A Beautiful Obligation

Having hit the Big Hawaii this year (that’s 5-0 to the kids), I’ve been reflecting a lot about Life, Universe and Everything. But, mostly about karate. A bout of COVID and some new niggling injuries resulted in me critically assessing how I’m training and how I’m teaching.

I recently watched an interview with Tom Daley, Olympic gold medallist. It was fascinating to hear about his life, and how much he packed in (and had to cope with) in such a few years. He’s such a household name in the UK, you have to stop and remember that he was only 14 at his first Olympics.

He was asked what inspired him to become an Olympic diver and his answer really resonated with me. He replied that he didn’t set out to do that; he tried diving, loved it and kept working. ‘You have to love what you’re doing, before you can work towards those levels’ is my paraphrasing. Certainly struck a chord. Additionally, you’ll have good and bad times as you train. It’s like that line in the song, “sometimes you’re the batter and sometimes you’re the ball.”

During my walks with Z, conversations oft turn to training and a few zinger of questions flowed. More frequently, these questions start with, ‘why do I do X technique in this way?’

Simon Sinek’s book, Start with Why, uses the prompts – Purpose and Outcome. What’s the purpose of X and what’s the outcome you are looking to achieve. It’s not a new approach to what I’m doing, but a useful reference point to aid the thought process.

So, I put a question out to some trusted karate friends about a specific element of our training. Their responses were remarkably consistent, and deeply grounded in purpose and outcome. The topic is not of consequence here – key point was that we all approached the question in the same way. Like minded folk, for which I’m eternally grateful for their support and input.

Matt Powell wrote (yet another) excellent blog recently, Passing the Baton. Time marches on and whilst we may all like to reminisce about halcyon days of training, it doesn’t help us in the now, or in the future.

Concurrently, I also read a post about teaching martial arts and passing it on to future generations. Long story short – it’s about imbuing people with the skills to take things forward.

I’ve been incredibly lucky to have been taught by some extraordinary people, who have imbued skills which I apply in and outside the dojo. But I’m not a facsimile of them; I’m a mix of what I’ve learned from them plus what I’ve added in. Errors and Omissions included. What’s most important is that I WANT to pass this on.

Actually, scratch that. What’s most important is that I enjoy doing what I do. Sensei Stan Schmidt wrote, “the greatest gift to you can give someone is enthusiasm.” I gently offer a small addendum- you also need to give that to yourself . Mrs S continues to work on her PhD and her enthusiasm shines through when there’s an all nighter pulled for a publication deadline or a 24 hour travel to teach conservationists how footprint…. Otters.

With some added reflection on board, I’m really enjoying my teaching and training. It makes it a beautiful obligation. Yes, I’ll make mistakes but I’ll have time to correct them. Ain’t going anywhere anytime soon.

Anyway, time to start work – gotta earn pennies to keep training!

A comedian, entrepreneur and President walk into a dojo…

Note – I drafted this blog before the recent controversy about Jimmy Carr’s joke.

I was a fairly regular podcast listener last year, normally whilst walking Z. I fell out of the habit and just before Christmas I got back into it. This blog is the culmination of a few of them, which were spookily aligned to my karate planning for 2022.

Jimmy Carr was interviewed about his autobiography/ self help book. In an interview, he talked about his perspective on comedy and how he works on his craft. What struck me, was his comment – ‘it’s a task without end.’ Sounds familiar to you white pyjama wearers? (Other pyjama colours are available). He also commented that most comedians improved with age and really hit their stride in their 40s and 50s – hope for me, yet!!

Sensei Hazard often spoke about you reaching 90% of your karate potential after 10 years of training. It’s just that it takes the next 40 years to work on the remaining 10%…

So, is 90% good enough? I guess it depends on what each individual is looking for.

That said, I don’t believe in seeking perfection. It’s unattainable and if that’s the case, why bother? This may be a slightly controversial view, (white PJs again) but if training is a task without end, then you’re not going to reach an end point, are you? What I am focused on, is getting better.

