EKGB National Championships
Ponds Forge International Sports Centre, Sheffield 12-13th March 2005
Ponds Forge, with its central location, excellent facilities and spacious, well- equipped Sports Hall is becoming the de facto home of the English Championships, as well as a number of other significant tournaments. Admittedly parking facilities leave a little to be desired, especially when the tournament shares the centre with another major event, as is often the case. Nevertheless, Sheffield has a deserved reputation as one of the centres of British Sport.
Entry to the English Championships is only by nomination from one of the 100 Associations affiliated to EKGB; consequently the entry represents the cream of English karate – the “best of the best”.
The Championships attract such an entry these days that the competition is held over two days; kata on the Saturday and kumite on the Sunday. In a sense this is a shame because it risks segregating the kata from its more glamorous brother, the kumite. However many associations send their squad for the two days and there is still, in these days of specialisation, a significant number of competitors who participate - indeed succeed - in both disciplines. Therefore there is a strong body of support for the (to the outsider, perhaps) somewhat esoteric kata categories. These die-hard spectators are not disappointed. Modern competitive kata, with its individual and team disciplines, the latter which under current WKF rules require bunkai (applications) to be demonstrated in the finals, is an exciting, skilful spectacle in its own right. Some may argue indeed that, freed from the constraints of safety-conscious sport kumite, competitive kata is the purer demonstration of karate ethics and ideals.
One of the exemplars then of these ethics must be Ishinryu’s Jonathan Mottram, who this year claimed his eleventh consecutive English individual title. His heir to the title may well be team-mate Tony Smith, his worthy runner-up. For his efforts, Mottram was presented the trophy for outstanding competitor of the day, by England Coach Ticky Donovan, 8th Dan.
The team Kata is becoming increasingly professional in its approach. Consequently the level of individual performance, and synchrony with the rest of the team is ratcheting steadily upwards. This team unity is rarely better demonstrated than by the ladies of KMAC’s England Karate Kan. Their identically-branded karategi, and coordinated hairstyles and scrunchies are merely superficial embellishments, but these details truly add to the visual appeal of a tight, slick team performance. The team of Jiff Higman, Samantha Cannon and Olivia Kolbe-Booysen have stamped their mark on this event and their coach Enzo Quirino is justly proud of their retention of the English team title. These ladies must surely be favourites to represent the South of England in this year’s European Championships for the Regions in Leipzig, Germany in June this year.
Similarly, the Northern Region looks likely to be represented by the AMA team of Carl Massey, Luke Scott and Alex Hodge, who took the men’s title. Under the tutelage of Steve Scott, the AMA team from Warrington's NWKA have made a specialisation of the tem Kata events. They beat co-favourites FSK in the first round, and met a determined Yamaguchi GojuKai in the final. Yamaguchi’s no-nonsense bunkai has caught this writer’s eye in the past, but today was to be NWKA’s day, their Chatanyara Kushanku taking the title by a majority decision. Team members Hodge & Scott joined Amy Nelson in the mixed team to take that title too, also with Chatanyara Kushanku.
A welcome addition to this year’s Championships is the inclusion of veterans’ or “Masters” categories, for women over 30 and men over 35. Inaugural Women’s Masters Champion was Cheryl Hart of Yamaguchi Goju Kai. The Men’s title went to ESKA’s John Gillespie, from team mate Paul Raymond.
In the female individuals, Michelle Hey retained her English title. Could she again do the double and prove that it IS possible to be great at both disciplines?
Sunday, then, is kumite day. Members of UK Sport’s Anti Doping Committee were in attendance to see fair play, with random testing of finalists during the day. I honestly believe I saw some of the most exciting kumite I have seen since I began reporting on this event today.
In the Ladies’ kumite events, all England’s big guns were out. Natalie Williams took the Openweight title, and, denying Michelle Hey her double, also took the under 60kg senior gold. Tanya Weekes and Katrina Lowe again met in the 60kg+ final. This time it was Tanya’s turn to take the title.
In the middle of the day, Ticky Donovan OBE called a halt to the proceedings. All bouts were suspended, whilst Ticky asked for the assembled audience and competitors to show appreciation to the current World Champions Paul Newby and Rory Daniels, and former champion (and current World Heavyweight Runner-Up) Leon Walters. The three men took a bow in the centre of the arena to hearty applause.
