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  • Writer's pictureMatt Powell

That’s the Spirit

Life has changed in many ways for most people since the pandemic hit in 2020. The karate world has evolved and transformed a great deal also.

Prior to lockdown our association had developed a strong team spirit and had taken to the road to test the skills of our competitors against others at various competitions.

Over a few years we had taken several of our students to different events as we strived to offer these athletes the opportunities and experiences, we (the principal instructors) had enjoyed earlier in our careers.

In many ways the pandemic interrupted and for some halted their karate progress. The real shame was that this interruption ended the karate journey for some promising students.

Once dojos finally reopened momentum had been lost and some of our team had moved on and their window of opportunity to enjoy competitions had closed.

Consequently, we as an organisation decided to regroup, consolidate, and rebuild on club level until such a point where we could open these opportunities to our members once more.

Back in the summer the decision was made to attend the HDKI open event in Birmingham. This is a competition we had supported on a few occasions but last attended in 2018. The HDKI are a friendly group led by Scott Langley Sensei and the tournament is organised by our long-standing friend and former SEKU teammate Paul Uren Sensei from Plymouth.

As an association we pride ourselves on our effort and sincerity. We try our best at all levels to prioritise the wellbeing of our students and aim to offer experiences where they can develop and grow.

In 2018 we had hired a coach and taken a team along with parent supporters to Dudley. We decided to do the same on this occasion and sent an email to club instructors to gauge interest. It was soon clear that this time we would need a bigger bus!

Our association has developed and is now a wonderful mix of those who trained with us from our inception in 2015 and prior to COVID. Many of these students trained in living rooms and kitchens during lockdown and are a mix of juniors and adults.

Then we have the post-lockdown generation. A mix of all ages whose lack of experience is more than compensated for by their sheer enthusiasm and passion for karate and life.

What a great mix!

Our safeguarding principles require that junior members are accompanied at tournaments by a parent or guardian and fate stepped in as our team of twenty-eight competitors, numerous parents, the four of us and our resident refereeing maestro Chris Carr Sensei filled the 50-seater coach we had requested.

As always during the build up to the event challenges presented themselves. Mike Smallpage who had previously won kumite at the event injured his leg beach running. With a suspected fracture he was now out of the mix. Sensei Chris Carr had to have an operation at the last minute and had to withdraw from the travel party and Sensei Keith Williams was sadly unwell and unable to travel.

But as a wise person once said, ‘we must push on regardless!’

The team met in Bedhampton at 5.15am on the morning of the competition and we had filled the vacated seats with spectators who wanted to support the team.

AKAs coach full to the brim!
Applied Karate Association on tour 2023

After rigorously checking the register, we were soon on the road, and I sat back and enjoyed a moments reflection while everyone napped or sat quietly for the first leg of the journey.

That was before Matt Smith Sensei started tucking into his packed lunch and delicious looking bagels (I sadly was not as well prepared).

After a couple of hours our team began to wake up and as instructors it was great to hear our students and families chatting with each other and witness the excitement levels on the bus rise.

We arrived at the venue at 9am and I went into the leisure centre to confirm registration and take a quick look at everything. I was greeted by our old friend Paul Uren who explained that the event was a bigger than expected success. Consequently, it was going to be a tight squeeze in the hall.

The tournament had over 400 entries, so it was clear it was going to be a busy day!

Our team disembarked the bus and were presented with a gift each from the association. Our black AKA team jackets. Sensei Smith gave a quick rousing speech and we ensured that our team were changing and preparing while we attended the referee’s briefing.

It was here where we met more familiar faces not least another old SEKU friend and teammate Eden Burrell who is now an established and enthusiastic referee.

In the past I have attended competitions where etiquette, behaviour and control have been lacking. I remarked to Eden that I always felt disappointed when people’s behaviour did not reflect ‘the true spirit of karate’. She agreed and we both expressed that we could already feel that this year’s HDKI competition was filled with the right kind of enthusiasm and pedigree to ensure a good day for all.

At the beginning of the event Scott Langley Sensei gave a quick briefing to the hall where the cramped conditions were acknowledged. Strict management of the space, spectators and coaches’ movements were required and understandable. We had to quickly formulate a plan as to best manage our competitors and ensure they did not miss events.

