In 1988 we moved from North End in Portsmouth up to Portchester near Fareham. We had lived in a Victorian mid-terrace house that my parents had renovated, and I had been a student at an imposing Middle school which resembled a work-house. I trained karate at the Portsmouth Karate Club under the guidance of Sensei Dewey.
As a young boy a lot of what I knew about life was about to change.
We now lived in a small bungalow but now had a fantastic back garden. My school was only a couple of decades old and we had amazing fields to run around and play rounders on. I was allowed to play outside with my friends and after a few months I moved to train with Sensei O’Donnell at his Portchester Karate Club which was based at my school.
Sensei O’Donnell had conducted my first grading at St Faiths Church in October 1987, and I remember liking his relaxed manner and detailed explanations. I was a red belt when I moved and remember having to miss a grading as it had not quite been three months since the last one at Portsmouth.
Sensei knew I was a little frustrated, but he is a deep thinker and an excellent communicator. I remember him convincing me that it was not a bad thing.
Karate was not simply a “race through the belts”.
One of my new friends from School Kevin Kerr (who at the time had an epic flat-top haircut) was the same belt as me and Faye Cappleman who was in the year above me also trained. This was a busy and thriving karate club to be a member of.
I was proud to be there.
Anyone who practiced karate in the late eighties and early nineties will remember what used to happen when the Karate Kid was aired on TV.
The following night/week at the dojo there would be a huge influx of new students. My Dads generation and thus many of my instructors had started during the Bruce Lee boom years. Many of my age group could similarly trace their initial inspiration to the tale of a scrawny teenager with attitude from New Jersey who was befriended and mentored by a non-assuming yet all knowing fantastic teacher.
(Thinking about it there are some interesting parallels I could draw there, but I’ll save that for another blog 😊. )
I well remember my friends Lee and Lee (Robinson and White) starting to train after seeing the movie. It was great to have my new friends around me.
A lot of time has passed since those early days in my karate career, but somethings have not. Sensei O’Donnell is still a fantastic teacher and has a thriving dojo with big numbers learning karate.
A few years ago, I had a realisation. Of that class I trained in back in 1988, and the fifty to sixty kids that were in the Junior class, I believe only Faye and I are still actively training and teaching karate.
I am proud of that fact but additionally it taught me a valuable lesson.
When a child joins your karate club you simply do not know the impact it is going to have on them.
They could be with you for life.
They could be your protégé.
In thirty years’, they could be out the front.
Consequently, I always try to make a lot of fuss over new students and I often repeat this anecdote.
From day one an Instructor has an important obligation to inspire.
Potential is not always obvious but if we treat all new students with the same respect and seek to understand their reasons for joining, we can capture their attention and maybe start them on a lifetime of karate experiences.
Eventually one of these guys will take our place out front.
Tonight, one of my first friends from the move to Portchester brought his six-year-old son to start training at my Knowle dojo. It was probably the first time we had been together in a karate club for thirty years. Time flies when you are having fun.
This is only a short blog, but I wanted to capture my enthusiasm for having another new student join.
Despite the challenges we face as karate instructors in this strange COVID world we must keep pushing forward.
We simply do not know who is ready to be inspired and who is about to walk through the dojo doors for the first time.
So, to my fellow instructors in the karate community; the next time you are out front teaching, and you find various young eyes staring at you. I urge you to take a moment and think……..
Which one of you is me?