Saturday, 24 November 2012

Competing at the 39th European Wado Championships, Italy, 2012

With rumours abounding that Venice was flooded under several feet of water and with more torrential rain forecast to come; it was a damp but energized Wadokai England team that assembled at the Sports Village of Lignano Sabbiadoro in Italy for the 39th FEW European Championships. 32 representatives from 11 clubs and associations were selected to wear the new “three lions” badge and they arrived along with a dedicated coaching team and a bus full of supporters for the event.

After a car accident in May that put the brakes on training for 10 weeks I was lucky to be selected for the team kata, and after a lot of hard work with Sensei May VI was a late selection for the Over 18s individual kata.

With a couple of days to settle in and prepare before the big event the England Contingent spent time socialising and training together. This involved enjoying the local cuisine (which GeTur catering would have you believe consisted almost exclusively of bread rolls and pasta), exploring the local area (closed for the season), training on the luxuriously springy judo mats in the dojo and getting to know one another better in the bar over a coca-cola or two.

Whilst the England Squad was made up of a dozen clubs from around the country a united English spirit began to take hold as the competitors worked together to perfect their kata and Kumite. Words of encouragement and offers of help could be heard throughout the dojo training sessions and our kumite team sat patiently and attentively during the kata practice, applauding and supporting our kata team.

After the training was over, Friday evening was given over to each individual’s personal pre-competition ritual. Some sat together chatting and relaxing, others took themselves to their room to read or listen to music before hitting the hay, still others could be found exploring the empty venue or practicing alone in the dojo.

On the morning of Saturday 3rd November 2012, 32 representatives of England Wadokai filtered into the main arena at GeTur Sports Village for the European Championships. The junior and cadet kata events began just after 10am. The venue held 5 full size tatami with raked arena seating on 3 sides, the fourth sporting the coveted 1st, 2nd and 3rd place podiums. It could have been a daunting environment for the younger members of the squad but each individual performed with precision and aplomb and the results speak for themselves. Soon our young Karateka aged between 10 and 13 years had secured four silver medals and one bronze in the space of just over an hour, losing out by just one flag in many instances to the eventual champions. Their professionalism set a high bar for the older competitors that were to come.

England’s first Gold medal came courtesy of (amongst other great techniques) a perfectly executed pinan godan jump. Young Brandon cleared four feet of air to land with a straight back and excellent composure. His subsequent kata were effected equally well to snatch the gold, followed by more medals from the cadets as the afternoon wore on.

In the team kata England can only be described as relentless taking a gold medal in every junior and cadet category in which we competed bringing the total medal haul to seventeen by 2pm.

The break for lunch was slightly late and children and adults alike tried to keep the hunger pangs at bay with more bread rolls as we moved into the junior and cadet Kumite section of the tournament.

The rules in Italy don’t allow for any competitive fighting for under fourteens so some of our younger ‘killer kumite’ missed out on an opportunity to compete this year. As such, the afternoon began with the Male 14-15 yr categories before moving on to the adult kata events & senior Kumite. A seven or eight PM finish was now looking optimistic at best but this did nothing to dampen the spirits of those yet to compete. Those who had finished their events moved from mat to mat or stood in the stands to cheer on their companions along with friends and family. The England supporters were, of course, the loudest and easily out-cheered the host nation.

In my category Brit Katrina Wilson was narrowly pipped to the post and took silver whilst our team mate Mairi Kerin won bronze, I was knoeked out in the third round but was delighted to have got that far against a formidable bunch. Mairi and Katrina joined me in the team event to take a clean sweep of flags in each of our kata.
That's me in the middle as we complete the jumping turn in Wanshu to win the gold!

There were more medals for Engalnd in the Veteran and Male kata events. The men’s Kumite matches were enthralling and at times bloody (the entire tournament was put on hold for over an hour as paramedics sent one unlucky competitor to the local hospital) with England’s fighters holding their own against some formidable opponents. There was disappointment when some of our seniors missed out on medals but mostly pride in the quality of the kumite and the sportsmanship displayed. Late in the evening, hungry and exhausted the England teams spirits were lifted by our assistant coaches, who, having been on their feet for fourteen hours, supporting and instructing, went out on the mat, fought hard, and brought back the shiny stuff.

