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  • Writer's pictureMatt Powell

Adjusting to Altitude

When human beings climb mountains failure to allow sufficient time to adjust to the reduced oxygen can be dangerous.

The change in air pressure combines with the effects of reduced oxygen and causes hypobaric hypoxia (a lack of oxygen reaching the tissues of the body). This is problematic to say the least.

To avoid the symptoms related to Altitude sickness it is necessary that the body adjusts to having less oxygen. To do so a climber must afford their body time to acclimatise to lower oxygen levels which can take 3 to 5 days. In essence the athlete must not approach their climb with haste and instead gain elevation slowly, which allows the human body to adjust to the change in elevation and oxygen levels.

Recently our behind-the-scenes progress has slowed while we have updated systems and policies, retrained and invested energy in improving the ‘unseen’.

Whilst I appreciate this is vital work, I must confess that I have found the focus and workload frustrating. I would much rather focus all our efforts on improving our classes, training and facilities!

The Japanese have a saying.

‘The view from top of the mountain is the same, regardless of the route you took to get there’.

I ponder this wisdom and quote it often, especially in my classes.

Last month I found myself using the quote as a crutch to lean on and support my motivation to push-on and get the essential ‘non-karate’ work done.

So perhaps it is inevitable that I can relate this metaphor to our recent visit to Dundee for the WUKF Scottish Open tournament.

Approximately five or six weeks before writing this blog I had been scrolling through Facebook when I noticed the advertisement for the competition in Dundee. I saved the image and sent it to my colleague Sam with the accompanying text

‘Do you think we have time to organise everything for this?

Now whist Sam has only been working with me for six months, she knows that is code for

‘I want to take a team to this, let’s make it happen’!

My great grandmother was born in Dundee, and I have always felt I should visit, plus I have a firm friendship with the Highland karate association who speak highly of these events, so my gut feeling was this would be a great test for our young competition team.

The timing was great as when I spotted the poster, we were in full build up for our own AKA inter-club tournament at the beginning of May, so I felt confident we could get our team to hold-peak for the necessary extra weeks.

In June last year we had visited Wales for the WUKF Welsh Open, and it had proved to be a day of benchmarking. I recently re-read the blog and I realise now that I was appraising our altitude as a team. After a frustrating day we had consolidated, adjusted our training and focused on what needed improvement.

Instead of rushing to try another WUKF event I had deliberately waited 11 months before pushing for new heights.

Sam utilised our new APP to send a broadcast email detailing the forthcoming competition and that I would be selecting a team from our Saturday competition class.

Inevitably not everyone we selected could make the trip and our year eleven and A-Level students are concentrating on their exams and studies, so soon a confirmed team of seven was selected and poor Sam was delegated the task of planning and organising everything except the karate. (Sorry Sam) 😊

Soon Friday the 31st of May arrived and having booked the flights and hotel it was agreed that everyone would independently make their way to Gatwick and meet at Departures.

Soon the team was assembled, and it would be unfair of me to mention that Beau was 45 minutes late. Thankfully we have not forgotten his punishment press-ups (see you Wednesday Beau) so I don’t need to embarrass him here. 😊

Our Easy-Jet flight was delayed by over an hour, and I soon found myself quoting Sensei Dewey from our SEKU squad trips …… ‘Hurry up and wait, hurry up and wait!’

The flight was uneventful, and we were greeted at the airport by our coach company which much to the delight of everyone came complete with a fully loaded refrigerator.  Soon the chilled drinks were distributed, and we were on the road. It always puts a smile on my face when I hear the chat amongst our team and the friendships being cemented.

We soon arrived at our Travelodge and after dropping off suitcases in our rooms met in the restaurant to sample the delights of the Pizza or burger options supplied. In all honesty the food was surprisingly excellent and good value. However, I was amazed at the sheer volume the teenagers can eat!

It had been a long day, so it wasn’t hard to convince everyone to have an early night. So, after a brief team talk and revision of the specific rules everyone returned to their rooms with timing confirmed for a 7am breakfast for a sharp depart at 7.30am.