To me, improving is personal, individual and unique. It can/ should take into account age, ability and interest. After all, if it’s not floating your boat – what’s the point?

Podcast Number 2. Brené Brown speaks to James Clear, author of Atomic Habits. His book is about the building of habits and one line really caught my ear. Actually, in the podcast, Brené asks him to repeat the line:

“Every action we take is like a vote for the type of person we wish to become.”

That broke my stride whilst out with Z. A really simple statement, which shines a light on human behaviour- what you do shapes what you become.

You choose to eat that biscuit or not eat the biscuit. You can choose to get up and move or stay on the couch. You can choose to improve your Yoko Geri or not. Or, you can phrase it another way; what’s your best technique- kick, punch or excuse ??

Self-improvement is nothing new in martial arts and beyond. All you have to do is look at the self development/ self help sections in bookstores. Perhaps the better question is what, specifically, do you want to work on? Or even better, be really specific in why you want to work on the thing?

This week in the Dojo, we were working on Yoko Geri Kekome. Or more specifically, the alignment of the hips to the support leg. I’ve lost a fair bit of flexibility over the years, but my kicking has improved, I think. I’ve focused mainly on getting the support leg improved, as the kicking leg – well, it’s just a stomping action, innit? Get the structure better, the kick improves. Simples!

So, I’m working on improving things, but not aiming for perfection, am I being lazy? Surely the ultimate aim of karate is the perfection of character of the participant?

Or maybe, it’s about the challenge to keep challenging yourself. How much is up to you. Cycling, gardening, golf, karate – pick your challenge. And equally important, how you measure your progress in your challenge is up to you. You’ll run out of gradings, competitions, PBs, medals and it’ll come down to how you measure you.

Right Slaney, you’ve waffled enough – what are you on about?

This year, I’m keeping it simple. Lockdown training was about keeping on, keeping on. Just to keep training through the various options open to us, online, in the garden, groups but no contact and so on. Now, it’s about improving from last year. Getting better.

How much may you ask? How much is enough? Honestly, I don’t know. But why limit it? In my last job, I was involved in a project which took many twists and turns. And a few dead ends and flat tyres. One phrase kept popping up – don’t let perfection get in the way of progress.

President Obama was in office during the financial crisis. Lots of tough calls in a short space of time with minimal information to hand. How much was enough?

Seemingly, Obama was oft heard to say, ‘Better is good.’

I like that.


Controlling the Controllables

I wrote this post whilst riding the Loch Ness Etape. Me and 4299 other people standing at Bught Park, Inverness on a foggy Sunday morning at 5:30am. Ahead of all of us, 65 miles of closed road cycling. Easy – my training had gone well and in the past month; easily exceeded the distance and climbing height. Except, the wheels had started to fall off already.

I was 10 minutes into the ride when I realised that things weren’t right. Piecing together a few things, I came to the conclusion that my head wasn’t in it. I had forgotten my water, I was cold and everything hurt. My head wasn’t in it and I was focusing on all the bad stuff. However, if I stopped, I’d be waiting over an hour to make the reverse trip due to the volume of participants. So, I needed to keep going.

So, how do I keep going when I’m cold, tired and sore? Why was this happening – I had trained for this and for (inset deity of choice) sake, I’m a karateka. We’re used to suffering! My thoughts turned to Richard Amos’ book, Chasing Bushido, where he talks about choosing to keep on, keeping up on during his Kenshushei training. And to my own training ups and downs.

15 miles in and I’m still churning thoughts around, not sure I’m enjoying what I’m doing. I started the ride with Dave and Ally. Dave – as ever is full of enthusiasm, and loving the occasion. We agreed that if we separated, then we would just ride our own race. A very prescient deal, indeed, as I lost sight of them very early on. I then thought about the controllables.

Years ago, I was lucky enough to listen to a stress management talk at work, where the presenter covered the 3 thing we can control; the way we stand, dress and breathe.

