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!

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