The next morning, I awoke super early as always and cursed my body clock. After a couple of coffees in my room I met the team in the restaurant as directed. I am not sure how popular we were with the kitchen staff when we set some pancakes alight in the rotisserie toasting machine. I blame Elliots Dad Danny. 😊

Sam was soon back in charge and did an excellent job of navigating us on a speed march through Dundee to the excellent venue. On arrival we were greeted by Roy O’Kane Sensei from Kanzen karate and the friendly smile of our good friends from the HKA (Highland Karate Association). It was good to see Kevin Slaney Sensei suited and booted ready for a busy day of officiating.

We soon commandeered a section of seating and set up base camp while the team went and changed into gi’s, stretched and prepared for excitement of the day ahead.

First up at 8.45am was Female kata 13-14yrs Purple belt and below. I had entered young Jessie Hart into this event as you can boost a competitor into one age category above and as Jessie was purely competing in kata, we felt this would serve her well.

Anna Jackson was the very first competitor drawn and faced the nerve-wracking challenge of being the first to perform. Anna put in a solid performance and was unlucky not to progress past the first round. Jessie who is petite in stature sems to grow when she steps onto a competition mat. Unfazed by the occasion she put in solid performances of Heian katas and found herself in the final competing against senior katas such as Empi and Gankaku. Jessie finished in a respectable 4th place missing out on a medal by 0.1 of a point.

Soon the mats were full, and I found myself darting between areas to coach.

We had three of our lads in the same kata category. Beau and Jacob (Cookie) faced the nerves and performed well but I could sense their nerves as the pace of their katas were a little quicker than normal and they were both holding tension when blocking. This can shorten stances and techniques but often it is experience and mat time that is needed to cure this. I was pleased that they represented themselves well.

Elliot (Ice Man) Walsha built on his recent performance at our AKA competition and controlled his nerves. He progressed through the rounds and finished second in category behind a strong performance from a member of Sensei Keith Burns Kaizen dojo.

Flying solo in the brown belt teenager’s category Tommy Welsh demonstrated his normal unfazed demeanour and progressed to the final. His Bassai-Dai was solid, but he unfortunately missed out on a medal in this event.

Pandora our resident surf-dude is perhaps the calmest human ever to live and never seems affected by an occasion. Pandoras kata category was a tough one and she didn’t medal on this occasion. However, I have seen significant development in Pandora’s karate over the last 18 months and I was proud when my friend Phil Owen Sensei complimented me on Pandora’s karate (well done P) 😊

Soon we were into the mix with kumite and first up once again was Anna in the Sanbon kumite. Anna won her first match convincingly six points to nil and was keeping things simple and utilising her excellent timing.

After winning her elimination rounds Anna found herself in the final against the talented Poppy Douglas from Scotland who won the match. Anna has come a very long way in a short time, and I was extremely proud of her. Poppy was a class act and deserved the win, but I am sure Anna will grow from her experience in the final. Well done Anna second in 13 to 14 years 4th kyu and below Sanbon kumite.

Next, I had to sprint to mat two for the 13 to 14 year old boys 4th kyu and under ippon kumite. Beau, Cookie and Ice man (Elliot) all put in classy displays of timing and distance and progressed through the first round. Jacob was then frustrated in the next round, but his Scottish opponent was a solid presence and a challenge.

Beau kept his cool and utilised his excellent timing as did Elliott to secure an all Petersfield final.

I stood back to watch these two best of friends compete in a final at an open competition for the first time. They have been friends since nursery school and Beau stepped-up pushing Els all the way until he edged it with the 2 points to1 victory. Well done lads.

As Tommy is a brown belt he fought in a separate Shobu-ippon category. Again, he composed himself well and went to work. After winning his early rounds he missed out on a medal after losing to the eventual winner of the event from Ireland.