From my bike seat, I reasoned that I had already chosen my seat position, and the Lycra was definitely by choice! All I had left was to focus on my breathing.

The day before, I was teaching in Inverness. One of the students is preparing for their Dan grading. “I keep getting to told to relax”, they said. “No, you don’t,” was my reply, “just focus on your breathing.” The puzzled look in response meant that I had to expand on my comment.

When you’re told to relax, it raises more questions. Where? How much? For how long? If instead, focus on your breathing. Make sure you’re breathing out – breathing in takes care of itself.

So, that’s what I did. And that’s all I did for the next 10 minutes. Listened to my breathing. And the more I listened, I noticed other things. My shoulders relaxed, the aches subsided and average speed increased.

25 miles in and I’m cruising along, the next thing, I’m in Fort Augustus. Past the half way point and about to start the climb. If you’ve done the route, it’s THE climb. It’s still cold and foggy, but I know what’s coming. I also know what to do – just breathe.

Before I know it; the climb is over and it’s fun time – a sharp descent and the fast return to Inverness. Before that, a wee incline to Aldourie. By then, the sun has broken through and it was warming up nicely. I was tired but enjoying it.

At that point, a rider gently passed me by. His shirt read, ‘Pedalling Pensioners.’ I had to smile, it doesn’t matter on your age, how much you spent on your bike – it’s how you maintain your momentum. Earlier in the race, I passed a rider who had the following tattoo on his right calf: ‘It’s only pain.’ That was the first smile I had managed since 6am.

The pace picked up as everyone was keen to finish in good time. People lining the streets cheered all the riders and before you know, the finish line was crossed.

Looking down at my Garmin, I had beaten my target time. Dave and Ally were parked up and enjoying a cold one by the time I got there, but it didn’t matter.

Reflecting back, I had fallen into the old trap, forgetting to breathe. The results of which took me a while to remind myself. Having got there, I relaxed and enjoyed it. And that’s what matters.

Yes, I’ve booked for next year and yes, I have a target to beat.

But I’ll take a breath first.

I was smiling on the inside!

Recovery Planning

Or how we’re going to get back training

Like everyone else who is involved in karate, sports or physical activities, we are all busy planning, documenting and working out how we re-open and keep everyone safe. These are unchartered waters and let’s be honest – there’s no good guide to follow. Lots of good people are working hard to do the right thing. And we will succeed.

I’ve been speaking to a number of good friends in the karate world about this topic. We’ve all got the same challenges, and share a common goal – to come back better. Matt Powell has written an excellent blog on this, which you can read here

From my perspective, I am firmly of the opinion that I’m not going back to anything – normal, the way things were, etc. We’re moving forward and it will be different. So, whilst walking Z and thinking, it came to me – it’s like recovering from a serious injury.

Our training has been interrupted, over a long period of time. We’ve had a couple of attempts at returning, but there’s been setbacks. Sound familiar?

So, what do you do when you’re returning from injury? Plan accordingly and don’t go too hard too soon. And, there’s the RICE analogy. Only with a few tweaks

R – It’s a Restart from a long way back. Some clubs have kept going every week online, others haven’t. Either way, it’s not the same. You can’t expect students (or instructors) to pick up from a year ago as if nothing has happened. A lot has happened. So, take it easy in these opening few weeks. Take kids classes – they’ve missed school, sports and other social activities. Be gentle.

For adults classes, folks have been working from home, home schooling and/or having had their employment & income impacted. Karate is not on the top of their priorities. Be gentle.

Ice – keep it cool. Intensity can be dialled up over time. I remember talking to an instructor many year ago; when he talked about ‘drilling the students until they puked.’ On Boxing Day. I never understood that – there’s a time for working everyone hard (including yourself) and there’s a time for gentle pressure. When you’re rehabilitating, it’s the latter. The heat can turned up as we build back.

Compression. It’s an interesting analogy. Whereas before, a 90 minute class was normal, online training rarely exceeded an hour for us. Is this the new norm? When I look across at other online fitness classes, 45 mins seemed to be the max. My point is – things changed and we should adapt.

