open champion in 1958.
The Villager: So how did the Summit Club start?
LD: It really started with me just messing about in the garden, showing my son and daughter a bit. The next thing you know the neighbour’s kids came over, and I had 10 or 12 kids on a Saturday morning.
I got hold of some 2 foot square packing foam, laid that outon the garden and covered it with tarpaulin, and did a couple of hours with the children on a Saturday morning. It was just for a bit of fun really, but then John Hunt school asked me to start a club, and I agreed .to do it. They would provide the hall and advertise the club, but I had a problem as I wasn’t qualified to coach at that point.
TV: How did you get around that?
LD: I asked my friend Derek Brownett who I knew from Basingstoke JC if he would help me out. He was a brown belt at that time, I was a green belt, but Derek was qualified to coach so we started the club…
TV: has it always been the Summit club?
LD: Yes, from day one it has been called the Summit Judo club and we have had the same badge.
TV: And how did those early days go?
LD: the club was a phenomenal success. We had something like fifty kids on a Friday night.
TV: How did you take to coaching?
LD: I absolutely loved it. I took up Judo late, I was 29, so I knew I was never going to really be any good myself, I didn’t really compete much, but I found my enjoyment from coaching.
TV: How did the club evolve?
LD: A couple of things changed, Derek got injured in the mid 80’s and we moved out of John Hunt. Basingstoke Judo Club took on a building in Buckskin as a permanent Dojo.
They offered us free use of the building – they had the hall and we had the mats – so it sounded great but it turned out to be a disaster,
TV: What went wrong?
LD: There was lots of vandalism, the windows used to get broken and the rain would come in and the mats would get wet.
Numbers were down, well down, and there were times when I must admit I thought ’what am I doing here? Am I flogging a dead horse?’ but we kept going, and then the council wanted the building back! We went back to John Hunt and were lucky enough to get our Friday night slot back.
TV: And did the number of pupils build up again?
LD: Numbers were still low, but then someone at the school had a brainwave.They suggested that we ran a family group scheme, I must admit that I didn’t really want to do it at first as it meant adults and children on the mat together and there are a lot of rules and regulations as a result, but it turned out to be a success. For a while it picked up, but then John Hunt closed down and we needed to find somewhere else.
TV: There always seem to be an obstacle in the way!!
LD: But we struggled on, and by this time I had moved to Sherborne St John, so I asked if we could use the Chute pavilion. It couldn’t have worked out better, they gave us storage space for our gear, which was perfect. We advertised in the local school and in the first class we must have had ten new pupils. I think a lot of people came out of curiosity, and we built on that.
TV: Where do the pupils mostly come from, are they local?
LD: From the village, and roundabout, Bramley, Silchester and Basingtoke. We find that old pupils bring their own children up to us. I think it really helps having the club on a Friday, the kids don’t have to go to school the following day
TV: And how many pupils do you have now?
LD: On a normal night we have about 18 kids in the first group – that’s 5 to 8 year olds, and then about 26 in the 2nd group, for 8 to 12 year olds, and about 12 in the adult group , that group is about half and half 14 to 15 year olds, and adults.
TV: The school is heavily weighted towards juniors rather than adults, is that usual?
LD: Most clubs have more children, most of the Adults will be people coming to our club to supplement what they are doing at other clubs – extra classes if they are looking to get their grades, that kind of thing although our own numbers are growing. We also get guest coaches who ask if they can come up and take a class, and that’s always good.
TV: What is the coaching structure of the school?
LD: Paul Hamilton is now coach, he came to us as a 6 year old, and is now a black belt, 1st Dan, and a full time coach. He also runs AWE and coaches in the schools. We also have Eric Jones, another black belt, a 2nd Dan who coaches the seniors every week, and 5 instructors, Tony McGuirk, Bob Wisniewski, Mike Stephens, Jordan Slaney and Claire Brown. All our coaches are qualified in coaching and first aid and CRB checked.
TV: What about competition, do the members compete?
LD: If they want to. We never force anyone, but some of them enjoy the competition, in fact we went many years when we would always come back with a medal of some sort. We also took players to the Hampshire squad training sessions and have had people chosen. We also picked a Basingstoke squad to go to the 2011 Hampshire and isle of Wight games and came back with the gold medal.
In addition, we currently have 3 players in the Hampshire squad, Ellie Stephens, Dolton McGuirk and Ceris Brown and one of our players, Jordan Slaney has competed and won medals at National level.
There are also festivals, we have a very strong link with ESV Fortuna in Germany, and through the Euskirchen Festival of Sport we compete each year. 2012 will be the twentieth consecutive year that we have been involved. Paul and I run the judo section of the festival and we invite all players in the Basingstoke area to take part.. In 2010 we took thirty five players, the most ever.
TV: Do the players have to fight in competitions to get gradings?
LD: The junior grades have changed, they used to be all result based, with a bit of theory, but now they are based more on theory, and technique, and are assessed by the coaches. When you reach Orange belt, you have to have at least one fight.
TV: How do you gauge the success of the club?
LD: We’re basically a recreational club, we will encourage competition, but we certainly won’t force it, our main aim is for the youngsters to enjoy themselves. We try and take the negativity out of it. In Judo, there are no rights and wrongs, we can coach and help the youngsters, but they may all do something in a slightly different way, and we encourage that.
We try to look at every child as an individual, and respond accordingly. There was one lad who was always messing about and was difficult to work with, when we tried giving him some responsibility – we asked him to look after a new member and he was great. After that we had no trouble with him. We had sussed him out, and that gives you a good feeling. I suppose we gauge success by how many members we have, if they are happy and keep coming back, we must be doing a decent job.’
If you are interested in joining the Summit club you can call
Len on 07860435831, or visit the website at
Alternatively just turn up at the Chute pavilion on any Friday night, you are guaranteed a warm welcome.