The History of Mansfield Karate club

The history of Mansfield karate club and my story are so intertwined I find it hard to separate them. The club history started slightly before mine in karate terms in the year 1966. Some of the students of Mansfield Judo Club decided to form a karate section in response to articles written in martial arts magazines. Very soon the karate section became bigger than the judo club so they decided to separate from each other. At first they just copied from the pictures in the magazines and this led to some very strange training sessions I am told. After a short time they made a contact with the organisation run by Tatsuo Suzuki (the All Britain karate do Association). They met another club at Dinnington that was a little more knowledgeable and soon the main people in the club were graded up to green belt.

This is where I came on the scene. Ron Dovey , Jean Stokes, Ken Bagguley and Mel Parry were the leading members of the club at this time. The training was very hard, relentless exercises and never ending basics. As a beginner I was only allowed to train twice a week but soon I was taking my first grading with sensei Hayakawa . In those days we didn’t find out if we had passed until weeks after we had done the grading, I passed. The next grading I can’t remember but the one after I can because it was with sensei Suzuki at Nottingham. I don’t remember too much about the grading except my pair work partner made a few mistakes and I thought I had failed, but I didn’t. It was the 26th of June 1968, a long time ago.

In that year Mansfield club won the North of England Championships and I was second in the junior fighting event and Mel Parry won the senior event. We had arrived and later in the year I was placed second in the national tournament, the first person from the club to medal at the nationals.

Later that year Hironori Ohtsuka Meijin came to the U.K. and a few members went to train with him at the Crystal Palace for the week. Little did I know that this would change my whole life. When I first saw him I was immediately impressed with his humble manner and later with his sense of humour and his knowledge of karate. He would get sensei Fuji to attack him and he would twist and turn just avoiding the attacks and then he would unbalance sensei Fuji pushing him over. One day he asked us why we wanted to practice karate; students came up with all kinds of reasons like wanting to be able to fight better or for self defence. These were quietly answered as not correct and Ohtsuka meijin then said that the real reason was to make ourselves better people. It took many years for me to understand those words but eventually when I was older and wiser I understood, but by then Ohtsuka meijin was dead so I never got to thank him for the wisdom of his words.

Later in 1968 and early in1969 the committee at the club decided that we needed our own place to train instead of the pubs we were in. Some of the places we trained were the Red Lion pub, the Old Eight Bells on Church Street, the Mansfield Town football club supporters club and the Armstrong Memorial Hall at Mansfield Woodhouse. They decided on a derelict place on West Hill Drive which then was a little side street near the General Hospital. Mel Parry and I went down one night after training to have a look and we were horrified. There was a soil floor; tiny blacked out broken windows no stairs to the upstairs and rubble everywhere. I remember saying to Mel that I thought we were never going to train there. Any way work started and there was a lot of work to do. Most of the work was done by Ken Bagguley’s father Herbert who was a rather chubby foreman at a local builder and I think he leaned on a few of his workers to get the job done . We the members of the club got to do the labouring and how we did. One day another green belt and I got the job of breaking up a concrete slab in the club. We were given two sledge hammers and set to work. Thirty minutes later we had managed to break one small corner off the slab. We were hanging out and we hadn’t even cracked the thing. Then I had an idea, we got a pickaxe and wedged it under one edge lifting up the block and with one blow cracked the block into four pieces. We took them out dumped them into the skip and were gone. Another time a team of four of us got the job of burning the old paint off the floor upstairs. This paint was from the 1920’s and 30’s, so it was mostly lead paint. With no masks or anything we set off with a flame thrower and three spades. We wrapped scarves around our faces to help with breathing. Ten minutes on the flame thrower, two on the spades and one resting. After hours of back breaking we had cleared most of the floor but we had lost so much weight we were in serious danger of dehydration and lead poisoning. Later I sanded the floor with a huge industrial sander which was strapped around my waist and ran away with me on several occasions. Eventually the job got done; Herbert was made a life member of the club and never paid another subscription again. We were glad it was over because we had lost a few members and a lot of weight, now we were back to training.