Elevate – we’ve kept Karate alive. We’ve proven that we can deliver online training, use solo pad drills and work in a small space. Heck, that’s how it was in the old days. We’ve been engaging online for over a year, weve trained across the country across the globe. We’ve kept going. So, celebrate that. Be proud of what we’ve achieved. We have learned to teach Karate in different ways, and we can only learn and benefit from this. Remember this.

Good luck folks, we’re coming back better.

How many lightbulbs does it take to change a Karateka?

Longer nights, better weather (or more accurately warmer snow) and a forecast imminent return to dojo training, a happy Kevin does make. It’s also got me into a contemplative and reflective mood, karate wise at least.

I’ve written before about my cycling and dog walking, the times when I can have a think about stuff, plan classes and seek Z’s input to things. A couple or longer bike rides of late has given me the chance to contemplate some more. Well, needed to burn off the coffee and carrot cake somehow.

Last month, I was lucky enough to be one of the teachers for the Scottish Shotokan Seminars, along side my friends, Roy O’Kane and Gordon Mathie. I had a blast; and it was interesting to observe my co-presenters. I use the term deliberately – it was a Zoom class and we were presenting. More on this topic in a subsequent blog.

I reflected on that we all taught different aspects, in different ways and stressed different things. Yet, and indeed almost as a result of this, our common thread shone bright. We are here to get better, improve our karate and dare I say it, we’re in it for the journey. And, all 3 of us can trace our roots back to Sensei Enoeda.

Same roots, different paths, same journey.

Lockdown has permitted me to spend even more time on t’interweb, looking for martial arts inspiration. I’ve seen lots of stuff which I’ve enjoyed and used in classes – and even more which I’ve disliked or even plain disagreed with. It’s very easy to fall into keyboard warrior mode – ‘this doesn’t work in (insert environment); that’s not how you (insert biomechanical movement), etc etc. It’s all become a bit

Other logos are available

So, it got me tbinking, why was it irking me so much? Why can’t we all just get along? If I prefer to turn on the ball of the foot, not give a hoot about hikite, use a punchbag more than a makiwara, wear a black gi – does it really matter?

Back to my bike(s). Road, gravel, MTB – which one am I using this weekend? Road bike – 23, 25 or 28mm tyres? Yes, lots of discussions about a 3mm difference. Which pedal type is best? Tyre pressure choices. I’ll stop there. Point is, you can get REALLY technical, or just go out and enjoy yourself. What others do is only of significance, if there is something which can help you. If you really want to cut to the chase – did you enjoy it, and how was the coffee? (There’s a lot of importance placed on good coffee).

Ive written before about my lockdown training, it’s become more personal to me and dare I say it, I’ve gone deeper. Some things I’ll share in class, others are for me alone. There are things which I’ll change in my training and teaching, and if it wasn’t for lockdown, I may never have come across them.

Karate post-lockdown has changed, I don’t believe that it should ever be fixed. It never was. All you have to do is read comments from Gichin Funakoshi, Shoshin Nagamine, Chojun Miyagi – they said the same thing about 100 years ago!! What can be preserved is the intention to develop and enhance your life protection skills.

Which neatly takes me back to the topic – progress. Am I happy with what I’m doing karate wise? Yes. Do I align with the majority of what I see elsewhere- probably not. Am I bothered? No. I’m more comfortable with my journey, and what I’m working on currently. Might not be other people’s lightbulb, but it’s mine and mine alone. As some of my fellow HKA members will know it’s all about holding oneself accountable.

So, keep training, enjoy doing what you do and keep curious. You may even find some fellow travellers on your way. And only you can change your own lightbulb. It’s all about Rule #2.

It’s about energy

Yesterday, I bumped into Nik Purves. Nik is a 6th degree TKD black belt and owner of Elite Martial Arts, where we have been training in 2020. A great all round martial artist and good guy. We met in the queue waiting to get into Tesco of all places, but hey, that’s real life – not the white pyjama stuff. This article, is inspired by our 10 minute chat.

