JANE FRYER: The judo master who made me the fall guy... aged 97!

Jane Fryer is pictured above with Jack Hearn. ‘See, I’d get you round the neck and press on your Adam’s apple,’ he grins, silver moustache bobbing, white teeth flashing. ‘ And if I carried on with that, you’d be dead in a minute'

Jane Fryer is pictured above with Jack Hearn. ‘See, I’d get you round the neck and press on your Adam’s apple,’ he grins, silver moustache bobbing, white teeth flashing. ‘ And if I carried on with that, you’d be dead in a minute'

There is a startling moment in Jack Hearn’s extremely spick and span kitchen, when I’m standing between his trophy table and the wall and he’s telling me how he could finish me off with his huge, bearlike paws.

‘See, I’d get you round the neck and press on your Adam’s apple,’ he grins, silver moustache bobbing, white teeth flashing. ‘

And if I carried on with that, you’d be dead in a minute.’

We have already had a lively discussion about whether he should, or should not, throw me over one of his surprisingly wide shoulders on to his beautifully vacuumed living room floor.

‘I could throw you, of course I could! But I won’t,’ he says. 

‘It’s not fair — you don’t know how to fall, do you? You could really hurt yourself.’

And, after a vigorous hand sanitising session, he has also demonstrated his far superior strength by grabbing my right wrist and holding it in an iron grip as I try and fail dismally to extract it.

Jack — or to give him his fighting name, Hoko Jun — is Britain’s oldest judo sensei, and has recently been tipped as a contender for the hallowed status of ‘tenth dan black belt fighter’, the highest accolade for the Japanese martial art, awarded to just a handful of athletes around the world.

He is also 97 years old, though not — and I cannot stress this strongly enough — like any nonagenarian I have ever met.

Not one bit. Just three years off his telegram from the Queen, Jack is very strong and square-shouldered with a full head of squeaky-clean hair, thick neck, good skin, impressively broad and hairy chest and very, very strong hands.

He has an extremely bullish attitude to Covid, inviting me to wash my hands thoroughly on arrival and then, without ado, launching straight in to demonstrate some of the more challenging judo moves.

Just three years off his telegram from the Queen, Jack is very strong and square-shouldered with a full head of squeaky-clean hair, thick neck, good skin, impressively broad and hairy chest and very, very strong hands

Just three years off his telegram from the Queen, Jack is very strong and square-shouldered with a full head of squeaky-clean hair, thick neck, good skin, impressively broad and hairy chest and very, very strong hands

He also smells rather lovely as he hooks one leg into mine, grapples me over and shares his life philosophy.

‘Enjoy life and keep your mind and body active,’ he says. ‘Get out there and have fun. Do things. Take up something new. If you sit in the house knitting all day, or watching telly, you’re bound to just fade away — and that’s not for me.’

So, instead of putting his feet up in front of daytime TV, Jack, a widower, is still ripping the pants out of life.

He has hobbies and interests coming out of his ears. He’s a keen ballroom and sequence dancer (until lockdown, he went at least three times a week), bowls enthusiast and adores his friends and huge family.

But for nearly 70 years and still counting, the main force in his life has been judo — practising, teaching and advising judokas all over the world.

‘I am a technical advisor now. I don’t teach the basic techniques now. I leave that to the common black belts!’ he laughs.

This year alone, he tells me, he had judo commitments in France and , had been asked to appear as a judo VIP at an event at Mersea Island, in Essex, was booked in for a week’s teaching in East Sussex and had two grading examinations to perform.

For nearly 70 years and still counting, the main force in his life has been judo — practising, teaching and advising judokas all over the world. He is pictured right in the 1990s

For nearly 70 years and still counting, the main force in his life has been judo — practising, teaching and advising judokas all over the world. He is pictured right in the 1990s

‘I’m normally very busy and out every night of the week, but everything has been cancelled,’ he says. ‘It’s such a shame.’

So, instead, he’s been mostly stuck like a caged lion in his neat terraced house in Cramlington, near Newcastle, pacing about in his flip-flops and judo outfit, practising his moves — ‘I can still do them all, just a bit slower these days’ — whizzing up and down the stairs like a man half his age, banging through a series of daily exercises and eulogising about the benefits of his beloved judo.

‘It’s a physical and mental thing — and also a way of life,’ he says. ‘It’s a wonderful thing for the young to learn, because the most important thing is respect.’ But isn’t it quite violent?

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