17th British International Open for Juniors and Cadets
Crystal Palace National Sports Centre January 21-22 2006
Report by Martyn & Olivia Skipper
Photos by Martyn Skipper, and DEPhoto
A new year is upon us, and a new era in English karate. The BIKO series is recognised as important in the European tournament calendar. This year however a special significance is conferred as this is the first event since the inauguration of Karate England and the appointment of its management team- including Ticky Donovan, 8th dan, OBE as National Squad Director. Ticky’s long career has taken many turns, from his early days as a pioneering athlete, to the in-favour /out of favour see-saw career as National Coach. Since his reaffirmation as head of the English coaching team, the early signs of a true unification have been promising – at the end of last year at least two athletes from outside the old EKGB have been accepted into the National Squad.
So what would be the effects on an England youth team? Would a renewed sense of group purpose translate to the medal table?
Whatever the outcome it is self-evident that the karateka testing themselves in this international junior tournament represent the future of the sport (and, some would argue, the art) of karate in this country. Although domestic karateka dominated the entry in terms of numbers, a huge overseas entry, and a significant contingent from the other home countries meant that the quality of competition was always going to be high.
The National Sports Centre auditorium was as full as this writer has ever seen for a karate event, with all the bench seating filled, all the VIP boxes fully occupied and a good number of spectators overflowing into the balcony areas.
In terms of quality, the dominant French national team was out in force. Also present were the Norwegian, Belgian and Dutch national squads, and strong representations from Wales, Ireland and Scotland. Many of the up-and coming Eastern European countries, such as Lithuania, Czech Republic and Slovakia were also represented.
Saturday was Kata day, and most of the younger competitors’ events were also staged on day one. A packed programme and almost 20 different countries in attendance meant it was way past many competitors’ (and officials’!) bedtimes by the time the day’s events drew to a conclusion.
World Junior Champion Katie Hurry did not disappoint, as she beat the French number two, Sylvia Macaluso in the final of the Girls 18-20yrs 60kg+ kumite. In the boys’ 16-17 U70kg kumite Shikon’s Daniel Broom beat Luxembourg’s Manou Ginter, the 2004 Dutch Open Champion.
The 12-13 boys U55k kumite final was between Lewis Butterfield and Jordan Thomas.  Although scores were level with 30 seconds to go, southpaw Thomas found the resolve to score the deciding point to take the title.
In acknowledgement of the youth of the protagonists, it seemed appropriate for part of this report to be given over to the next generation. I therefore invited my daughter, nine-year old Olivia, to interview the Boys’ 12-13x U55kg Kumite champion, 12 year old Jordan Thomas. Their dialogue is reproduced here:
OS: How long have you been involved in karate?
JT: Eight and a half years, since I was four
OS: Who inspired you to begin?
JT: My dad
OS: Yes, same here. Who is your instructor?
JT: My dad, Willie Thomas
(At this point I interjected): Wow, he was World Champion, wasn’t he?
JT: Yes three times
OS: Do you do anything in your spare time?
JT: Schoolwork. I want to be a sports therapist.
OS: What grade are you?
JT: First Dan
OS: Have you ever been abroad to compete?
JT: Yes lots of places. Too many to recall
OS: What was your favourite?
JT: Venice
OS: Thanks very much, and good luck for the future
JT: Thank you.
The female 16-17 years 57kg+ kumite looked an interesting category. The first semi final saw Kaizen’s Jade Honeywood defeat fancied French number one Nadege ait Ibrahim. The second semi final was between Norwegian champion Caroline Thomassen and Slovak Ivana Dukova. Having never taken the lead in a 3-3 tied bout, Thomassen snatched a gyaku in encho-sen for a place in the final. The tall, leggy Norwegian opened the scoring with an early jodan tsuki, but Jade quickly levelled with a chudan gyakuzuki. Despite her long reach advantage, Thomassen was warned for holding. Breaking out to a more appropriate distance, a long range kizamizuki failed to meet its mark. A second category two offence in the closing seconds gave the title to Jade Honeywood.
Notable results from the team events: in the female 16-20 kata, Yamaguchi Goju Kai beat a Dutch National team for the title; the English 16-20 girls beat Belgium for the kumite title and England’s AMA won the girls 10-125 team kata.
The blue riband event of the weekend was the male 16-20 years team kumite. This event held great promise as a strong local team was drawn to meet the French team in the final, if things went to form. The French team included Larry Dona, who beat his compatriot Didier Peret in the 18-20 year U70kg individual final, and the U80kg finalists Nadir Benassia and Michael Alonso. (Incidentally the French took all four medals in this category!)