We got chatting about training – as you do – and the challenge of online teaching, both in terms of running a martial arts school and home schooling. Nik commented on something that stuck with me, and is the theme of this blog.

“Teaching online takes so much energy. Normally, you get the feedback from the students in the hall, but you don’t get that online.” [If I have misquoted, then apologies!] You come away really tired.

I wholeheartedly agree with my esteemed colleague here. Having spent the past year, working from home, it’s really tiring staring at a screen for large parts of the day. It also got me thinking about the hundreds of teachers doing this all day. In simple terms, it’s bloody hard work. Keeping up the energy during a Zoom meeting, lesson or karate session is draining. Our brains aren’t wired to look at tiny representations of other human beings on a screen. We need company and social interaction, as lockdown 3.0 has only reinforced.

It also got me thinking about many conversations with my Sensei, Ronnie Ross. A musician as well as a Karateka, we chatted often about the energy created in the dojo – albeit described as spirit. He has also talked about hard gigs, playing to a tough crowd, where it takes more effort to get the energy/spirit going in the venue. I’ve seen Ronnie perform, he’s amazing. If it looks that easy, that’s only because you’re watching a consummate professsional.

Ronnie quoted Stan Schmidt to me frequently – the greatest gift you can give someone is enthusiasm. That is, in essence, energy.

At this point, I readily recognise that I have it easy. Karate at this time, is a lot less time intensive for me than normal times. That doesn’t necessarily mean less energy. How to resolve?

Sunday morning Dojo

I’m a natural introvert, confirmed by my MBTI results. So, I need to recharge my batteries on my own. Or with Z, or on my bike. The photo above is where I trained today. Just me, Z and a few deer. I trained for a bit, working on a theme – and asked Z for advice every so often. Well, when she wasn’t busy tracking deer scent, squirrels or something.

One thing I have benefitted from lockdown is training more outdoors. As someone else has said to me recently, training outside in nature has something special about it. I try to train and teach classes outside as soon as possible now, weather permitting. It helps recharge the batteries.

Saturday morning session, only -2C

Whilst dog walking today, I was listening to a podcast, Guardian Long Reads, Adult Beginners. You can listen to it herehttps://podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/the-audio-long-read/id587347784?i=1000506999390

There’s a line in the article which made me stop in my tracks. “We’re always flipping between small moments of incompetence and mastery. Sometimes, we cautiously try to work out how we’re going to do something new.”

Whether it’s planning my next class, tinkering with a kata or working on a drill, there’s a fine line between success or failure. And that’s a good thing. Some of it comes down to the level of effort or energy applied. Perhaps even how we apply the energy.

Last week. I was testing out my new Garmin on my bike. It took me an hour to realise that I had set it for mph not kph. That explained how some of the descents felt – they were actually pretty fast! Actually, what it confirmed was that sometime the best course of actual isn’t to hit the brakes, but figure out how to keep moving . It’s a conservation of energy. Plus, crashing on a bike ain’t fun at speed. Been there – ain’t no conservation of energy then!

What am I blathering about? Times are tough, for everyone. My reflection of late – albeit subconsciously – has been about building, saving and using energy. I’m lucky that I have my punching and kicking stuff to channel energy; both in terms of gaining and expending. I enjoy it and that’s a good thing.

My workplace has a key message about being kind to each other, and to ourselves. There’s still work to be done, and I wonder if a lot is to do with understanding how you gain and spend energy.

Sometimes, we all need to plug in and recharge though.

Final thoughts? It’s ok to be tired, depleted and out of energy. If you can, find out what recharges you and make time for it. Chances are, you make sure your phone is charged – what about you?

And a huge thank you to the teachers and home schoolers. It’s a tough gig – hopefully for not much longer.

