The largest competition we used to regularly attend in the UK was the Shobbu-Ippon International in Guildford. Around 2008-2009 it peaked at one-thousand entries. Teams and individuals from all over Europe came to compete.
On this occasion there had been some fantastic performances and one Male karate-ka was really standing out. From memory he was from Algeria and was competing for one of the London based dojos. He was extremely quick and versatile and was sweeping and flamboyantly kicking and punching his way through the day.
As I remember he won the individual kumite that day and did so with significant style.
On the competition circuit I used to battle with inconsistency and getting in the ‘zone’. If I were on form then I had the potential to win these events, but equally if I were de-focused, I could quite easily exit the competition after the first fight.
Strangely I was by far more consistent in the team fights.
I used to fight last in our five-man team, which meant that if we were tied at two wins with our opponent then all the pressure and focus was on me for the win. Weirdly I flourished under this pressure and enjoyed this responsibility.
I forget whether it was the Semi-Finals or the final itself but suspect it was the latter as the fights took place later in the day. Sure-enough as I walked to the line with my team-mates, I realised that my opponent for the match was to be the talented Algerian.
Inevitably as the fights progressed it was a close affair and, on this occasion, we were tied at two wins each. I remember bouncing on the line and being called forward by the referee and I also recall everything slowing down. It was the strangest thing.
Suddenly I blocked out external noise and distraction and I remember walking forward but not really feeling like I was in my own body. I did not consciously have any game plan or strategy for the fight. I simply walked to the line, bowed, and awaited the referee’s declaration of hajime.
Bang it was over.
I caught the fastest guy at the competition cold with an Ippon Oi-Tsuki (stepping punch) straight off the line. The crowd and my team-mates included went berserk!
It was the most basic, simple, fundamental technique imaginable, and I can honestly say I did not plan it. ….. It happened!
My opponent was extremely gracious and complimentary, and I remember feeling thrilled that I had earnt his respect.
One of my coaches (Sensei Crowe) had taught me this strategy and reinforced it many times and I can hear his encouragement in squad classes when I think over this story……
‘go on Matty…. Straight off the line!’
It had become so engrained that when I needed to deploy the tactic it happened quite naturally.
I learnt many things through this experience, not least the value of surprise.
Most of all I appreciated the importance of self-belief, confidence and trust that can be found in diligent training and preparation.
Whatever battles or challenges lay ahead, train hard, understand your weaknesses, develop strategies and when your time comes ……
go for it! …….. Straight off the line!!