Mick Leigh received notification of his ninth dan in time for his 90th birthday©Michael Leigh private collection

Veteran British judoka Mick Leigh has been awarded a ninth dan in judo, the second highest award in the sport, in recognition of an almost 70-year career.

Leigh, who has just celebrated his 90th birthday, has visited over 160 countries and fought against Anton Geesink, the first open Olympic champion and a legendary figure within the sport.

Leigh took up the sport in 1955 in South London.

"Actually I didn’t want to do judo but I liked wrestling type games, I knew no throws or holds but I knew that a submission was a win," Leigh recalled.

"At that time I struggled to find a wrestling club and so judo was the next best thing."

He received his first dan in 1956 from Kenshiro Abbe, a seventh dan from Japan, but it soon transpired that there was a problem.

"The British Judo Association (BJA) did not recognise Abbe’s grades though and so I had to take it again," Leigh recalled later.

It was eventually presented two years later by Charles Palmer, considered one of the pioneers of the sport in Britain and later chairman of the British Olympic Association.

Leigh was a reserve for the 1964 Olympics when the sport made its debut in Tokyo, but although he did not make the team, he later became widely travelled as both a judoka and a coach.

In 1976 he established the Kin Ryu Judo Club in Crawley and has since coached many thousands in the sport.

At one point the club had 520 members with bases in the neighbouring towns of Horley and Horsham.

He served as Honorary National Coach from 1974 to 1984.

He was Chairman of the British Judo Association for four years from 1987 and has served as a Vice-President since 2007.

Congratulations on the award of Mick Leigh's ninth dan came from across the judo world ©Michael Leigh’s private collection
Congratulations on the award of Mick Leigh's ninth dan came from across the judo world ©Michael Leigh’s private collection

He had also founded a veterans competition in which he continued to compete himself and made great efforts to ensure the sport was as inclusive as possible.

"He started the ball rolling to allow everyone, whatever their ability, to have a go," Martin Rivers, who now co-manages the Crawley club, told BBC News.

He also founded a competition for veterans and continued to compete himself.

He had been elevated to eighth dan 18 years ago, but received the news of the award of the ninth dan to coincide with his 90th birthday.

"Very, very few people ever get to a ninth dan and you don't get it unless you've done something very exceptional," British Judo Association President Rowena Birch said.

It is expected that his ninth dan will be formally presented at a ceremony in the autumn.