Tempering the Sword

I was torn about posting this blog. What can I add to the hundreds of posts about training in COVID times? Whilst hopes for this year are improving, it won’t happen overnight. Therefore, we continue where we left 2020, solo training and social distancing.

I purposefully take 2 weeks off training at Christmas; nay a punch or kick thrown. It’s as much a mental as physical break. After all, you don’t intend to go on holiday from the office (remember them?) and then spend it working. It gives me time to relax and reflect. And plan.


Across all the various approaches to training which everyone had to employ last year, one thing stood out for me – I trained a lot more than normal. By that I mean, that I was more physically active whilst teaching than usual. Being on the end of a camera means you have to demonstrate more. You don’t have to walk around a dojo checking people. And more importantly, people attending the sessions respond better to following your movements. You can’t teach a Zoom class, standing with your hands on your hips, playing with your belt.

As we moved into Tier 3, group exercise was no longer permitted, individual training continued. However, that was not much different to when I was hosting Zoom sessions. I chose the theme or topic, adjusted to the audience and I did it. So, I spent 2020 with more focus on my training, which has been great. (I’ve also got back on my bike, which has been equally enjoyable. It’s also a new source of injuries, as there’s no one to hit me at karate. Luckily enough, the ground stands in quite well). One of my karate seniors always asks me how my own training has been going – the answer of late has been “pretty good!”

Wore through the soles of my trainers during Zoom sessions. Actually, went through 2 pairs.

Location, location and another location.

Sensei Hazard has said on many occasions that your dojo is where you are, and your Gi is what you are wearing. This has never been more true than this year.

With our normal venues closed, we moved several times. I’m eternally grateful to our friends at Elite Martial Arts for helping us out and giving us a home. Bob, Big Geoff, Little Geoff and the Twins became our training partners. In case you’re wondering, these are the names given to the freestanding and hanging bags in the Dojang. After all, you still have to be respectful to your partner 😀.


Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face, according to Mike Tyson. Or, if you have a more historical leaning, no plan survives first contact with the enemy. Planning for this year can feel a little hopeless, based on the sharp rise in Covid cases and anticipated continuation of restrictions. But then, none of that is new and we’ve been through this already.

As luck would have it, I was reading this article today. The concept of resetting productivity without ignoring how you think and feel about the current situation strongly resonates with me. I’m continuing to work and train in the situation. The sword is getting tempered – made stronger under pressure.

When I think of those people who have inspired me over the years, most of their training is done alone. Most of my training is done alone, too. If you want a great example of solo training, read ‘Five Years, One Kata’ by Bill Burgar. And watch this interview of Bill, carried out by Ger O’Dea, a good friend of Highland Karate.

So this is all lovely, but what’s the point, Kevin?

Now as my karate holiday comes to an end, I am going to return with a new, old goal – to keep training. Like most clubs across the UK and beyond, I’ll be hosting Zoom classes and maybe some outdoor sessions. At some point, we’ll be back indoors and at some point later, we’ll be punching and kicking each other, laughing as we do. Until then, I’m preparing to be as ready for that time as I can.

Perhaps, what 2020 might have shown everyone, is what is important in your training. It’s the how you approach it and the fact that you do it. Where you do it, what you wear and even when – isn’t important. I have a friend who is training mainly on the beach, near where he lives, often in the dark, after work. Apart from a different surface, he really enjoys the environment; fresh air, sea breeze – and the occasional curious dog approaching. Key thing – he’s training. And training for himself.

The pandemic has brought a whole new raft of pressures – working remotely, home schooling, illness and to far too many, loss and suffering. Within the small microcosm of karate, that pressure comes through loud and clear. However, one advantage of training, is that we should be used to working under physical and mental pressure. Let’s use this advantage.

Sword gifted to me by Ronny Wagner

You can’t temper a sword when the steel is cold; it needs heat and pressure. That’s what we all have to bring. We are used to training for gradings, competitions etc. Use this solo time to work on the marginal gains – making small improvements. Or even just working on one thing.

You choose – it’s for you, after all.

It’s only white pyjamas

Context is everything.

