Category Archives: Karate

My life with Karate.

Karate And Me – Chapter 4 – From Near Tragedy To Triumph

KARATE AND ME

CHAPTER 4 – FROM NEAR TRAGEDY TO TRIUMPH

November 1984 seemed to come around very quickly, it was just four months since my last try at my black belt, that was a miserable attempt and since then I had gone back to training five times a week, it was hard work, but I was determined and Alan was pushing me hard, there were a number of other students of a similar age that were climbing the grades and getting to train with them also, helped to push me on.

But as November started, it all nearly came to an end.

We had a family tradition on Bonfire night, in the half term school holidays, all the kids would go to my Nan’s in the day time, while out parents were at work.  The boys, myself and my two cousins, took responsibility for building the bonfire, I was the youngest at ten, the other two being 14 and 15, the girls took charge of making the Guy and making bonfire toffee with my Nan.

We always made a big bonfire, then on bonfire night, the whole family would descend on my Nan’s, my parents and my Aunty and Uncles would bring a selection of fireworks and we would all enjoy the evening.

This year my cousin decided to add a little extra to the proceedings, somehow he managed to find a recipe to make homemade bangers.  All of the components were available for even a 10 year old like myself to buy over the counter, so we made a number of these in varying sizes.  They worked, in fact the worked better than the over the counter bangers that could be bought at that time, a few years later these would be made illegal, but back then bangers were common at bonfire night.

I wasn’t involved in setting any of them off, my cousin did, I must add, under the supervision of my uncle and at no point was anything considered unsafe.  The night was going well and everyone was enjoying themselves.

As the evening went on I began to feel my eye starting to itch, I rubbed it, but it got worse and worse, getting more irritating as the night went on, eventually I went to my Mum, who took me inside to take a look, then it became obvious that something was wrong.  My eye was far worse than just itchy, my eye lids were red raw!

Immediately my Mum and Dad took me to hospital, surprisingly it was quiet, so we were seen quite quickly.  The nurses in casualty  were concerned and called a Doctor that specialised in eye injuries.

It transpired that both my eye lids were burnt, it would seem that something and probably the sellotape that we used in the bangers had gone into my eye.  The Doctor stated that I was lucky, I must have blinked at that moment, because my eye lids were both burnt, but there was no damage to my eye itself.  Had I not blinked, the melting sellotape would have gone directly into my eye and almost definitely left me blind in that eye.

I had had a lucky escape, just superficial burning, I was sent home with paste to put onto my eye lids at regular intervals, but other than that I was fine, just an eye that was uncomfortable due to the scabbing of both eye lids.

They say things can change in the blink of an eye, I learnt the truth of that sentance on that day.

I went to karate on the next night, it was a normal Tuesday training session, I went only to watch, not take part, my eye still looked a mess, though I could still use it. Alan then broke the news that there was another grading on the Saturday, up in Newcastle, he could get me a lift there and he wanted me to try again.

Between Alan, my Dad and myself it was decided I would go for it again on Saturday, as my eye was mainly just cosmetic and not anything permanent, it wasn’t too much to worry about.

So Saturday morning I left my house about five in the morning, a parent of some of my club mates took me to Lincoln, there I met up with one of the seniors from our Lincoln club, who walked me to his sister’s house and she took us both up to Gateshead, near Newcastle.

We had set off early and then arrived early too, that gave us plenty of time to put in the grading forms, both Simon and myself were grading, so Simon copied the details of my previous grading form and submitted my new forms.

This was only the second time I had trained with Enoeda Sensei, my previous black belt gradings had been under a different examiner.  Enoeda Sensei was an imposing character, he just had that air that he carried with him, he looked serious and really did scare me.  I was on my own in the training, I was with all these kids I didn’t know, whilst Simon trained with the adults.  We practiced a series of moves, in a combination that involved a number of turns, then Sensei requested we get into groups of three.

All the other kids around me obviously knew each other, they all got into groups very quickly and when I looked around there were no other kids to go with, I was on my own.  So I just carried on practicing the combination on my own, whilst everyone else practiced in groups.  That was when I saw Enoeda Sensei coming my way, I panicked, I kept my head down and just did what I was doing as best as I could, after I finished the combination, I looked up to see him stood right next to me, I expected a telling off for not getting into a group with the others, then I saw him smile at me and raise one of his hands to give me a thumbs up.  Wow, I expected being shouted at, I was almost ready to cry, my shy and nervous side was ready to explode, but that smile, that thumbs up, just washed away all those nerves, after that my energy levels seemed to double, I was on cloud nine, I was flying.

There was a bit of waiting around after training, whilst the next group trained, then the grading itself started.  The younger kids were usually first, so I was in one of the first groups of six called up.  My name was called and I took my place in the line before Sensei, then there seemed to be a pause, something was being discussed on the table, then Sensei pointed at me and called me to the table, my heart sunk, all the positivity of the mornings thumbs up was now ebbing away.

I walked to the table, Sensei asked my name, I responded nervously, he asked when I last grading, I told him the it was one year ago, then he asked who old I was, I said I was ten, then he pointed at the paperwork and that smile came over his face once again, with a big laugh in his voice he bellowed out for all to hear;

“It says here, you one year old!!!”

I looked down at the paperwork and to my horror, Simon had put my date of birth as my last grading date the previous November and in that box put my date of birth, it was an obvious mistake, but Sensei saw the funny side, normally he would probably have rejected the paperwork, but he laughed with me as he corrected the paperwork and with that same smile I saw from him earlier that morning he sent me back to my place in the line up.

But once again, Sensei’s smile had put me back on cloud nine, I went back to the line, gave everything I had and waiting with the rest for the result.  Back then you sat through everyone else’s gradings and waited to be called up again, if you were called up a second time for another kata, you had pretty much passed, unless you messed up that kata, I was called up a second time, flew through the kata and a little late my pass was confirmed.

Simon hadn’t passed, but you couldn’t tell, he was over the moon for me, it seemed it meant more that I passed than the result of his grading, he never showed any disappointment, I’m sure he had some, but he did a great job of hiding it.  We found a pay phone (no mobiles back in 1984) and I called my Dad and told him the news, I remember us both being in tears on the phone.

I don’t remember the ride home, it was long, but it passed so quickly, I got home and within minutes Alan turned up at the house, he was over the moon, I could see it in his face, he always took great pride in any of his students passing their black belt, but it seemed more so with me.

The next few days were interesting, there weren’t many ten year old black belts back then, especially not in Nottinghamshire, Alan contacted the papers and I had arrangements for interviews and photoshoots.  One of the papers came to my house and photographed me in my front room, another arranged to come to my school, it was a little embarrassing to have to perform barefooted in a wet school playgroup, in front of a handful of friends, whilst being photographed, although that paper did give me the nick name the mighty atom!

