Tag Archives: Competing

Karate And Me – Part 9 – Competing As An Adult

KARATE AND ME

PART 9 – COMPETING AS AN ADULT

Turning sixteen and moving into the adult categories for competing was not an easy transition. It would probably have been easier had I been training regularly, but alas that wasn’t to be anymore. For the past couple of years I had been plagued by knee problems, firstly the painful growing pains and once that had subsided I was left with an almost constant ache in my knees, this restricted any training, as the next day it would be severe and then fade as each day passes, only to start again next time I tried to train.

Secondly I had now become an instructor instead of a student, so training opportunities were restricted to one or twice a week, if I was lucky. When you add in the factor that I was at least a good four or five inches shorter than most of the other competitors, with the majority a good six foot tall and then there’s me, just five foot four and a half inches tall, believe me the half is very important to me!

Being short doesn’t stop you becoming a good fighter, it just means you have to work harder, be faster, have lightning reactions and great movement. I had speed, that’s not an issue, but reactions are the one thing that needs constant training, the ability to react when a six foot bloke is throwing a fist straight at your head is a must, this was the training I was severely lacking.

Due to the lack of training I missed my first national championships in 1990, it would be my first as an adult, which although meant that I would be in the junior male section, I didn’t feel fit enough or that I had had the required training, so I attended just as a coach and spectator.

Later in the year I started to compete again, but the success I had had in the last few years as a child, was now none existent. There was no momentum to carry into the adults sections, it was now a case of starting again from scratch, to reevaluate where I was, my tactics and my training.

Then came my first nationals as an adult in 1991, this time I entered and frankly in the fighting I was out of my depth for the first time, I could hold my own, but I was a long way from being competitive, not with the level of training I was getting, I was physically smaller, so I had to be physically quicker and smarter, this was where I was struggling.

But in the kata, that was a different story. In that first adult competition I lined up alongside all the other seniors, feeling a little bit out of my depth, but that I was going to give it all I had. I had never really had any success in the nationals in the boys kata, never got through more than a couple of rounds, so now I was in the adults, I didn’t expect much more.

So I was called up for my first match and I won. I was called up again and again, I kept winning. I made it through to the last two on my area, if I won that I would be through to the semi finals with the other area winners and the seeded finalists from the previous year, the seeds were basically made up of current English squad members, some of which were European and world medalists.

After the first kata, it was a tie, so we went again. I felt through the first half I was doing quite well, then my curse hit me, I suffered from something that would plague me for years, my foot slipped on the mats, losing my balance and composure for just a moment, but just long enough for the judges to see, I lost the bout and was out, I was so close, yet so far.

It was a disappointment, yet a revelation all at the same time. Having become less successful in fighting, I was breaking through in kata. All the development of my basic technique that I had put into my teaching, was showing in my kata ability. In the next few competitions later that year, the same pattern followed, moderate success in the fighting, followed by promising success in the kata. I wasn’t winning any trophies or medals at this stage, which after many successful years in the junior sections was a little different, but in the kata I was improving, soon I would stop competing regularly in fighting and concentrate all my training into the kata.

I was only getting in a certain amount of my own training, so developing my technique, which I could still do whilst teaching made more sense to me. I would still fight for the club in team events and enter the odd individual fighting completions, but after that I concentrated on kata competitions, success didn’t come straight away, but I was determined to get there.

FIREFIGHT by JIMMY EAT WORLD
This is where our diligence has lead
The waves roll in to claim our patient steps
Can we become more than just ourselves?
And leave the sand, our want, our will, our doubt

It’s firefight, I won’t run.
They’re spitting spite all through my blood
For you and me, there’s nowhere left to hide
Except you and me, there’s no one else alive

This is now the moment after next.
Are these still the eyes of a temptress?
Why open the door if you won’t go?
Don’t ask twice if you don’t wanna know.

It’s firefight, I won’t run.
They’re spitting spite all in my blood
For you and me, there’s nowhere left to hide
Except you and me, there’s no one else alive

Is there an answer?
If it’s an honest one, honestly worth its question
There’s no question
The city as my witness
I am who I wanna be, but you could be anything
Just be anything here with me.
Endless quotes and with the secondhand
If you let go then that’s where time will stand.

