WORLD champion judo fighter George Kerr bows out of business and sells his Edinburgh Club gym

A WORLD championship judo fighter who set up one of the Capital’s first gyms has decided to hand it over.

By Katharine Hay
Friday, 4th October 2019, 6:46 pm
George Kerr has won numerous awards in his lifetime as a judo fighter. Bottom left is George Kerr and Edinburgh Club's new owner Davina Downie
George Kerr has won numerous awards in his lifetime as a judo fighter. Bottom left is George Kerr and Edinburgh Club's new owner Davina Downie

For more than 50 years George Kerr, CBE, has been synonymous with the Edinburgh Club gym which he founded in 1963.

Now, the still sprightly 82-year-old from Leith has decided to take a step back and hand over his gym, in West Bowling Green Street, to personal trainer Davina Downie.

“It’s been an incredible journey, and a great place to have set up,” he said.

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George Kerr and Davina Downie

“In fact, I think it might have been one of Edinburgh’s first ever gyms, and certainly one of the first places that did judo. There weren’t many of us judo fighters around in Edinburgh back then.”

The Club runs alongside Junior Judo Club which was, unsurprisingly, set up by the world championship fighter himself.

George has taught the modern martial art to youngsters between four to 15-years-old for more than four decades since setting up the gym.

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George Kerr teaching judo

“I was from a working class family in Leith and there wasn’t much around back then, as you can imagine. So taking up judo and following the opportunities it brought me gave me luck and an amazing journey in life.”

George’s wife Pauline, who he described as “the love of his life” has been by his side to see him win award after award.

“I was lucky,” he added,

“But one thing I will also take from it is whenever there’s an opportunity, just go for it, because it will take you somewhere.”

George Kerr receiving an award

Davina said since taking on the gym George has not been a stranger.

“He still comes in regularly and does his judo which is great,” she said.

“We had a wonderful event to celebrate George’s time here talking about the memories he’s had running this Club.

“He has achieved so much, and it’s certainly a dream come true to be running it now.”

George Kerr receiving an award

Background to his judo career

At 18 his scholarship to study at Nihon University took him to Japan where he trained for four years.

He has had considerable success as a player winning gold, silver and bronze medals at the European Championships as well as being crowned British Open Champion in 1966 and 1968.

George then retired at the age of 31 to become a coach and was soon appointed National Coach to the Austrian team, coaching Peter Seisenbracher to two Olympic gold medals in 1984 and 1988.

He also trained Musselburgh born Graeme Randall who went on to become the first male World UK Champion.

George was the first man outside of Japan to be awarded the 10th Dan in 2010, the highest level in judo, and was honoured with a CBE by HM The Queen in 2011.


He has since written an autobiography - ‘My Journey to the 10th Dan’ detailing his incredible journey to winning this worldly title.

Yasuhiro Yamashita, president of the All Japan Judo Federation has contributed a foreword to George’s book.

In it he says: “One thing I noticed about George’s players was that they were always very well behaved and respectful which of course reflects upon their coach. We know the lion by his claw.”

Winner of Edinburgh Award in 2010

THE world famous Scottish judo fighter was the fourth person to be honoured by the people of Edinburgh for making an outstanding contribution to the city.

George Kerr, President of the British Judo Association, was announced winner of the Edinburgh Award in 2010, capping a year of extraordinary, internationally-lauded achievements.

His handprints are exhibited in the City Chambers quadrangle, where they have been engraved in Caithness stone alongside those of previous Edinburgh Award winners Ian Rankin, JK Rowling and Sir Chris Hoy.

Since George the winners have been 2018 Doddie Weir; 2017 Sir Timothy O’Shea; 2016 Ken Buchanan MBE; 2015 Sir Tom Farmer; 2014 Thomas Gilzean; 2013 Richard Demarco; 2012 Dame Elizabeth Blackadder and 2011 Professor Peter Higgs.

Asked what he felt about having his handprints preserved for posterity in the City Chambers quadrangle, George added: “It’ll be just like Hollywood!”

The Edinburgh Award was established in 2007 and is now a prestigious annual award to honour an outstanding individual who has made a positive impact on the city and gained national and international recognition for Edinburgh.

Nominations for the 2019 Award are now closed. The winner will be announced shortly.


On February 6, George Kerr was given Judo’s highest honour, the status of 10th Dan.

The award was made by the International Judo Federation in a ceremony during its “Grand Slam” Championships at the Bercy Stadium in Paris.

It made George one of the very few people worldwide to be elevated to 10th Dan.

AWARDS in 2010

- The Order of the Rising Sun and Rousette from the Emperor of Japan

- A doctorate from Heriot Watt University

- The Edinburgh award

- CBE from the Queen in the New Years Honours List.


- Former Chief Instructor Budokwai, London and Renshuden, London

- Former Scottish National Coach and Great Britain Coach

- Coach of Austrian Team where he coached Peter Seisenbacher to two olympic gold medals in consecutive games - the first player and coach to achieve this


- Twice British Judo Champion

- Once British Silver Medalist

- Once European Team Championships Gold

- Three times Silver European Championships

- Once Bronze European Championships

- 1st Dan (Black Belt) in Kendo, Bojitsu, Aikido and Karate

He was the former Vice President of the European Judo Union and is the current President of the British Judo Association and Judo Scotland.