AMA International Open
Harvey Hadden, 26th-27th Feb 2005
The AMA International Open is now in its seventh year, and seems to get bigger and better each year. This year 720 competitors from 17 different countries, as far afield as Bangladesh, Pakistan, Iran and Sri Lanka, as well as all over Europe and Scandanavia, were in attendance. The grandstand seating was full and people were three deep at the matside barriers. Seven tatami were in operation over the two days, and the audience were in for some treats.
Guests of honour on the Saturday were The Right Worshipful, the Lord Mayor of Nottingham, Cllr John Harsthorne, and the Lady Mayoress, Charmaine Jones.
Although Cllr Hartshorne is not a karate afišionado, he has been a regular attendee at this event and told me he was pleased to see the level of commitment to both fitness and team participation such a championships demands. He added; “any such sporting event that involves youngsters in self-improvement, and contributing to the community gets my support”. The Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress were kept busy throughout the day awarding trophies to the successful athletes. In addition, their official duties included awards of honorary AMA affiliation to the national coaches of some of the visiting countries: Syed Nurrezman of Bangladesh; Mohammed Behboudi of Iran (himself later to take gold medal in the Masters kata); Alex Krysko, of JWAKF Ukraine and Asghar Keshwardoost of WSKF, Sweden (who took bronze in the Masters kata). Reciprocal awards were made by the visiting representatives to Tom Hibbert and Peter Allen. The weekend’s proceedings were overseen by an Iranian TV crew- isn’t it a shame such events do not command such mass appeal in this country?
Saturday saw the kata events - including weapons and team categories – and some of the junior kumite. Although long time English and British champion Jonathan Mottram won the men’s senior individual event with a typically stylish Kushanku (is there anyone in the UK yet to touch him?) this writer’s attention was drawn to another competitor. Paul Grimsey, third Dan, of Michael Nursey’s Stevenage Shotokan came armed with an array of weapons, including bo, nunchaku and – believe it or not – Chinese broadsword. Unusually for a weapons event, often a novel afterthought in the programme, the standard here was very high. Nevertheless Grimsey looked a certainty in the individual weapon kata. Unfortunately (for Paul) a lapse of memory in the final saw him forfeit the round, and concede the gold to Wellingborough’s M. Bazylewycz with his strong, stlysh bo form. I asked Paul afterwards how a died-in-the-wool Shotokan high Dan grade (“I tried a bit of Shotokai, but only out of curiosity”, he said) came to be adept at Chinese forms. It turns out he harboured a desire to train in Japan, but found the costs prohibitive. As an alternative he enrolled at the Wushu academy in Ji Lin, Manchuria and spent 5 months on the foreign students’ programme there. (An account of his experiences can be read via Mike Nursey’s ESKA website at www.eska.org.uk .) Paul’s amiable, self effacing demeanour (“I’m a lover not a fighter” he joked, when I enquired after any possible kumite aspirations on the Sunday) belied his crisp determination on the kata tatami. In all honesty his individual kata performance was not quite up to Mottram’s standard, but then again whose is? Nevertheless, an assured performance of a wide range of forms brought him a well-deserved silver. Team Bronze completed a hat-trick of trophies for this stylish and competent karateka. I look forward to seeing him at future events.
The senior kata team category was a mixed sex event. AMA rules stipulate that bunkai for the finalists is permitted, but not mandatory. The two favourites, Enzo Quirino’s “England Karate Kan” and Steve Scott’s NWKA met in the semis. Although both teams chose Unshu for this round, and the boys of NWKA executed a version with a beautifully-synchronised jump, the girls of England put in an altogether tighter team performance and made the final on a majority decision. The other semi pitted Pete Allen-coached USKA against Michael Nursey’s Stevenage Shotokan. USKA also pipped it on a split decision. To the final, and USKA up first. Their Kosokun Sho was better than their semi-final performance and a strong, spirited bunkai performance set the standard for England to beat. The England ladies, with a string of titles to their name, practice together for half an hour after every regular training session, and their presentation, synchronisation, and a very slick bunkai of Annan reflected this. At the Hantei, three judges’ votes went to Jiff Higman, Samantha Cannon and Olivia Kolbe-Booysen of England for the title. Runners-up, USKA’s Craig Smith, Anthony Smith (no relation) and Alex Mason, however should be proud of their performance- a little more specific team practice and presentation, and they will be a force to be reckoned with.