It’s firefight, I won’t run.
They’re spitting spite all through my blood
For you and me, there’s nowhere left to hide
Except you and me, there’s no one else alive

It’s firefight, I won’t run.
They’re spitting spite all through my blood
For you and me, there’s nowhere left to hide
Except you and me, there’s no one else alive.

Karate And Me – Part 6 – Stagnation To The Winning Week

KARATE AND ME

PART 6 – STAGNATION TO THE WINNING WEEK

It’s fair to say that my karate progress has gone along at differing rates, so many times it has just moved along at a rate so slow, it’s hard to see any progress, then there have been big jumps in progress, it seems that’s the way it has always been, no steady progress, just very slow or very rapid, kind of all or nothing, I guess that sums up my character.

Following that period of success, starting with the runners up position at the regionals, passing my second dan and then third place at the nationals, everything slowed down once again.  In a way, there wasn’t that much to aim at for a while.

In terms of gradings, that was it until I was twenty one.  In our organisation, both then and now, the age limit for taking third dan was twenty one, some associations have a limit on first dan for juniors, but here in the U.K. there is rarely a limit on first and second dan, but third dan has that age limit, so for me at that period of time, grading became a distant thought.  I have to say that I fully agree with that, even though I did wait eight years to grade again, I don’t regret it and I believe it’s the right thing to do, even though I had a lot of knowledge at that point, at that age you don’t really have the maturity.  I was angered a few years back, when I saw that a senior instructor who split from that organisation and started his own, he changed that rule to eighteen, to promote his star student, in truth I thought it was a bit of a joke, because I knew the student in question and I had reservations about him, not so much his ability, but the general attitude he displayed to fellow students and competitors, as I say, I don’t believe he had the maturity to go with such a grade.

So the rest of 1987 went by without any major incident, I entered the regionals again that year, but in the fighting I was soundly beaten in the early rounds, the only success came as part of a team kata squad, Alan put me with two other lads, Darren and Ian, both were older, bigger and better than I was, but he decided we were the best team the club could put together at that time.  In team kata, as a three you perform the same kata in formation and synchronised, the three make a triangle, with on person in front and then two behind.  Generally you try to keep the two together at the back a similar size, so naturally I was the leader at the front, something that I have generally done all my career, even later on as part of the England team.  So I was the leader, I gave all the commands and set the tempo for the kata, essentially if I was off the team was off, there was no hiding when you’re in front.  It was our first outing as a team and we made the final four, I think we practiced really hard on our first kata to get through to the final, but not so much on a different kata should we get there, but we achieved the first priority, reach the final, but sadly we finished fourth out of four, but still received a trophy.

After that there wasn’t any further success for over a year, training was good, I was still training five times a week, still teaching with the beginners class, our black belt group was growing all the time and the club was growing, everything was good, so it’s hard to put a finger on why I didn’t continue with the successes I had had, but I guess these things happen from time to time.  In fairness, I have always said that the best lessons are learnt through failure, it makes you go back, to access and analyse things, a chance to work on things that aren’t quite right, so maybe it was a good thing.

In the summer of 1988 I had a major set back.  I had joined a local football club with a number of friends from school and over the summer we were preparing for the new season.  At a training session one Wednesday night I suffered an injury that put me in a plaster for a month.  I was running with the ball and my friend ran across me, taking my back leg with him, it was completely by accident, just one of those comings together, but my studs kept my foot stuck in the ground and I was spun around whilst my ankle ligaments twisted, as I fell to the ground my foot stayed flat in the ground and it torn my ankle apart as I fell, my ligaments were shredded.

I was taken to hospital, where they x-rayed the ankle, but they sent me home strapped up until some of the swelling had gone down and two days later I was put in plaster, it had severely torn my ligaments, I was now facing a month in plaster and then further time out until I could train again.

