Magician, superstar and raconteur -- the curious life of judoka Brian Jacks

Story highlights

  • Son of a London taxi driver became an unlikely judo star
  • Jacks upped sticks and moved to Japan as a 15-year-old to learn the sport
  • Now he's a part-time magician and property developer living in Thailand
  • He is in talks about a movie of his life and wants Jason Statham in the starring role

(CNN)Magician, master of dips, property developer, and raconteur extraordinaire, it is virtually impossible to pigeonhole Brian Jacks.

The one constant for the 71-year-old judoka, arguably one of the most colorful figures to have graced a judo mat, has been the Japanese martial art that he credits with giving him what he calls "a wonderful life."
The son of a London taxi driver, Albert, it is virtually impossible to keep up with Jacks, who talks at the same speed in which he appears to live his life even as a septuagenarian, a life about which he has recently put pen to paper with his autobiography -- "Brian Jacks: The Mindset of a Champion."
    He says he is in talks with movie makers about his colorful life being portrayed on the big screen and has firm views on who should play him.
    "Jason Statham would be good, someone like that," Jacks told CNN Sport, "and I know he's done some judo."
    Jacks was introduced to the sport at the age of nine by his father, who competed himself in the sport, and within five years was a national junior champion. At 15, he was packed off to the notorious Kodokan in Japan to learn his trade from the best.
    Horribly homesick, he pined for his mother's pie and mash as he struggled to stomach the local cuisine.
    "It was not long after World War II and there I was walking around Japan with blonde hair and some people had never seen blonde hair before," he explains.
    By his own admission, they didn't take too kindly a brash London teenager as he floored an 80-year-old judoka at the Kodokan, showing what was perceived as a lack of respect by the almost entirely Japanese membership.

    Becoming a Superstar

    Brian Jacks has been involved in judo since the age of nine.
    But his 18-month spell in Japan proved the making of him: "Japan set up everything for me, it made me a man. It opened my eyes to so much, my training, the culture, the food."
    It was there that he earned his black belt, a feat achieved just before his 16th birthday, before returning to the UK in 1964. Within three years, he had become Britain's first World Championship medalist, adding an Olympic bronze in 1972.
    That success is impressive given Jacks was effectively unable to exercise for the first eight years of his life because of an undiagnosed hiatus hernia. It is a setback, he believes, that has given him the drive for the rest of his formative years.
    After those difficult early years and the inspiration judo provided, Jacks has made it a lifelong ambition to spread the word of the sport starting with a 100-day tour across the UK.
    "It's given me so much self-confidence in every day life," he explains, "and in the most basic terms you feel more confident if you know you can put someone on the floor if required. It's given me a wonderful life."
    For all his sporting career in judo, though, he is perhaps best known in some quarters for his appearance on and dominance of the former British TV series Superstars, watched by roughly a quarter of the UK population at the time.
    Among his showreel highlights were performing 100 parallel dips in 60 seconds and 118 squat thrusts in a similar timeframe.
    "I got to compete against some great stars in that," he recalls, the toughest opponent of which was Lynn Davies, the former Olympic long jump champion.
    Brian Jacks tries out judo with some kids at a workshop in Derby in the UK
    Jacks' punishing training regime for both judo and Superstars have left him with ailing joints, to the extent he has long since given up on British winters, instead relocating to Pattaya in Thailand where he has lived for the past 17 years.
    "I miss the UK and I still go back but the last time I only lasted a week because of the cold," he explains. "In Thailand, I can play golf pretty much every day, and the sun's mostly shining."

    Tricks up his sleeve

    He boasts an apartment block he built, to which British ex-pats come to stay for their holidays, one of many strings to his bow away from judo.
    Magic is another one. "I was shown a few tricks when I was younger and it became a bit of a hobby," explains Jacks, his repertoire widely impressive.
    While he can dazzle with card tricks, one notable trick making a glass seemingly pass through a table.
    Judo, though, remains Jacks' enduring love, from his own exploits, to coaching Neil Adams to a world title in 1981. Jacks' way of geeing up Adams beforehand was to punch him in the face.
    The stories go on and with plans to hold an event to mark his 60 years in sport, there may be a few more chapters to write.