It was with great sadness that we lost our sensei and chief coach John Creaven on the 30th of January 2019. The entire judo community is indebted to John for his commitment to the sport and its promising judoka.
The sheer number of people who attended John’s funeral is testimony to his huge popularity and the very high esteem in which he is held. John’s many friends and acquaintances, particularly through the sport of judo, not alone travelled from the thirty-two counties of Ireland, but many others made contact and travelled from as far away as the UK, the European Continent, the USA, Canada and Australia. Although the vast majority of the countless friends and acquaintances who attended John’s funeral did so, having forged a lifelong friendship with him out of a tremendous sense of admiration they had for him, and having benefited from his incredible dedication and commitment to the many sports he promoted, but in particular, his outstanding achievements in the sport of judo, a feat only few have accomplished; few people are actually aware of the tremendous adversities John personally had to endure and overcome in his early life, which makes his achievements all the more astounding.
JOHN’S START IN JUDO
Also after leaving school in the 60’s, John joined the then Galway Judo Club which was in its infancy, struggling to survive with no “fixed abode” or a judo mat, with the then members of the club practising their judo throws on cardboard boxes. John immediately took to judo like a duck to water and began learning the art of judo through his first instructor Nicky Hardyman, whom John maintained a very close friendship with until Nicky’s untimely passing some years ago. A couple of years after John joined the Galway Judo Club, his instructor moved on to other sports including karate and John took over the running of Galway Judo Club. At this point the first task John took upon himself was to raise the funds to purchase a judo mat. It was at this point John’s highly ambitious nature and dedication began to shine through when he not alone purchased the first judo mat for Galway Judo Club, but the actual judo mat he purchased (which had to be imported) was probably the first international sized judo mat in the country which was mandatory for all international competitions up to and including World Championships and the Olympic Games.
GALWAY JUDO CLUB ETHOS
In addition to the importance of education, a second and equally important ethos John also dearly held for his entire life was his profound belief that all children irrespective of their social background, religion or ethnicity, should be cherished and afforded every opportunity in their childhood to grow and develop in a happy and safe environment, with support, dignity, education, a sense of belonging; and afforded every opportunity to excel to their maximum potential. It was this heartfelt, deep-rooted, profound belief in John’s soul, that he dedicated his entire life, primarily through sport and particularly the sport of judo, to ensure that every child who joined the Galway Judo Club was ensured they were accorded all of these principles which John believed to be their birth right. John was also adamant that no child would be turned away from the Dojo (Judo Hall) for any reason whatsoever. In that regard John introduced rules into the Galway Judo Club whereby no judo instructor would be paid, thus ensuring all judo instructors gave their time and expertise free of charge. This in turn ensured that all membership and mat fees were kept to a minimum. In the event where a number of children from the same family became members of the Galway Judo Club, such families were granted special concessions reducing the overall cost to them. Should the family of a child or children have been unable to afford the fees due to their personal circumstances, John Creaven granted them free membership fees and free mat fees however, few people were aware of this as John always respected the family’s dignity and privacy, thus exercising discretion and privacy in such matters.
Yet, despite John Creaven’s strict policy of ensuring costs to members and in particular children was kept to a minimum, he spent much of his own personal funds for the betterment of judo for all. This was clearly evident in the early 1970s and 1980s when John travelled abroad at his own expense each summer to various Judo Summer Camps on the continent, which were presented by the world’s best judokas (Judo Players) and Judo Coaches. Some of these world-class players that John trained with include Brian Jacks (seven times European champion) and Neil Adams (world champion and twice Olympic silver medallist). John would then return and impart all of the knowledge and various world-class judo techniques he had learned (at his own expense) to all of the members of the Galway Judo Club.
Of course, typical of the man himself, John felt that the members of the Galway Judo Club would be better served if they got the benefit of this world-class tuition directly, as opposed to obtaining it second-hand from him (as John saw it); and as many of the members of the Galway Judo Club (and the entire country at large) could not afford the costs associated with attending such a world-class judo summer camp on the continent, John Creaven decided to bring the International Judo Summer Camps to Galway. Although practically everyone thought John’s ambition in this regard was impracticable and unrealistic, in 1992 John proved them all wrong when he personally arranged (through the many high-profile international contacts he had personally made on his international judo travels) the first ever International Judo Summer Camp in Ireland which he ensured would be held in Galway. Such was the success of John’s International event, soon international judo coaches and world-class judoka’s (judo fighters) including world and Olympic gold medallists made contact with John offering their coaching services for future summer camps. This year is now the 27th annual international judo summer camp to be held in Galway. Over the past 27 years John has succeeded in bringing world-class judo coaches and international judoka’s including world and Olympic gold medallists to Galway’s International Judo Summer Camp, from all over the UK, the European Continent, the USA, Canada and Japan which is the home of judo itself.
Also in the 1970s John felt that as all of the judo events in Ireland up to and including the All Ireland Judo Championships were “closed events” (which excluded Judo participants from outside of the country), and having travelled the continent participating in various judo events, John felt having an international judo event in Ireland which would be open to all nations could only serve to increase the standard of judo in Ireland. In light of this, again John single-handedly started the first International judo event in Ireland in 1975 which of course again he ensured would be staged in Galway. This event which he called the “Galway Open” has been so successful that this year’s event will be the 44th international judo competition staged in Galway.