My Dad wasn’t happy, neither was Alan, my Dad said that after all that karate training I had no injuries and I do a few weeks of football and end up with ruptured ankle.  Alan wasn’t happy as he wanted myself, Darren and Ian to continue working together for that years regionals, which were coming up at the beginning of October, it was cutting it fine as I wouldn’t be out of plaster until the end of September, but he didn’t want to change the team at this stage.

I spent a month in plaster and then went back to have the plaster removed, if you have ever had limb put in plaster, you’ll know there is that moment of shock when the plaster is removed and a skinny looking thing with pale, flaking skin is there in front of you.  Where had it gone, my leg was tiny now from the calf down, in fact it still is, my right leg still looks skinny compared to the left, even after almost thirty years.

They told me to keep my weight of it for a week or so and to use crutches to get around.  I had use crutches for the first few days it was in plaster, but as they had given me a shoe to wear for the plaster, I had just walked around with that without using the crutches, I hated them.  So after walking home using the crutches, as soon as I got home, I put them aside and refused to use them ever again.  That was a Friday morning, I went to watch training that evening, but being sat there, with my foot out of plaster, I found it irritating not being able to do anything, so Sunday afternoon I defied Doctor’s orders and went back training.  I tried to take it easy, but soon got caught up in trying as hard as everyone else, some things were hard, I couldn’t turn on that foot as easily as I used to be able to, but after a few weeks, it was business as usual and our team was back practicing for the regionals.

We performed well, but I guess our lack of practice costs us, we failed to make the final, it was close, but we missed out.  I didn’t fight that year because of the ankle injury, only kata and team kata, but missed out on medals in both, maybe next year.

At the end of 1988 there were two open competitions that would be on back to back weekends, one at Newark on the last Sunday of November and then one in Ipswich on the Saturday after, which was made more interesting as we moved house the day before.  At the Newark Open I was entered in kata and kumite, I made it through to both finals that day, I finished third in the kata and then faced an old club mate in the final of the kumite.

Malcolm was a good fighter, I can’t remember the exact reason why, but he wasn’t training with us at that time, he was training with another local club, although we were all still good friends.  This competition was run on the unusual rules and they made us wear body armour and head protection, neither of us were used to this, but we made the most of it.  In the final I took the lead, fighting my usual way, just waiting for the opponent to come in, then counter attacking, I was leading when Malcolm made a series of punches to the head, the referee firstly warned him and then the second time disqualified him, as he announced it we both stood there wondering what was going on, I wasn’t particularly bothered by the punches, it was the head gear that was making it awkward, but the referees decision was final, I was awarded the fight, I was leading anyway, but still I didn’t want to win that way.

So the next weekend we went to Ipswich, I was in kata and kumite once again, but also in the team kata with Darren and Ian, as the eliminations went on I made the kata final and the team kata final, in the afternoon we had the kumite.  After fighting the previous week on the defensive, I decided to change my style in the first fight, I was against a lad I had beaten the weekend before, I decided to attack, pretty soon I lost the first point and almost lost the second, which would have seen me eliminated, Alan was refereeing and he gave me a look as if to say “what the heck are you doing!”  So I returned to my old style, I took the second point and then the decider to win the fight, so for the rest of the day I kept those same tactics, wait for them to come, I made the final once again and for the second weekend, it was me verses Malcolm, his chance for revenge from the weekend before.

I finished third once again in the kata, in the team kata we finished second and then it was the final of the kumite.  It was I guess a bit of a grudge match, this time no silly rules, no body armour and no head gear which caused more problems than it was worth, we were fighting the way we knew best, no gimics.

I kept the same tactics, wait and counter attack, Malcom was an aggressive fighter and liked to attack, so it was down to who was quickest, I took the first point by counter attacking and then the second doing the same, I was champion again for the second weekend running and any controversy or doubt about the result the week before was settled, we were still friends and remain so to this day.

It was a good return for seven very busy days, five trophies, two firsts, a second and two thirds, it was a good way to end a difficult year, but the bar was set for the year to come.

RISE TODAY by ALTER BRIDGE
The wind is blowing cold
Have we lost our way tonight?
Have we lost our hope to sorrow?

Feels like we’re all alone
Running further from what’s right
And there are no more heroes to follow

So what are we becoming?
Where did we go wrong?