At the first grading in the new club I was taking 3rd kyu brown belt. My partner and I waited downstairs whist everyone else finished and then it was our turn. Sensei Hayakawa sat at his desk and watched us go through our routine and at the end we both passed. At that time brown belt was a high grade and we were happy to be able to dye our green belts brown, nobody had new belts then. The date was the 23rd of June 1969 not long after my birthday. The Japanese instructors had fallen out with the A.B.K.A. and we were now the United Kingdom Karate Do Wadokai , the organisation we are to this day.

It was about this time that two landmark events happened to me. Firstly I was selected to represent England at our first European championships at the Royal Albert Hall. Secondly I was also chosen to represent Great Britain at a tournament against Japan at the Crystal Palace. The first selection took place at Judd Street dojo in London. There were 50 or 60 students at the selections most of whom were higher grades than me so I thought I was in for a good hiding. I was soon called up to fight a man from one of Sensei Suzuki’s clubs. I didn’t know him at the time but soon came to be friends with him, his name was Ricky Constantine. We fought for some time and there was no score, then right at the end Ricky scored a point and I thought I was out of the reckoning. When I went back into the crowd watching rather than commiserating with me they were congratulating me. Apparently Ricky was the best fighter in London and they were surprised he hadn’t thrashed me. After all the fights had finished the team was announced and as I remember the team was Philip Kear, Mel Parry, Ricky Constantine and two others I can’t remember made up the main team and myself and a man called Goncalves from Bristol club were the two reserves. We won the tournament but I didn’t get a fight that time.

The second event was a joint Wado and Shotokan tournament with a fifteen man Japanese squad against an England team made up of fifteen men from Wado and fifteen from Shotokan. I remember the day very clearly for several reasons. The night before the tournament the wado team trained and then we were told we were sleeping that night on the floor at the Judd Street club. We were told the Japanese and Shotokan teams were in a 5 star hotel and this didn’t go down too well. A thin foam mattress and a blanket plus no food set us up for the coming fight very well. The next day we gathered at the venue and caught site of our opponents, they were a fierce looking bunch. Then I realised I appeared to be the only brown belt there, I stuck out like a sore thumb. The plan was for the first England fifteen to fight the Japanese team as normal captain against captain and so on. They lost about 12 to 3, and then the teams were reversed. As I was the least experienced fighter I went last so I ended up fighting the Japanese team captain. He had defeated Andy Sherry who was the top Shotokan fighter of the time quite easily. The second team was doing no better than the first team and then there was an altercation when one of the shotokan boys started a real fight with his opponent. I thought I was in for a going over as revenge, and my turn was coming up. Then I felt two hands on my shoulders, it was one of my instructors. He said David surikomi maegeri, it sounded to me like an invitation to commit suicide. Then I was up, staring into the eyes of the Japanese team’s supreme assassin. We bowed to each other and we were off and I was going backwards, he charged straight off the line with fists going like little pistons. Back on the line I thought I had better do something and then I remembered surikomi maegeri. The command hajime was given; I bounced a few times and went for it straight forward. Up came the foot, down came his block but my foot was faster and I kicked him in the groin. The whole Crystal Palace crowd jumped up applauding. Yame was called and we marched back to our lines, I was given a half point and we were off again, the rest of the fight was a blur but I spent a lot of the time on the move. Then it was over, we lost by a large amount but I had won and I felt seven foot tall. I would still like to know who he was because I never found out, just that he was good enough to captain Japan.

