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  • Writer's pictureMatt Powell

Family first - Karate 4 Pops!

Back in May 2008 I was training hard and along with my fellow members of the SEKU squad. We were working towards Abe Sensei’s JSKA world championships which we were due to attend later that year.

At the time, our squad training would consist of two hours of kata training and then two hours of kumite work. We would train on a Sunday morning twice a month alternating venue between Portsmouth and Cornwall.

As Vice-Captain I had an important role to play and would always attend as many of the classes as possible. These were the days before Marriage, Children, and the pressures of one’s own dojo to manage. My Sensei had regularly reinforced the sentiment from his teacher Enoeda Sensei, and I was encouraged to prioritise;

“family first, then work, then karate!”

On this Sunday however I was conflicted.

On arriving at the dojo, I simply felt like I should not be there.

Sensei Paul Uren was coaching us at the time, and he had driven all the way from Plymouth with many of his and Sensei Steve Hollister’s Saltash based students. We were a very tight unit and always strived to support each other…… My duty was to train with everyone and put the work in.

But I was feeling emotional!

A week previous I had been at Wembley and watched Pompey lift the FA Cup for the first time in my lifetime. Better still, I had shared the experience with my Dad.

My principle role-model, my mentor, My Hero!

I first went to Fratton Park with my Dad in 1981 to watch a friendly with Tottenham Hotspur. I remember the perimeter fences, the fear I felt when the crowd roared as we went one nil up and the time we had spent in the Baffins Arms after with My Uncle Jim. Happy Days!

Glory or Wembley had not been on our minds until our FA Cup run in 1992 and some of my fondest memories with Dad are walking down the football lanes discussing Beresford, Anderton and co.

When we reached the final and the lifted the cup the emotions I felt were incredible. Especially as it was an experience I had not dreamed that I would get to share with my Dad.

In 2000 my Dad was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma which at the time was considered a rare blood Cancer found more regularly in older people. At the time Dad was only 42, the same age I am now.

I experienced true sadness for the first time in my life. My Sister and I sat at the kitchen table with Mum while Dad had the horrendous task of breaking the news to us. I kept it together, Dad was devastated but promised to do his best to fight the Cancer. I buried my devastation as deep as I could.

Mum and Dad protected us at the time and I later discovered that the prognosis had been two to five years. Dad had to stop work and embarked on the harshest chemotherapy treatment you can imagine. Back then a successful visit to Wembley with Pompey would have seemed impossible. But after a Stem cell transplant and the rigours of Chemotherapy Dad kept the Cancer at bay and we did indeed get to sample the glory of Wembley.

No one that day was happier to be there than my Dad. And I was prouder of him than I was the achievements of the team. An FA Cup Winners flag from that day still hangs with pride in his garage workshop.

The reason I was feeling conflicted at training was that Pompey were due to have an open bus procession through the streets of Portsmouth and Southsea that day. Dad had asked me to go with him, but I had told him that I had to train. I had to support my team-mates. I had to do karate.

When I entered the dojo I knew I had made a mistake!

I can be very-determined and extremely single minded when I set my mind to something. Most often I would consider this a strength, but on this occasion it had clouded my judgement.

Fortunately, instinct and ‘gut-feel’ are powerful human responses. I am grateful that I was emotionally aware enough to realise that I had made a mistake.

After the two-hour kata class, I approached Paul (Uren) and explained that I needed to go and why. Paul is a great guy and totally understood. I did not explain to my team-mates as I was feeling too emotional. I simply said goodbye to everyone, changed and left.

I phoned Dad, drove to my parent’s house and we jumped on a train to Fratton. We grabbed a McDonalds and then walked to intercept the team bus as it left the ground. We made it all just in time.

We followed the Bus for miles, down Fratton road and then we took a short-cut to Southsea common where we found a spot to celebrate in-front of the main stage where the team were due to show-off the cup.

We sang, hugged, laughed, and thoroughly enjoyed the moment. A moment neither of us thought we would get to share. It was truly-wonderful and one of my favourite experiences ever. For me it was even better than watching the final.

A truly ethemeral moment.

A Japanese translation of the word Sensei is literally ‘the one who went before’.

I believe this is a strong definition and a reminder that we are all journeying through life’s experiences and some are just a little further along than others.

I often reflect on this memory and always encourage my students to prioritise family.

Karate will always be there! While precious moments with family can be fleeting.

On the 12th of February last year Dads health had deteriorated to the point where we had no option but to support him with Palliative care. He had been battling Sepsis and infection in Hospital but his body could quite simply not take any more.

As we have approached the first anniversary of this date, I have felt heavy, sad and empty. Suddenly I can remember exactly what we were experiencing with Dad at this time last year. Every moment is crystal clear.

At 3.30pm on the 12th of February we arrived at the Rowans Hospice in Purbrook. My Sister and I had followed the Ambulance up that had transported Dad with Mum by his side. I struggled to talk when I got there. I needed to process the new surroundings and prepare for the last part of Dads journey.

After three days of exceptional care from the incredible team Dad passed away on the 15th of February. Whilst the experience was devastating the care and support of everyone at the hospice had been outstanding.

It is a sad but wonderful place staffed by Angels, some of whom volunteer to simply help others in pain. Being there reminded me that there are some truly-wonderful people in the world.

Since April 2020 I have been regularly teaching karate on Zoom in an effort to keep my dojo and karate friends active and engaged in the art. It has been a challenge and is not the same as being together at a dojo, but it serves a purpose and helps give me an outlet and a reason to be positive.

Initially I thought I would take a week off from teaching to reflect and think of Dad on the anniversary of his passing, but then I realised that that would just not be in keeping with my Dad’s spirit. He was a fighter and rose to a challenge. He was also extremely proud of my dojo.

So, I decided that I would honour him by hosting a special karate online Zoom session and donate the proceed to the hospice that looked after Dad so well at the end of his life.

I am going to teach three separate one hour classes back to back and invite everyone to login and join. Each class will have a grade appropriate theme and be pitched at an appropriate level, but Senior experienced students will be able to train in all three classes.

There will be no set fee to train but I have set up a just-giving page for donations. All of which will be directed to the Rowans Hospice in Purbrook near Waterlooville.

The theme for the training will be inspired by my Dad.

Courage, enthusiasm, determination and the joy of the moment.

I hope to see as many of you there as possible. I guarantee loads of fun, plenty of spirited kiai’s and perhaps the odd ‘Play Up Pompey’ in Dads Honour.

Please remember, despite your dedication and commitment….. always put your family first!

Here is the link to the just giving page:

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