The previous day I had been mentioned in the local paper, not by name, but I was listed as being the only Bonfire night casualty in the Newark area, not my most shining moment, then just seven days later, I made the paper for all the right reasons.

They were six days that were a complete rollercoaster, from almost losing the sight in one eye to obtaining that black belt.  Then there were those moments during that grading which just changed things, to this day I still feel like I must have been Enoeda Sensei’s favourite student that day, he saw something in me and knew exactly how to respond to my shy and nervous persona, maybe I wasn’t his favourite student, but just for those few hours, it felt like it.

Life can change in the blink of an eye sometimes, had I not blinked that Monday evening, would I have done everything I have since then?  Would I have gone on to get that black belt, well maybe, probably not that day or in those circumstances, but I may have carried on, but everything that I have achieved in Karate since that day, has happened because of that one moment, that one blink.

Back then and through most of my life I haven’t been a Christian, I never believed, but now I firmly believe that at that moment, that blink of an eye was a moment when God’s touch was on my life.  Karate has been a major part of my life, a major part of the good that is in me, even in my lost years of drinking, it was only karate I stayed sober for, I’m sure it kept me alive in those years, it was the only thing that went right for me as the world around me crumbled, had it not been for that blink of an eye, well, I don’t even want to think about that.

BLINK by REVIVE
Teach me to number my days
And count every moment
Before it slips away
Take in all the colors
Before they fade to grey

I don’t want to miss
Even just a second
More of this

It happens in a blink, it happens in a flash
It happens in the time it took to look back
I try to hold on tight, but there’s no stopping time
What is it I’ve done with my life?

It happens in a blink
It happens in a blink

When it’s all said and done
No one remembers
How far we have run
The only thing that matters
Is how we have loved

I don’t want to miss
Even just a second
More of this

It happens in a blink, it happens in a flash
It happens in the time it took to look back
I try to hold on tight, but there’s no stopping time
What is it I’ve done with my life?

It happens in a blink
It happens in a blink
It happens in a blink
It happens in a blink

Slow down
Slow down
Before today becomes
Our yesterday

Slow down
Slow down
Before you turn around
And it’s too late

It happens in a blink, it happens in a flash
It happens in the time it took to look back
I try to hold on tight, but there’s no stopping time
What is it I’ve done with my life?

It happens in a blink, it happens in a flash
It happens in the time it took to look back
I try to hold on tight, but there’s no stopping time
What is it I’ve done with my life?

It happens in a blink
It happens in a blink
It happens in a blink
It happens in a blink

Karate And Me – Part 3 – Journey To Black Belt

KARATE AND ME

PART 3 – JOURNEY TO BLACK BELT

1983 was a tough year, at the beginning of the year passed my 3rd Kyu, which is the first brown belt of three brown belts, now the real training began, most people recognise that brown belt is the belt before black, so once you make it to the first brown belt, the kata you learn is generally the one you then use for your black belt, the grading syllabus is generally the same, it the technical detail that must improve each time.  I passed all these gradings and by the end of the year had received my 1st Kyu, next step was black belt, a minimum of six months training and preparation.  Early that year Alan had started a club in Lincoln, it ran on Friday nights and then eventually Wednesday nights too, I began to travel with Alan on Friday nights to Lincoln, at first it was only me that wanted to go, eventually others higher grades came with us too.  By the time I passed my 1st Kyu I was training five times a week and it was hard training, Alan pushed us hard, he wanted us to succeed, he was hard but fair, always fair.

One thing he didn’t stand for was any kind of bullying, he wouldn’t have anyone taking liberties with other students, higher grades were to be fair and work with the lower grades and not be hard on them, push them, but not use them as canon fodder, he was keen on that.  One thing he wouldn’t stand for is anyone laughing at other students, he would get the different grades up to do their kata in groups, if one of them went wrong and any other student sat down laughed at them, he would get them up straight away, he would sit everyone down and make the student who laughed do their kata, whilst encouraging everyone else to laugh at them.  I was a victim of this once, I never did it again, I guess if I did that now, I would be pulled over the coals for it, but back in the early 1980’s it wasn’t so frowned upon, as I said once you had got caught, you never did it again and as higher grades, we sort of began to police and school the other students, make sure none of them fell foul of the rules and made the same mistakes as we had done.

In May 1983 I took part in my first National Championships, I was only just a brown belt and for the first time came up in a category with black belts, we didn’t have a junior black belt in the club at that point, that wouldn’t happen until later that year, I think the youngest black belt in the club at that point was about fifteen and he had quit training a year or so before.  I think Alan fudged the entry forms somewhat, to be fair it was common practice among all the Club Instructors to be liberal with ages on entry forms, the minimum age for fighting was 10 years, I was nine and not ten until seven months later, but I was entered in the fighting.  I wasn’t sure what to expect at this level and when I was called up for the first round against a black belt, I decided to just get stuck in.  I’m not sure either of us had much technique, more just youthful exuberance, somehow I won that fight, against a black belt, I was over the moon and my Dad who was watching was too.  I lost my second fight against another black belt, but that didn’t matter, I had beaten a black belt and that was my medal, together with the bruises and black eye I collected along the way.  I remember that competition well, the fighting especially, it was at Crystal Palace and we were on one of the mats on the balcony, which was a first because usually the kids were downstairs in one of the tiny gyms, there would be hundreds of kids squashed into these small rooms.  I think the kata was downstairs, I don’t remember anything about that really other than I lost in the first round, my one victory in the fighting was enough to make my day.

There was still a matter of two gradings to pass before attempting my black belt, thankfully I got through those okay, I don’t think I blitzed them, but I did enough to pass.  By this time I was training five times a week, every week, three times at my home club in Newark and twice at our sister club in Lincoln, it was hard training, but good, always good.

My first attempt at Black Belt came in April 1984, it was up in York and my first time training at one of these courses, never mind attempting to grade.  I remember training at Lincoln the night before and everything was a mess.  I couldn’t remember half the katas I needed, not that I didn’t know them, any other night I wouldn’t have had a problem, maybe it was nerves or apprehension for the next day, but I couldn’t get them right, half way through one of them I remember just having a complete memory blank, I just didn’t know what came next, to this day, I’ve never again had that problem, but that Friday night, I was lost.

The next day was the black belt grading in York, it wasn’t at some grand leisure centre, it was in the sports hall at Imphal Barracks, Fulford in York.  It was basic to say the least, just one large hall, small changing rooms and no refreshment facilities.  Hundreds of people came to train and over a hundred were there to take their grading, so it was a little cramped.

Five people from my club were grading that day, including me, I don’t remember much about the training and very little from my grading.  I do remember the free fighting, I really enjoyed that, the lad I fought went on to become National Champion a couple of years later, but that day I gave as good as I got.  Unfortunately though I failed everything but the fighting, the gradings are split into three parts, basics, kata and fighting, the basics pretty much count for most of the grading, if you fail that, you fail everything.  To pass you have to pass all three, if you fail kata or kumite, you still fail, but next time you only have to retake those elements, fail the basics you retake everything, fail two out of three, you retake everything also.