The team title gave England a total tally of seven Golds on the Saturday, just ahead of Shindo Kai’s six, for which Enzo was awarded “Best Coach” award for day one, presented by event organiser Peter Allen.
With some class kumite talent including World Champion Rory Daniels; Commonwealth and English Champion Milo Hodge; English Team Champions Bristol Higashi; English Champions Michelle Hey and Alton Brown; and the formidable Iran National team in the line-up, an exciting day was in prospect for the Sunday.
Sure enough, the arena was on fire. When there was noise you could bet the Iranian team weren’t far away. Some aggressive kumite ensued, especially when the flamboyant Iranian Khazaei was involved. There was some controversy in the male team eliminations when the Iranian team beat Higashi B in a disputed countback, which added to the tension. The team final promised some excitement, when Bristol Higashi A, fielding the World Champion Rory Daniels, faced Iran “A”. First up for Bristol in ao (blue) was Andy Kelliher, facing Iran’s Yousef Ataei wearing aka (Red) in what was to be a bruising contest. Kelliher, with a significant reach advantage, picked off the first gyaku jodan. Ataei replied with a big right leg mawashi, missed, leaped in and met Kelliher’s right with his nose, crashing to the mat. A Cat 1 was awarded against the Bristol man. Ataei was not to be deterred and made a spirited comeback. Unfortunately, a few reasonable attacks were disregarded by the referee, Dale Gamble, as in his opinion, the necessary zanshin and sporting spirit was not displayed - too often the score was immediately followed by a pirouette, a dance or a theatrical leap of aggression or joy. Eventually, with 30 seconds to go, Ataei put in a chudan mawashi for nihon. The Iranian’s 2-1 lead was maintained by 30 seconds of back-pedalling. At the bell the bout was Iran’s, but Ataei’s shriek and dance of victory was deemed unsporting by Gamble, and conceded a point. The bout was drawn 2-2.
Next up was Daniels v Frazali. Another experienced referee, Brian Noble took the mat. A combined attack from the world champion failed to score, as did the Iranian’s gyaku reply. Nevertheless, Daniels had little trouble holding off his opponent and a couple of combination attacks saw him take the bout 3-0.
The crowd were on their feet as Bristol’s Danny Trott faced Bakhtar Khazaei. Iran needed the win, and Bakhtar pulled out the first gyaku for a 1-0 lead. Trott quickly replied for level score. Another gyaku from Khazaei gave him back the lead. Then the Iranian pulled out a right leg mawashi jodan for sanbon. The crowd didn’t like it, and to be honest this writer was blindsided so I have to defer to referee Ciaran Flood’s decision. With a 5-1 lead the Iranian started to mess up the Bristol man by holding on. Trott broke off and a gyaku closed the gap to 2-5. A gyaku exchange came off in Iran’s favour; 2-6. With seconds to go a beautifully timed, beautifully aimed lead-leg hook kick came out of nowhere to give sanbon to Trott. 5-6 at the bell. So with one win each and one draw, a countback was necessary. Total point score was 10 to Higashi and 8 to Iran, so the team title went again to Alan Flook’s Bristol Higashi.
Some shocks were to come later though as Khazaei went on to beat Rory Daniels in the U80 final, and took the Openweight gold too. Iran’s Ataei beat AMA’s Danny Rudkin in the U70 category. Michelle Hey did the double - Female kata and U60kg kumite. Milo Hodge beat Wales’ Gareth Reynolds in the Mens’ lightweight final, and Alton Brown, always good value, beat the exciting Danny Trott in the men’s U75kg category final.
 After such an exciting weekend one has to wonder what next? Could the event be extended to three days? Or find a bigger venue? Or will Peter Allen have to put a limit on entries? Certainly, it’s hard to imagine the event accommodating any more entries. Either way, this event looks sure to last. The excellent attendance of the St John Team, the tireless work of the officials under Brian Noble, the catering and site support, Jeff Grace’s administration, and many others contribute to an excellent sporting event. Can’t wait for next year