Next up was Pandora in the Shobu-Ippon Brown and Black Belt category who put in an excellent display again Elidh from the HKA. Pandora is a 1st Kyu but has excellent movement, timing and aggression. The Shobu event was suiting her well. Unfortunately, her next opponent proved a little too experienced, but well-done P it was a tough category.

It was then with haste that our fighters switched to padded mitts and shin guards for the excitement of Sanbon kumite. Massive thanks to Julia and Jolie from the HKA who lent us the shinguards, I quite simply couldn’t fit all the kit required into Easy-Jets baggage allowance. Thank-you. 😊

In the Sanbon events it was once again the opportunity for Anna, Tommy and Elliot to shine.

Anna fought tirelessly and secured a solid third place, whilst Elliot really stepped up and found a new gear to win his category in style with a variety of jodan kicks, sweeps and sharp punch combinations.

That said, Tommy wasn’t to be outdone and despite his frustration at finishing third clocked up a few jodan mawashi and a stunning ura mawashi to satisfy his own standards.

Beau and Jacob fought well and will grow from this experience. Pandora once again fought Elidh, who reversed the shobu result and had the edge in the sanbon event.

After a few hours at the sidelines cheering everyone else on it was time for Jessie’s kata category. Jessie’s nick name is Ashkubi (the Japanese word for ankles) due to her excellent stances. I was so pleased to see the older teens supporting her from the sidelines as she smashed out an epic performance in the final and secured second place. This young lady has come a long way from the shy little dot I met two years ago.

Next up was the event we had all been really looking forward to. The rotation kumite.

Having never coached this before I moved between mats watching and understanding how it works. Essentially the coach is responsible for tagging fighters in after sparring for a minimum of 15 seconds and the four-minute fight becomes an intense match of strategy from the coaches and skill from the fighters. It’s great to watch and participate in.

Our team consisted of Elliot, Tommy, Beau and Cookie as reserve. These guys really care for and respect each other so I was proud to coach them through this event.

First up we fought a Scottish team coached by Gordan Mathie Sensei. Elliott got us off to a strong start, and after 1 minute 40 I switched tommy in who continued to rack up the points. Then with approximately one-minute remaining Beau put in a solid shift and we secured our space in the final. The boys done good!

In the final we faced an Irish team that was well organised with a stand-out fighter. This match became a cat and mouse affair of switches and changes by my opposing coach while I opted to keep Elliot in and scoring. We then switched through Tommy and Beau.

We were 5 points to 3 up on points when a tense exchange began with an Irish Ura Mawashi and finished with a double leg sweep and follow up from Elliott. After a period of deliberation, the points were awarded for the head kick, and we were now tied at 5 points all.

It was riveting and the crowd were loving it. As the match restarted, I swiftly changed Els for Beau and unfortunately Beau was on the wrong end of a heavy head shot and with suspected light concussion was taken to the medics.

After a short break Elliot was subbed back in and we had six seconds left on the clock. It was extremely tense and the match went to extension.

First to score would win and unfortunately for us the Irish pipped us to it this time.

But, I was thrilled with our performance and team spirit. Elliots sweep was outstanding, and all of the lads had performed excellently.

The comp drew to an end, and we said our goodbyes to our friends in the arena as we began the 30-minute walk back to the hotel.

The walk felt a lot longer in the evening than it had in the morning. 😊

When we got back to our hotel Sensei Slaney and Owen joined us for a refreshment and catch up before kindly ferrying us to the local Nando’s for a much-needed intake of dietary protein en masse!

After dinner we had a small party at the travel lodge and voted for technique and blooper of the day. I remember Tommy’s ura mawashi won the technique, but the blooper escapes me. I am sure someone will remind me.

The next day we took a coach to Edinburgh and squeezed in some site seeing before we flew home.

The trip was exciting, valuable and a credit to Sams organisation and ability to herd cats. 😊

This was a new experience for our young team and a step up in many ways. Their results exceeded all expectations.

Now we need to take time to reflect and adjust as we plan the next stage of our development and ready ourselves for the next climb, its challenges and appreciate the change in altitude.





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