G.K House is a unique space, that houses two dojos, a weights room and reception area.
The legendary building has inspired many to immortalise The Budokwai in film and literature. Below is an extract from The Changing Room, by Karate instructor Jason Ramsay.
‘The Budokwai’ judo and karate club on Gilston road, was notorious for its gruelling sessions and formidable senseis. Nestled amongst the impressive residential houses of a tree lined street, it was hardly noticeable, until you’d hear the piercing screams and terrifying shouts reverberating from its steamed windows. It became my second home and the sparse basic men’s changing room, my private retreat. No lockers or fancy decoration, just a big empty room with low wooden benches nailed to the walls, three out of five working showers and a small drafty sauna tucked away at the back. It was here in this spartan sanctuary, where hearts and minds were won; and all too often where the real lessons begun.
There was no actual door to the changing room, simply an open doorway with a partition behind it and a hand written sign stuck on it saying, “No women allowed after 5.30pm.” This permitted for a generous flow of sweat mixed with tiger balm to roam freely around the building. Above the partition was a grand vaulted ceiling that commanded your attention. It had three structural steal beams that supported the large upstairs dojo and the building as a whole. It was said that the steal beams gave it the capacity to withstand a hundred judokas being thrown all at the same time, although, no one had ever tested this theory.
Behind the partition was a large rectangular shaped room. A big frosted window half obscured by piping that ran across it lay at the far end of the room. On the wall adjacent, were two small unnoticeable windows that let little light in. The uninspired pale blue and lifeless grey colour scheme, with it’s anti-chic bubbled and peeling paint added to the gloomy mood. It was always repainted over the same way, giving no clues to whether it had actually been done that year or not.
Beneath the windows, grey painted metal hooks lined the walls. Scattered across them were several old judo gi’s with numbers on their back that slept drunkenly on bending wire hangers. Looking down from high above, were three long fluorescent tube lights that hung on dark rusted chains across the ceiling. Once switched on they would flicker in a loud epileptic frenzy, before finally calming down and stabilizing into a low buzz. When the lights were off, the poor light quality and drab colours gave the room a mysterious stillness. Its somber presence kept you company as you changed. But when the stark lights came on the stillness retreated, but not completely. It was always there, quietly breathing behind your shoulder.
Before and during classes little was spoken in the changing room. Heads were bowed down in preparation: hands pulling, taping, spraying, strapping; eyes waiting to steal glimpses of their opponents and how old and frayed their black belts looked; ears listening for clues: foolish words spoken, nervous laughter; while minds calculated all the data into experience, power and speed. The intense solitude was only broken by the sudden shudder and jangling of chains from above, as another sixteen stone judo player came crashing down onto the mats.
After class it was a different affair. The sound of men speaking freely and coarsely as they returned drenched in sweat and covered in fresh bruises. Hobbling into the changing rooms like survivors from some maritime disaster. Bodies and bags would come down hard on the old faithful benches. Steam still rising from their backs, one by one each would pull himself free from their white starched armour, leaving it hanging like some dead animal carcass on the walls. Then the pipes would cackle awake, as shower heads coughed out water onto the cracked tiled floor. A queue of blistered and calloused feet would loiter around the uncalibrated scales, waiting to have their fortune told, while overweight men put the world to right in the overcrowded sauna. This was their finest hour - bonded through battle and satisfied they had given their all, their sins atoned and absolved by water - the world was good.
Dojo: training area Judoka: a practitioner of judo.
Gi: Judo or Karate suit Sensei: a martial arts instructor