So I had failed and therefore had to redo the whole grading again.  In truth, I was just ten years old, still pretty young, but also it’s a requirement that there is a minimum of six months between passing the last brown belt and attempting black belt, I was a couple of weeks short of that, my instructor put me and another couple of students in regardless of this requirement, he later stated you would have to be exceptional to pass if you fell foul of this rule.

Three out of the five of us passed that day, Stuart an adult member of our Lincoln club, Darren who was a couple of years older than me and always been a couple of grades ahead, he had already failed once, but passed on this occasion, then there was Trudy, she had come through in the same group as me, but she was good, very good.

It was a bit of knock back to fail, it’s hard when good friends have passed, you want to be happy for them, but at the same time, your world has fell apart.  After that I stopped doing the extra training sessions at Lincoln for a while, I guess it knocked my enthusiasm somewhat, I trained hard when I trained, I just didn’t train as much.

In hindsight, that was wrong, looking back if I wasn’t good enough to pass when I was training five times a week, how was I going to be good enough to pass if I was only doing three.  Well the proof came just three months after that grading.

My second attempt came at Lincoln in July 1984, in truth the training didn’t go that well, the instructor picked me up on a number of things and it seemed to blow my confidence.  The outcome was the same as before, I failed the kata and basics, but passed the fighting.  I think I actually did better the first time around, I can’t put my finger on what went wrong, I simply was nowhere near good enough, now I had to wait another three months before I could try again, one thing was for sure, it was back to training five times a week.

BEST OF YOU by FOO FIGHTERS
I’ve got another confession to make
I’m your fool
Everyone’s got their chains to break
Holdin’ you

Were you born to resist or be abused?
Is someone getting the best, the best, the best, the best of you?
Is someone getting the best, the best, the best, the best of you?

Are you gone and onto someone new?
I needed somewhere to hang my head
Without your noose
You gave me something that I didn’t have
But had no use
I was too weak to give in
Too strong to lose
My heart is under arrest again
But I break loose
My head is giving me life or death
But I can’t choose
I swear I’ll never give in
I refuse

Is someone getting the best, the best, the best, the best of you?
Is someone getting the best, the best, the best, the best of you?
Has someone taken your faith?
Its real, the pain you feel
You trust, you must
Confess
Is someone getting the best, the best, the best, the best of you?
Oh…

Oh…Oh…Oh…Oh…

Has someone taken your faith?
Its real, the pain you feel
The life, the love you’d die to heal
The hope that starts the broken hearts
You trust, you must
Confess

Is someone getting the best, the best, the best, the best of you?
Is someone getting the best, the best, the best, the best of you?

I’ve got another confession my friend
I’m no fool
I’m getting tired of starting again
Somewhere new

Were you born to resist or be abused?
I swear I’ll never give in
I refuse

Is someone getting the best, the best, the best, the best of you?
Is someone getting the best, the best, the best, the best of you?
Has someone taken your faith?
Its real, the pain you feel
You trust, you must
Confess
Is someone getting the best, the best, the best, the best of you?
Oh…

Karate And Me – Part Two – Slow Progress

KARATE AND ME

PART 2 – SLOW PROGRESS

My slow progress continued, I still wasn’t very good, I was still shy and would still break out into tears every now and again, if I couldn’t get something right or I thought I was being shouted at!  But I kept going, my next grading to yellow belt followed the same pattern again, I still wasn’t good enough for the full grade that I was going for, once more I received a temporary grade, I was just that sort of student, improving, but was still behind those others in his group.  There were only a few kids that were higher than me back then, I was in third group of juniors, there were a few in a group a grade above me, a couple of older kids that were higher than the rest, then there was my group, we had all taken that first grading together and were going through the grades together, but none of the others had temporary grades, granted I was the youngest, I was still the only one in the club at that time that had started before the age of seven, it would over the coming years become popular practice over the country, with kids as young as four joining the club in time, but as the youngest, the smallest and definitely the shyest, I was the runt of the litter, the one that was struggling along, I was trying my hardest, after that short break from training as a 9th Kyu, I hardly missed a session, even at just seven years old attended the odd adult class during school holidays, I’m not sure why I was allowed, maybe because I was a trier, because even if I didn’t get it right, I gave my all.

If I look back over my karate training, I see where there were periods were improvement was slight or gradual, this first year of training had been like that, after just over one year of training, I had taken that first grade, been given a temporary grade and then carried that through the next two gradings, it had been progress, but steady to say the least, as I say, it was not because of lack of trying, it was because I wasn’t that good, I wasn’t a natural, it came hard to me, it may not look that way now, but trust me it did, it’s hard to get that across to my students these days, it’s hard to tell them how I struggled and get them to believe it, they do or at least I think they do, but I can safely say I wasn’t a natural and I struggled alone making steady progress.

At the end of each year we would have a competition on the last day of the training before Christmas, in my first year I didn’t take part, I was only a white belt then and although there was a group for white belts only, I didn’t want to do it, I was of course too shy to take part, my natural shyness held me back and I just sat and watched.  The next year as a yellow belt I took part, in the basics, kata and kumite (fighting), I wasn’t that good, the trophies went to some of the guys who were higher than me, some of my group of grades and a couple of those below us, I was still nowhere near their standard and my shyness made me struggle more when it came to gradings and competing.  This was my first competition and it was only in front of the guys I trained with week in week out, the judges were the guys that took our classes each week, I knew everyone, yet still I found it hard to get up and compete, it took time and years to overcome that, not completely, even now thirty odd years on, I still struggle with nerves, not so much the shyness now, but it does manifest itself as nerves still, even now.

Then every now and again I made big steps, I would make big improvements in a short time, but then as things became more advance I would struggle again and fall back into that steady improvement.  This happened at the next grading, when I took my green belt grading I passed with a full 7th Kyu from the grading before and this time a full green belt too.  This was the only kyu grading that I took that wasn’t at my own club, this one was at Southwell and as my Dad was working, it was the only kyu grading he never came too, but this time I really remember feeling strong for the first time, like I was getting it, not just going through the motions, trying, but not feeling it, this was the first time I felt like I really went for it, not just tried, but went for it.