Yeah, oh yeah
I want to rise today
And change this world

Yeah, oh yeah
Oh, won’t you rise today
And change this world?

The sun is beating down
Are we ever gonna change
Can we stop the blood from running?

Our time is running out
Hope we find a better way
Before we find we’re left with nothing

For every life that’s taken
So much love is wasted

Yeah, oh yeah
I want to rise today
And change this world

Yeah, oh yeah
So won’t you rise today
And change

This world
Only love can set it right
This world
If only peace would never die

Seems to me that we’ve got each other wrong
Was the enemy just your brother all along?

Yeah, oh yeah
I want to rise today
And change this world

Yeah, oh yeah
Oh won’t you rise today
And change this world?

Yeah, oh yeah
I want to rise today
And change this world

Yeah, oh yeah
I want to rise today
And change this world

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

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

Retired!!!!

So as midnight passed last night and Friday 13th of June came to an end, so definitely did an era.

Yesterday was the my karate association’s deadline for this year’s national championships, last year I officially retired on the occasion of competing in my thirtieth Nationals and becoming England Men’s National Kata Champion for the second time.

I has planned to finish last year, hoping to go out on a high and of course I did that and they gave me a great send off on the day. Then my Chief Instructor told me it was the best he had seen me compete and maybe it wasn’t time to stop just yet.

So as the year passed and the Nationals approached, would I get that itch again?

The answer is no, I have no real motivation to compete again. In reality my appetite for karate is no way near where it used to be, I still enjoy karate, but it’s taking a far less important role in my life.

For 34 years it’s been a big part in my life, at one point I was teaching somewhere everyday of the week, for four years I travelled almost weekly down to London for squad training and travelled the World with the England squad, I’ve had some great times and amazing experiences.

But over the last few months I’ve taken a step back, let others take over a little bit, I’m still teaching and still involved, but for the first time in over 25 years, if I don’t want to go to karate, I don’t have too! For those. 25 years I have been the club, it was me doing all the teaching, if I wanted a night off, assistants would have to be arranged in advanced, it was rare that I could get home from work and decided I didn’t feel like going, I had to be there or things just ground to a halt.

Thankfully Steve who has been helping me for many years has stepped in and taking the reigns, allowing me a bit of breathing space to get my life right.

Family, Church and work, now come before karate, for many years karate came first, even before drinking, I never drank before going to karate, although afterwards I would catch up, quickly! I would say that to a certain extent karate kept me alive, it gave me a purpose when my life was collapsing around me.

Karate will always be a part of my life, I don’t intend to stop teaching, I still enjoy it and after all it has given me some great principles to live by, but for now the stress and pressure of competing is in the past, this year I’ll just go to coach my juniors and cheer on all my old England team mates.

MOVING ON by NEEDTOBREATHE
Can we put back all the pieces to the puzzles left behind?
We will soon be back together just before the stars align.
When the curtain falls for one last time and closes out the show.
Marching left, right, left, another step. Keep smiling as you go.

Movin’ on
Movin’ on

I’m sick of good intentions how they always tend to drown.
But, then, nothing seems to stay afloat living in the saddest town.
When the curtain falls for one last time and closes out the show.
Marching left, right, left, another step. Keep smiling as you go.

Movin’ on
Movin’ on
Movin’ on
Movin’

You’re out of room for marking days on the wall
The lines remind of just how long I’ve been gone
You’re holding on but now it’s time to let go.
Just let it go.

Movin’ on
Movin’ on
Movin’ on
Movin’ on

We could be the story that’ll break your heart.
We could be the victim of a fall apart.
Maybe we could last another week or so.
Movin’ on baby means you gotta let it go.

Decisions

“I’ve had it. If anyone sees me near a boat they can shoot me.”
Sir Steve Redgrave, Atlanta 1996

Probably one of the most famous quotes in British Sports history, Sir Steve Redgrave defiantly uttered after winning a forth Gold Medal at the Atlanta Olympics, he officially retired only to make a come back and win yet another Gold in Sydney four years later.

