A Londonderry coach has been awarded the prestigious sixth Dan belt for Judo.
Jim Toland, a man whose name has become synonymous with judo in the north west over the years is only the fifth person in Ireland, and the second in Derry to be given the honour.
He was presented with the red and white belt by fellow judo coach and childhood friend, Robbie Irwin.
Achieving the honour of a sixth Dan belt is no mean feat.
While the move from the Kyu grades (coloured belts) to Dan grades (black belt) is considered a step up in technical ability, sixth Dan signifies a further level of achievement and is designated with a red and white banded belt.
Robbie Irwin described Jim as ‘Mr Judo’ in the city.
“Jim has been doing judo for 43 years,” he said. “He started off with Jimmy Little in Long Tower and took over the club when Jimmy retired.
“He has been World Masters Judo champion three times, Irish senior champion on numerous occasions and British Masters champion. Jim has been national coach for 18 years.”
Robbie explained that the sixth Dan is not a belt you fight for.
“In Judo you compete until you get your fifth Dan, through gradings and competitions,” he said.
“After a period they look at your record and what you have done, not just competing but what you have done in terms of coaching kids.
“Getting kids involved in competing, running competitions and refereeing and it was decided that Jim would be awarded his sixth Dan.
“Quite simply, Jim is ‘Mr Judo’ in this town. I’ve known him a long time.
“When I was chair of the Northern Ireland Judo Federation Jim was the rock behind me in relation to making sure things were done.
“Jim is one of those boys for whom the word ‘no’ just doesn’t exist. It’s not in his vocabulary.
“He has coached so many people. There are so many people in this town who became black belts because of him.
“There are a lot of young kids coming through now making an impact at international level, winning British titles and medals overseas and it’s all down to Jim.
“His life is all about judo and his kids.”
On Friday night, club members at the Judo in the Park club based in Foyle Arena surprised Jim with a special presentation and a cake of a Judo suit with the customary red and white belt.
Jim said he was delighted, adding that Judo had allowed him to see the world.
“I’ve been doing judo since I was seven,”he said. “I remember being fascinated by these guys running in white suits.
“Jimmy Little was a fantastic coach and had a fantastic way of working with kids, I learned a lot from them.”
Jim began coaching when he was just 15, and says he’s taught thousands over the years.
He also works for NI wrestling and runs the school programme and coach education programme ‘Judo and More’.