2nd Commonwealth Karate Championships
Manchester Velodrome 30th-31st August 2003
Given the success of the 2002 Commonwealth Games, when the EKGB were nominated as hosts for the second Commonwealth karate championships, Manchester was the obvious choice for the venue. The National Cycling Centre provided excellent facilities, easy access to Manchester city centre, the local and national motorway network, and for the overseas visitors, a short hop from Manchester Ringway International airport.
45 countries of the Commonwealth were invited, but with Ticky Donovan’s England team in such great form it was all eyes on the host nation. And boy did they deliver! Of the seventeen categories contested over the two days, in only three did England fail to take a medal.
But please do not let the dominance of the home squad mislead the reader into believing that the spectators were short changed. Far from it! The weekend was a festival of great sport, a celebration of the community of the Commonwealth, and a spectacle of proportion as befits such a global event.
The Organising Committee of Abdu Shaher, Terry Pottage, Peter Allen, Jeff Grace and Margaret Genery saw to it that the venue, catering, trophies, refereeing, PA, logistics, security and all that is associated with handling 300 odd people from 15 countries was carried through smoothly, with scarcely a hiccup. What is more, the events ran to time and finished bang on schedule too.
The opening of the competition was unofficially heralded by the arrival of the team from Botswana the thirty-odd squad of athletes and their entourage danced and drummed their way into the arena; all regaled in the pale blue team colours. Many had even dyed their hair to match. Their rhythmic infectious chants and a-cappella singing filled the Velodrome from that point, almost non-stop throughout the weekend.
The competition proper opened with the team kata events. In the opening round of the men’s event, England met Botswana. Both teams chose “Empi”. The difference being that the Africans were all sporting pale blue hair. They were quite a striking sight. Nevertheless, Tony Smith, Craig Suckling and Gary Hall took the judges’ decision to go through. In the semis, an excellent precision display of Kanku Sho by the England boys, which drew a well-deserved rousing cheer from the crowd at the perfectly synchronised jumping turn, looked set to take the boys to the final. But the Malaysians had other ideas, and their slick Tomari Passai was good enough to take them to the final by a judges’ majority of three to two. England a shared Bronze position with Scotland. Malaysia were to meet Canada in the Final.
In the Female team kumite England beat Canada 2-0 to set up a meeting with Australia in the Semi Final. A strong Australian team had England worried when Natalie Williams, World Universities Champion and European Junior Champion, was beaten 4-6. But Tania Weekes and Katrina Lowe victories saw them into their first final of the weekend, and Australia had to be content with the first of seven Bronzes they were to pick up over the championships.
On paper, the male team looked formidable. Leon Walters (World Champion), Paul Richards, Craig Burke, Milo Hodge, Davin Pack, Rory Daniels and Paul Newby did not disappoint. A tough New Zealand team gave them a few scares in the Semi, but eventually a meeting was set up with home-country rivals, Scotland in the Final.
Before the Finals there was a break in the proceedings for the Opening Ceremony. The march on of the teams with their respective mascots and flag carriers preceded a formal rei of competitors and officials, led by Terry Pottage, Chief Referee.  In the opening speech, EKGB Chairman, Billy Brennan, thanked the competitors and delegations for making the long journey, and praised the City of Manchester for its part in making the Commonwealth competition happen. Wellington, New Zealand was announced as the venue for the 2005 championships.
The centre arena was then cleared for a series of demonstrations.
The first of these was by the AMA’s North West Karate Academy Cadet Demonstration team. When you learn that the team was coached by former GB and England International, Steve Scott, 5th dan, and that the kids, aged from 9 to 15 were all medallists at the recent Budo Nord World Cup in Sweden, you will not be surprised to hear that this was not your run of the mill kids’s stumblings around the tatami. Rather we were treated to a precision display of individual and team kata, and a bunkai demonstration par excellence. The young team of Zach Scott, 9; Lauren Middlehurst, 12; Nicole Halsall; 12, Rachel Anders, 12, Amy Cook, 10 and Luke Scott, aged 15 were a credit to their coach.
The next demo was a spectacular, light-hearted display from the USKA (United Styles Karate Academy) Demo Team. Coached by Peter Allen 5th Dan, EKGB Committee Member, and AMA National team Manager.
Performing a series of routines with and without weapons, including Sai, Nunchaku & Bo were:
Alex Mason, Andrew Wilde, Craig Smith, Lisa Hill, Harrison White, Steven Pyecroft, Gwyllym Williams.
Despite an initial problem with the PA, the display proceeded without music. Bodies and weapons were thrown all over the shop in this well-rehearsed demo, which ended with fall-guy Alex Mason being carried / manhandled off by the rest of the squad.
Next up, and with a complete change of mood, was Shihan Keiji Tomiyama. Tomiyama Shihan’s reputation as 7th Dan Shito Ryu, and the official representative of Tani-Ha Shitoryu Shukokai of Japan, precedes him but it is perhaps less well known that he also holds the rank of 6th Dan in Goju Ryu. Shihan demonstrated three less-frequently practised kata from his large repertoire:
• Aragaki Sochin, one of three kata taught by Aragaki Sensei, and said to be a favourite of Kenwa Mabuni
• Papuren, one of the softest kata in karate, taught by Chinese Master Go-Kenki of White Crane Kung Fu
• Higaonna Seisan, learnt from Master Fujimoto of Goju Ryu, although actually a kata from the Uechi Ryu. Master Uechi, the founder taught only a handful of students, including Fujimoto Sensei, who in turn passed it on to Tomiyama Shihan.
The Saturday Finals began with team Kata. This was undoubtedly the Malaysian’s event. The Male team beat Canada with a unanimous decision, and the Female team followed suit with a clean sweep against Scotland.
