Tributes have been paid to a pioneering ju-jitsu teacher who paved the way for women in martial arts.
Myrtle Larman practised in Congleton for more than half a century and has been described as “larger than life” character.
She died at the age of 75 in Macclesfield District General Hospital earlier this month, following a battle with cancer.
Growing up in Lancaster, Mrs Larman’s father encouraged her to take up self-defence when she was 14. She moved to Congleton in 1976 after she married Alan Larman, who died in November.
Their eldest daughter, Andrea Howes, said that her mother was “a very kind person who was always willing to do things for other people”.
Dr Howes, a consultant radiologist near Whiston, was inspired by Mrs Larman to take up ju-jitsu lessons when she was just four years old.
“She was always very keen that girls were in a position to defend themselves. There were a lot of females that came to her classes in Congleton, and I think the reason for that was because they liked being taught by a woman,” said Dr Howes.
“Her dad was very much of the opinion that girls should be able to do anything. Because of that, she had always instilled in us that we should be able to do what we want.”
Mrs Larman had two children and four grandchildren. A keen traveller, she loved to take her grandchildren on holiday and had only recently visited Glasgow with Dr Howes’ youngest son.
Her daughter spoke about the fond memories she had of Mrs Larman, as well as some of the funnier moments.
Dr Howes continued: “When I first met my husband, he couldn’t believe that someone so small could get another person to the ground so quickly.
“It was a snowy day in December and the next thing he knew, he was flat on his back. Bearing in mind that she was about five foot two, she was small but deadly, as I liked to say.”
For 20 years before her retirement, Mrs Larman was a youth worker at the former Congleton Youth Centre, based at what is now Eaton Bank Academy. Eric Davies, who also worked there for two decades, remembered his colleague.
“I needed someone to teach kids about self-defence,” he said. “When I introduced Myrtle to the children, we had set up a ju-jitsu mat in the main hall. I was quite tall, and she was short, and she asked the children – do you think I could put Eric down on his back with just my little finger?
“Before I knew it, her arm went up my back, her little finger was in my mouth and I was on the floor. You couldn’t stop her!”
The pair worked on many projects together with the youth centre, including a mobile youth unit, which was an old 50-seater coach that had been stripped out. It went to areas such as Buglawton and West Heath, and would visit the former Westlands High and Heathfields High schools.
Mr Davies added: “We had many a discussion on policies, which we didn’t always agree on, but that was healthy. She would tell me when I was wrong about things. We will all miss Myrtle. She was larger than life, but twice as small.”
Mrs Larman started providing martial arts lessons in Congleton in the early 1970s at Mossley Old School, starting with judo then moving on to ju-jitsu. The classes later moved to Holy Trinity Church in Mossley, before taking up residence at St John’s Community Centre, on Buxton Old Road, in the 1980s.
The Congleton Lions were often at Tsuki no Kokoro Ju-Jitsu, Mrs Larman’s club, to present awards for services in the community, which was partly how Lion Pat Wiltshier knew the popular teacher so well.
“Myrtle was an absolutely marvellous lady”, said Mrs Wiltshier. “It was always great to see the club in action, it was very well organised. They used to set a good example for the children and I think Myrtle liked working with kids, but she would teach older students as well and inspire them to get their belts. I will remember Myrtle as a very kind, capable person who never gave up on life.”
Peter Houldsworth, who manages St John’s Community Centre, said: “Myrtle instructed many young people in self-defence over the years. For quite a number of young people who couldn’t afford the fees, she would teach them for free.
“Myrtle was an outspoken character who would tell the church wardens about the many problems that arose in the old church hall such as leaks, heating and lighting issues, but she would always get involved in raising the funds that were badly needed to bring the facilities up to modern standards.”
Mr Houldsworth confirmed that Neal Whalley, another instructor at Tsuki No Kokoro Ju Jitsu, would take over in leading the club.
When Mrs Larman began learning self-defence, it was at a time that women were very reluctantly accepted into branches of martial arts. She was a member of the World Ju Jitsu Federation, based in Liverpool, and latterly moved to the WJJKO GB, with which she most recently achieved her 9th Dan.
Kancho Robert Hart, of the World Ju Jitsu Federation, said: “Sensei Myrtle Larman, was associated with the federation since the 1970s, during which time she was instrumental in highlighting that martial arts could also be for women. She was treated the same as everybody else, despite the fact it was a male dominated sport.
“Sensei Larman stood her ground, gave it back, and was a firm believer and promoter of women in martial arts. She devoted a lot of time to her students and anybody else that needed help within the organisation. It was a pleasure to work and train alongside her and we offer our sincere condolences to her family for their loss.”