PREFACE: I wrote this article almost 14 years ago, in case you are misled by some of the numbers quoted. It was my first ever article- and it shows. Still, I thought it better not to amend it – it was my view at that time.
How it all began
Whenever I have read articles or guides about learning to write, they often advise to write about what you know. Writing an article about karate is a daunting prospect, as there are many others out there who know more about karate than I do – or ever will.. There are also those who have a gift of writing.
There are even those who can do both!
Rather than trying to come up with a new article which basically covers old ground, I thought about writing about what I know – how I got started in karate and why I am still here, punching and kicking away – now possibly trying to do the same to a keyboard.
Eight years old and my mother was trying to find something to interest me. Her first suggestion was to enrol in the local Scout group, but I refused to do anything that involved wearing shorts – still don’t like wearing shorts too often. Then an advert in the paper appeared, saying that a children’s karate club was starting.
Picture the scene, February 1981 in a former Army drill hall in Inverness. First children’s karate class held, and the hall (size of a basketball court) was filled with two lines of kids, including my younger brother and I. Strange people in strange costumes, doing strange things at the front of the hall. My abiding memory of that night was seeing one child bring back up their dinner about half way through the class.
Second class, about half the number of kids, and yes, someone else bringing up their dinner – mince and tatties on both occasions for those of you who like the little details.
Skip forward three months and the first grading. First time to see Sensei Kato, who could even more strange, wonderful things than my instructors. First grading and I almost failed – a temporary grading (now called Mon grades for children) whilst Martin, lil’ bro’ passed with flying colours. If I had failed outright, would I have continued – probably not?
I’m on the left!
The classes at that time didn’t take any recognition of the physical abilities of children compared to children. Yes, we were made to bunny hop around the hall, and once I had progressed into the adult class, by the age of 10 or so, we had adults walking over our stomachs, too. [2016 Note – in that way, times have changed to the good.]
I started helping out at a children’s class when I was 15 – and promised that I would never see another bunny hop done as long as I could. I still keep that promise.
Fast forward to 1987 and I am sitting my Shodan. One year before, I have changed clubs for reasons that are no longer important, but I am now back training with my original instructor, Ronnie Ross. Under the watchful eye of Sensei Hazard, a group of three juniors successfully pass Shodan – and I was the eldest at 15!
At that point, I started entering the competition circuit – mainly in the kata events. We were lucky that one of our instructors, Dolina Ross has been Scottish & British Kata Champion, and has represented Britain at 2 World Championships. Even though she was busy training for her own competitive career, she happily coached the rest of the budding stars. I was lucky enough to win some regional titles at the junior level, before moving up to the senior categories.
By the time that I was leaving school and thinking about getting a job, my interest in competing was starting to wane. After a couple of years of competing when every competition was a weekend’s travel – I lost the taste for it. Throughout this time, I was becoming more heavily involved in the teaching side of karate.
I don’t miss the competition side of karate – the camaraderie it inspires is something special and without a doubt, it can be an important element in your overall development in karate. However, to quote the old cliché, it is only one part of training.
In 1994, I took over an existing club, where the instructor retired. The club was not in the HKA at that time, and a lot of the students weren’t very keen on our training methods. I remember my first night at the new club – 4 children and 2 adults from a club that had previously around 30 members. This continued for about six months, until gradually the numbers started to climb. Students from the other clubs where I trained started to attend my dojo for additional training together with new entrants, and two years in the club was starting to blossom. By the time I left Inverness in 1999, the club had grown to 40 junior members and 15 adults.
Moving away from my hometown with my wife and six month old baby took a lot more hard work than I initially envisaged – so training took a back seat for almost six months. In September 2000, I (once again) took over the helm at a club, which had folded. This getting to be a habit!
Two years in, I am back in the same position – the club is growing and along with some new students, I am very lucky to be supported by some experienced karateka who have returned to training.
So, why do I do it? Well, I’m too old to go to the Scouts these days, so that reason is out. I was never good at sports in school, but seem to have found a niche in karate. Apart from the physical benefits of training, I really enjoy the fact that it is a continual challenge – improving technique, deepening your understanding of kata and making the techniques work.
There are times when the prospect of going training fills everyone with dread – but a certain Sensei of mine always says, “Once you tie your obi – then things get better!”
I get a great deal of satisfaction from teaching as well as training these days – there’s nothing to beat the look of slowly dawning comprehension on a student’s face when they realise that they can now do the technique/kata which they have been grappling with for so long. It’s a bit like being a Dad to a large family; frustrating, hard work but incredibly rewarding all at the same time!
From not wanting to wear shorts to 21 years of training is a bit of a leap, but life’s funny that way, isn’t it.