The female U53 final was an all-Australian affair with Tanya Cooper taking gold from her compatriot Maria Alexiadis. In the U60k Final, England’s Natalie Williams beat Botswana’s Mungologa.
The Men’s U60’s saw local lad Darrell Kerr carrying England’s and Manchester’s hopes. Their hopes were dashed by New Zealand’s Todd Hammington. The All-Blacks’ impromptu Haka, celebrated their only gold of the championships. The U65’s saw Milo Hodge, in sparkling form all weekend, take gold from Jason Ledgister for an England One-Two.
In the open weight events, Tania Weekes took her second Gold of the day against Canada’s Essadiqi, and Paul Richards beat Craig Burke for the Men’s title.
If the team Kata was Malaysia’s forte, then the team kumite was surely the dominion of the English. To a rapturous reception from the vocal, partisan crowd, Katrina Lowe, Natalie Williams, Tania Weekes and Helen Harris took the Women’s title against Wales; and Walters, Richards, Burke, Hodge, Pack, Daniels and Newby beat Scotland for the men’s title.
Guest of Honour, Roy Rutherford, British Featherweight Professional Boxing Champion, Former ABA Champion, and English International awarded the trophies. Roy is also a Third Dan black belt in Karate.
The Sunday proceedings began with Individual kata. A large, and very strong field included Wales’ Bo Channon, and England’s Jonathan Mottram. Channon opened with a mighty Jion in the first round, and Mottram’s crisp Kanku Dai was, predictably, a favourite with the crowd. Both men were in fine form, but Channon, taking the next round against Clark of Jersey, then met Botswana’s Maretlwaneng whose unusual Goju choice of Suparimpei was enough to relegate Channon to the repercharge. It was not to be Channon’s day, as he was beaten to the bronze by Malaysian Chong Cheah. Clearly the Malaysian’s are kata specialists, and judging by the reports in the Kuala Lumpur press the next day, the Malaysian public know their stuff too. These guys are national heroes at home. Our national hero, Jonathan Mottram, however booked his final place against the Botswanan, beating another Malaysian, Ku, in the process.
Showing a perhaps a difference in culture, the Malaysian TV camera crew, and an Australian referee, asked me separately whether the event was running to time. When I replied in the affirmative, the Malaysian shrugged, as if it was to be expected, and the Aussie expressed amazement. But on time it was, and so it continued.
In the female 60+ the on-form home girls Weekes and Lowe set up an all England final, whilst the male U70 final pitted Rory Daniels against Alton Brown.
The kiwis fielded some very strong fighters and Richard Bennett very nearly caused a big upset beating injuring World Champion Leon Walters, in the eliminations of the 80+ division. Although Walters won the encounter the knock to his hip clearly took its toll as he was beaten by the powerful Chris Ewing of Scotland, setting up a meeting with Craig Burke in the final.
The first final of the day was Australia’s Alexia Hunter vs. Malaysia’s Lee Lee Lim (a member of Saturday’s victorious kata team) took the unanimous decision with Tomari Passai. On his team’s three medals the Malaysian National coach Clement Soo, commented “It is a good Merdeka Day (Malaysian Independence Day) present for us. The exponents performed very well”
Just as Lim was classes above her opponent, so was Jonathan Mottram against his Botswanan co-finalist. A masterful Unsu showed speed, grace, and athleticism for a deserved unanimous Gold, Maretlwaneng clearly delighted with Silver.
The Male U70’s pitted England’s Michael Shrives against Wales’ Dave Godfrey. Shrives had a strong vocal following, and the bout was a bruiser with Shrives taking the honours. In the U75 kg Rory Daniels beat teammate Alton Brown.
In another all England Final, Tania Weekes net old rival Katrina Lowe. This was a predictably tough back-and-forth battle. When the buzzer went at the end of the bout Weekes celebrated her O60kg victory (and third Commonwealth Gold) with her trademark shriek of delight.
In the Male –80k final Davin Pack beat Calum Robb of Scotland, and in the Over 80s Craig Burke, at first struggling against the big, tough Scot Chris Ewing pulled two text book, close range lead leg ushiromawashi geris for a brace of sanbons and the Commonwealth Title.
England manager Ticky Donovan afterwards told me he was “Delighted with the team’s performance”. And so he should be. What is significant to this writer though is the relative youth of this team. I’m sure we haven’t seen the best of them yet.
Before the presentation of the final awards by the various National Federation presidents and chairmen, a spectacular closing ceremony unfolded. First the Botswana delegation took to the floor with a series of tribal dances and songs, filling the stadium with their heartfelt singing and a sea of pale blue tracksuits.
They were followed by the New Zealand team. Led by the dreadlocked Tyron Edwards, stripped to the waist and with trousers rolled up to the knees, the Kiwis presented a Maori greeting and peace offering to EKGB chairman Billy Brennan, and saluted the championships with a Hakka. They presented a magnificent sight.
Then the spectators in the stands were invited into the centre of the stadium, to be joined by officials, coaches, competitors, medics, press- indeed everyone present- for a massed “Auld Lang Syne” led, of course by the Scottish delegation in the centre of the arena.
Just when we thought it was all over, a Canadian athlete finished off proceedings with an impromptu display of breakdancing.
All we had to look forward to now was the sayonara party at the Britannia hotel, and a bit of Manchester hospitality. (“Are British women always that loud?” an Australian referee asked me, on encountering a bit of Manc culture on Portland Street. He went home with a new word to his vocabulary- “Ladette”).
Eagerly awaiting the 2005 Wellington Games. Congratulations to all the athletes and officials for making this a splendid weekend.
Official Photography: Karl Finn
Master of Ceremonies: Steve Kelly
Media Liaison: Martyn Skipper