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  • Writer's pictureMatt Powell

That’s what counts!

In 2023 our group (The Applied Karate Association) was rebuilding after the upheaval of the pandemic. Our development plan had been disrupted and we had lost some important coaches and competitor talent in the two years of disruption.

Consequently, we did not enter the 2023 Legend Open on an association level. Instead, we entered some dojo teams to

‘Step up’ onto the mats and experience the pressures and pitfalls of competition outside the protection of our ‘in-house’ tournaments.

Fast-forward a year and our post-pandemic generation are a year more experienced, so we decided to enter the 2024 Legend Open in Surrey as an Association team.

Furthermore, our team was bolstered by a contingent of our Senior Grades who have been with us since our inception and some new faces who grew up with us in SEKU (The Shotokan of England Karate Union).

One of the challenges for any association is helping its students balance their priorities. With several of our teenage group about to take their GCSE’s we encouraged some to prioritise their studies. So, this year we had some familiar faces and some new making up our selected team of 20 from the Knowle (Fareham), Kokoro (Portsmouth), Petersfield and South Downs (Waterlooville) dojo’s.

As planned, we met at the main entrance of Surrey Sports Centre at 8.15am. The venue at the top of the A3 is super convenient for us, but I personally do miss the nostalgia of competing at the Bracknell venue which holds so many memories for the coaching team.

Our stalwart referee Chris Carr Sensei charismatically strolled to the top of the hill with a swagger that suggests his recent injury frustrations are behind him. Spot on that man! 

The week before the competition was not without drama and we unfortunately lost three competitors to illness or injury. All being well Jake, Eliza and Chris will be back in the mix for our next road trip.

Dave Galloway, Wayne Lee, Amber Williams and myself, (Matt Powell) made up the coaching team and we were fortunate to be supported by a strong contingent of parents, guardians and siblings who braved the bruised bottoms for a day on the bleachers.

Our theme for the day was inspired by the African word Ubuntu 'I am what I am because of who we all are’!

This years Legend was about team building, team spirit and investment and care in each other.

This was fuelled by the confidence that the work was done, and the results would follow.

After distributing armbands, we were soon in the venue, and I took up residency at the coach and referee briefing (after a quick hug with Beryl Moreby of course).

First on the Matts were Noah (lightning) Duff sporting his awesome new haircut and Caleb (Miggi) whose hair is always exceptional. Despite two solid performances of Heian Sandan (Scoring 21.0 both times) Noah missed out on the final but Caleb prevailed and put in a strong kata performance to secure 2nd place.

Elliott (Ice Man) Walsha made his return to the competition arena after breaking his collarbone in November. His first kata Heian Yondan was composed and demonstrated improved maturity scoring a solid 21.0 . He then completed a solid Heian Sandan with well framed stances again scoring 21.0 to progress to the finals.

Beau and Elliott have been friends since nursery school, so it was great to see them competing in the same event. Beau is his own biggest critic, but he put in a fine performance despite the nerves. Firstly scoring 20.8 with Heian Nidan and then 21.1 with a very nice Heian Sandan.

Despite her shy demeanour Anna Jackson is growing into a skilled and competent karate-ka. She performed a wonderful Heian Sandan with beautiful kiba-dachi and narrowly missed out on progression with a score of 20.9.

In the next round Elliott had a false start in kata but then demonstrated great strength of character to restart and perform Heian Godan.

It’s not the mistake but what you do next that counts!

Beau stepped up with a solid and dynamic performance of Heian Nidan narrowly missing out on the medals.

Many of us who grew up in the arena of karate competition can appreciate the value of having a worthy rival. It was great to see Noah and Caleb developing this dynamic as Noah flipped the script from kata and secured second place in the Sanbon kumite. These two young, coloured belts are surely a pair to watch out for in the future.

Next up was our young purple belt Jessie (Ashikubi) Hart in kata. Jessie scored solidly in each round with a confidence on the mats that was wonderful to behold. Her performance in the final of Heian Sandan had lovely kime and excellent stances to secure the win and title of kata champion.

In the youth brown belt category Tommy (Big T) Welsh started solidly with Heian Nidan (21.5) and then again scored 21.5 with Heian Yondan despite a small mistake and progressed to the final.

Big Bad Bremner is a real character and such a happy and consistent performer. His Heian Yondan was tidy with good appreciation of embusen but his score of 20.3 wasn’t enough to progress.

In the cadet kata Zack Henrick showed his maturity and growth since last years event progressing to the semi finals without drama. His solid Jitte was then enough to see him through to the finals where his Empi performance secured a 4th place. This was a significant step up from last year.

Pandora who outwardly is perhaps the most laid-back human in the world seems to be in a stage where she continuously has a tough draw. But as she reminded me later in the day, if you are going to win you must beat who is there regardless.

Pandora, your time will come!

Suddenly the day seemed to pick up pace and before the adult kata could commence the coaching team were soon spread across areas as the kumite excitement grew and the matches began.

