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    Bill Stopps talks about Otani, Abe and others


    Posts : 14
    Join date : 2013-01-21
    Location : Tsurumaki, Tokyo

    Bill Stopps talks about Otani, Abe and others Empty Bill Stopps talks about Otani, Abe and others

    Post by Tsurumaki Wed May 01, 2013 2:03 pm

    Around 1993 the British Judo historian Richard Bowen (RB) sent Bill Stopps some questions. Bill recorded his answers onto a tape, which RB typed up.
    I first posted this on the old forum in August 2010, along with a link to a related post by "Hellis" (Henry Ellis). I think it was Robin Otani who called Bill Stopps his (Otani's)father's right-hand man from 1947.

    JULY 1993

    Your [Richard Bowen's] questions are taking me down memory lane. Rather than write, I thought why not a tape? In a sense I suppose I was Otani's blue-eyed boy - this was probably because I did not mind being thrown around - I was good at ukemi, and if necessary I could make things look good in a display. I was a few inches taller than Otani. I bought a motorbike and used to take him to displays. When I got married and moved out of London, he said you must lead your own life. My wife's parents lived in Acton, and mine not so far away, so I used to come in for a visit and also have a practice at Otani's. Eventually, because of deaths, the need to come to London vanished. Otani often called in at my parents - would stand up when ladies entered the room. Once remarked, "Why does everyone in your family talk at once?" I listened and found that this was the case.

    Remember going to a display at a place with a funny name not far from Norwich. Always stuck in my mind because of the name, even though I cannot remember it exactly - something like Saxal Corpus...! Otani went up by car, while I biked it. It was the sort of English summer's day that sticks in one's memory, fine weather, a band, and all the things expected at a small fete. The mat was a huge canvas staked out on the turf. Although the place was small there was a judo club there. Some of the local chaps joined in the randori. I went on with one biggish fellow - had no trouble with him, decided to let him throw me a few times as his pals were jeering at him. After the display we all went to a what I suppose was a farmhouse where there were piles of sandwiches, cakes, jellies and a huge teapot. The biggish fellow who I had let throw me sat opposite me, I still remember his big reddish face, munching on a big piece of bread and jam. He looked around to make sure his pals were listening and said to me, "You are the easiest practice I have ever had." Was I furious! What a bumpkin! But I let it go, remembering my judo training.

    Returning, Otani sat on the back of my bike - the roads were fairly clear as there were fewer cars in the early sixties - we did not pass many. Coming to a small bridge I thought I would show off by taking it at speed. The bike took off - the last thing I expected as I didn't think it had the power. We landed and wobbled all over the place - was I scared! Otani told me to slow down. By now it had got very dark and we reached a place, I think it was Royston. We bought some fish and chips wrapped in newspaper and sat side by side in a doorway eating it. It was quite a moment. It was dark and cold, more so on the back of a motorbike - I was all right, having the right gear - but not so Otani. Before we set off again, he put on his judo kit over his ordinary clothes, and mine! Of course I lost my way but eventually we passed through Epping, back down the Strand and so on. I got home about 3 a.m. I remember moving a canvas cover on the back of my bike - had difficulty tying it on so Otani used his black belt - sacrilege to me. But then I realized it was only a belt.

    Was invited by Harry Johnson to his club by Putney Bridge on the south side, on the third floor of a pub (probably the Duke's Head - not the Star and Garter). It was a Sunday morning, and the place was full of brawny looking blokes lifting weights and so on, some girls were making tea. The mat cover was six pieces of canvas, machine stitched together, brown-coloured with age, and really smooth. Johnson appeared with his great big tummy, bald head, large cauliflower ears (Otani had two), and dressed in dark blue wrestling tights under a judo jacket. I was then an orange belt - the old style webbing which we dyed ourselves in those days. I went on with him, first bowing, and Johnson said we don't bother with that here. I tried my best, but Johnson said you are trying to throw me up - throw me down. And he demonstrated on me - crash!