Finally I had got rid of that temporary grade and thankfully I never picked up another, I was finally on a par with my piers, even though I still didn’t think I was as good as the others in my group the same grade as me.  I distinctly remember though, as a green belt being in the class when we just us green belts were up and the rest of the class were sat down watching us go through our new kata, none of us really knew it, we were just learning and it obviously wasn’t going very well.  It is a big jump in level from the previous kata for yellow belt to green belt, it’s technical jump and requires a lot of technical detail, not seen in the previous katas, so we were obviously struggling and our instructor was losing a little patience.  I remember us going over a certain bit over and over again, it wasn’t going well and in the end Alan shouted at the lot of us, I instantly broke out into tears, I don’t remember if I was getting it wrong or not, but I remember what happened next, we were all stood there, about six of us and I was the one crying, the only one, obviously Alan saw this, I remember him saying we weren’t trying hard enough, continuing to say that only one of us was trying to get it right and he’s the one in tears because he can’t get it.  Whether I was the only one getting it, or the only one who was really trying hard, to this day I don’t know.  I just know that at times Alan could be hard, but he had a soft side too, he knew me well by now, I trained more than anyone and even though I wasn’t as good as the others, I was becoming a bit of a favourite of his, he knew how to pull me back if I got emotional, it didn’t happen that much by then, but every now and again it did and on this day, he knew how to handle me.

Over the next couple of grades, it was more of the same, steady progress, I was passing the grades, but not really pulling up any trees, I was trying, I was improving, but it was once again steady progress, the grades got harder each time, the katas harder and more technical, I would still say I wasn’t as good as the rest in my group, but having said that, as the months went by, our group was getting smaller.

At the end of 1982, I had got to 4th Kyu, purple and white belt, that years Regional Championships was being held in Wolverhampton and Alan had hired a mini bus to take a handful of us to compete.  There weren’t many of us, about eight if I remember rightly.  It was the first time I had travelled so far, as a youngster I had trouble with travel sickness, I couldn’t go far without stopping the car to be sick, but even though this place seemed so far away and we were travelling forever, I made it through without being sick.

It was my first competition and because of age, I was only entered into kata, at the Regionals you had to be twelve to fight and I was still just eight, so it would be a few more years until I got that chance.  I remember getting called up for my first round, as with most competitions i’ve entered it’s done on a flag system, two competitors get up alongside each other and perform the same kata at the same time, the judges around the ring raise a red or a white flag depending on who they saw as better, the one with the majority of flags go through, odd times there is a draw, the two competitors just do different kata until a winner is found.  So I was called up, I walked to my mark and waited, then I was called onto the area and received a bye, I didn’t really understand what a bye was at the time, but I was through to the next round.  Byes happen every now and again, with the knockout system there has to be a certain number of competitors to fill the draw sheets, ie sixty four, if there are say only sixty competitors then four byes are put into the draw and four people go through to the next round.  Sometimes though your opponents don’t turn up for whatever reason, I can’t remember why I got a bye, but I was in the second round and well, that was it, I was called up for the next round and was soundly beaten.

It was my first competition and even though I got nowhere, I enjoyed the experience, seeing how these things were organised and credit to the guys that organised the Regional Championships over the years, they always did a great job, I may not of won, even a round, but to actually go out and compete was victory in itself, to overcome nerves and my natural shyness, was a minor victory.

Over the years of competition Alan pushed us hard to be our best and try to win, but win or lose, it didn’t matter to him, he would tell us that in order for someone to win, someone had to lose, one day it will be our day.  He would also tell us that just to compete was winning enough, there were so many that could compete, students that were better than me, but never tried, never gave it ago, if you don’t try, don’t compete, you will never win, so just by having ago, we were winners enough, the experience of being there and trying was as he always stated, invaluable.

A month or so after that, just before my ninth birthday, we went to an open competition in Derby, this time a few more of our club came along.  This was a different competition, at the Regionals all the competitors were from our parent organisation and performed Shotokan under the KUGB, this competition was a mix of styles from all over the Midlands, I had never seen any other style, it was an eye opener to say the least.  This time to compete it was different to the Regionals, you performed on your own, you chose the kata and performed it alone in front of the judges and they gave you a score, the four highest scorers went through to the final and somehow in my category for age and grade I made the final!  It was my second competition proper, if you discount the club competition and I had made the final, I didn’t do very well in the final, I finished last in the final, but four overall and still received a small wooden plaque type trophy, it was my first one and I was well happy with it.  I seem to remember I tried the fighting at this competition, but didn’t make it through a round, it was an experience in many ways and I was pleased with a trophy, albeit fourth place.

At the end of the year it was club competition time again, it was only my second club competitor and in some ways the competition there was more fierce than the open I had done earlier that month, we were all of similar level and although friends, we wanted to beat each other.  In the basics and kata, I once again came nowhere, I was miles behind my class mates in that area, there were some good students coming through, far better than me.  In fighting though, we were split into height categories and I was in with the smaller guys.  This time I made it through to the final, I had a bit of help from the instructors, not that they favoured me in their decisions, but they told me who I was fighting next and what moves they favoured so I could watch out for them, which of course I did.  But in the final I face a lad called Kevin Handley, he was a grade higher than me and soundly beat me, he was probably the best in the club at everything, kata and kumite, after he won our final, he then faced the winner of the taller guys, he won that fight as well, that how good he was.

That wasn’t a bad return for my first forays into competition, I had entered three competitions in the space of three months and won trophies in two.  If I look back now, I was proud of those first two trophies, we had some shelves at the back of the living room, they were placed on there, unfortunately it would be another two years until I added to their number, but competition is a bit like that, sometimes you win, sometimes you don’t, the catagories were packed in those days, there were hundreds of kids in each group, over the years you get to know kids from all over the country, we competed at the same competitions for years, it’s sad to say that there is probably only me still going from those old competitions, not only from my club, but all those over guys I competed against in those early days, apart from me I don’t think anyone else is still training, let alone competing.

THIS COULD BE THE YEAR by RYAN STAR
This could be the year
This could be the moment
You’ve been waiting your whole life
To show the world the cards you’re holding – now
It’s one life
One dream
One spark

It’s one chance
One move
One shot

It’s on you
Be cool
Believe

This could be the year
This could be the moment
You’ve been waiting your whole life
To show the world the cards you’re holding – now
It’s one life
One dream
One spark

It’s one life
One wish
One fire

It’s one choice
One voice
Sing it higher

This could be the year
This could be the moment
You’ve been waiting your whole life
To show the world that you are ready
Hold your head up high
and touch the sky
Cause you know this is everything, everything
So take your shot it’s all you got to be

This could be the year
This could be the moment
This could be the year

Karate And Me – Part 1 – The Beginnings

KARATE AND ME

PART 1 – THE BEGINNINGS

It can safely be said I was quite a sickly child, whatever went around I caught, my sister on the other hand was never ill, it was always me.  It was tonsillitis that was the bane of my life as a young child, it seemed to come around every couple of months and instead of school, I would be sent to my Nan’s whilst my parents worked.

Eventually it was decided that I would have my tonsils removed.  In the late seventies and early eighties it was, I guess, common practice to just send every chronic suffer to have them removed, nowadays they aren’t so keen.

So on Sunday 21st September 1980, I went in to Newark General Hospital, the day before my operation was scheduled.  There were three other boys having their tonsils out and also a young girl who was having her adenoids removed.  We were all of a similar age and seemed to get on, except the young girl who was rather loud and annoying!

