Tag Archives: National Champion

The Story So Far – 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.

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.

Defeating Demons

Yesterday was long but in many ways one of my greatest days, so earlier today I posted this on Twitter:

Yesterday so many bad memories were erased,
demons born of my drinking defeated by this New Creation
Me + God = Defeating the Impossible

And it’s true, in victory so a number of bad memories were eradicated, not just in the overall victory of winning the championship, but in the journey on the way to victory.

Back in 2006, I was on the England Squad, just competed in the European Championships in Germany and been selected to compete in JKA World Championships in Sydney, Australia, so when it came around to that years National Championships, I was naturally one of the favourites for the Men’s Kata title, I had been runner up the previous year and expected to be up there again, if not win it.

I made it through the eliminations quite comfortably and lined up for the semi final with eight other competitors.  I watch the first handful of competitors take to the mat complete their kata and receive their scores, quite comfortable with the fact I could qualify for the final quite easily, then it was my turn, my name was called, I walked to the edge of the mat, bowed and walked forward, I announced my kata and started in my own time, the first seven moves seemed to be flowing well, speed, power was there, stances were strong and I was focused, then move eight, to lift the right knee high, drive forward with the right leg, taking a long step, then quickly pull the left foot tight behind the right whilst punching with the left hand, moves that are fast, strong, but fairly straight forward, but as I moved the world slowed down, the surrounding noise of the hundreds of people in the sports hall became a hollow echo, this wasn’t right, this had never happened before.

Quite literally I was moving in a sense of slow motion, I don’t remember how it happened at the time, the next thing I remember was that the echoes became silence, the sort of noise where you can hear a pin drop, I was lying on the floor, flat out, sprawled out on the mat, I remember turning myself onto my hands and knees and pounding the floor in anger with my right fist, I still wasn’t sure where I was actually or how I had got there, but it was over, in that moment the dream was over.

I came to my senses and slowly rose to my feet, I turned to face the Chief Judge, put my feet together, bowed and left the mat, I wouldn’t receive a score, my day was over.

I kept my dignity and my anger inside whilst my fellow competitors completed their kata’s and the line up for the final later that night was completed, it wouldn’t include me that year.  We all lined up along the edge of the area, bowed out and I left the hall quickly, I didn’t want to speak with anyone, see anyone, I was angry, immensely angry.  I snapped at few people who hadn’t seen what had happened, who had simply asked how I’d got on, once I had calmed down later, I apologized to each one of them, over four hundred people had been in the hall, the majority of them had their eyes on our area, watching my fall from dignity, shocked, silenced.

Some time later that day a friend was brave enough to show me a video of what had happened, as I planted my right foot, I couldn’t get any grip on the mat, already slipping, my left foot came up behind it very quickly and effectively took out my right foot, putting me flat on the mat.  I blamed the mats, I blamed everything, but myself, I looked for every excuse under the sun, other than myself.

I knew I had an issue with the soles of my feet and palms of my hands excessively sweating, especially when nervous or under pressure, this I had suffered with since I was young, only it was getting worse as the years went by and I got older, I attributed it to my chronic high blood pressure issues, it certainly had seemed to get worse as my blood pressure problems increased over the years.

I never used that kata in competition again, I loved it, but was scared to use it ever again, I chose to use a more safe solid kata, less dynamic and definitely not as expressive, but Jion had a lot less risk of slipping than Enpi, so I started to use that one instead and each time I’ve used it since, I’ve made the final comfortably, but I never dared go back to Enpi, I was too frightened to undergo that embarrassment again.

The next year I made the final with Jion, so in the final I chose my favourite kata Sochin, but this year the mats were incredibly slippery, everyone was struggling with them, therefore I was going to struggle even more.  Sochin, I loved, it has lots of extremely dynamic turns, but performed on the ice ring I would find myself on, it was barely controllable, I did complete it, but it wasn’t great, I wasn’t happy, but it was good enough for second, I hadn’t suffered as badly as two others, but more than Darren who held it together better than the rest of us to win, after that I never used Sochin again, my nightmares were slipping on that mat, I had been on the edge again and I wasn’t comfortable, I went with the safer option after that, not my favourite or my best option, but the safe one.

After that year I invested in chalk for my feet, it definitely helps, I get enough grip to be comfortable, but there was still an element of the excessive sweating that it could not fully mask and the odd minor slip was common place, but I could control them.

But the long and the short of all this, is that I had all the ability, yes I did have issues with excessive sweating, but although it may be attributed to the blood pressure problems, that wasn’t the problem that was making it worse.

The drinking was making the problem an issue for me, it was the drinking that was holding me back from my potential.  The night before the competition back in 2006, I wasn’t tucked up in bed early, mentally preparing for the challenge the next day, no I was watching the World Cup, watching England lose to Portugal, drinking as many cans of strong lager that I could consume, no thought for the competition, just drinking and having a laugh, well we didn’t actually laugh when England lost that’s for sure!

I took to that mat with what I now understand was my permanent hangover, only since I’ve stopped drinking do I realise that the constant feeling of being a little bunged up with phlegm and a little lethargic, together with the constant sweating feet and hands, these things aren’t the normal, they were my own creation.

The main judge that day was our Chief Instructor, Ohta Sensei, the man that had showed faith in my ability, chosen me personally for the Squad and the World Championship team, I had to try to avoid his gaze that day when I bowed and walked off the mat, now I truly understand I how much I let him down, he may never know the true reason why I fell that day, I know and I’ve lived with it eating me away over the last few years, this past fifteen months in particular.

A few weeks ago when I started preparation for the competition, I started to contemplate using Enpi and Sochin again this year, I knew I was going to retire and I wanted to going out doing what I do best.  My hands and feet still sweat, but no way near as bad as they used to, so with the use of my chalk, surely I could get it right this year, but was it worth the risk, I couldn’t decide, it was my last chance, if I slipped again, I did last year, only minor, but it was enough, this year I couldn’t take even the slightest risk, I would have to play it safe.