Fortunately, we have a strong team with willing organisers in our midst. Matt Smith volunteered to supervise our students outside of the hall, while Jess Cheong and Nicky Porter monitored upcoming events and corralled the students to their mats at the correct time.

AKA Team Briefing at the 2023 HDKI Comp

It then became the responsibility of myself and Dave Galloway Sensei to look after and coach our team members on the mats. As is often the way, the first events to be called were kata.

Matt & Dave Sensei Coaching from matside

Ionut Hentea from our Petersfield dojo had driven to the event as both of his children wished to accompany him and watch him work. Ionut is a sincere and dedicated person, and it wasn’t long before he was called up for kata. Ionut performed well and secured 2nd place in Veteran kata with his favourite kata Sochin.

Ionut has experience at this level in kata and he fared well. For others in our travel party, it was their first attempt outside of our own ‘in-house’ tournaments.

Ionut 2nd place in Veteran Kata

Despite some strong performances a missed kiai or stance wobble on the mats can be enough to tip the balance and see results go to your opponent. Our team were displaying a few nerves but also had some tough draws. The female category was particularly strong with some sharp individuals from Ireland and the Kaizen dojo in Newcastle.

It was clear that our students will benefit from some specific kata training to add some sharpness and precision to their performances in this arena. But that said young Jessie Hart showed excellent composure and placed third in her category with a solid Heian Sandan in the final.

Also, John Hollis of the Kokoro dojo put in a solid performance narrowly missing out on the finals despite being drawn against senior dan grade opposition. John was displaying excellent form and focused power that was reminiscent of his instructor Keith Williams and would have made him proud.

After feeling and dealing with the initial adrenalin during kata it was then good to see the team settle in the environment and begin to shine in kumite.

Sensei Galloway and I were doing our utmost to be present with each fighter and were covering three mats between us.

Suddenly we were very busy!

For Anna Jackson this was her first trip with away and she secured a well deserved third place in kumite with teammate Brooke Siddall securing first place with a solid performance in the final.

In the Boys division a good mix of well-timed punches were being contrast with some excellent mawashi-geri and a few crowd-pleasing feet to face moments. Not least young Bremner who placed third with a characteristic cool display.

Bethany Haswell of the South Downs dojo is quiet and unassuming but fought her way to the finals in a tough category surrounded by dan grade ladies of a high calibre. We were all thrilled to see her secure third place, not least her Mum (and biggest fan) Jess Cheong who was able to watch each match intently.

For some the frustration continued. But in many ways, this is all part of the experience, and the value of these lessons is not immediately understood or appreciated.

A highlight of the day was watching teammates Tommy Welsh and Elliott Walsha compete in the kyu grade kumite final. Tommy had shown excellent composure in an earlier round spinning his opponent and scoring ippon with a strike to the back, but Elliott had also been fighting well with a mix of ippons on his path to the final. Elliott prevailed and won kumite on this occasion with a composed performance.

Finally, Dyuthi from the Kokoro dojo put in an excellent display and utilised excellent timing to overcome some bigger opponents. Dyuthi is one of those wonderful members of our association who it seems has always been there, yet she is still a youth. When students start karate at six it is often easy to forget how significant a part it can play in their lives. It was wonderful to see her step up and perform on a different stage.

The event ran extremely smoothly, and we were back on the coach at 4pm for our return down south. The bus was now filled with conversation and the sounds of kumite matches being watched back on phones.

It was rewarding for us as instructors to sense the growing bond in our members and their families from different dojos.

Applied Karate Association Team 2023

Massive thanks to all the parents who travelled with us and Nicky and Jess for supporting our organisation on the day.

Everyone had conducted them self well throughout the day and were pleased for their team mates even if they were unhappy with their own results. It was great to be back together as an association team.

As I reflected on my conversation earlier in the day with Eden, I realised that our team had represented themselves and us their instructors extremely well.

Great sportsmanship, courteous behaviour, the will to win and sincere effort with a dose of modesty.

Now that’s the spirit!


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