Official Launch: Friday 26th May 1972
Founding Members: Tony Caruana, Joe Gravina, Envic Galea, Joe Farrugia, Joe Caruana, Edgar Gili, Tony Tanti, Alfred Cremona
Member of: International Judo Federation, European Judo Union, National Olympic Committee of Malta, Sportmalta
Honorary Presidents: Anthony Buttigieg De Piro
Honorary Members: Joseph Caruana, Joseph Abela, Godfrey Bezzina, Angelo Beltracchini, Attilio Sacripanti, Alfredo Monti, Franco Capelletti, Jack Cook, Ian Crawley.
First National Champion: Tony Tanti
Olympians: Stephen Farrugia, Laurie Pace, Jason Trevisan, Marcon Bezzina
GSSE Gold Medallists: Jackie Xuereb, Laurie Pace, Nathalie Galea, John Zammit, Marcon Bezzina, Joanna Camilleri
Judo was comparatively unknown in Malta until the 1950’s. The little Judo that was practiced was more a discipline than a sport. In fact, it was practiced by the services alongside with karate and jujitsu. The small group of servicemen who practiced this sport often allowed civilians to join them in training.
In 1969, the first informal Judo Committee at the Zabbar Physical Culture Club, and the Malta Judo Association’s Steering Committee was formed with the following founder Members :-
President: Tony Caruana
Vice President: Joe Gravina
Secretary: Envic Galea
Treasurer: Joe Farrugia
National Coach: Joe Caruana
Members: Edgar Gili, Tony Tanti, Alfred Cremona
In the beginning, the activities were regular classes of Judo and demonstrations to propagate the new sport.
In 1970, serviceman Ernest Gainy awarded Joe Caruana the black belt.
In 1971, two students of Joe Caruana, Tony Tanti and Envic Galea opened three other Judo Clubs:
Zebbug Judo Club (Tony Tanti)
Royal University Judo Club (Envic Galea)
MCAST Polytechnic Judo Club (Envic Galea)
In August of that year (1971), the General Secretary Envic Galea appeared before the Directing Committee of the European Judo Union (EJU) in Rome to apply for affiliation with the European Judo Union and the International Judo Federation.
On Friday 26th May 1972 the Malta Judo Association (MJA) was officially launched with the above members on the Council. That same year the MJA was also recognised as a full member of the European Judo Union and the International Judo Federation.
Founder Joseph Caruana with serviceman Ernest Gainey
Founder Joseph Caruana at the entrance of the Zabbar Physical Cultural Club
In 1973 the first National Championships were organised at the Malta Hilton, which had become and was to remain the official Headquarters of the Association. The winner of the Open Category was declared National Champion. Tony Tanti and the Zebbug Judo Club won this first edition. From then on, the Nationals were organised every year.
The progress of Judo in Malta was mainly due to the assistance of the British Forces, especially the 41 Commando Group who were to become very important in the MJA development. They assisted technically, and helped with competition officials and equipment.
However the biggest help which moulded the character of Maltese Judo came from the Italian Judo Federation. This all started with the intervention of Dott. Maurizio Genolini, who happened to be also Vice President of the EJU, and Avv. Augusto Cerachini, President of the Italian Federation. Italian assistance became a reality when two of our Judokas, Raymond Cutajar and Joe Abela, were accepted for a four month course at the Italian Judo Academy, which until 1984 has been the only testing body for the MJA for 1st Dan (Black Belt) grading. The assistance from the Italian Judo Federation was openly given every time the M.J.A. requested it.
Av Ceracchini (ITA Judo NF President) & Dr Genolini official visit to MJA with council members and members of Zabbar JC
Maltese Judo asserts itself
After several friendlies with Italian, English and other foreign teams (national and regional), one of the first international tournaments for the Maltese Judoka was the Libyan International Tournament.
The MJA competed as part of the Maltese delegation in the Mediterranean Games in Split in 1979. Here, the MJA registered the highest achievement when Godfrey Bezzina finished 4th. This result remained the highest result in these Games until 1995, when Malta won a Bronze Medal in Shooting.
After these games the Maltese Judokas represented Malta regularly at these Games.
In 1984, Laurie Pace placed seventh in the World Championships.
Not only Judo
Judo did not only participate in the sporting field, but was very active in the Sports Politics, particularly within the Malta Olympic Committee. Since 1975, the Judo Association insisted that sports in Malta would only develop if all Associations united. The Principle was that “administrators were few” and if they were to join forces, it would help sport in general to develop in quality and to develop professionally.