The work that our coaches and assistant coaches have put in to the kata and kumite squads, not only in the run up to the tournament but throughout the year can’t be underestimated. It’s a testament to their skill, support and dedication that 32 competitors brought home 35 medals between them, 13 gold, 12 silver and 6 bronze. England came second overall in the medal table, only just missing out on first place to the host nation.

I'm still grinning!

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

“Great oaks from little acorns grow”

How three members of the Wadokai England Squad

travelled to Lisbon with the hope of becoming the first ever Sakagami Cup Champions

On the day many of Wadokai’s finest were battling it out in Leicester for a place on the England Squad for the European Championships, Wadokai Portugal were hosting the first ever Sakagami Cup Tournament. The cup pits fighters from Wadokai Portugal against their counterparts from England in honour of the 8th Dan President of Federation European Wadokai, Sakagami Sensei. Founder and organiser of the tribute tournament Frederico Silva said that he hoped this inaugural competition would grow by reputation to include other European countries who would meet annually to pay tribute to Sakagami. He added that he wished the tournament to become “as respected as the Sensei in who’s honour it is held”.


In it’s infancy the cup is only open to male seniors (although Sensei Silva hopes to have more categories in the future) so this lone female reporter boarded a plane to Lisbon to spend the weekend with three of Wadokai England’s talented and enthusiastic karateka; Leicester Karate Association’s Junaid Mulla, and Shizen-Do Kai’s Keenan Pedley & Jon Lefevre. We were also lucky enough to be joined by Sensei Pedley’s father Ed, who kept us youngsters (!) in-check during our 4 days mini-break.

Our hotel was so new that it squeaked which meant that whilst the accommodation was far superior to the usual hostel/low-cost affair, it was in the middle of an industrial estate on the outskirts of Lisbon. This, the out-of-town sports venue, and the centre of Lisbon formed a sort of Bermuda Triangle of confusion for our local cabbies who ended several trips with:

“It is here,

somewhere, this road.

Maybe. I think.

You get out here.

12 Euro.”

After finding our feet in the city and on a high from England’s 3-2 football win against Sweden, we headed to the venue on Saturday morning confident of giving our Portuguese opponents a good fight and an excellent display for Sakagami Sensei. With only two countries competing for the trophy the pressure was on, this was not just competing for gold or silver but one where our boys would either win or lose.

Keenan (acting as coach for the weekend) revved us up with talk of the importance of winning an inaugural tournament match, telling us of the Shito-Ryu Sato Cup. Over the past few years, the Sato Cup has established itself as the premier Shito-Ryu competition in the Pacific Northwest and is named in honour of one of Canada's leading Martial Artists. This started as a small invited tournament and grew over the years to be internationally recognised. To be the first ever winners of this cup, Keenan suggested, could be to go down in history!

Suitably energised, the three men warmed-up ready for their first bout. The competition was designed as a talent round-robin with each of the three fighters facing each of the three from the opposing side. As a spectator I was to be treated to nine exciting matches of 3 minutes each (or the first to 8 points) and with two only people in the audience supporting England, Ed and I were ready to drown out the fifty or so Portuguese who had come to cheer on their local team. The temperature in the venue had risen uncomfortably since the spectators had poured in, giving the host team a further advantage to that of being on home turf with a partisan crowd behind them.

Keenan Pedley was first up for England. The competitors were well-matched physically and for the first minute the two strategically avoided much confrontation, instead testing out the range and speed of their opponent. This suddenly all changed with Pedley landing his first point and proceeding to surgically picked apart his opponents defence, losing only 2 points and landing 6 to win the match.

Junaid Mulla faced a heavier opponent in his first bout but managed to build up a four point lead before the Portuguese man landed a ferocious mawashi geri to bring the match almost equal. Mulla took time to applaud his opponent before calmly executing three perfect Gyaku zukis in a row to win the match.

