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A 50 year legacy

In its 50-year history the Sobell judo club has seen thousands of students come through its doors. From beginners who used the dojo to have fun and keep fit, to the Olympians who have used our dojo to sharpen their skills. The Sobell Judo Club is one of the oldest judo clubs in the country and its tatami holds a unique and storied legacy that few can claim to match.

Judo in London

In 1973, The Michael Sobell Leisure Centre opened its doors to the Public as a place for all in the local community to get involved with sport. Alan Fromm, a 3rd dan black belt saw an opportunity to bring judo into North London. In that same year, Alan Fromm founded the Sobell judo club on the very principles that were laid out by Professor Jigoro Kano (the founder of judo) and Kenshiro Abbe (a Kodokan 8th dan and founder of the British Judo Council) who was leading the way for judo in Britain.

Using the Sobell Judo Club as his base, Fromm introduced judo and Japanese ju-jitsu into the sports curriculum in North London Schools. Although both martial arts were introduced, judo proved to be far more popular and in a short space of time, the majority of schools in North London became registered to the Sobell Judo Club under Alan’s guidance. As the popularity of judo in the local area grew, Alan soon became a full-time instructor and his dedication to judo earned him much respect in the community as hundreds walked through Sobells doors to learn from him.

Creating a name

Following the success of the Schools program. Alan made the decision to introduce evening sessions at the Sobell Judo Club, extending his judo sessions in London to adult students and providing an opportunity for more enthusiastic and advanced students to engage in more serious training.

Under the guidance of Alan Fromm, the Sobell Judo Club quickly became a standout dojo amongst other judo clubs, successfully dominating regional and national champions in both shiai (sparring) and kata (forms). Heading the competition success at the time were three of Sobell’s most promising students, Sampson Sampson, Simon Mazullo and Roland White.

The friends became well respected judoka in the community and soon took on leading roles as assistant instructors at the Sobell Judo Club. Throughout this time, a number of successful judoka trained at the Sobell Judo Club who each played a part in establishing the Sobell as a key pillar in the community before going on to run their own clubs, obtain high grades and achieve their own successes.

A new generation

In the mid 1980s, following cutbacks in education and sports in general, judo was cut from the national school sports curriculum and the school sessions at the Sobell Leisure Centre were brought to a halt. The decision affected Alan, who then made the decision to leave the Sobell and form his own organisation, Seishin Budo, outside of London. The club was thus left in the hands of his proteges Sampson Sampson and Simon Mazullo. As time passed, Simon also made the transition to run his own club closer to home in Barnet and Sampson was left to run the Sobell Judo Club as its head instructor.

Under the new guidance of Sampson, the Sobell Judo Club maintained its success, continuing the legacy it had established and extending the teachings of judo in London. During this period, the club continued to grow and increase in membership. A key factor in its success was attributed to Sampson, who, as an active competitor continued to shine in competition alongside his teaching duties. Sampon’s skills in teaching and competing were soon recognised and he was brought on board as an ambassador for the BJC. As his position in the BJC grew, he soon found himself coaching their national team and running sessions at national and international training courses in Bognor, Cromer and other destinations across Great Britain.

As the management team at the Sobell needed to grow, Bob Bushnell, a 1st dan student at the time stepped forward to become the club secretary and manage the day to day running of the club and its administrative affairs. Many years on, Bob still holds his position and plays a key role in not only managing the club but also takes on the duty of inducting each and every beginner into the Sobell Judo Club. Since then, Bob has become a highly skilled instructor and has now been promoted to the grade of 6th dan.

Sampson Sampson applying a sangaku jime
Sampson Sampson becomes head instructor of the Sobell

Olympic Prospects

Parallel to the ongoing successes of the Sobell Judo Club during the 1980s, the clubs achievements were becoming regular articles in local and national newspapers. However, due to Sampson’s Cypriot heritage, his personal competition successes were also covered Greek and Cypriot international newspapers. As his name grew within the Greek and Cypriot communities, his name eventually made its way to the Cyprus Judo Federation.