We have a number of stories of our boys’ escapades when they were young. Nik was an especially rich source of these.

One evening, he went to his room in a huff and tried to slam the door. It kept catching on the carpet; which made him more frustrated and made me laugh even more. This cycle continued for a minute or so: which just upped the ante. He then exclaimed, “my life is difficult!” Cue me now on floor in tears of laughter. I then asked what in his life was difficult. The answer – ironing.

I then asked through my laughter why on earth he would want to iron? This was the wrong question seemingly, as the response was, “You’re so not helping my life!” And the door was then slammed.

What’s this go to do with karate? He was 4 at the time. Context is everything.

Back to the white pyjamas. As we are looking at resuming training indoors/ outdoors, I’m knee deep in documentation. And for someone whose career is steeped in risk management, compliance etc, this is still a pain in the @@@@. Guidance is vague at times and interpretation is critical. There is a real balancing act in terms of mitigating risk, versus risk avoidance versus getting a valuable training experience for everyone.

It’s so not helping my life.

Back to context. Whilst I’m deep in this, and am extremely grateful to the support I’m receiving on this, it was a timely reminder that it’s only white pyjamas. It’s my hobby/ passion/ lifetime challenge and I’m delighted to be able to share it with others. What is extremely important to me, is keeping everyone safe as we return to training in person. But for the remainder of my life outside of kicking and punching; it’s a small inconvenience.

Having had a chat with Zelda, i came back with two thoughts.

1. This inconvenience is temporary (highly important though), and very valuable.

2. Does it make my passion for training more or less? I’m doing this because I want to get back to training. Question answered.

Did i expect to spend hours writing risk assessments- no. Does it help me get the club back up and running – yes. It is worth it – definitely.

Context is everything. Happy training.

Adapt, Improvise, Overcome

Many years ago, I met a Karateka who referred to his “Bobby Charlton book of Karate.” Suffice to say, he had had more than his fair share of “adventures.” When asked about this book, he simply smiled and said, of course there’s no such book, sometimes you just have to work it out as you go along.

2020 has a number of anniversaries for me. 40 years in karate, 30 years in banking, 20 years of Fife Shotokan. Seminars, courses and competitions planned, karate travels being imagined and so on. Then COVID arrived.

Moving to lockdown training was unusual. I am lucky that I’ve been using Zoom for work, so the tech wasn’t new. Everything else was.

I could have just trained alone, heavens knows there’s enough things to be worked on. But, I also have the responsibility to help others with their training. So, time to learn!

Many others have been more successful in their Zoom training than I have. That’s great, so I did what I normally do- see what others do well and replicate success.

No room? Work out how to do kata in a small space. Kata in a square became really popular. Then I thought – actually, using it as a diamond allows you to work the angles more. As Ger O’Dea commented, we were sweating the kata:

How to better engage the class over Zoom? I learned to introduce more Tabata, musical challenges. Kihon in Tabata works pretty well – we get the reps in, and with ‘Rocky’ in the background, you forget that you’re working hard. Plus, Grace got her musical knowledge stretched.

I recalled a seminar from last year, delivered by Prof Chris Cushion. You might not control your participants, but you can control the timings. So, I learned to structure the classes down to the minute. No more winging it, no more having an idea and letting it flow. Again, I watched other online sessions – some were just a dojo class online, others were much more engaging.

How do you run a class where the participants are white belts to 6th Dan? Back to layered learning, but in a much more structured approach. We’re lucky in the HKA to have had been taught by excellent communicators. So, same same but different. The layering got better, and again, done at a high tempo, which kept everyone busy and working hard.

Now, as lockdown starts to ease, my thoughts are turning to what I’ll carry forward into the dojo once we’re training together again. I have some ideas, and will asking the club members for their views. After all, they’ve been kind enough to listen to my Dad jokes for 18 weeks. I do suspect “Tubthumping” by Chumbawumba will be retired, mind you.