On Monday afternoon we were taken upstairs to theatre and one by one we were all operated on.  I remember waking up and just coughing up blood, all we were allowed to eat for the first few days was ice cream!  On the following Thursday we were discharged and my parents were told I was not allowed out of the house for two weeks, for risk of infection.

Whilst I was house bound, my cousin, who was four years older than me had started karate at the local sports centre.  On the first Sunday that I was able to leave the house, I went to watch him.

At that time in 1980, karate was only just becoming the family activity it is now, beforehand it was just a battleground for grown men, but now more and more clubs were inviting kids to join.  The club in Newark at the time had an age limit of seven years old, at that time I was still only six, just two months before my seventh birthday.

So on Sunday 12th October 1980, I went along to watch my first class.  I remember sitting on the bench at the side, just watching and then standing up and trying to replicate what the kids and their parents were doing.  Then about half way through the class the instructor came over to my Dad and me, he had obviously seen that I was trying to do karate too, he asked my Dad how old I was and when he told him that I was still just six, but only a couple of months from being seven, the instructor paused for a moment, then decided I could join in, he invited me to join the rest of the class and off I went, shoes and socks off and I joined in.

As a child, or being honest here as an adult too, I was very shy.  I didn’t make friends easily and didn’t speak with people I didn’t know.  If I was with my parents and they stopped to speak with someone they knew, I would hide behind them, unless I knew them, but generally I was very shy and quiet.  I was more than happy with my own company.

So karate was a big step out of that bubble for me.  The instructor, Alan, was a hard but fair man, he pushed us, sometimes maybe too hard, but that was because he wanted to get the best out of us and generally only the ones that really tried and he thought had potential.

In those early months, I’m not sure what he saw in me, I tried, I really did, I was a trier, if I was doing it, I was all in, doing the best I can, but the honest truth was that despite all my efforts, I was rubbish, my natural shyness didn’t help either, I guess it stopped me performing at times and also if the instructor raised his voice, I would probably break out into tears, I did many times and generally it wasn’t because he was shouting at me either, I was just that sort of kid that would cry at the drop of a hat, I was shy and I was emotional, I guess I still am, just ask my Connect Group!

After five months for training, it was time to take my first grading, I had never met a Japanese person before, Kawasoe Sensei was quietly spoken, but a very good technician.  I don’t really remember that first class with him, I remember it being a Saturday evening, as was the normal for grading back then, eventually they would move to Sundays, but that would be a year or so later. I think that Sensei would come up from London, take a session and grading in Newark on the Saturday and then travel on Worksop to do the same on Sundays, although I may be mistaken.

I have a vague recollection of taking that grading, but what I do remember is the result and what my instructor told my Dad afterwards.  It was very rare a student ever completely failed a grading, they would have to be clueless to do that and lets be honest, if they were clueless, they shouldn’t be taking the grading in the first place.

I don’t think I was clueless, I just wasn’t very good, my instructor told my Dad that I got the turns wrong in my kata, essentially the first kata is a twenty simple moves and a handful of turns, the turns are the only thing you really have to get right!  In addition to that I didn’t kiai during my grading either.  The kiai is a shout of spirit, it should be done at the end of every set of basics and twice during the kata.  I think I may have kiai’d during the grading, but knowing me and how shy I was, it was more likely that I just mumbled something under my breath, rather than let out the shout of spirit that was required.

As I say, it was pretty rare to see anybody fail at the first grading, it still is, but there is what is called a temporary grade, the student still gets to wear the belt they were grading for, but as they are not quite up to standard, they could just be made up to a full grade the next time, unless they significantly improve.

I got a temporary grade that day, 9th kyu as it was called.  These days we give out a bright orange belt to new 9th Kyus, back then though, there was no such thing, we kept the same shabby, fraying canvas white belt and my Dad wrapped a piece of black electrical tape around each end, that signified 9th Kyu, the next belt should be what is now red, but back then a second tab was added, it was all a bit basic.

I laugh now when I think back to that first grading and my early days of karate, the thing I couldn’t do back then, is what I now have a reputation for, I couldn’t do my kata, as time went on I would become Regional kata champion, eventually National kata champion and represent England in kata on five occasions, but back then I couldn’t do it for toffee.

It does however make a good story for my students these days.  When I can see they are struggling with their kata, learning new ones and not getting the right, I tell this story, of the little shy boy, that couldn’t do his kata, that got that temporary grade like some of them, I wasn’t very good, I wasn’t natural at any of it, I worked hard though and in time it came to me.  The young kids look at me in disbelief, they can’t imagine that I would have been that bad, I tell them I was a lot worse than they are, then watch as they relax and things begin to fall into place.

That early disappointment wasn’t a setback, it was just a start, I was too young and didn’t really understand what it meant for it to be a setback, I got the belt, so everything was fine, it was now on to the next grading.

But there was a setback to come.  Back then I idolised my cousin, we weren’t a very well off family, most of my clothes and all of my bikes at that point had been hand me downs from my cousin, needless to say, he was four years older and generally bigger than I was, I was very small for my age, well below the average height, indeed at 5ft 4½ inches, I am still very short (needless to say the ½ inch is very important), so the clothes I got from him were too big and by the time I grew into them, they were well out of date!

Some weeks after that grading, my cousin decided one Sunday that he wasn’t going, we only trained once a week at that point, but the classes were growing by the week and soon a Tuesday evening would be added, but my cousin said he wasn’t going, so I wasn’t going either.  The same thing happened the next week and then the week after that, it happened for about six weeks, then my cousin said he didn’t want to go anymore, so naturally, as I wanted to do everything he did, I told my Dad I didn’t want to go anymore either, my Dad wasn’t very happy and I didn’t understand why.  I had no idea how much it cost each week, how much the karate suit cost, the license and the grading, I didn’t understand any of that, I had no concept of money, I didn’t get pocket money, I did karate and that was it, so I didn’t understand until years later why he was unhappy that I didn’t keep going.

He hardly spoke to me for the following week, until on the following Saturday, I asked my Dad if he would take me to karate the next day, I remember the light in his face when I asked him.  My Dad worked three jobs most of the time when I was younger, he worked at the local factory during the week, two weeks on days and then two weeks on nights, then the weekends he would work with a friend of his at a Garden Centre in Southwell, the friend he worked with also did karate and around this time had just received his black belt, apart from Alan, the main instructor he was one of two that past that day to become the second black belts from the club.  In addition to those jobs, my Dad would finish work early and then go and work for an hour or so at the D.I.Y. store my Mum worked at in town, he would just help in the mill cutting wood and then would come home with my Mum, so unless I went to the Garden Centre with him on a Saturday, which I did from time to time, I didn’t get to spend that much time with him, he worked so we could have a nice home and nice things.  I had been born into a family that was living in a Council Flat on Grange Road and by now my parents were working hard to buy their first house, it was a council house that we had moved into, but my parents had purchased it and were working to do it up and pay the mortgage, as well as give my sister and myself everything they could afford, so when I said I wanted to go, I realised this was something that he wanted to do for me, to support me in, he knew I liked it, I knew I was a trier and the instructors there had taken to me, whether I was pretty bad at it or not, he wanted me to succeed.