With a two win lead John Lefevre faced the final fighter of the host nation. A scrappy fighter who had allowed John to settle in to a comfortable draw-in, switch stance and counter manoeuvre which steadily built up his lead. With just a minute to go the Portuguese had adapted and flew in a counter of his own connecting with Lefevre’s head and pausing the match. Once restarted John ended with a take down and finish which gave him the narrow lead he needed to win the match.

Three fights, three wins for the English and what looked like an uncomfortable climb for the hosts. Despite this the crowd was enthusiastic and cheered on their boys. It should be noted that they supported good techniques from both sides and when the English landed a good point the crowd responded with good humour and polite applause.

Mulla’s second fight was less mobile with both competitors focussing more on hand techniques but Mulla had a speed and accuracy that snaked through his opponent’s wider guard and at one point left his rival bent over and winded. Mulla took the match. Pedley still looked fresh at the start of his second bout and steadily built on a relaxed first couple of points with some excellent combinations as his adversary began to tire and drop his guard. A ribcage-clunking mawash from Pedley ended the match but not before Keenan had received one punch to the face that left his brand new Adidas Gold gi covered in blood.

With five wins in the bag and the Portuguese without a single match win, the cup was firmly in the hands of the English allowing Lefevre and Mulla to try out their techniques and focus less on building up points. John won his match by 2 points and Junaid narrowly lost his, also by 2. Once Keenan had been patched up by the on-site paramedics he ended the competition on a high, sweeping away his opponent’s exhausted legs to win the match and the tournament.

To much flag waving and cheering from us, a delighted England trio held their trophies aloft as they took their place as the first ever winners of the Sakagami Cup.

The significant verdict of eight wins to one was testament to the quality coaching of our England fighters at national and domestic level and to the dedication of Keenan, John and Junaid. This is not to demean the Portuguese team who showed some excellent techniques and will certainly be ones to watch in Venice in November.

We were also impressed by the quality of the competition as a whole and particularly the high standard of decisive impartial refereeing and judging by our Portuguese hosts. We would like to thank Sensei Silva for his hospitality and graciousness and for organising what we hope will become a major event in the Wadokai calendar in years to come where Wadokai England will no doubt defend their new title.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

so it's been a while...

Ironically I've been so busy at karate that I haven't written about karate.

I'll try and sum up the last 6 months as best I can and hope to add a few details in later posts.

So. Five members of our karate club went to Portugal to represent England Wadokai. The England team topped the medal table and you can read about their success here:


The achievements of the Leicester Contingent didn't go unnoticed and they received congratulations from the Lord Mayor of Leicester who attended the end of year association party.

Whilst I didn't get to go to Portugal this time around, partly because I had yet to learn two of the Shiteigata or compulsary kata, and partly because there were karateka who were significantly better at kata than I am! I was really proud of what our team achieved and hope to be with the squad in November 2012 in Venice for the next European Championship.

In other news, after training 3 times a week for a few months and concentrating on my dojo wado rather than competition stylings I, along with my fellow punchbags Raj Bhardwaj and Colin Greenidge, was awarded the rank of second dan... as you can imagine I'm quite pleased with this. :) and after the 3 hour exam which also saw one junior and two senior students relaise their dream of 1st dan, I was both congratulaed for losing, and chided for maintaining my shotokan roots in different applications.

Despite the pain of the next few days; and I know Raj and I both counted 8 different injuries after our sparring and Matt and I both had actual holes where the balls of our feet should have been from what seemed like a thousand katas, I really enjoyed the grading and the opportunity to demonstrate the full range of what I had learnt over the last 18 months. Having had my first dan for twenty-one years (!) it was quite a feeling to look down and see two little gold stripes!

Sensei David, New First Dans: Matt, Callum and Rav,
New Second Dans: Me, Raj and Colin, Sensei Connie.

More to come soon, as I get back into the swing of things.

Dewa mata atode.