Like the rest of the planet, our karate has had to adapt to the circumstances. We’ve done this, and done this pretty well. A massive thanks to all the folk who have continued to train over this time.

We’re not going back to the way things were. We’ve moved to something different. So, adapting and overcoming will continue. So will the learning.

Anyway, happy training.

A Karate review of 2016

The blog is a combination of several things: a Thank You, a Christmas Card, a look back at a year of teaching and training and general reflection of what everyone has achieved. Think of it as a round robin letter about kicking and punching.

I started thinking about this blog a couple of weeks back – how best to capture all that we as a club and the HKA have done this year. Relying upon my memory is definitely not the best method, so I turned to Facebook to see what events Fife Karate have held and attended. So, sit back, pop a cold one and reflect:

January – Heian and Kanku Dai Kata Workshop. After a false start (centre was closed that morning due to a burst pipe) we relocated to Duloch, and with a packed hall, we spent 4 happy hours training. With thanks to a surprise guest appearance from some of our Inverness friends!
This was followed two weeks later with a Self Defence Workshop. I distinctly remember getting thrown, bitten and kicked in the groin by Mrs Slaney!


February -together with Kanzen Karate, we hosted Sensei Trimble on his first trip to Scotland for 2016.

March – Sensei Hazard course in Inverness. Sensei Phil Owen promoted to 6th Dan.

April – Sensei Ross course, focusing on the senior grades; ahead of a wee Dan grading or two later in the year.


Andy & Colin with their Dan Certificates

June – our 15th Anniversary course with Senseis Hazard & Trimble. Of equal importance and pride, was seeing Colin achieving 4th Dan and Andy reaching his 3rd Dan.Both gentlemen invested years of work and research towards their gradings. For Colin, it must have seemed like decades!


It was a great weekend of training, finished off with the successful Dan grades and a great Kyu grading.

Two weeks later, we trained with our friends as Kanzen Karate, on the Jesse Enkamp course.

August – HKA Instructors course. I was delighted to be invited to teach at Charleston Karate club and run a competition class. Remember – don’t discuss the Ronnie Punch!

September – I think I hold the record for the longest travel to get to a class, when I trained in a Goju Ryu club in Perth – Western Australia! Many thanks to all at the Academy of Traditional Fighting Arts for their warm welcome.
HKA Competition in Inverness – 60 competitors took part in a great day, which even ran to time!

October – HKA Brown and Black Belt Course and Sensei Hazard also returned to Inverness.

November – Fife Karate Kids Competition.
A few of the club seniors trained with Kaicho Amor, of Ryukyu Karate. A fantastic martial artist and true gentlemen; who was extremely gracious with his time and knowledge. And, we held our own First Aid training course, which was very well received.

A few new phrases have entered the club’s lexicon:
“Block with timing, hit with lighting”, “Educational Speed”, “Structural Integrity”
and we still get to roll out the ole FCAO from time to time.

One of my favourite memories will be seeing someone’s gran, crying whilst watching her grandson fight in the competition. “I didn’t know they could get hurt!” she blurted out, but you could see how proud she was of him. That was probably worth as much as his medal.

It’s December now, with only 1 class remaining before we hang up our gis for a couple of weeks. It’s only when I look back at the list – and you take into account the regular training sessions, the pre-grading classes, the squad sessions AND the occasional off-piste classes, that you appreciate how busy we all have been.

I am immensely proud of everyone in the club – the effort and commitment have been outstanding. I’ve also seen an improvement in the standard – as you could all see from this year’s competition results. All of this is down to a combined effort, from the seniors who help instruct, everyone who trains and of course, parents and family members.

And finally, a thank you to my instructors – for keeping me on the path and keeping me learning.
But most of all, to Larissa – for giving me the time to go off and play in my pyjamas as much as I do.

Have a great Christmas and New Year, everyone. Enjoy your break and Lang may yer Lum reek!  We’ve already started planning 2017 events and I hope to bring some news about this very soon.

Oh, and remember – we start back training on the 9th January!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.