A history of Special Needs Judo

The founder of SGK (Sportbelang Gehandicapt Kind, Foundation for Sports affairs for Handicapped Children) was a judoka. Sensei Loek van Hal started in 1963 with teaching Judo to mentally and physically handicapped children on request of a school principal who found that sports education was greatly beneficial for his pupils. In a small venue at the Laan van Meerdervoort in Loosduinen he started teaching Judo to children that were, in those days, called “retarded”. It was a historical occasion because Van Hal was the first to open the doors of a sports venue to “retarded” people.

Whoever looks around these days in Loosduinen and notices the pleasure and ease with which children perform sports can hardly imagine that in those days, sports for handicapped people was considered unhealthy, unnecessary and absurd. But the moment Loek van Hal stood before his first classes he felt a responsibility that did not leave him up to this day (85 years old in 2015, frail but unbroken)

He started teaching that first group of 17 children, and if “experts” warned him that this could be dangerous or that he could release untamed aggression in his students, he shrugged and thought of the happy faces of his judoka, and the physical and mental advantages they gained by following the Gentle Way.

Loek went on to founding the SGK in 1965, still one of the leading organisations in The Netherlands regarding sports for handicapped people.

In the eighties, another judoka picked up the flag of Judo for the handicapped: Those days it was called G-Judo because most sports teams have a G-team that contains people with (usually mental) disabilities.

Ben van der Eng was a PE teacher that started working with handicapped people under the flag of the Prisma Foundation, those days a large organisation that provided all sorts of service for people with disabilities.

In 1993, Tycho van der Werff joined Ben and the two formed a formidable team that developed standards for the classification (The Functional Classification System), modified the rules for Judo competitions for the handicapped and made it possible for SN-judoka to graduate for black belt.

Also, they coined the term “Special Needs Judo” instead of G-Judo although the latter term remained in use until 2016 when the Dutch Judo

Association JBN officially renamed it to A-Judo, for Aangepast (Adapted) Judo.

After Ben van der Eng passed away in 2015, the Special Needs Judo Foundation went through a period of transition and rationalisation. Their annual Beverwijk Tournament became larger than ever and boasts guests from all over the world. Trips to Japan are a regular occurrence, and they expanded their activities and expertise to Judo-kata.

In August 2019, two of their members wrote history by being the first people with Down’s Syndrome to perform during the European Championships on Gran Canaria, Spain.