    Otani was not keen in his people going to other clubs, but if they did he wanted to know in detail everything that went on. After the visit to Johnson's club he asked me what I thought, so I said he seemed a bit stiff - wanting to enhance Otani's teaching. Otani said that Johnson was very very good - and was the one man that his teacher, Yukio Tani, could not strangle. I became very friendly with Harry Johnson, but not to the same degree as I did with Otani. We used to call him "Johnnie". He also had a motorbike and so did some of his pupils - we would go to Epsom Downs, without Otani, and have a chat there. Johnson, who lived in Battersea, appeared to have no relatives. Asked how he got a black belt, he said he got a brown belt on his first night at the Budokwai (RB Note: Johnson got his dan grade in 1932 at the Budokwai). Johnson was also involved in pro-wrestling, using the name Johnny Radnor (Note: not to be confused with Sam Rabin, who used the name Sam Radnor). Johnson spoke about a trip to Germany, the judo team was sitting around in a cafe or beer cellar, and making jokes about Hitler. A German sitting nearby heard and came across and said, "We do not make jokes about the Fuhrer." The contest and display venue was crammed, with many of the men in uniforms - during the invitation to the audience dozens came up. I (Johnson) had the first, a nasty looking little bloke - I thought that I had better take no chances - so I slammed him down hard - when I looked around the rest had melted away.

    Johnson's opinion of karate. "Why do all that training? Pick up a brick and bash the opponent." I, who had started kendo, bought a couple of kendo kits from Johnson, paying 4 pounds. Used to train in Wornington Road (probably the Evening Institute around Gorborne Road), but after a while the kendo got boring, and I used to get headaches. So I sold the kits to a fellow at the Ealing Club, in Bond Street (now gone) for 4 pounds. On the side of both breastplates there was some Japanese writing. I met the fellow sometime later, he told me that a Japanese had come up to him and said that the breastplates had his name on them, and tat they belonged to him - he had left them at the AJJC before leaving the country (presumably at the outbreak of war). Anyway, the Japanese grabbed the kits and marched off.

    Eventually Johnson sold his mat cover from the Duke's Head - I reckon both the mat cover and the kendo kits came from the AJJC - Johnson just helping himself when the war came. Mishiku was very small; I (Stopps) put on a kendo kit and attacked him, apologising if I hit Mishiku - Mishiku said, "You must attack. No say sorry. You kill me you not to blame. I kill you I not to blame." Johnson's legs really started to give him trouble - went to see him in St. George's Hospital once, at Hyde Park Corner. The MOJS was a vague body - it was always vague, though I remember going with Otani to a basement flat in Elgin Crescent and meeting a short fellow called Rose, who wore glasses and was reputedly the Chairman of the MOJS. When the BJA began and started issuing licences, Otani said it was ridiculous - only dogs have licences. But much later, chatting at 10 Stewart Rd., he gave me a MOJS licence, saying that English people like to have them, "So you are documented now."

    The advent of Kenshiro Abe: Otani said we have to go to Ealing Club to meet Abe. The place was crowded. Abe came in, he was bald and had big feet - also wore long underwear which caused a few quiet giggles - but now I wear them myself! Went on with him and really tried without bothering him in the least - he threw me - very fast. Asked if we could do some newaza - got armlocked - dismissed in disgrace, but none of the others did any better. Otani said his judo is very old fashioned and that I must learn the new style. Later at the LJS Otani said he was too old to change styles now.

    The Chew/Dominy versus Abe dust-up: This was a display at the Royal Albert Hall. Abe introduced the mat cover with circles - which never caught on! Otani was actually trembling when we went on - kata - he got one move wrong but it was successfully covered up. It seems that Abe counted all the seats at the RAH and said his cut was insufficient - probably Chew and Dominy tried to put all the income into the LJS funds, and to pay Abe heavy expenses, this to keep to the amateur basis. This is probably what caused Abe to break up with the LJS.

    I remember the canteen at the top of the old LJS. Small tea bar, and sofa with Abe sprawled back on it, aquarium with rather tired looking goldfish, and all around the room there were finches. Every now and again Abe, with a kingly gesture, would toss a handful of seeds up on the shelves (Note: RB also saw this). Abe always wore a fundoshi - tried it myself but it always got knotted up. Whatever was suggested to him he always gave the impression that he could do it. We travelled to Leicester to do a show, first going to the organizer's home to have a cup of tea. The organizer had been asked to produce a suitable piece of wood for Abe to break with his hand. The organizer came into the room carrying what looked like a piece of 4" x 2" wood. It was old, oaky looking, reminded me of a railway sleeper. The organizer said he had broken one similar piece that morning and he wondered if Abe could use this one in the display. I thought, "He is joking - he is either a liar or it was a different bit of wood. No way is Abe going to break that." Abe took absolutely no notice.

