Tag Archives: Enoeda Sensei

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

The One Year Old Black Belt!

28 years ago today the 10 year old me set off on a journey with a friend, which would see me return a different person.

On that cold November morning in 1984’s Britain, I started out on a journey at around 5.30am in the morning, not with my parents, they would not be making this journey, this would be the first of my karate gradings that my Dad had not been present at. I would start the journey with a parent of one my club mates, firstly a lift from my home to Lincoln, to meet a friend from our Lincoln club, his sister would be driving us today all the way up to Gateshead near Newcastle. Lincoln isn’t that far from my home, half an hour or so to the centre of Lincoln, where we meet Simon, having met up with Simon we then proceed to walk to his sister’s house, not that far away, then we start the drive up to Newcastle and our destination of Gateshead.

For a ten year old travelling with two adults, one I barely know the other I don’t, it was a long journey, 150 odd miles around 3 hours, the only thing I seem to remember of the journey was that Simon’s sister must have loved the band Queen, that was all we listened to, but I guess it could have been worst, I kind of like Queen.

We arrive early, which is always good after a long journey in a small car and it was a very small car, even for someone my size. The training beforehand is taken by the Chief Instructor of the Japan Karate Association Europe, the world renowned Enoeda Sensei, I had only trained with him once before, that was when I was about 8 years old and a lowly yellow belt, he was a very imposing character, especially for a 10 year old alone, Simon obviously lined up with the adults, I was on my own with the other kids, who unlike me all seemed to have friends to train alongside of.

Enoeda Sensei

Enoeda Sensei

The first of two stand out moments of the day happened during the training session, we practiced a set of moves that saw us all turn in different directions, basically defences against a couple of attackers, then we were to find two other people to practice these moves with. Well as I said, I was alone, I didn’t have my club mates with me and all the other kids partnered up together I was alone, the lone kid in a class of hundreds of others, the only kid or adult without partners, I was bricking it.

The instructions and demonstrations were given, we went back to our partners to practice, except me, I just carried on doing the routine on my own, then I caught sight of Enoeda Sensei approaching, he stopped and stood watching me, alone. I was waiting for the telling off, why didn’t I have a partner, I wanted the floor to swallow me, on a day when I am supposed to impress, I couldn’t get past my natural shyness and find at least one partner. I finished my routine and looked directly at Enoeda Sensei, I got the surprise of my life, on his face was a smile, a big one, then he lifted one hand and gave me a thumbs up! This is the feared Enoeda, the man they call Tora (Japanese for Tiger), a man feared for his ferocity, he was smiling at me giving me a thumbs up, I wasn’t in trouble, I was doing well, I must have been to get this kind of response from a legend in Karate circles. The rest of the class I cannot remember, but I remember feeling lifted by such a response from a man I feared, the very man that would decide if I passed or failed had given me the thumbs up, I was now on fire.

When we brown belts had finished our session, the black belts moved into the hall and we had a few welcome hours rest before the grading, time to fill out our grading forms and register. I had failed twice before under a different instructor, so I had copies of my previous forms with me, but as a 10 years olds writing is spidery at best, even without the added pressure of this day, Simon filled out my form based on my old ones and we registered.

As all black belts grading do in the UK, the juniors were up first, in order of height, smallest first, in groups of six, so I was in the first couple of groups, my name was called, I jumped up to the line and took my place. Then the second stand out moment happened, I was called from the line to the table, this never happens unless there is a problem, I am back to bricking it now!

I approached Enoeda Sensei, he asks me two simple questions in his heavy Japanese accent, firstly;

Enoeda: When was your last grading?

Me: November last year Sensei, one year ago.

Enoeda: When were you born?

Me: 6th December 1973, Sensei.

He then points to my grading form, I glance down, oh no I really am in for it now, but then with the biggest, booming laugh I have ever heard, he loudly pronounces across the large sports hall:

“It says here you are one year old!!!”

Well it turns out that although Simon had copied my forms, he had mixed up the date of my last grading with my date of birth, so I last graded in 1973 and was born in 1983, I was one year old! The mistake was quickly rectified and with a laugh I was sent back to the line to take my grading.

We are the heirs to every throne
We wander far from what we’ve known
We wait for love to call us home
We are the heirs
We wander far
We wait for love
We wait for more
(The Fight by The Rocket Summer)

For the second time that day I faced the worst, the wrath of one of the most revered karate instructors in the world, but for the second time I was greeted with a smile and a response I never expected, as I walked back to the line I was once again relaxed, I was ready to perform for the man that had removed my nerves twice already that day, I couldn’t fail now, it felt like that for that day I was Enoeda’s favourite student.

My grading went well, I was glad I was up early, as the adults began to take their grading, Simon included, the other half of the hall came to life with the sounds of 1980’s keep fit music as an aerobics class started, not the best thing to take a grading to, or maybe it was, I guess their rhythm could have improved!

I passed my grading that day, after all that how could I fail, twice I had reason to be berated, twice I was lifted, I was over the moon and at ten years old, at that time one of the youngest black belts in the country.

I rang home, trying to explain to my Dad that I had passed, it was hard to talk over the tears of joy, after experiencing the tears of pain twice before, now I was crying in joy, I had done it! Unfortunately Simon hadn’t passed, but he never let his disappointment show, in the true spirit of karate he was so over the moon that I had passed, he hid his own disappointment and celebrated with me, a true gent. I’ve not seen Simon for over twenty years now, I often wonder what happened to him over the years, I hope someday I will get the chance to thank him for all he did for me that special day.

Most karate clubs still wouldn’t take kids in the early 80’s, our club started taking kids at 7 years old and as it took around 3½ to 4 years to obtain a black belt, 10 was pretty much the youngest around. Now days most clubs take 4/5 year old beginners, so it is common to see 8 year old black belts, but not then.

So just the day before I had made the local paper, although anonymously, due to my firework accident, this next week I became a bit of a minor celebrity locally, a handful of local papers reported my grading and photo shoots were happening all over, one in our living room and another memorably saw me performing various moves, bare footed in a puddle laden school yard, as some of my friends looked on, as the press usually do they picked the worst of the pictures to publish, one paper even nicknamed me the “mighty atom”!

At that point in my life, that was my greatest day, it still ranks up there as one of my best days, but the birth of my kids and some of the fantastic days I have had in last few months have eclipsed it, but it remains a day etched in my memory, even 28 years later I recall those two moments so clearly, memories of a great man, that although he passed away nearly 10 years ago, I will treasure and never let die!