When I left school in 1978, and learned to drive, I spoke to a customer of the shop that I worked in because I’d found out that he taught Karate. That customer was Sensei John Van Weenan.
At the time, I used to get bad aches in my calf muscles, and he told me that these would ease through Karate. Plus, I’d been bullied at every school I’d attended and now I was in a position to learn how to look after myself.
So, I started training at the age of 19 in 1980. Aside from a 6-month break whilst starting a new job in Chichester, and Covid lockdown, I’ve trained 2 or 3 times pretty much every week for 42 years.
I was hooked from the first lesson. In those days, Sensei Van Weenan ran a 12-week induction course that helped you to gain your first belt. Once achieved, you could train in the club sessions with all the Red belts (that was me) up to Purple and White belts.
There was separate session for Brown belts and above, and stepping into the first, the second and the third……well ok every session for the whole of the first year, was at times a terrifying prospect.
But I made many friends, some of whom still train and teach. And between us, secretly we bolstered each other’s pre session nerves. Once inside the Dojo, there wasn’t time to be nervous. Only time to Block!! And even then, that was a scarce commodity at times.
Whilst I was a member of this club, Sensei Van Weenan wrote and published a book on Karate, swiftly followed by several more. It was at the time, viewed as a great book, and still today I hear it spoken of with true admiration. And somewhere, in a group photo in that first book, taken at one of the gradings, my face can be seen peering back at the camera.
A job change in 1984 meant a relocation, and I joined a karate club in Wheatley, Oxfordshire. This was run by Sensei Roland Read, who became, and still is, a great confidant and friend. I still train with him whenever the chance allows, and in his seventies, he still has a deep love for the art which is infectious.
Under Sensei Read’s instruction I achieved my 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Dan. All three gradings were taken under the watch full eye of Sensei Kiyoshi Yamazaki, (who amongst his many credits, worked alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger in the film Barbarian) and it is his name that appears in my grading licence.
My 1st Dan grading lasted 7 days. It consisted of two 3-hour sessions a day, 75 miles of driving each day, and the final closed test on the Sunday. But that moment when Sensei called out my name, followed by the word Shodan, still brings a lump to my throat. My 2nd and 3rd Dan gradings were similar.
It was to be nearly 30 years before I was awarded my 4th Dan.
My competing experience started under Sensei Read’s instruction. I had some small success in those days, mostly at club level competitions but I always felt happiest as part of a kumite team. As an individual, Kata was my favorite and I managed to win a few medals. Kata has always been my true love in Karate
Then came the Ryobukai World Championships!!
On a solo trip to California in the late 80’s to visit my soon to be Brother in Law, I found myself in the LA area where the World Championships were being held, in Anaheim. Being a young, energetic and, as it turns out, impetuous person, I thought I’d enter. But with no preparation, I failed dismally.
However, the day before the tournament, I got the chance to train under the guidance of some very high-ranking Japanese instructors, including Tak Kubota (those of you old enough may remember him, and his small baton weapon, which I still have to this day).
Now at young 60 years old, I can see the benefit of all those years of continuous training. The flexibility and vigour that I have from being active will I hope, (compared with my many Armchair Athelete friends), hold me in good stead for many years to come.
I may not be the fastest, strongest, and most knowledgeable Karateka amongst those that I train alongside, but I’m blessed to have a method of exercise and stretching that can be continued as I get more mature, that does not require anything other than a small space and no expensive equipment. And friends spread all over the world that I’ve trained with and shared post grading beer and curries with.
If I was asked to explain the long-term benefits of practicing Karate, I would say it’s possible to make it a lifetimes journey, and for me, there are many more miles to travel.
Note from Matt Powell:
Steve and I connected online during lockdown when Steve started following my work and reading my blogs. Like myself Steve was very close with his own late father so he offered some supportive messages and words as I came to terms with my loss.
When lockdown eased I was thrilled when Steve asked to join our dojos. Especially considering his time-served in a gi and experience. He is a great asset to our clubs and it seemed fitting to ask him to share some insights into his journey.
Thankyou Steve. Osu