First up was Beau who won his first round convincingly against a purple belt opponent. Again, his own biggest critic Beau was then unhappy with his performance in the final. He secured a second place and moved well with confidence.  It is only a matter of time till his lightning fast mawashi-geri makes another appearance. (In other news his new gi looked the business!)

Next up Anna Jackson who put in a composed and classy performance. Keeping it simple, clean and clear to secure first place and become kumite champion. Her Chudan Gyaku was a peach!

Another young green belt to step up was young Jacob Cook. Cookie also known as ‘No-Fear’ may not be the biggest young man in his category, but he has enough spirit and courage to inhabit a 7ft tall adult. Having been selected for his first event outside of our AKA tournaments he was encouraged to turn up and have fun! Jacob went one step further and prevailed against a strong and focused opponent to secure the win! Well done Cookie! Kumite champion!!

Next up was Elliott who faced the opponent he had beaten in last years event. Fair play to the other competitor, he had a solid game plan and caught Ice Man cold! (How ironic!) A frustrating day for Els but as expected he behaved with grace. He will return stronger and better for the experience.

Next up was Bremner. His first round went to plan with a composed win with two well timed wazari.

In the second round he had some confusing messages from the referee, firstly being told his gizami’s were too weak to score, then being warned for control and over zelous head punches whilst having a nosebleed from a head shot from his opponent.

After a quick clean up from the medics Brem composed himself and returned to form to win the match. What a class act! Bremners fitness is deceptive and he went to work!

He then was unlucky to lose the next match and third place play off. But as always Brem was a winner with his attitude and his ability to ‘turn-up’.

In the cadet kumite Zack and Pandora faced similar frustration. Zack lost 2-1 despite a seemingly clear jodan mawashi going unscored.

Pandora then fought a classy opponent and was on the other end of missed mawashi-geris by the referees. Thankfully Pandoras opponent did not succumb to frustration. She kicked P in the head three times all of which were unscored. Pandora was shaken but kept stepping up and carrying on. I had to take her to the medics after (bleeding from the mouth), but I congratulated her opponent. She kept appropriate control despite the missed scores.

Pandoras opponent went on to win the event and deservedly so.

Big Sam started well and won his first match so quickly Sensei Galloway did not have time to film the bout. Unfortunately, his kicking strategy did not pay off in the second match and he was beaten by a sharp and powerful opponent. This was Sams first outing in the cadet category, so the experience was valuable. As he is a considered thinker Sam will appraise his performance and learn from it.  

In the brown belt kumite Tommy was putting in the most composed performance of his career so far. He kept it simple with two clean and simple punch combinations in round one.

In the semi final he started with a punch wazari and then won with a well set up and timed Jodan Mawashi.

In the final he faced Leon from the Thames group who has excellent timing and movement. Tommy demonstrated just how much he has improved in the last 6 months to win with a beautifully timed mawashi-geri ippon in the final thirty seconds. Well done Big T! Kumite champion.

Meanwhile the adult kata had began with earnest. Ionut, John Hollis and Rob Maynard were all representing in the Male black belt event.

Each of our team put in solid performances, Ionut narrowly missed the final after repeating Elliotts mistake and suffering a kata false start. Like Elliott he rebooted and then completed a solid kata to his credit.

Rob progressed to the final where the best beard in the business put in an excellent display of Gojushiho-Sho to secure second place. His smooth and crisp technique were an inspiration to all our team.

Such is Ionuts quality of performance and character is that he is capable of entering and delivering in both the black belt kata and veterans kata events.

So, after the disappointment of his mistake, he focused on the next event where he progressed through the eliminations. He performed an excellent Sochin to reach the final and then chose Unsu for his last performance.

Unfortunately, our favourite Romanian landed awkwardly in the jump and aggravated an old injury. This compromised his performance, but he finished with a credible 4th place.

While the hi octane kumite matches had begun Mel Datanagan from the Kokoro dojo was gracefully competing in veteran kata. On her debut outing for the team Mel who is a green belt performed excellently and secured a 4th place finish against a variety of more experienced competitors.

In the male black belt kumite, we were represented by Big Mike Smallpage and John Hollis.

Mike won the first bout convincingly with a chudan mawashi and then a sharp gyaku tsuki. But in the second round he was on the reverse end of the same scoring techniques. It was then Johns turn to shine.

Watching him compete was a joy and it brought back fond memories of his own Sensei competing in the kumite event. John is stocky and strong but deceptively fast and explosive. Just like his teacher Sensei Keith Williams.

John won his first match against a much taller opponent in convincing fashion. He then won then next round and progressed to the semi finals where he fought an exceptional karate-ka taking the fight to extension. It was an exciting match and his experienced opponent prevailed.

However, John then took the decision in the 3rd place play off and concluded an excellent performance all round by the team.

Whilst overall our team had performed excellently there were still some disappointed faces in the team.

It is inevitable that things will not always turn out the way we want them to for everyone. On reflection the coaching team were thrilled with the performances and goodwill demonstrated by our team members throughout the day.

Together we are stronger!

We now focus our attention on our dojo training and preparations for our own AKA tournament in May.

After all, despite mistakes, defeats or frustrations….. it’s what we do next that counts!


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