Little was Donovan to know that later in the day he too was to come under the spotlight. At 3pm another hiatus in the proceedings was called as members of the EKGB management Board presented the National Team Manager, “This Is Your Life” style, with a Lifetime Achievement award for his contribution to English and British karate, and a parade of Greats from the last 40-odd years of British karate paid their respects and complements to Sensei Donovan. A richly deserved award of a crystal decanter set was followed by a gala luncheon for Donovan and his guests as the day’s competition continued.
Today was not World Champion Rory Daniels’ day. When you are on top of the World, you are there to be shot down, and some class karateka were there to do the shooting. No podium then for Daniels in the Openweight. In the U80 category he met fellow England international, and former World Junior Champion, Davin Pack in the eliminations, and a high-scoring, high-kicking bout looked like it would go the Champion’s way. In the dying seconds, though Pack pulled out a plum of a right leg hook kick to Daniels’ right cheek for sanbon. An on-fire Pack went on to beat Tatsu’s Jory Chather in the final.
Another heavyweight I have long liked the look of, Audun Daniels, had a good day. The male Openweight had a class field, including Rory Daniels, Paul Richards, Alton Brown (who took the -75kg English title); and former champion Leon Walters, who maybe was a bit off form having arrived late due to traffic problems, missing the 80+ event. In any case Audun defeated Walters in the run up, and ultimately beat Brown in the final to take his first title of the day. In his second final, he met old adversary John Hodgson in the 80k+ final. This was a most exciting battle, with lots of throwing and sweeping from both men. Daniels always seemed to be a bit quicker on the draw with the gyaku’s, but Hodgson does not give up easily. 4-2 down with two seconds to go, Hodgson stormed in with an oh-so-close jodan uramawashigeri attempt, but fell short. The second English title of the day was to be Audun Daniels’.
With so many quality events this year, it is impossible to record them all. The mens’ U60kg final saw the old guard, ASKA veteran Colin Simmonds, against the Young Turk, AMA up-and-comer Craig Smith. The two men are stylistically distinct, with Simmonds’ sharp, traditional gyauku-dominated approach in sharp contrast with Smith’s darting, angular combination attacks. Smith’s idiosyncratic delivery took the first point, but this was to be the only time he would hold the lead. Simmonds soon levelled up, and then edged a point ahead. This was a really exciting, high-scoring encounter with seemingly each of Simmonds’ points being replied to by the younger man. At 4-4 the ASKA man started to edge ahead: 5-4, 6-4 then 7-4. With 32 seconds to go young Craig hit a chudan mawashi geri for Nihon. The gap now back to seven points to six. Could he force the encho-sen? At this point experience prevailed over youth, and in the dying seconds, Colin’s fast right hand opened a two-point lead. The title went to Colin Simmonds. He later went on to take a bronze in the “Masters”, and Craig- surely a national title for him in the future- took home a brace of Silvers with the Runner Up medal in the Under 21 -60kgs.
The last event of the day, the Male Master’s kumite, fielded a full card with 16 on the drawsheet. Favourite must have been ASKA’s Colin Simmonds; current BKF British Masters Champion and today English U60kg champion. On this occasion AMA’s Martyn Skipper had the luck on his side to take Simmonds in the first semi. The second semifinal drew BKU’s Tony Gray against Skipper’s team mate Jaga Singh. Jaga was on fire in the eliminations, but Gray proved too fast and set up a final against your reporter. A cagey opening from both men yielded little in the way of points, neither fighter willing to commit. When finally they did break, Gray was too quick. Twice his gyaku was noticeably earlier than Skipper’s. At 2-0 up and clearly the sharper fighter, the title looked like Gray’s. After “toshibaraku” was called Skipper backed his opponent into a corner and unleashed a low roundhouse. Gray caught it and countered gyakuzuki. Referee Harold Stephenson adjudged that the kick landed first, so the score was levelled. As the seconds ticked away, another clash ensued. Again Gray was faster on the draw, and the deciding point gave Tony Gray a deserved English title.
So two days of high class, drug-free athletics drew to a close. Thanks must go again to Peter Allen and the EKGB Management Board for the organisation, the Ponds Forge Staff for administration, Tony of Karategate.com for the photographs, Terry Pottage and his team for the refereeing, South Yorks St Johns for the medical support and all the Associations for their participation. The European Championships for the Regions are in Leipzig on June 4th. Look out for regional Coaching sessions on the EKGB Website.