So after an early start, a 180 mile journey to the venue that morning and a couple of hours of waiting around, we lined up for the eliminations, I chalked my feet and took to the mat.  I breezed through my eliminations and the grip on the mats with the use of the chalk was just right, I was happy and comfortable, I was through to the last eight, I was closer to the end.


Eliminations (That’s me the little guy on the left by the way)

As we milled around awaiting the start of the semis one of my fellow competitors asked which kata I was going to perform, quite frankly at that point I was still undecided, safe Jion and make it through, or risk Enpi?

I was the fourth person up of the eight, the highest mark score of 24.4 had been posted by last years Champion, who I was to follow, as my name was called I was still undecided and that’s not like me, I’m usually fully aware of which kata I’m doing so I comfortable and focused, a safe Jion would see me through, maybe not beat Ken’s score, but I knew I would be pretty safe, but as I bowed my mind was set, this was the day, not just to retire, not just to go out Champion, but to erase the DEMONS, to ease the pain of those memories, this was the day to do Enpi, to just go for it, it was the last chance to prove something to myself.

So in an almost repeat of 2006, I bowed walked on and announce my kata Enpi, although Ohta Sensei wasn’t main judge, he was one of the corner judges, his score would count too!

The first seven moves went well, then on to that move number eight which had haunted me for seven years, well the seven years of bad luck that went with it were over, I landed it and I could feel the sense of relief as I move on to the next move, repeating that same move a further two times, then landing the jump at the end comfortably to complete the kata.

My score was 24.5, I was in the lead, I watched the other four complete their kata’s, but none could match my score, I was through, I had the highest score, but more importantly for me that relief was immense.

The waiting around for another seven hours before the final was hard, but I was ready for the final, my mind was fully set on Sochin, I was going out giving it my best shot, as I was top scorer in the semis I would go last, the reigning champion would go immediately before me, true to form he set the highest score of 40.5, that was what I had to beat.  As I stood at the side of the mat awaiting my name to be called, I followed the same preparation had I taken before each performance of the day, I prayed, I prayed for strength, but mainly for the calmness of heart to give it my best and then I walked to the mat, bowed, walked on and announced Sochin and started.

At that point, it was just me, although Ohta Sensei was sat right in front of me, the world had faded from my eyes and I was completely in my zone.  Once again, there were no slips, I completed the kata and awaited my score, I could see some of the scores cards go up, but only three of the seven, if the rest were like them I was fine, as the scores were announced, I had the feeling that it was enough, the total score was called out and 40.7 was enough, I had done it and it was over, at that moment face to face with Sensei, I had to really fight to hold in my emotion, I bowed left the mat and returned to my fellow competitors, still holding in the emotion and relief.

As the result was officially announce, the tears were forming, but when I walked away, I couldn’t hold them in anymore, I let go.  The congratulations of my fellow competitors, former team mates and friends alike, was immense, it was all just overwhelming, I’m not sure what was really the main reason for the tears, the emotions where many.

The emotion really was four fold, firstly the elation of winning, the sheer joy of reclaiming the title of National Champion, I had held it before, but back then I was just starting that very steep decline into the abyss, from just a drinker to alcoholic with no control.

Then the sense of the impending retirement, this was the last time I would ever do this, ever go through with competing, stand alongside such good friends and fellow competitors, emotions of elation mingled with emotions of sadness.

Then the relief of eradicating the memories of the previous failures had been put to bed, I took a chance, I believed and went for it, I prayed and defeated those bad memories.

Then finally the big one, after everything, after the last couple of years, after facing myself in the mirror with pen knife to my wrist, after wanting to find a way out of life, after all the madness and the self hatred, after all that, after finding a way out, after finding God, after accepting Jesus, after the most amazing journey that I have trod since the end of March last year, I had overcome all of that, I had overcome and conquered and achieved what fifteen months ago I thought was impossible.

All those the emotions were hard to keep in, then as I waited for the medal’s ceremony, the results of event after event were announce and it dragged on, but they did that pretty much intentionally, when my category was announced, after the bronze and silver medal winners had received their medals, Tony Cronk, the JKA England Chairman, made a special announcement, with a wonderful speech announcing my retirement after 30 years of competing, he asked the crowd to raise their voices in appreciation and I walked up to collect my medal with the loudest cheer I’ve heard at one these events, needless to say I couldn’t hide the tears then and even as I type this now the memory of that moment has brought me to the edge of emotion again and the tears are slowly rolling down my cheeks again, it’s a memory I will never forget, the appreciate of all those people, fellow competitors, instructors, judges, parents and children, was just amazing, a day and a moment that will live with me forever, thank you Tony for inspiring that moment, I will treasure it always.

JKA England Medals

JKA England Medals

The emotion of the day was immense, I’ve shed many a tear over the last fifteen months, mainly tears of pain, of hurt and mourning, there have been the odd moment of tears of joy, my Baptism being the greatest of all, but this day will live on with me always.

This was the day where I can finally let go some of those regrets, I can put behind those failures and move forward, the day I finally knew that truly a New Creation stands and what has gone before is forgotten, where my dream was achieved, where I believed and prayed, where it all came together, what a day.

I know there are videos of my semi final and final performance, which when I have received them, I will post, I promise.

I thank God most of all for this day, without God none of this have been possible, without God, I don’t think I would be here now, by his Grace I live, by his strength I have rebuilt this life, simply put:


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
Savior, 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

Holy, You are holy
Who was and is and is to come
Holy, You are holy
Savior, 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 Savior
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 Savior
I’m standing in the faith of a Miracle Maker