In 1980 Envic Galea, Council Member representing Judo on the Olympic Committee, proposed that the Malta Olympic Committee (MOC) would seek a centralised place for all her member federations together within the office of the MOC. He also proposed that if the small countries were to move forward from the 3rd class position they retained in the world of sport they should organise the “Mini Olympics”. This idea took a long time to take off, however in 1985, thanks to the constant work of the General Secretary of the MOC Mr. Bertie Muscat, the first “Games of the Small States of Europe” were held in San Marino. These Games, under International Olympic Committee's (IOC) patronage were to be organised every two years and to grow in status. Only four men weight categories were fielded in 1985 but in 1993 in Malta, the women categories were introduced for the first time and in 1997 in Iceland, all seven weight categories for men and women were introduced.
Launch of a structured youth program
Judo had always attracted children and most Judoka join at a very young age. Judo was also particularly popular in schools and youth centres. Instructors taught the sport in the same manner as adults, and only introducing games to keep the young Judoka interested and improve their skills. After studying the subject in detail, in 1991, the MJA launched the Star Award Scheme “Playing Judo”, which will later develop into the very popular Dragon Espoir, under the passionate leadership of Chris Busuttil (then Youth Development Officer).
Judo became one of the first sports in Malta to have a fully developed programme for children.
Judo at the Games of the Small States of Europe
After the success of Judo in the Malta Games in 1993, where the Judoka won one Gold, one Silver and four bronzes, the Malta Olympic Committee, embarked on a professional training programme in conjunction with some federations. One of these Federations was the MJA. This scheme involved the hiring of a professional Russian Coach and submitting the athletes to periodical tests at the Olympic Sports Clinic. The MJA committed itself completely to this scheme with excellent results.
In 1995 the MOC accepted to send seven Judoka to the sixth edition of the Games of the Small States of Europe (GSSE) and out of the Maltese Contingent of 150 athletes, Judo was the winner of six medals out of the twelve won by the Maltese Contingent, with the only Gold for Malta won by Jackie Xuereb in the 52 Kg Category. Six athletes out of seven won a medal! Jackie Xuereb was awarded the Sports Women of the Year for this second exploit.
In 1997, the M.J.A listed 8 athletes for the Iceland Games. In Iceland, the M.J.A made a record for Malta when the National Anthem was played 3 times in a day when John Zammit, Jackie Xuereb and Kamilla Peter won Gold medals while Laurie Pace, Jason Trevisan and Philip Camilleri won Silver and Silvano Cristauro and the young Alexia Mallia won Bronze. This placed Malta first in the Judo events. The President of the republic of Malta, Dr. Ugo Mifsud Bonnici, wrote a poem to honour the sport of Judo.
Fil-gholi l-vjola l-fjur tal-gakaranda
U mal-hitan u fuq il-kannizzati
Jirgha l-ahmar sabih tal-buganvilla.
Flora strangiera, izda saret taghna
Bil-kura, ghaqal, sens u dixxiplina
Min hu dak li jrid ifaqqar
Billi jsaffi minnhom kull ma hu barrani?
Il-Judo twieled u trabba f’art imbieghda
Izda intom ghamiltuh taghkom
Bil-kura, bl-ghaqal, sens u dixxiplina.
Ghamiltuh taghna glorja ta’ pajjizna
U l-isport tieghu.
Kburin bikom illum sportivi mhazzma
B’terhet ir-razn u l-pjacir tar-rebha
Maltese Judo has been present at all the GSSE editions since 1987.
Inclusion of Jujitsu, Kendo and Yoshinkan Aikido
The Federation decided to include three other disciplines very close to Judo in spirit; these were Jujitsu, Kendo, and Yoshinkan Aikido. The Federation’s name was changed to Malta Judo Federation and associated disciplines.
Till today, cross training and administrative support is given to the the affiliated disciplines.
In 1999, the Minister responsible for sports, Hon Dr Michael Refalo, voted a sum of money in favour of the building of a Judo International Centre in Pembroke. A piece of land covering 7,000 square meters was allocated, and the federation started excavating. Unfortunately, there were several issues beyond the federation’s control, which made it impossible till today to build the International Centre. However, the Federation has not given up on this dream.
Under the leadership of Envic Galea, and after long years of negotiations, Maltese Judo finally had its first National Dojo in Pembroke – the Malta Judo Academy. 2 mat areas were set up, which house the national team and academy. Multiple sessions can now be held simultaneously, and national events can be held without having to move tatami around.
MJF officials on international posts
1991 – 2016: Member of the European Judo Union Executive Committee
1999 – 2016: Chairman of the Medical Commission of the European Judo Union
2004 – 2016: General Secretary of the European Judo Union (the office of the European Judo Union Secretariat operated from Malta during this time)
2012 – ongoing: Director of the International Judo Federation Coach Academy
2004- 2012: Administrative Secretary of the European Judo Union
2013: Member of the European Judo Union Marketing Commission
2013 – 2019: Protocol Manager of the International Judo Federation
2019 - ongoing: Logistics Manager of the International Judo Federation
2005 – 2012: Administrative Secretary of the European Judo Union
2010: Member of the European Judo Union Judo English Commission
2004 – 2005: Administrative Secretary of the European Judo Union