    The show started. A boxing ring was used, no ropes, but the metal corner stanchions were still in place. Being a boxing ring there was a lot of bounce and I wondered how Abe was going to manage to break the wood with the extra bounce. How is he going to do it? I carted the piece of wood up into the ring, two tubular stacking chairs were brought on, and the balk of timber rested across the backs of the chairs. I held one chair and someone else held the other. The crowded hall went quiet. Abe measured up with the edge of his hand, and I, not being able to bear to watch, closed my eyes! Down came Abe's hand - crash. There was absolutely no effect on the wood, but the tops of the chairs bent by about half an inch. Abe squared up again, and this time I kept my eyes open - Whack! No effect at all on the wood. Uproar! And again, once more. Finally Abe picked the wood off the chairs and propped it against one of the stanchions, and gave it an almighty kick with the ball of his foot - no effect at all on the wood. And again, once more. I just knew that there was no way he was going to break that wood. He adjusted it again against the stanchion and this time standing side smashed it with his heel. Nothing. It was chaos - a fiasco. The place was in an uproar. Abe handed the wood to me, and I carried it off the mat, while Abe just continued with the rest of whatever he was doing. This was the only occasion when Otani criticized Abe, saying he should have started off with smaller pieces of wood and worked his way up - then if he failed with the "railway sleeper" it wouldn't have looked so bad.

    Abe's eccentric habits: On a course at Chigwell - a group of pupils were out walking with him one evening. They passed alongside a field with a big farm horse in it. Without the slightest warning Abe jumped over the five bar gate, and leapt on to the back of the horse, clamping his legs so tightly that you could almost see the horse's ribs bend. The horse was not pleased, showing the whites of its eyes, rolling its eyes, and twitching its ears. The horse took off like a bolt from the blue, with Abe clinging to its big gray mane - I can't recall if my friend, who saw all this, said that Abe came off or not - but he thinks he did. About this time I wasn't in London so much - it was rumoured that Abe was in a car crash in Japan. When he returned to London he was certainly physically different - seemed to lack the explosive power he had before.

    Each year at Ealing they used to have a kind of carnival or parade - the judo group would walk past and bow to the mayor - difficult to do on the march. There was a display in the Town Hall with Abe, Otani and others. There was a Japanese archery exhibition - a large bale of straw holding the target. Abe came on looking like something out of an MGM version of the Mikado - vulgar get-up, strung the bow, all went quiet, off went the arrow, dropping to the floor at least two feet in front of Abe. Three times this happened before it was decided it was the wrong bowstring. The string was changed and the performance started again - same thing happened, two feet and dropped on the floor. As I recall he did get one further but it went miles wide of the target. Abe just packed it all up. The audience were laughing, etc.

    Otani was at the, I think it was called, Greater London Club, in, I think, Airedale Avenue, Chiswick. We were getting ready to start when Abe came in - naturally Otani deferred to him. By now Abe had some English, and he went on about this new type of religion, and on and on, people were fidgeting as they wanted to do judo. Otani became agitated and coughed a few times, before interrupting Abe. Abe seemed to come out of a dream or trance, shook his head a few times, muttered something, and then held a normal judo session. All remarked on his dream-like awakening. This was the last time I saw Abe.

    Abe told Otani about meeting Mishiku. Abe was at the Ealing Club doing kendo. Mishiku came in and more or less challenged Abe to a match. Abe, as he said, saw this little, and Mishiku was little, old man and thought he must be bloody good to challenge me at his size and age. So he put everything into his attack, going straight for the throat with his shinai. The thrust hit Mishiku right in the throat and sent him way back across the parquet floor - no more contest. Abe wasn't too eccentric at that time. In spite of all this Abe was damn good at judo, but certainly his claims to be master of many things couldn't really be justified. He was convinced he could do things even when visibly he could not.

    Leo, part Irish, close friend, was his best man. Otani had a row with him - no idea what it was about. Otani's pupils were lined up, he said to Leo that he was taking back the black belt he had given him, those who want to go with Leo, go, otherwise stay sitting. Leo remained dignified, thanked Otani for what he had done with him and left. What the row was about is unknown - in fact it was good for Leo as he went off and joined the BJA and widened his experience by training at various places including Percy Sekine's. Years later Leo and Otani became friends again.