Sure enough, France A beat a strong Scottish team in the first semi. The final was given an additional frisson by the disqualification of the second string French team for failing to show respect to their English opponents in an ill-tempered exchange, thus setting up the final between the cross-channel rivals in a re-enactment of those great sea battles of many a history lesson. Would French coach Olivier Beaudry meet his Waterloo?
The young men lined up; France ao (blue), England aka (red). First out was Christophe Araminthe against Chris Blenman. Blenman was a little unsure at first and first gyaku for ippon went to the Gallic fighter. Another exchange of fists went the Frenchman’s way. Blenman was trailing 0-2 and began to close in and grapple. After some encouragement from Ticky at matside; “If you can hold him, you can hit him”, Blenman took his coach’s advice and a confident gyaku closed the gap to 1-2. A sweep/punch for Nihon gave Araminthe a three point lead, but the Englishman was undeterred. A series of fast gyaks, and the English Chris was in the lead. In the closing seconds, with the scores at 5-4 to England, an exchange of gyakuzukis had the crown on tenterhooks. The red fist was adjudged to have hit first. The first bout went to the home team, 6 points to 4.
Bout two saw Ibrahim Gary of France against 10k qualifier Paul Abel. Early in the bout Gary floored his man with a big right for a cat 1 penalty. Abel held his cool and after trailing 0-3 came back with gyakus and a last-second uraken for a tied round.
Next, Michel Alonso v Tony Duffy. A class performer, Alonso came out legs flying. An early lead leg hook kick attempt failed to find its mark, but a text book attacking gyaku gave the Frenchman a 1-0 advantage, which he celebrated with a huge kiai. A flurry of hands and “Yame” was called. A late left leg mawashi geri from Alonso however did not halt, and sent the Englishman to the floor. A chukoku warning was awarded against France.  Despite spitting blood for the remainder of the bout (it seemed he had bitten through his tongue when Alonso’s kick struck) Duffy continued to fight gamely, at one point taking the lead 2 points to 3. Alonso’s gyaku levelled the scores, then a close range hook kick found the back of the home fighter’s head for sanbon. Two further French chudan zukis made it 8 points to three - a margin that belied Duffy’s contribution.
So with three out of five gone, the matches were tied, but France had the points advantage. Match four pitched Nadir Benassia against Michael Roche. Cool under pressure and doubtless aware he needed some big scores, Roche opened his account with a lead leg mawash for sanbon. The home crowd were delighted. Roche kept on the attack, but a French counter made it 1-6 in England’s favour. Much to Ticky’s chagrin, a lot of grappling ensued. Both fighters repeatedly floored their opponent, but neither was able to capitalise with a scoring blow. Another clinch and a break- Roche’s uramawashi found the Frenchman’s head. 6-1 to England. A second gyaku from Benassia and it was 2-6. The visitor was warned for holding, and at that point realised he would only score against the fast kicking host with some fast hands. A series of gyakus took the score to 5-6, then 6- 6. Another gyaku and France took the lead. The reverse punches kept coming from both men, and Roche was prevented from scoring with his legs. At the bell it was 9-7 to France, and an unlucky, but plucky Roche left the outcome in the hands of fifth man Jay Gauci.
Jay’s opponent was Mathieu Coussou. Like many of this young French squad, Coussou is an accomplished keriwaza exponent, but Gauci’s tactic of slipping inside with counter punches proved effective at keeping the higher scoring legs at bay. Twice, this approach gave Gauci the point, so at two nil down the Frenchman picked off his man with a low front kick, unusual in modern competition karate, but on this occasion very effective, and the scores were levelled. At this point Ticky was calling from matside for “points”, and Gauci threw everything he could at his man, but to no avail. With two seconds to go a jodan gyaku from the Frenchman decided the match beyond doubt. Three wins to one, with one bout drawn gave the visitors the title, but this writer believes much credit should go the Ticky and his boys for what was a thrilling exhibition, and far from a walkover. After a somewhat disappointing performance at the senior BIKO tournament at the end of last year, the future of karate England appears to be in great hands. Long may this continue.
Organisation as ever was from Abdu Shaher Karate England Performance Director, Refereeing was headed by Terry Pottage, KE’s new head referee, results by Jeff Grace, and photography by Paul and his team at DEphoto - who are available for your event  (tournament, exhibition, club grading etc.) at no cost . Contact them at www.dephoto.co.uk