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Geraldton Judo Club Sensei Bob McGregor marks 50 years in martial arts as club looks to rebound from COVID

Jake Santa MariaGeraldton Guardian
James McGregor has no desire to hang up his black belt anytime soon.
Camera IconJames McGregor has no desire to hang up his black belt anytime soon. Credit: Jake Santa Maria

Sensei Bob McGregor is celebrating 50 years in traditional Japanese martial arts, including more than 20 in Geraldton, after being taught in London.

He started boxing when he moved to London as a young teenager and represented his borough at the London school boys championships for a couple of years, but soon realised being punched in the head too often was not really a long-term option for his health.

In 1972, he started aikido in South London and got his black belt four years later, but felt he needed a bigger challenge so started judo in January 1976 in Tottenham, where he lived and worked.

“I was very fortunate that my sensei had spent several years in Japan, so I had access to great coaching which enabled me to get my first dan black belt three years later,” he said.

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He was invited to join the coaching team and eventually became club head sensei.

McGregor, or Sensei Bob, arrived in Geraldton in late 1999 harbouring dreams of Australia for many years.

“I always wanted to come to Australia and WA for something,” he said.

“I had a job lined up in Adelaide when I finished my apprenticeship as an engineer and I was about three months away from signing up to come over when life took me a different way in meeting my wife and having kids.

“I changed careers to a social worker in my borough because a lot of people knew me through judo and eventually became a social worker for the deaf and hoped it would help me get into Australia.

“But when I wanted to come they didn’t need social workers, they needed engineers.”

McGregor started work at the hospital before moving into disability services while also introducing his love for judo to the region.

“I went to the old PCYC to see what was happening and they said ‘we need someone to teach judo’, so it was perfect,” he said.

Sensai Bob McGregor has reached 50 years in traditional Japanese martial arts.
Camera IconSensai Bob McGregor has reached 50 years in traditional Japanese martial arts. Credit: Jake Santa Maria

It hasn’t been an easy journey for McGregor’s club since then, which has moved many times over the years while looking for a facility that met the specific requirements for judo.

“We need proper tatami mats for safety. If we fight on anything else the risk of injury is just too high; when I first rocked up to the PCYC they just had those jigsaw rubber mats,” he said.

“They are not cheap, with a single mat costing $300 each, and we have to cover the whole gym with them as with judo you do throw people and they can’t be lifted up and moved around due to risk of damage.”

McGregor’s love and passion for his craft has enabled the club to survive despite the difficulties.

“It takes a certain resilience to keep at it but once you do, then the rewards are fantastic,” he said.

“I still feel like I’m 30 by keeping myself reasonably fit and why not get fit and learn a skill that could protect you?

“Judo is very physically and mentally demanding. Proper Greco-Roman wrestling, Brazilian jujitsu and judo are probably the toughest martial arts to learn.”

Sensei Bob said learning a martial art was like learning CPR or swimming: you never knew when you might need the skill to save your life or someone else’s.

“Judo is not about learning how to hurt someone, it’s about having the skills to be able to deal with a situation should it arise,” he said.

“Back in England, with my social work, I lost a couple of work colleagues to violent attacks and from my younger days going up in a bit of a rough area I learnt these skills out of necessity.

“I’ve taught self-defence classes and done one-on-one sessions with all sorts of people up here, from prison guards and police to real estate agents.”

Like with most sporting clubs, COVID decimated the club and McGregor said it was just starting to build back up.

“We just got wiped; we just instantly had to stop,” he said.

“But I don’t need 200 people here; give me one person who’s keen and I’ll work with them.

“I just love the contact with people and seeing them grow. I’ve had all sorts of kids come through: kids who are blind, kids with cerebral palsy and if people want to keep coming, I’ll keep teaching them and seeing their growth, that’s magic to me.”

The club is currently being run out the back of his furniture shop at 277 Place Road in Webberton, where classes are offered for five-year-olds and upwards.

McGregor said people were never too old to do judo.

“We are very fortunate in Geraldton that we have some great martial art coaches so have a go, you might just surprise yourself,” he said.

Despite bringing up 50 years, McGregor has no plans to stop anytime soon.

“Never; I still love teaching, training and watching our students grow in confidence and self-esteem. It is such a privilege to be part of their lives,” he said.

“Maybe when this old belt breaks I can hand it to the next sensei and they can have it on a mantle somewhere.”

Anyone interested in joining the club or wanting to learn more can contact Sensei Bob on 0427 383 828.

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