    Otani was Tani's favoured pupil. Otani told me that many years ago at the Budokwai he went on with a middle eastern type, perhaps Egyptian, and was flattened. The fellow went abroad, returning some time later - this time Otani found he could deal with him - he had got the "knack" - in other words, he had developed a throw. Otani liked new words like knack.

    I was at his place once and one of his sons had a girlfriend there - she was from Yorkshire. Otani wasn't impressed with her, said she seemed thick. I said you know what they say about Yorkshire people:

    Yorkshire born,
    Yorkshire bred,
    Strong in the arms,
    Thick in the head.

    Otani asked for this to be repeated several times, asking too about the word bred. He finally got the full meaning - then he rolled about the place laughing his head off. He got thrown out of the Budokwai for taking money for displays (RB Note: I do not think this was the case - he seemed to have left gradually over a period of a year).

    Al "Judo" Hayes used to train at Johnson's place in Pimlico. I met him somewhere. One day I got a phone call at work, it was Al Hayes asking me if I would referee at a judo match. I agreed and off I went to Tooting. Al had said there "There will be a bit of cash in it for you." By then I was already rather worried - but still it was a bit late to back out. Al told me that he was to lose the first round in this supposedly judo match, he was fighting Prof. Adivass. I went on to much booing, and somehow got them started. Al's kit was filthy dirty and stank, he obviously had not worn it in a long time; the other was wearing an all-black kit. They gripped each other and stood there face to face - Al whispered to me, "I can't remember what to do." Eventually Prof. Adivass gave Al a terrific blow across the throat. Al went down, and I wondered what to do - Al whispered, "Count, for God's sake, Bill." I really cannot remember much more - it was a nightmare. The crowd was booing, etc., etc. Al gave me two pounds - I don't think he was too happy with me. I remember catching the train to Datchet and then walking back over two miles in the dark to Old Windsor where I lived. Had Otani heard about this he would have been furious.

    Pre-war, Otani went to a place called Denton in Lancashire. He was challenged to take on a lightweight wrestler in catch. The canvas was on a bowling green. Otani could throw him but could not pin his shoulders - it went on a long time. Eventually the referee gave the contest to the wrestler - Otani protested that both his shoulders had not touched the mat. The referee said we English do not cheat in a matter like this - foreigners may. This was the last time Otani questioned a referee's decision. Times have changed. Tani said English always stick to the rules, and he was always careful when on with foreigners. He recalled once when one foreigner tried to go for his testicles so he kicked him, and on another occasion another foreigner was sliding his fingers towards Tani's eyes - so he bit the fingers hard! Tani was a gambler, squandered his money but was fussy over small debts.

    The row between Otani and Leo Adams was probably caused by Leo always asking Otani questions - I think Otani just got fed up with him. I last saw Gargin in a bus queue - if there was something shady going on Gargin always seemed to be at the bottom of it. Saw him earlier in the factory where I worked, chatting to some girls on the production line. Then he seemed to vanish. Asked the girls about him - they said he never did any work, just talked about jujitsu. Once at the Jubilee club a newcomer dislocated his elbow - Leo, never one to muck around, grabbed it and wrenched it back while the patient let out an awful scream - he was never seen again. One of the best clubs around was the Kodak in Harrow - many people, including from the Budokwai and all over, would turn up there and train under Otani.

    Via Otani, I met a Japanese woman - in fact at her wedding I gave her away, while my wife was matron of honour. She stayed with us, then went back to Japan. My wife and I went to Japan, had a marvelous time - but no judo - asked at the desk without luck - will find out this evening. A nearby bellboy overheard this and told me he was a nidan, I told him I was a sandan - he took me to Osaka Castle in the evening from 7 to 9. Huge dojo - very medieval - great castle, kendo kits, strange insects. About 100 judoka at one end and kendo at the other. A few brown belts, the rest yudans - the top ones working all the time, with others queuing up waiting their turn.

    Comment by RB. Many bits missed out but in general this gives the gist of what Stopps says.


    Posts : 211
    Join date : 2013-01-19
    Location : England.

    Bill Stopps talks about Otani, Abe and others Empty Re: Bill Stopps talks about Otani, Abe and others

    Post by seatea Wed May 01, 2013 10:10 pm

    Great read, thanks for posting.

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