Thursday, 30 June 2011

Let’s torque it over…

On one of the hottest days of the year so far a group of around 50 martial artists of all ages donned their ‘angry white pyjamas’ in a school sports hall for a rare opportunity to attend a seminar with leading Aiwakai Sensei Peter May VI. I’m glad to say I was one of them, and was honoured to be Sensei’s Crash Test Dummy for the day.

The remit of the three-hour session was to run through the first three pinan katas in detail and to offer bunkai for the opening techniques which would assist the student in their understanding of application, speed and positioning.

After a gentle warm-up and some kihon line-work where Sensei corrected our basics we moved on to Pinan Nidan; working through the kata move by move as he explained the points of origin, transition and completion for the techniques. Particular focus was placed on the movement of the centre of the body and allowing the technique to follow the ‘core’.

It was really heartening to see so many junior students grasp this simple but fundamental element and as Sensei moved on to explain the application of the opening moves we were taught how the technique and shift of balance could be applied to several different defensive and offensive situations.

Experiencing the techniques on the receiving end first-hand was a fascinating opportunity and helped my understanding enormously. As Wado has its foundations in Jiu Jitsu rather than traditional Okinawan Karate, I’m far less familiar with these grappling and locking techniques than many of my peers.

Regular readers will know that I have struggled with the subtle differences between the Shotokan Heian and the Wado Pinan katas and trying to apply the bunkai I had worked out for Shotokan to the new Wado way of working has been causing me problems. In Shodan (which is confusing called Nidan in Shotokan…) the rising double block had always been a defence against a diagonal  weapon attack (bo, jo or sword) which is then captured between the arms as they are lowered and the weapon used against the attacker as the arms straighten out.

Sensei demonstrated the rising and outer blocks of the initial movement with various interpretations but thinking of the outer block more as a rising kidney punch made sense to me and improved the speed and quality of my technique…little things! I was also pleased that Sensei followed up the techniques with a range of locks and take-downs as bunkai for the second and third steps (although my arm was getting a little sore by this point!)

For Pinan Sandan (one of my weaker lower grade kata) Sensei focussed on the side-stepping elbow/forearm moves and demonstrated the generation of torque and grip. I found this really useful as I’d struggled to find effective justification for this (and the similar moves in Chinto) but also because this helped my understanding of some of the early kihon’s 1-5 which I am learning in preparation for my 2nd dan exam.
Overall the seminar was well-worth missing out on a hot summers afternoon and gave me plenty to think about. I think everyone should regularly revisit their earlier katas and try to apply new knowledge to old movements. So many thanks to Sensei May for a great session and a couple of lovely-looking bruises!

In other news:

You can see how we got on at the Mushindo Wadokai Championships in Walsall here.

This Sunday we’re off the Central England Opens. Wish us luck!

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Lines, Spines and something that shines...

It's been hard to find the time to write this post. Since the last entry karate has had to take second place to half-term holidays and an apprentice-style work competition which have both kept me busy and out of the dojo. Not that I'm complaining about the week long break I've taken, after a weekend that saw England selections on Saturday and a National competition on Sunday there was a real need to relax and rest.

I've been pleased with my performance in the England squad training sessions so far; having only been training in Wado since September last year I've managed to not embarrass myself when working with some of our international competitors which is pretty much all I could hope for. It was a foregone conclusion that I wouldn't be able to go this year I think, given my Shotoisms and the fact that I would have to learn two or three completely new katas in order to compete in October in Portugal. I have high hopes for next year, although I suspect I may have to wait until I'm over 40 and compete in the veterans...

The fantastic news is that some of our association did get places on the squad. Junaid, Alex and Lauren will compete in kumite (under 18 male, over 18 male and under 18 female respectively) and Yasmin and Yusra will compete in kata (under 10s and under 18s females) which is an amazing achievement and I share their pride.

Through working with Sensei's Sakagami VIII, Peter May V and our own club Sensei's I have had an intense few months of support and training to get my to a standard I feel, if not happy with, at least satisfied with. I know my weaknesses remain a tendancy to miss the 90 degree angle of techniques and place them at chudan rather than jodan. In wanshu my main problem is that I come off-centre on the jump (although I land solidly, which was previously my issue) I can't keep to a straight line, and I know this will cause a deduction in competition until I get it right.