Into the 1970s

At the start of the 1970s I obtained my first kyu on a course in London with Ohtsuka Meijin. At this time you could get an automatic grading if you trained on a week long course with the Japanese instructors. This might seem easy but I can assure you it most certainly wasn’t. It was five days of purgatory, endless basics and combinations and by the fourth day you were lucky if you could walk. Also then you could take your dan grade nine months after getting third kyu. Whilst waiting I got my second and first kyu. Early in 1970 I attempted my dan grading at Judd Street in London. I remember there was about forty or so people taking grading, some for first and some for second. The grading was soon over and then along came the fighting. I was a little nervous about who I would get because I was getting a reputation as a fighter. I was called up and then my worst fears were realised when Hamish Adams was called up as well. Anyway we set to and he gave me a lesson in fighting as he was one of the best fighters in Great Britain at that time. When it was all over the results were announced and I was failed, Sensei Suzuki gave me some advice afterwards that I took to heart. He said I was trying to copy other people’s way of fighting and that I should find my own way. I went away and worked on this and found my own way. Later in the year I went back to do the grading again and this time I was ready and passed. I had been training for two years and ten months, so I had attained one more of my ambitions; I had done it inside three years. I had a good meal on my way back from London; I thought I had earned it.

Into the 1970’s

The club went very well in the early 70’s but one event is worthy of mention. Ron Dovey the clubs first instructor had a falling out with Melvyn Parry one of the leading young instructors at that time. We had a big meeting at the club of all the members that turned a little acrimonious. We had a vote and the majority voted for Ron’s point of view. Mel left the club with some of his supporters and formed the Idlewells club and was very successful for a while because some of the clubs best fighters went with him. I stayed with Ron and became the chief instructor at the club. Within a few years I built up a new team and once again Mansfield became a force to be reckoned with in tournaments.

Round the middle of the 1970’s I had a few assistant instructors, like Robert Salmon and Gerry Todd. One night I arrived 5 minutes late at the club, there was a queue outside the club 20 yards long and 3 deep. When I went into the club people were sat 3 deep all around the ground and upper floors, and there was still a lot outside. Sam asked me what we were going to do so I told him to take the names of everyone outside and close the door. He did this and then we set to and began teaching. It was the start of the Bruce Lee era. We had to hire the function room at the pub next door and we used the club just to change in. An average class was about 40 to 50 people each night. It lasted about 4 years for us; we had 5 full fighting teams and took 2 full 45 seat buses to all gradings. At one or two gradings with Sensei Suzuki we had over 400 students present.

In 1974 I broke my leg in a tournament in Reading, at the time I was fighting Paul Henshaw who was one of Mel’s boys from Idlewells. He was a great fighter and we crashed shins together and I came off worst with a fractured Tibia and Fibula. It was made worse for my wife when someone in the crowd shouted he’s broke his neck. Fortunately for me it wasn’t that bad but apart from the pain there were a few laughs as well, well later anyway. As they carried me out of the venue they had to take me down the steps outside and they were very steep. They hadn’t strapped me on the stretcher so I had to hang onto the stretcher as we went down. Then when we reached the ambulance the front bearer dropped the stretcher as he reached for the door and as I went down I half fell off the stretcher with a few well chosen words screamed out. Anyway I recovered in time but I lost my job and had to find another which changed the rest of my life. The following year I got back into the England team, became their team captain for two years. In 1975 I fought Victor Charles( the future world champion) at the Crystal Palace in the final of the national championships , he beat me by half a point. The following year I fought Jerome Atkinson (another future world champion) in the semi finals of the same event. We fought for 7 minutes with no result so they decided on a final encho sen and then the officials would decide. There was no score so the officials decided on Jerome. On the balance of things probably the right result, I was exhausted anyway Jerome was six foot four and outweighed me by about four stone. I was disappointed but at least I had only lost to two future world champions in my last two years of individual competition. I retired after Jerome’s fight and so did my friend Mel Parry , I think we’d earned it. In those days we fought bare knuckled with not much control, injuries were frequent and we weren’t insured either. We had both fought against Japan twice and won, I carried on for a few more years with my team and we almost always were placed in the nationals. After that I enjoyed my rest but I have always missed the excitement of competition.

