A new era in English Karate has dawned. Can Karate England succeed where others have failed, in bringing together English karateka of all colours in a shared commitment to unify karate in this country?
Although many may argue that sport karate is not by any means the whole of karate, certainly the National Championships is an event that has to succeed if any credibility is to be conferred on the new body. So supporters and critics alike would anxiously scrutinise the two days for early signals.
The presence of the three major, erstwhile rival, bodies, ETKB, EKGB and NAKMAS who constitute the new Governing Body was a good sign that things would be well. The support of these groups was shored up by the presence of officers and coaches from the member groups.
The first thing, however that the regular competitive karateka would notice upon entering Ponds Forge was the professionalism of the new event. Security and stewards insisted on photo ID with strict control on access areas for athletes, coaches, press and other officials. The sports hall was laid out with the control table, under Jeff Grace, away from the audience, communicating by PMR and a central PA system. The referees, as ever under Terry Pottage had their own control table in sight of the tournament arena and the competitors. Access to the tatami by coaches was strictly limited, making for an efficient attractive set up for competitors and spectators. As has been the case in recent National Championships, a Sport England anti-doping team were on hand to ensure fair play. All around the auditorium were impressive, large-scale banners, posters and wall hangings carrying the livery and logo of the new NGB (national governing body), and larger-than-lifesize photos of England stars Leon Walters and Katie Hurry.
Day One, as was the case with previous National Championships, was given over to kata. One of the most interesting questions for me was “would the reputation of the KUGB as technically excellent practitioners manifest itself in National titles?” KUGB head (and Karate England Technical Director) Andy Sherry told me that they had fielded 16 kata competitors in the various categories, but with a number of former KUGB karateka now representing other associations, the number of competitors who could claim lineage from Messrs Sherry, Enoeda et al was much greater. It is to KUGBs credit that a significant number of their kumite stars, such as Matt Price (already making a name for himself on the WKF kumite circuit) performed well in the kata discipline, earning himself a place in the last eight. His team mate on the kumite squad, rising star C. Reynolds did make the podium with a Bronze.
The team kata events were again dominated by the AMA. A strong field in the male team was somewhat weakened by the absence of Yamaguchi Gojukai who had an injury. Nevertheless the fancied Kaizen Central and KMAC were there, but the AMA team of Luke Scott, Carl Massey and Alex Hodge, who took Silver at the Commonwealth Championships, are this year’s National Champions. Their Chatanyara Kushanku beat AMA colleagues Anthony Smith, Craig Smith and Steven Pycroft who performed Seipai in the final.
The mixed team also saw AMA teams take first and second places. The female team is also a highly competitive affair these days. This year Yamaguchi GojuKai beat last year’s champions KMAC, with Kaizen and AMA taking Bronze.
The first big shock in the individuals was the departure of Jonathan Mottram in the first round. Although I missed this event, it seems that the WKF Shitei (compulsory) rules got the better of him. Ten times English champion Mottram made a few technical errors in his rendition of the Shitoryu version of Bassai Dai. The next surprise saw Ishinryu favourite Tony Smith meet KUGB’s Matt Price in the second round. Of the three flag judges, two considered Price’s strong, vocally-enhanced Jion to more nearly embody karate’s values than Smith’s precision Kankudai, so another England star bit the dust. The final saw Yamaguchi Goju Kai’s Kevan Alderton meet Kofukan’s Denis Koltsov. Although both men produced strong, crisp performances, it was Anderton’s Seisan which won unanimous approval of the five judges. Believed to be the first Goju stylist to take the English title, Alderton’s performance was described by Andy Sherry as “Very sharp”. The new champion, a protégé of Tony Childs and Mark Adams, clearly delighted, told me “This is a big event for my club in Thorpe Bay, Southend”. Kevan has been training with Yamaguchi Gojukai since 1999, and competing since then too. As a member of the kata team he held the team title last year, but was denied the double this year as their team had to withdraw due to injury. “Maybe next year” he sighed.
Reflecting the overall high standard of the kata events, the Ladies’ final was also a tightly contested affair. England Karate Kan’s Olivia Kolbe-Booysen performed an exemplary set, but UEKF’s Alexandra Carter took the English title by four votes to one.
The Male Masters title went to John Gillespie of ESKA- his first of two medals this weekend - and the Female Masters gold was won by Cheryl Hart of Yamaguchi Gojukai.