As a squad we performed admirably at Nationals this year, taking home 16 medals (1 gold, 3 silver and 12 bronze), and I'm delighted to say that one of those bronze medals was mine after a tense three-round battle which saw me perform Yondan, Wanshu and Bassai to take third place. All the more amazing because earlier in the day I'd pulled muscles in my back (getting out of the car!!) and had to drop out of the pairs kata. At that point (about 9.30am) I was sure I wouldn't be competing at all and was flat on my back in the audience area. Fortunately a heady blend of ice-packs and nurofen did the trick and whilst stiff, it was a reasonably pain-free fifteen minutes on the mat.

I have two more competitions this season; an open kata championships and the CEWKA tournament and then the medals have to wait til next year. As of July I start training for my 2nd dan...

Watashi ga manabubeki koto ga takusan aru

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

...and this is where you start sweat!

Crumpling a sodden, stiff japanese-cut gi into the washing machine for the third time in a week can bring it home to you how much karate can take over every aspect of your life. The last time I wore these karate-tinted goggles through which to view the world it was 1990 and I was training the sharp, steep slope to my Shodan grading.

Now, 21 years on, I find myself practicing shuto in front of all reflective surfaces, looking down to see how parallel my feet are when cooking, and having to wear my dojo-time knee-braces under my suit at work. Why? Because this Saturday is England team selection and Sunday is Aiwakai Nationals - who the hell thought up that timetable?

To add to the pressure and due to a problem with numbers, I'm now filling in a place in the pairs kata so having to re-adjust timing and height positions to compromise with my new partner for Godan, bassai and wanshu.

If my brain or knees explode in the next couple of days, hey, it was nice knowing you.

shimpai shinaide waratte ne!

Sunday, 1 May 2011

The Nth Degree...or the Roy Walker problem.

From Hartlepool to Derby. It's now just a month until the Aiwakai National Championships and I've got two categories to compete in; Veterans and Individual Senior. With Bassai looking passable and Wanshu a good second I just need to work on the mandatory Pinan kata, which this time is Yodan. This which gives me a chance to disect the techniques that differ between Shoto and Wado and try to tidy up what is probably one of my more average katas.

Having attended a few of the Wadokai England training days (and with the hope of selection one day) I'm repeatedly told "what you're doing; it's good, but it's not right". There's no point(s) doing a perfectly executed jodan yokogeri if what's called for is a chudan maegeri, one of the more noticeable divergences in the fourth of the basic pattern katas.

I was taught that Yondan (in Wado Yodan) begins with the step out into backstance and with the hands in a "fishtail" to the side before rising slowly into the first move (Hidari Haishu Haiwan Uke). The key to this technique was the deceleration of the hands, performed with tension, almost like Seishan. In Wado, this move is fast and hard, and the arms don't drop into any prep before the first move. In Shotokan there is no shuffle or step before the second block, just a hip twist. In Wado, the feet move a "correction" distance, found in many kata that ensures the embusen is exactly symmetrical.

In shoto, we step forward from here into the X block (Gedan Juji Uke). In Wado the right foot steps up, hands to hips facing forward and then steps out with the left leg to make the X block and these first few changes are enough to trip me up and make my kata significantly weaker than someone of the same grade who has trained exlcusively in Wado. As with most kata in Wado there are both back-stance and cat-stances, where in Shoto you would usually see only the back-stance. Remembering to shorten my stance and perform only a single soto-uke rather than a double is another issue (this one is a real point of contention and the foot that kicks is the back foot, where all of the weight is placed which seems impractical), along with the final two moves being not Shutos, but kake-ukes.

This is from a book given to me by my sensei in 1988 to help me practice between classes - (note the high side kicks with uraken - not gedan barai and the double blocks)

For now all I can do is practice, practice, practice and hope that the N in my YoNdan can be erased over time.

Click the karateka to see the Wado Yodan performed correctly.