So I went back and started training once again, preparing for that next belt.  By the time I took that next grading, the belt system had changed and the 8th Kyu belt had now changed from the old white belt with two tags to the red belt, although the 9th Kyu belt would remain white with a tag for a while to come.

Back in those days it was popular to just dye belts, I guess it was expensive then to buy belts, karate wasn’t as popular a pass time as it is now, so belts weren’t available everywhere like nowadays, so my Mum decided to dye one of the white belts I had, I had two now, because I had inherited my cousin’s after he quit, she purchased the red dye, followed the instructions the evening after my grading.  I still had only a temporary 8th Kyu, I was good enough to complete my 9th Kyu belt that was a temporary grade from before, but still wasn’t quite good enough to get a full red belt, so it was temporary again.  The only problem was that she dyed it that Saturday evening after the grading, but it came out pink and she had used all the dye, the Sunday was normal training at the club and well, I went with my pink belt.  There wasn’t many people at the class and with it being July, the class was held on the playing fields behind the sports centre.  My Dad took his camera that day and somewhere there are pictures of me in pink belt, beating up Fraser, one of the adult brown belts who would help out at the kids classes on a Sunday afternoon.  Needless to say the next day my Mum purchased some more dye and re-dyed it, it came out a dark crimson red, that was fine for me.  After that grading I never wore a dyed belt anymore, it was a purchased belt all the way.

THE FIGHT by THE ROCKET SUMMER
It’s silent tonight
I’m trying to wrap my head around
If everything will be alright
And how you didn’t have to do it now

And I don’t
know how
you managed to sleep with
knowing that you abandoned me at the worst time
but I will

Fight the fight and
keep defying
I’d give up, but I keep trying
To fight the fight,
it’s in my wiring
this is how you made me
To fight the fight
and keep on fightin’
I’d give up, but I’d be lying to me

Faith, welcome back
it’s been awhile since we hung out
have you come to get me back on track?
you know they didn’t have to do this now

But I don’t have no
Time to waste for me now
About how they abandoned me at the worst time

So I will
Fight the fight and
Keep defying
I’d give up, but I keep trying
To fight the fight,
It’s in my wiring
this is how you made me
To fight the fight
And keep on fightin’
I’d give up, but I’d be lying to me

What would I do now
if you weren’t here to pull me out?
What would I do now
If I didn’t have my friends?
What would I do now
If you weren’t here

And as the trouble chases me
Bring me guidance
Be with me to

Fight the fight and
Keep defying
I’d give up,
but I keep trying
To fight the fight
It’s in my wiring
This is how you made me
To fight the fight
And keep on fightin’
I’d give up, but I’d be lying to me

I’d give up, but I’d be lying
So fight the fight and keep defying
I’d give up, but I’d be lying to me
I’d give up, but I’d be lying to me
I’d give up, but I’d be lying to me
 

Discovering The Heart Of A Champion

The Church I attend is called Everyday Champions Church, that was the Church I walked into on the 1st April 2012, just three days after finishing my last drink.   We have a motto as such which is “There Is More In You Than You Think”.

Over the last few weeks in our Connect Groups we have been discussing what it means to be an Everyday Champion, what it is that drives us on to be the best we can be.  A couple of weeks ago in our Group, my mind was drawn back to a comment I had heard, a quotation that a famous Karate Instructor had said and when I went away to find the actual quote, I came across a story I had heard before, but now found more relevant than ever.

Back in 1957, the Japan Karate Association organised the first All Japan Karate Championships, which was probably the first Nationally organised karate competition in the world.  One student, Kanazawa Sensei was training for this competition, until just four days before he broke his right hand training.  The J.K.A. withdrew him from the competition because of the injury.

His mother had travelled to Tokyo to watch her Son compete, when she arrived he told that he was unable to compete due to the injury to his hand, but she didn’t understand why he couldn’t.  He tried to explain that he wasn’t allowed, due to the injury and she questioned him further.  She asked if he only used his right hand, didn’t he have another hand and two leg also, couldn’t he use them?

She told him to go back to the J.K.A. and ask to be allowed to compete.  The J.K.A. eventually agreed, on the provision that he had a doctor with him that would take responsibility for the injury.  So he went along to compete, hoping to win just one fight for his on looking mother.

In the competition he used his left hand to block his opponents and counter with kicks, he won his first fight, then another and another, until he made the final.  In the final he once again used his legs to score the points that saw him crowned the first All Japan Karate Champion.

Years later he travel to England to teach, he was introduced as a Champion of all Japan and students would congratulate him on becoming champion, he would usually respond  with “Thank you but please remember that I was only a karate champion for that one day, what about all the other days of the year?” Then he would say. “Karate is not just about being a champion on one day of the whole year but karate is about how hard you train in order to perfect your karate and yourself all the time, for every day, not just one”.

The story of that first karate championships is a great example of how we think.  He only saw what he didn’t have, concentrating on what he had lost, his mother looked not to what was lost, but made him look to what he had, to use that and go out and win, she changed his thinking and his mentality.

We see a parallel here with many stories and heros of the Bible, the likes of Moses, when God instructed him to lead the Isralites out of Egypt, he saw his inability to speak as a reason he couldn’t do it, but God saw the heart inside and sent Moses anyway, sending Aaron to speak for him, God saw what Moses did have, rather than what he was lacking.

In Jeremiah 1, we see the same issue, God instructs Jeremiah to go out to be a Prophet among the Nations, but Jeremiah responds with what he does have as an excuse, “Ah, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth.”  God sent him out anyway, seeing what Jeremiah had rather than what he lacked.

Despite being a karate champion, Kanazawa Sensei saw that as only one act, just that day, he saw his training as his way to perfect his character each day, to be the best person he could be.  In karate we have what is called the Dojo Kun, five ideals we strive to be:

  • Seek perfection of character
  • Be Faithful
  • Endeavor
  • Respect others
  • Refrain from violent behaviour

Kanazawa strove to live out this code in his daily life, not just a champion for that one day, but to live as a champion everyday.

Unfortunately these days we see too many champions of sport, not just karate, who fail to live this way, though they train to win on that one day, the rest of the time they unfortunately fail as human beings, consumed by success and riches gained, rather than living the real life of a champion.

We see in David, a champion on the battle field who strove to live the life of a champion everyday.  We see when he accepted the challenge of Goliath, it was those around him that saw only what he didn’t have, they saw him as young and small, inexperience and not a warrior, they didn’t see what David had.  Even Saul didn’t see what David had, otherwise he would have taken the challenge himself.  We don’t see Saul get down on his knees and pray to God, he was the King of the Israel, yet he never saw what he had on his side, only what he didn’t.