A Karate England official, noting the KUGB’s crop of kata bronze medals but dearth of golds, suggested, “The KUGB are not used to having to do five rounds of kata. With better preparation, next year they will sweep the board with this event.” Clearly, lack of familiarity with the novel rules will have presented the KUGB with a disadvantage. I asked KE Secretary Bob Poynton if “his” people had performed to expectation. He replied that he had no preconceived expectations, but had brought a team to demonstrate the KUGB’s support for the National Championships. Perhaps my commentator was right. A year’s experience at the WKF kata rules will tell.
Sunday saw a full day of world class kumite. Karate England had booked a camera crew to cover Sunday’s action, and they were indeed kept busy. English sport karate is on a high right now, and although one of our senior World Champions, Paul Newby, has departed the game in search of more lucrative endeavours, there are plenty of aspirant athletes vying to fill his shoes - of particular significance in this World Championship year. Our other World Champions, senior Rory Daniels, and junior Katie Hurry were in attendance to meet the challenge.
The male Masters kumite title was retained by BTKO’s Tony Gray, his strong, sharp gyakuzuki getting the better of Leigh Sanders in the final. The female Masters final was between Stacey Pickett of Higashi, and AMA’s Mel Phillips, with Pickett taking the title.
The male team even promised to be an exciting affair. Would the KUGB newcomers make an impression in such a strong field? Or would the old guard of EKKA, WKU, AMA, Shikon, Kenyukai, SKU and BUKA- all fielding strong teams- prevail? As it turned out the excellent KUGB lost out to a strong WKU team, and met the AMA, who succumbed to a young Shikon team, in the repêchage. The ensuing battle looked like a final, with the young AMA team giving their all in a ding-dong battle. The 3-1 victory to KUGB gave them the bronze but belied the quality of the opposition from the AMA. The final then was a battle of experience in the WKU team against a young, dynamic Shikon squad. The crowd were on their feet, and the off-duty officials also lined the tatami for one of the most exciting team finals I have seen in some years. Victory finally went to the WKU/ Higashi team, but Ian Cuthbert should be proud of his young charges. A future team title may yet be theirs.
The female openweight final was between Natalie Williams and Tanya Weekes, with Williams taking her first English Title. World Champion Katie Hurry did not disappoint, taking the Junior over 60kg title from Toyakwai’s Jodie Morris for another major title this year. The KUGB deservedly took a gold medal this weekend when H. Sterling beat Shikon’s Sophia Michaelides in the Junior under 53kg final. (Note to KUGB’s coach Frank Brennan- Please put your competitors’ full names on the entry forms for next year’s championships!).
In the male cadets and Juniors there were golds for England internationals James Steadman, Daniel Broom, Adam Hadfield, Michael Roche, Paul Abel and Jay Gauci. The male senior categories were as exciting as anyone could have hoped. Audun Daniels, whose star is in the ascendant lately, beat EKKA’s Joe Mongan in the 80kg+ category. In the under 80’s final, a fighter I have long admired, Jory Chather, beat Paul Richards. In the lighter weights, Milo Hodge beat EKKA Caribbean team mate Alan Ford for the -65kg title. I watched the -70 final between Jason Ledgister and Collin Heath in the presence of Karate England President Joe Ellis and VP Brian Philcox. I fear I did Ledgister an injustice when I described him to Ellis as having a “lazy” style. Justly rebuked by Brian, I had to correct myself. An unforgivable sin for a writer, I was guilty of inaccurate use of language. What I was trying to convey was that Ledgister has a deceptively laid back approach but is capable of stinging like a viper when necessary. Sure enough, on this occasion Ledgister got the better of the aggressive, athletic Heath (himself holder of the WKC version of the world title).
Elsewhere, the exciting Alton Brown surely was the fighter of the weekend. In the Under 75 kg final he beat Baktyar Khazia of BUKA for his first title of the weekend. Then he met World Champion Rory Daniels in the openweight final. Both men were clearly fired up and in a hard–hitting knockabout exchange; both protagonists were downed by heavy head contact incurring multiple penalties. The scores went back and forth, but the title – and the world champion’s scalp - were to be Brown’s.
With male and female talent like this, the job of Ticky Donovan and his selectors for the forthcoming European and World Championships is going to be an enviably difficult one.
Note: some photos are copyright DEPhoto and can be purchased at www.dephoto.co.uk