In judo circles Norm Cook is held in very high regard. He might get thrown around a bit more nowadays in training or competition but the respect for the elder statesman of the sport is there. David Haxton catches up with the judo master who has managed an impressive achievement.
You are never too old to learn and succeed. Take Norm Cook, 74, for example, who has just achieved his sixth dan in judo.
The former top cop was graded with others from around New Zealand at the national technical weekend held in Wellington recently with the Judo New Zealand technical grading commission.
"It's been something in the back of my mind that I should get off my butt and do," he modestly said.
It's doubtful he'll get to be a 10th dan though, a grade no one has ever gone beyond.
"I worked out theoretically if I wanted to go for 10th dan I would have to be about 120."
"I think there are only about three or four living 10th dans in the world."
Going through the grades was more a personal achievement — certainly not a publicity thing.
"That's just the culture of the sport."
But the club tipped off Kāpiti News about Norm's remarkable achievement and he was happy to be interviewed.
Throughout the years Norm has worked his way up the ranking system starting off in the kyū grades — sixth, fifth, fourth, third, second and first, and then the dan grades first, second, third, fourth, fifth, and now sixth.
He got involved in judo when he was a teenager in Timaru.
"Our football coach sort of bribed us to come to training by showing us a few self-defense tricks afterwards."
He found he enjoyed the individual "rough and tumble" of the sport.
"It was something new.
"I never liked rugby much to my father's annoyance because he was a rugby rep.
"I played football but I just liked what self-defense, in those days, was about."
He was part of the Timaru Judo Club which was just starting out.
"We started off dragging bags of sawdust up onto a first floor building and laying a canvas tarpaulin over it which ripped your skin off.
"There was a big sewing seam right in the middle of it which did a good number on us too.
"And then the sawdust set like concrete.
"We started knocking all the filigree work off the ceiling of the floor below us raining it down on the ballet class so we got kicked out."
Norm enjoyed meeting other people in the sport, visiting parts of the country, and was part of an era when the sport was starting to be recognised in New Zealand.
He's been involved with some clubs in the Hutt Valley, a club in Gisborne, and lately with the Kapiti Judo Club where he is head coach.
I spend most of my time flat on my back looking at the ceiling wondering how I got there.
The sport has also been important during his extensive 40-year career in the police where he reached the rank of detective inspector, retiring in 2002.
"Judo was a way of keeping fit and getting rid of frustrations that the job brought with it."
Norm, from Paraparaumu, has competed to a high level but said he was never a "top line competitor".
"I competed at national and inter-island level when the body allowed."
He's had no broken bones but his shoulders "are stuffed".
"You get wrecked by inexperienced players who don't know how to look after you unfortunately.
"My shoulders don't appreciate being thrown around anymore.
"The mind is willing but the body just says no."
He was manager of the national squad for about eight years, which travelled around the world and also involved "a little bit of coaching in that capacity".
And after nearly three decades he's only just retired from refereeing.
"I never made it to the Olympic level. I was deemed to be too old apparently, but refereed at international B level which was quite an experience, especially in countries where judo is a popular sport."
Norm, who has been on the referees commission, enjoyed coaching and mentoring at club level, especially with the younger members.
"I enjoy working with teenagers who are deciding whether they will stay in the sport, in the first place, because you lose so many, like every other sport.
"If they do the hard yards then you help wherever you can."
Competing with the younger ones was a different matter though.
"I spend most of my time flat on my back looking at the ceiling wondering how I got there.
"They look after you but it's still hard on the body."
Moreover it was about creating the right environment for people to achieve.
"It's important for young people to try a lot of sports rather than specialise.
"Some years ago you would peak early 20s but now it's late 20s early 30s at top level.
He encouraged people to try the sport but noted they had to have a self-driven approach as funding was slim.
"If you're going to achieve you have to really work at it."
His involvement in the sport has never waned.
"When you've been involved in a sport for a long period of time it becomes a way of life.
"And my wife tolerates it."