I made the decision to retire from competition karate over three years ago, well before I started to sink, I knew this year would be thirty years of competing in the National Championships, I saw that as a landmark, probably a record here in the UK and a benchmark for those that follow, it was a significant number and at 39, it seemed the right time to retire.

On the day of the competition as I spoke with people about it, I used my own version of Sir Steve’s quote, if anyone saw my near a competition mat with my karate suit on, they could shoot me! I honestly had my mind made up, a decision made over three years before, that was it, it was over and the reception of all the members of the JKA England when they announced my retirement as I collected my medal was mind blowing, a moment I will treasure forever.

But last Sunday, just two weeks after the Nationals, our Chief Instructor, Ohta Sensei, visited my club to carry out a grading examination for my students, then things in my mind began to change a little.

Ohta Sensei was the Chief Judge for my final performance and a corner judge for my semi final, he has witnessed all my performances over the last ten years, both here in the UK and with the England team abroad.

As we chatted before the class was due to start, we spoke about the Nationals, that’s when he told me I should carry on and that it was the best he’s ever seen me compete!

Oh WOW, now I’m a little confused, I’ve made a decision, a statement of intention and I do intend to fully go ahead with it. But that wasn’t something I had planned for!

But part of me is wondering, if after everything that has happened in my life over the last three years since that decision was made, if after all that I’ve come through, I’ve not only become a better person, but a better competitor, the old me had so many flaws, the new improved me could actually continue to improve.

I know three weeks ago I approached every performance on the day differently to what I’ve ever done before, my preparations as I wrote about in my post “Close To The End Of The Zone” I followed as always, but I added a key component, one that I’ve never added before, it must have made a massive difference, it certainly felt different.

After all the years, after the hundreds upon hundreds of competitions I’ve took part in and the thousands of individual performances I’ve completed, I am always nervous, have a tendency to look tense in my movement and rush through it. These have been criticisms I’ve faced, but nerves always brought out these habits!

Sometimes, I’ve tried to take pressure off myself, told myself not to worry about the result, just enjoy it, that works, it helps, I always feel I do better. But in the big tournaments, when you are there to chase medals, it’s hard to remove those nerves and that tension.

But this year, as I stood aside the mat awaiting my turn, I took a moment, a moment to pray, I just prayed for a calmness of the heart as I walked out, a calmness to perform without tension or nerves.

Well, it worked, lets face it prayer always does, I felt so different, so much more in control, so much more relaxed, I could move how I wanted and control the movements so much better, not on the edge as I have been previously.

Obviously, not only I noticed it, but Ohta Sensei and friends alike!

Do we sometimes make decisions, even drawn out calculated decisions too early?

How could I have foreseen what I would go through three years ago?

How could I have ever believed who I would be now three years ago?

For the time being, I am retired and I intend to stay that way! But next year, next June, you just never know?

You might just have to shoot me!!!!!

UNSTOPPABLE LOVE by KIM WALKER-SMITH
Try to stop Your love and You would wage a war
Try to take the very thing You gave Your life for
You would come running
Tear down every wall
All the while You’re shouting
“My Love, you’re worth it all”.

God you pursue me with power and glory
Unstoppable Love that never ends
You’re unrelenting with passion and mercy
Unstoppable Love that never ends

You broke into the silence and sang a song of hope
A melody, a sound in the deep of my soul
You have come running
You tore down every wall
All the while you’re shouting,
“My Love you’re worth it all”

God you pursue me with power and glory
Unstoppable Love that never ends
You’re unrelenting with passion and mercy
Unstoppable Love that never ends

God you pursue me with power and glory
Unstoppable Love that never ends
You’re unrelenting with passion and mercy
Unstoppable Love that never ends

No sin, no shame,
No past, no pain
Can separate me from Your love
No height, no depth,
No fear, no death
Can separate me from Your love

No sin, no shame,
No past, no pain
Can separate me from Your love
No height, no depth,
No fear, no death
Can separate me from Your love

Whoa
Your love, yeah

God you pursue me with power and glory
Unstoppable Love that never ends
You’re unrelenting with passion and mercy
Unstoppable Love that never ends

Try to stop Your love and You would wage a war.