John’s wealth of international training and his dedication to advancing the standard of judo in Ireland did not go unnoticed and in 1983 John was asked by the governing body of judo in Ireland (Irish Judo Association), to take over the training of the Ireland Youth Squad (Under 21s) which hitherto took place in Dublin. Again with John’s tremendous sense of fairness and his willingness to give every judoka an equal chance, John arranged weekly squad training sessions in Galway over a period of months whereby, he invited every judoka in the country within the age category, to participate in intensive squad training sessions, at the end of which they could compete in a “fight-off” in an effort to secure a place on the National Squad. This of course ensured fair and proper procedure guaranteeing that only the best in the squad would qualify. After many months gradually the entire squad was whittled down to the best four competitors all of whom subsequently qualified to participate that year in the European Championships which were held in November 1983 in Arnhem, The Netherlands. Due to the very high standard of training which the members of the Galway Judo Club had been receiving from John Creaven for a number of years prior to him taking over the training of the National Youth Squad, one of the four squad members who qualified for the European Championships (Frank O’Brien) was a member of the Galway Judo Club who had clearly benefited from the very high standard and intensive training he had been receiving from the master himself (John Creaven); prior to John taking over the youth squad.
Despite the tremendous success that John Creaven single-handedly brought to the Galway Judo Club, a very major concern of John was that the club was operating out of a rented premises which of course was a serious threat to the security of the club, as overnight the club could be ejected from the premises which would seriously threaten the club’s very existence. John was also very conscious that this threat did not pertain to the Galway Judo Club alone, but was a very real threat that faced many other clubs in Galway, including other martial arts clubs. In light of this John set about fundraising with the intention of acquiring a suitable property or site which could be developed into a sports hall which would not alone provide a permanent home for the Galway Judo Club, but could also be used by many other sports clubs including martial arts clubs such as karate, Aikido, Mixed Martial Arts and Capoeira thus providing them with the peace of mind of having a more secure home for their respective sports. Once again against all the odds, John Creaven’s determination and selfless commitment to the sport of judo prevailed as he successfully acquired a dilapidated premises on the Claddagh Quay which finally gave judo a more permanent home. However, the property itself was quite dilapidated with numerous leaks in its roof which were temporarily patched in an ongoing process to enable Galway Judo Club to train in the premises.
However, eventually the property fell into such disrepair that a professional assessment of the property showed that the only remedy was to demolish the property and rebuild a new structure. This of course meant that once again Galway Judo Club had to move back into rented accommodation. Again John Creaven’s resolve was unfaltering as he again set about fundraising for the umpteenth time attempting to raise the required funds to build a new purpose-built Dojo (judo Hall). However, no amount of fundraising could cover the enormous cost of the new development, so John along with his wife Brid and family selflessly agreed to personally guarantee a substantial bank loan to enable the first and only purpose-built judo hall in the country to be built.
After completion in 1996 the then president of Ireland Mary Robinson officially opened the premises. The members of Galway Judo Club were so impressed and felt so indebted to John Creaven and his family, that they wanted the premises to be named in his honour, however, in keeping with John’s very modest and unassuming nature, he steadfastly refused to have the premises named after him. However, against the wishes of John and without his knowledge, the members of Galway Judo Club had his family name inscribed in the stonework over the front entrance to the property, which is now known as “Creaven House”. Since its construction, the Galway Judo Club and many other sports clubs including karate, Aikido, Mixed Martial Arts and Capoeira among others, have been able to enjoy consistent and uninterrupted training sessions in the premises, because of the sheer commitment and dedication of one great man, namely John Creaven.
Since the construction of Creaven House, membership of the Galway Judo Club has flourished to the extent that it has now out-grown the premises. Due to this, over the past number of years John Creaven acquired additional judo mats with the intention of opening more judo clubs in Galway. In that regard his strategy was to open new judo clubs around the county in various buildings such as community centres, and provide the new club with a judo mat free of charge until such time the club can be taken over and run by a new committee who, after raising the required funds could buy their own judo mat and become self sufficient. Such was the success of John’s strategy that his vision has extended far beyond Galway whereby he has been responsible for numerous judo clubs being opened throughout Connaught, Munster and in recent times the province of Leinster.
In extremely rare occasions in the sport of judo, a Red-and-White Belt (6th Dan) is awarded to those who, over a lifetime have made immense contributions and sacrifices in the promotion of the sport of judo, particularly for the benefit of others. Due to the immeasurable contribution made by John over his lifetime in the promotion of judo, the Irish Judo Association wished to confer John with a Red-and-White Belt in recognition of his enormous contribution. However, once again in keeping with John’s unassuming and humble nature, he declined the award, instead being satisfied with the high-grade, 2nd Dan Black-belt he personally attained in competitive combat on the judo mat.
As the membership of Galway Judo Club has outgrown the capacity of Creaven House, and the demand from other sporting clubs for the use of its premises significantly exceeding its capacity, in recent times John Creaven was actively seeking a new site with the intention of building a significantly larger sports facility Hall, with adequate parking facilities, to meet the current and future demands of Galway’s sporting needs. However, during this period John was unfortunately diagnosed with a serious terminal illness. Despite this devastating news visited upon John his wife Brid and family, in keeping with John’s selfless commitment and devotion to the members of Galway Judo Cub and in particular the children of Galway Judo Club, John suffered his illness with a quiet dignity in silence, whilst he continued to teach the children of Galway Judo Club the art of judo up to Wednesday, 16th January.
Two weeks later he passed peacefully in the arms of his loving wife and best friend Brid, and surrounded by his adoring children Ann-Marie, Ross, Orla and Barry. He is survived also by his beloved granddaughter Mara. All are committed to following through with John’s ambitious plans for Judo in Galway.
Ní bheidh a leithéid ann arís.