David on the other hand knew he had God with him, he answered Saul’s doubt with “The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” He knew he had God with him, he had all he needed and as we know he defeated Goliath.

We are all guilty of seeing what we lack, me included, I see everything I don’t have as a reason not to be the person God made me to be, I see all that is wrong with my life, forgetting about all that I have and what God has given me.

I may have overcome so much, but there is still much I am afraid to do, because I have fear in what I don’t have, rather than confidence in the God I have with me always, I just need to keep believing, like David, that the God that has delivered me from so much, will deliver me in all the battles I face.

What is it that you see as a reason not to face the challenges before you?

What is it that you don’t have that stops you from competing?

What is it that you believe you don’t have that stops you being a champion everyday?

For we all have God with us, in every battle, in every fight, so what is it that stops us living as a Champion?

WHOM SHALL I FEAR (GOD OF ANGEL ARMIES) by CHRIS TOMLIN
You hear me when I call
You are my morning song
Though darkness fills the night
It cannot hide the light

Whom shall I fear

You crush the enemy
Underneath my feet
You are my sword and shield
Though troubles linger still

Whom shall I fear

I know who goes before me
I know who stands behind
The God of angel armies
Is always by my side

The one who reigns forever
He is a friend of mine
The God of angel armies
Is always by my side

My strength is in Your name
For You alone can save
You will deliver me
Yours is the victory

Whom shall I fear
Whom shall I fear

I know who goes before me
I know who stands behind
The God of angel armies
Is always by my side

The one who reigns forever
He is a friend of mine
The God of angel armies
Is always by my side

And nothing formed against me shall stand
You hold the whole world in Your hands
I’m holding on to Your promises

You are faithful
You are faithful

And nothing formed against me shall stand
You hold the whole world in Your hands
I’m holding on to Your promises

You are faithful
You are faithful
You are faithful

I know who goes before me
I know who stands behind
The God of angel armies
Is always by my side

The one who reigns forever
He is a friend of mine
The God of angel armies
Is always by my side

I know who goes before me
I know who stands behind
The God of angel armies
Is always by my side

The one who reigns forever
He is a friend of mine
The God of angel armies
Is always by my side

The God of angel armies
Is always by my side

Retired? – Not Anymore!

So just over a year ago I posted this:  Retired!!!  The previous year I had retired from competing at karate after thirty years of competing and bowed out as my associations 2013 Mens National Kata Champion, the second time I had won the title.  So last year the deadline for entering came and went and I decided that I was staying well and truly retired.

When I went to last years championships, I guess there was a longing inside to compete again, watching the competition that day, I knew I could still beat the majority of them, even though hadn’t done much karate over the previous nine months, due in main to the depression I found myself in and the subsequent decision to scale down my teaching involvement for a while.

I never meant that scaling down to be permanent, but in fairness I haven’t really got going again, I teach at least once a week, no way near the five sessions a week I was teaching two years ago.  I’ve found it hard to get the motivation back for it.  It’s been my life for so long and in a way my weeks and to a certain extent my life was organised around it, due to my commitment in running the club.  Luckily for me over these last eighteen months, I have a very able assistant instructor who has taken on the mantel of running the club and allowing me the freedom to come and go when I please.  It’s been nice to not have just be there all the time, it’s been nice to pick and choose when I go.

In a way I’ve become quiet lazy about it though, there are nights when I could have gone, wanted to go, but just didn’t, the motivation wasn’t really there.

So three weeks ago, with the forms for this year’s National’s entries in my inbox, I made a choice that I was coming out of retirement.  Despite the fact I’ve done one training session myself this year and my involvement in teaching has been at best minimal, I had no preparation, I was back to being overweight and needed to get myself in shape again and get back some motivation.

So three weeks ago I started the early morning walks, the weight started to come off once again, I booked this past weekend off work and made my travel preparations.  I told only my assistant Steve, my boss and a colleague at work and our Campus Pastor at our Church Campus in London Bridge, other than the organisers of the National’s, no one else knew, not even my family.  The only other preparation I had apart from the walking was a quick fifteen minute run through of the Kata’s I would need and that was that.  I decided to tell as few people as possible, so I wasn’t putting added pressure on myself, I just wanted to be able to turn up and give it ago, no fanfare, nothing, just to go and take part, what will be will be, no added pressure!

So Friday morning I set off to London, met with Melvyn, our Campus Pastor in London, for a coffee in London Bridge, then carried on to Crawley, spending the night in a Travelodge in Crawley town centre.

Saturday morning, I walked to the venue and met with many old friends and met with the comments, “I thought you were retired”, I answered with “I am, I’m just having a day off!”

All in all it didn’t go that bad, I got through the three elimination rounds without losing a flag, two competitors compete side by side and the five judges raise a flag to either red or white, depending on who they thought performed best, so things were going well and I wasn’t feeling that bad.

Come the semi final, I wasn’t doing that bad, until an old injury flared up and made me stumble slightly, but not enough to drop too many points and I still made it to the final the second highest of the four finalists.

Once again in the final I felt okay, until near the end and the injury flared up once again, making me stumble and rush through the final sequence, I wasn’t happy with that part, but in the end I settled for third place.

All in all, considering everything finishing third, with little prepation, still overweight and carrying an old injury, I’ll take that.  Plus when I look and see that the two that beat me are both close to twenty years my junior, it’s not all that bad!

So now what, well there’s another competition later in the year, this time organisations from Scotland, Ireland, Italy and Norway will be sending competitors, so I plan to take part in that too, there is plenty of time to lose a little bit more weight, to get back down to the weight and fitness I was when I retired, so let’s go for it.

I stayed over in Crawley again on Saturday night and left for London first thing, I went to our Church in London Bridge, they only joined with our Church at the beginning of the year, so I don’t really know anyone there, but they all made me feel welcome.  My presence there surprised Gareth, our lead Pastor and if you know my testimony, Gareth is who I called that morning back in March 2012 when life had become too much, he answered my call and came around that evening, he brought God into my life and began the process of my recovery, I owe him so much.

I did receive a bronze medal for finishing third, but I felt inclined to give it away, so I gave it to Gareth’s young son Reuben as a present.  It just felt like the right thing to do, my last medal, the Gold medal from two year’s ago resides now in Swansea, with my old Connect Group leaders Paul and Sarah, I gave it to them as a gift and a thank you for all their support, when they left Newark to start a new Church in Swansea last year.

I must say I didn’t feel 41 when I was competing on Saturday, I didn’t feel that bad this morning, but as the day wore on at work, I am feeling it now, hopefully it will wear off in a day or two and I can carry on with getting fit again.

I came across this song on Thursday night and I’ve been playing it on repeat almost all weekend, I had it one whilst I was travelling over the weekend and even as I sat relaxing between rounds on Saturday, it brought a very calming influence over me and it’s a great song too, it’s long, but well worth a listen.