Into the 1980’s

In the late 70’s and early 80’s I was the East Midlands representative on the U.K.K.W. national committee. There were a number of 3rd dans in the federation at the time who were agitating for the right to be able to carry out kyu gradings up to a certain level. The committee tried to secure these rights for the 3rd dans but this caused problems with our Japanese instructors who didn’t agree. At a meeting in London the whole committee was thrown out of office and a new committee was installed. Before the meeting Mel, Paul Henshaw and I went to London to see Sensei Suzuki to explain what was happening but Sensei wouldn’t speak to me as I was a member of the committee. Mel and Paul put our point of view but we didn’t succeed. John Moreton , Barry Wilkinson, Joe Balko and John Green all left the federation over the issue but I still wanted Sensei Suzuki as my instructor so I stayed. Later the rights were given to the higher grades anyway.

Mel and I were the first English students to take 4th dan. The first time we went Mel was refused permission to grade because he hadn’t attended a referees course, I was allowed to but decided to wait for Mel to qualify. We took the grading the next time in London at Sensei’s club in Fulham. Mel passed I failed. I was disappointed but philosophical about it. I finally got graded in 1987 and was very happy.

In the world outside Ohtsuka Meijin had died in 1982 and there had already been a split over money in the federation in Japan ending in the formation of Wadokai and Wado Renmei. We had stayed loyal to Ohtsuka and Sensei Suzuki. Sensei had been asked to head Wadokai but refused and tried to keep the two groups together when Ohtsuka Meijin eventually died. He preferred the Japanese way of the founder’s son inheriting control from his father. He failed and stayed loyal to the founders son Jiro , but all was not well and sensei Suzuki had to eventually form his own group which was named The Wado International Karate Do Federation( Wado Kokusai). There was a big split amongst the English based Japanese instructors and all of them left Sensei Suzuki . My club and I decided to stay with Sensei and we were left with only one other club in the East Midlands. It was a low point for the U.K.K.W. and at a meeting soon after I was asked to be chairman of the federation with William Vincent , an old friend, as secretary. We stayed like this for a couple of years trying to rebuild the federation.

Into the 1990s up to the present day

I was graded 5th dan in 1991. Then in 1993 I lost my job as an engineering works manager. I decided I had enough of working for other people and decided to become a professional karate instructor. So I set to and made it work although in the first few years it was very difficult. However these years brought me Tony Utting , David Clark,Wayne Harrison,Tony Musgrove and all the dan grades that followed. The federation had its problems and I had to take on the jobs of secretary and licensing officer as well as chairman, but we grew ever stronger. The Mansfield club grew as my black belts started new clubs of their own and took on grading rights of their own. I am very proud of my boys and girls and hope that they will grow better and better.

We ran into structural problems in the federation and I had to restructure it to prevent further splits. The central core of the new federation was W.I.K.F. England headed by Sensei Suzuki. Other small or medium groups could form on an affiliated basis around Sensei’s group, single clubs could join Sensei’s organisation separately. It seems to have worked reasonably well. I asked sensei if I could have the name U.K.K.W. and he agreed. I also asked if I could be relieved of my duties as chairman and secretary because I was in need of a rest and he agreed.

So I retired from the W.I.K.F. and became director of karate for the U.K.K.W. as I am today. So here we are today. As I have said before my black belts are very important to me and it wouldn’t do for me to finish the history of Mansfield Karate Club without saying to them how important they are to me. I would like to thank you all for your support over the years and I want to tell you that you are a great group of people, love you all.

It wouldn’t be right or proper of me to finish this history without mentioning the first man I ever trained to the rank of first dan . His name was Robert Salmon or as I always knew him “Sam”. Sam died in August 2008 whilst on holiday, of a heart condition. He was a man in every sense, as a boy he had polio and wore leg irons to help him walk. Yet he came to me and learned karate to a high level and helped me for many years to run the club. As an example to others he was second to none only finishing karate when he contracted a back injury that even he couldn’t beat. Whenever I think of my dan grades he is the first name I think of.