The Cyprus Judo Federation approached Sampson with one of their promising young judokas — Ioannis Kouyialis — a highly competitive, 78kg judoka who was poised to represent Cyprus at the coming 1984 Olympic games in Los Angeles. After speaking with Sampson the decision was made to compliment Ioannis’ training in Cyprus with regular training camps at the Sobell Judo Club, led by Sampson who would focus on developing Ioannis’ technique whilst bringing in regular randori (sparring) partners from his pool of talented judoka.​

When the time came, Ioannis raised the flag for Cyprus at the 1984 Olympic games and made it to the knockout stages. Unfortunately, there was no medal result for Ioannis, however his achievements were forever etched into Cypriot Judo history.

The relationship between the Cypriot Judo Federation and the Sobell Judo Club developed over the years that followed, and many of the Cypriot team used the Sobell as an off shore base to compliment their training. During this time, Sampson also took to the international tatami and also represented his home nation in competition. In 2019, Sobell coach Sam Sampson rekindled our connection with Cyprus obtaining a medal at the Pancyrian Championships, qualifying for their national team and has since gone on to represent them on the IJF Tour.

Ioannis Kouyialis 1984 Olympian Representing Cyprus

A change in Judo

From 2005 onwards, despite the success and growth of the club, there was a growing feeling of isolation from other clubs and judo organisations. Judo as a whole seemed to be departing from its traditional values and in addition, new restrictive rules that were removing core aspects of judo. In addition outlandish and unreasonable demands such as irrational changes to the syllabus and constructive limitations on the authority of instructors sowed further confusion over the nature of judo and in 2010, a vote at the Sobell Judo Club resulted in the unanimous decision to leave the BJC.

A new beginning

Soon after the decision to leave the BJC, Sampson Sampson was encouraged to found a new organisation. In December 2010, Judo for all UK (JFAUK) was founded. The new organisation was founded as a way to re-establish the traditions of judo, restoring authority and respect to the instructors and introduced a new, constructive syllabus that helped instructors advance in teaching judo excellence.

Despite JFAUKs recent conception, Sampson’s well-respected name soon travelled and JFAUK was noticed by the World Judo Federation (WJF), an international governing body that shared the same frustrations of modern judo and instead focused on maintaining judo along the Japanese tradition. JFAUK was invited to affiliate and was no longer an independent body but now had the backing of 52 countries worldwide. The doors to international integration had now opened.

With his new affiliation to the WJF, Sampson, Bob and their team brought Sobell and JFAUK across the world as they attended numerous courses and competitions under their new international governing body. Sampson’s talent was soon recognised and not long after the affiliation, he was graded to 8th Dan and brought on to the WJF Committee, a decision that was backed by a number of high graded masters, including the extremely influential Alfredo Vismara (9th Dan) of Italy. Sampson currently stands as Chairman of the WJF Referee Committee and Vice Chairman of the WJF Technical Committee.

Now running courses and competitions globally as part of the WJF, Sobell and Sampson’s influence was felt across the world. As more people become exposed to JFAUK and the WJFs philosophies, other high graded instructors were inspired and decided to follow along the same path. Judo for All Greece, Judo for All Turkey and Judo for All Bulgaria were soon established as a collection of European organisations that each followed the same teaching philosophies and syllabus that were first established by the founding members of JFAUK.


Today, the Sobell Judo Club continues to provide judo classes to hundreds of students per week. Our team of highly experienced instructors are dedicated to each and every student that walks through our doors, ensuring that no matter who they are where they come from, they can learn and enjoy judo in the most productive environment as possible.

We regularly participate in national and international competitions and training camps, exposing our students to as much judo as possible to aid their journey. We support the everyday judoka, however we have also supported a number of our students who have taken their judo to the highest level, competing at international in European and World events, both under the WJF and the IJF.

Under the guidance of our team, we strive to provide every student who walks through our doors with the most complete experience of judo as possible. We strive for technical excellence in judo by following the teachings of the many that have come before us to ensure that real judo, in its purest form is kept alive and not diluted due by a focus on media audiences over the real practical skills of judoka.

Sampson continues to be an active member in the club, the community and across the world under the WJF. In addition to this, he has extended his teachings online via his Youtube Chanel ‘Sampson Judo’, which has amassed over 40,000 subscribers.

We look forward to meeting you and taking the next steps in our history together.

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