REDEMPTION RAIN (Extended Version) by JONATHAN DAVID & MELISSA HESLER
Won’t you come up here, come up high
Won’t you sing His praise, let it rise
Up from your, ashes and all your pain
Won’t you come and dance, in redemption’s rain
Come up here

Won’t you come up here, come up high
Won’t you sing His praise, let it rise
Up from your, ashes and all your pain
Won’t you come and dance, in redemption’s rain
Come up here

Redemption rain is falling
Down, down, down
Redemption’s love is pouring
Out, out, out

Redemption’s song is singing
La, la, la
He’s singing la, la, la
He’s singing la, la, la

Won’t you come up here, come up now
Won’t you leave your worries below the clouds
And let His beauty fill your lungs
The heavenly chorus it has begun
Come up here

Redemption rain is falling
Down, down, down
Redemption’s love is pouring
Out, out, out

Redemption’s song is singing
La, la, la
He’s singing la, la, la
He’s singing la, la, la

Oh love be in my bones
Love shake down my walls
Love be in my bones
Love shake down my walls

Love be in my bones
Love shake down my walls
Love be in my bones
Love shake down my walls

The Story So Far – Chapter 19 – National Champion

CHAPTER 19 – NATIONAL CHAMPION

Just like twelve months before, May was a month of picking myself up and getting myself back in shape.  The year before I was just coming out of the pain of withdrawals, back then as soon as I felt I was free from that pain, I started exercising and began a program of losing weight, in order to be fit to compete at the National Championships.  After the stop start months of March and April, May was a month to get back to where I wanted to be, especially with the Nationals fast approaching on the 29th June 2013.

This year it was to be my swan song, I had planned a few years previously that I was to retire from competition after this years competition.  I had participated in my first National Championships at the age of nine, back in 1983, this year would be my 30th time competing at the Nationals, so as I was now 39 and fast approaching 40, I thought it was perfect time to step down from competing and bring a close to what had been a fairly successful run over the years.

Three years previously I had actually won this competition, at that time I was well in the throws of my addiction, I was overweight, I even drank the night before, but I still had it together at that point to put in a good performance and win.  The following year I finished second, but by that time I had put on even more weight, I was totally unfit and as the year before had been drinking the night before.  Somehow I still managed to perform to a good standard, despite all that was going on in my life, I may have been a mess, but as I’ve stated before, once I put on the karate suit I seemed to leave that side of my life behind, somehow I managed to outperform who I was.

Obviously the year before I had tasted disappointment, I had so much expectation that I could get back to winning ways, I was fitter than I had been since I was a teenager and above all sober, but things didn’t turn out the way I had planned them in my mind, but in all honesty that was the best way, I think it was right that I didn’t win that year, I wasn’t ready for that step, I was to wait and wait I did.

Come the day of the competition we drove down on the morning of the competition, it was a long drive, well over three hours, we set off very early in the morning, ready for the 10am start of the competition.  Yet somehow I still felt calm and relaxed, ready to go.

Back in 2006 I went into the competition as probably the favourite, I had finished second the year before, I had competed earlier in the year at the European Championships and also been selected for the World Championships in Sydney later that year.  I made it through the early rounds with very few problems and went into the semi finals pretty confident.

But a combination of my health problems and the volume of alcohol I had consumed the evening before, conspired against me.

I had spent the evening before at a barbeque, watching the England vrs Portugal World Cup match, the infamous match in which Rooney was sent off and Ronaldo’s wink!  I hadn’t intended to drink as much as I had, normally the night before a competition I would limit myself to one or two.  I must add that at this point in time I don’t consider that I had an alcohol problem, I drank and drank regularly, but I drank socially, not to escape my life, at that time life was pretty good.

My blood pressure issues and circulation lead me to have clammy hands and feet, this became worse when I drank.  So at the competition in 2006 they were using a new set of mats for the semi finals, unfortunately these were proving to be a little slippy in general, most people were managing to handle them, but not me, I managed five moves into the kata Enpi and then slipped and fell.  At that point it was all over for me that year, I had fell in front of everyone present and had to carry that with me ever since.

Since then I had stopped using katas that were flamboyant or fast paced, settling for competing with katas that were safer for me to perform, yet more conservative.  So this year I decided that if I was going to go out one last time, I was going to do it with my favourite katas and not the safe option.  I was going to defeat those demons that had haunted me since that day in 2006.

Things went well through the early rounds and without any problems I made it into the semi finals.  In semi final I performed the kata Enpi, this kata I hadn’t performed in competition since 2006 and this time everything went fine, I qualified for the final as the highest scorer.

Just as the last competition, I had found a way to keep calm and relaxed before competing, part of that was praying and just breathing, it seemed to be working for me at least.

In the final I decided to use a kata I had not used since the 2007 final, on that occasion I had trouble with the fast turns in the kata, because I couldn’t get the grip with my clammy feet, so I had stopped using it too.  So for the final I sent with Sochin and performed well enough to win my second and last National Championships.  The response from my fellow competitors and old squad mates was amazing, they seemed to really appreciate what it meant to me.  At the medals ceremony my retirement was announced and I was given an unprecedented introduction as I collected my medal, usually thing occasions are quite formal, but not this time.

As I collected my medal and stood on the top of the podium to the great ovation from all the competitions, spectators and officials, the emotion began to get the better of me and I admit there were a few tears.  The whole day couldn’t have gone any better, it was just the way I had hoped it would be, in a way it was the way I wanted the previous year to be too, but now I really appreciated that it was worth the wait.

Nationals 2013

Nationals 2013

A couple of weeks later the Chief Instructor of our association and my former squad coach came to my club to conduct a grading.  We spoke about the competition and he told me that I shouldn’t retire yet, he believed that I had competed better than he had ever seen me compete and there was still more to come.  That confused my decision to retire, but in the end I stuck to my guns and decided that I had finished with competing.

MIRACLE MAKER by KIM WALKER- SMITH
I’m waiting here for my life to change,
When the waters stir You can rearrange me.
Just one touch is all I need,
I’ve nothing much but the wounds I feel,
I’ve come to find the hand of the miracle man.

Holy, You are holy,
Who was and is and is to come.
Holy, You are holy,
Saviour, healer,
I’m standing at the feet of the miracle maker.

I’m holding on, with Your life in mine,
Living water’s come,
And You’ve rearranged me.

You are holy, You are holy,
Who was and is and is to come.
Holy, You are holy,
Saviour, healer,
I’m staring in the face of the miracle maker.

Holy, You are holy,
Who was and is and is to come.
Jesus, precious Jesus,
Thank you, Saviour,
I’m walking in the shoes of my miracle maker.

Holy, You are holy,
Who was and is and is to come.
Jesus, precious Jesus,
Thank you, Saviour,
I’m standing with the faith of a miracle maker.