Call me girlie but there's a fashion

question I need to ask before I'm prepared to set one foot in the martial arts dojo at the Key to Life club. Would the suit I've kept in a cupboard for the last two decades be out of vogue? If judo fashion has moved at the same speed as high street clothing since the 1980s, then I am at risk of looking seriously uncool.

For some reason I need to make sure that while my horrendously rusty judo ability will be immediately obvious to every other person in Alba Judo Club - 21 years, after all, is surely 20 years too long to take a break from the sport - at least I will still look the part. As I said, call me girlie.

David Hewitson, one of Alba's top coaches and a partner in Key to Life, who comes face to face with my stunningly trivial question does a good job of assuring me that, no, judo fashion has not been subject to a George at Asda style revamp. He also does a remarkable job of not laughing at me. Relieved, I head deep into the labyrinthian sports centre to a changing room where I put on the suit which must surely count as the best buy I've ever

made, having cost (pounds) 8 two decades ago and still fashionable.

Retracing my steps before poking my head around various exercise rooms I start to feel less conspicuous. Everyone, whether they are wrestling, circuit training or practising gymnastics, and from beginner to expert, is so intent on pursuing their own sport that they are not going to notice an awkward, embarrassed, old-age judo player like myself.

Entering the martial arts dojo I am

suddenly transported back to my days as a junior player. The sounds, the actions, the mats and, thankfully, the outfits, are all incredibly familiar. Breaking my reverie, David hands me a belt and asks if I can remember how to tie it. Without a second thought I deftly complete the task.

I should feel amazement that after so long away from judo I can recall the exact method for tying a judo belt. But for some reason it feels perfectly normal.

I step on to the grey and red mats, remember to take a respectful bow and join a dozen or so other players.

Despite a distinct lack of suppleness I thoroughly enjoy the routines I practised religiously aged 11 to 15. For the next hour and a half I listen and learn with more attention than I've paid to any activity for years. My adult attempts at the throws and sweeps I was so relaxed with as a junior are clumsy and inefficient.

The fact I am now much taller than I was as a teenager also affects the way I attack and defend partners. But it all feels so right.

I had thought it would all feel so wrong. Judo was my first love as a child. I felt completely at home in the club I joined in England on the very first day it opened (25 years next April). I loved it. I still have every medal and trophy I ever won, every grading certificate awarded and, of course, the judo suit (although I can't locate the belt).

It had struck me that returning to something I held in my memory with such untouchable reverence could never work.

Indeed, several times over the years I have gone along to a few judo sessions at various clubs but they were either too macho, too large or too light-hearted. Essentially they didn't have the same well-balanced mix of respect, discipline, instruction, friendliness and fun that I remember from my junior days.

That was until I walked through the doors of the dojo at Key to Life and the coach handed me the belt.