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Paul Herbert 5th Dan
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Leeds Karate Academy - Building on Tradition

Nick Heald

We live in an age where people’s attention span and dedication are often short lived.  From a Karate perspective, this can often mean that either students lose interest quickly after gaining their coveted black belt, or stop training once the adrenaline rush of competition is over.

The Leeds Karate Academy (LKA) is a series of Shotokan Dojo’s run by Randy Williams, Nick Heald and Matt Price, all former students of Sensei Bob Rhodes 7th Dan, a leading member of the Karate Union of Great Britain (KUGB).

A few years ago when Bob moved away from Leeds, Randy, Nick and Matt took it upon themselves to start building their own Karate empire in and around Leeds.  Five years down the line and they now have approximately 500 students including over 75 Dan grades!

So how has this success been achieved?  In no small part it is helped by the fact that all 3 senior instructors lead by example.  Sadly many instructors fall into the easy trap of simply teaching and no longer developing their own skills.  The 3 LKA instructors continue to train as well as teach and are constantly striving to develop their own Karate as well as that of their students. 

All 3 trained for many years under Sensei Rhodes at his Leeds Shotokan Dojo.  The foundation given to them by this tough, uncompromising Karateka has been fundamental in their success as both competitors and teachers.  The Leeds Shotokan Club can trace it’s roots back to the mid 1960’s when it was run by KUGB International Ronnie Wade, another no nonsense tough Karateka whose hard training influence had a big impact on Bob Rhodes.  When Ronnie retired due to work commitments, Bob took over the running of the club and for the next 30 years was at the helm of steering Shotokan Karate in Leeds forward.

Randy and Nick both started training at Bob’s club as beginners, Randy in 1977 and Nick in 1981.  Matt joined the Harrogate club as a green belt when his family moved north from London in 1984.  Two years later, having heard of the tough reputation of the Leeds club, the 14 year old Matt regularly took the train from Harrogate twice a week to train at the Leeds Dojo.

The Leeds Club at the time entered many competitions and naturally Randy, Nick and Matt all gravitated towards this field.  For many years, all 3 were the backbone of the Leeds Team Kumite, helping them to a number of victories in the KUGB National Championships.  As individuals all 3 became members of the KUGB National Squad and accumulated many appearances and medals at European and World Championship level.  The influence of the KUGB coaches Sensei’s Enoeda and Sherry again helped mould and develop their Karate greatly.

So how have these men maintained their interest and enthusiasm over a quarter of a century and still continue to strive for improvements?

In no small part this is down to their own love of training.  Whilst training regularly along side their students in Leeds and Harrogate, Randy, Nick and Matt are regular faces at the many KUGB courses held nationally and of late, at a number of all-styles courses, including those held by the JKS under Scott Langley and Alan Campbell.

Their natural enthusiasm and love of Karate training shines through in their teaching.  It is no coincidence that the LKA now boasts a membership approaching the 500 mark.  Students range from 5 years old to 65, with people training for a whole range of reasons, all of which are catered for in the teaching. 

Craig Raye, a Senior student of Sensei Enoeda, and a well known and respected Karateka in his own right recently visited the club to take a joint course with both Sensei’s Heald and Price.  He took the opportunity to talk to the instructors there about how they view running their Dojo’s.

‘We find that members join for a whole host of reasons’, said Nick.  ‘Some join for fitness, some for self defence, some simply because other members of their family have joined’.  Indeed, the LKA has many families that now train together.  Perhaps the leading family in this respect is the Finlay family that now counts 4 dan grades. Harry and Juliet are 3rd and 2nd dan respectively and their children Mel and Joe are also 2nd dans and leading competitors in the LKA ranks.

‘Which other sport or activity allows families to train together at the same time?’ asks Matt.  And perhaps he’s right.  Karate training is certainly one activity that allows individuals of all ages to practice the same thing at the same time and get equal amounts of benefit from it.

‘Most of our classes are general classes for all ages’ says Randy Williams, the senior instructor in Leeds.  ‘However we do hold classes that are specifically for children, some that are specifically for black and brown belts and some that are purely for competitors’. 

‘We try to cater for all ages and tastes’, says Matt.  ‘Karate is such a varied activity that we can vary the classes enormously so that students will not get bored’. 

With years of training under their belts with Bob Rhodes, the LKA instructors have little trouble in designing varied classes.  Bob Rhodes is renowned as a very innovative and interesting instructor.  This has clearly influenced the 3 LKA instructors and the classes that you can expect in their Dojo’s are rarely the same each week.

‘We try to cover all aspects of Shotokan Karate’, Nick says. ‘ Kihon, Kata, Kumite, Bunkai, and competition Kumite are all covered on a regular basis.  We try to develop Karateka that are at home with any aspect of Shotokan, not just someone that can perform a Kata nicely but wouldn’t be able to cope with anyone getting aggressive with them!’

Shotokan Karate was designed so that individuals could defend themselves competently.  The instructors at the LKA believe that Karate training should always have this ultimate end in mind.  You’re average Shotokan club trains the 3 K’s with equal importance.  When two thirds of this training (kata and kihon) is done against fresh air, partner work should develop all the areas necessary for effective self-defence.  Timing, distance, power, speed and aggression are all-important aspects of any partner work and are always emphasised within Kumite drills at the LKA.  Whether it is basic Gohon Kumite, Bunkai or Jiyu Kumite, all these aspects are continually stressed to help students learn to deliver techniques effectively.

‘Striking the right balance is important’ stresses Nick.  ‘Some clubs concentrate on correct form and produce Kata champions who’s performance can be breathtaking.  Yet when you see these same people try to fight, they’re sometimes hopeless.  Kata training on it’s own doesn’t build the ability to defend one’s self.  Equally so, at the other end of the scale you see other clubs that continually produce fine fighters but their technical ability can often be poor.  We try to develop both.  Good, technical Karateka who can deliver effective and powerful techniques.’

This emphasis on the all-round Karateka is shown in the LKA Dan grade register, which now lists 48 shodans, 20 nidans, 3 sandans, 1 yondan, 2 godans and 1 rokudan.  Amongst these are numerous KUGB Internationals and National Champions, showing a mixture of both long term training development, and for the youngsters, competitive excellence.

‘I remember an article in an old Fighting Arts magazine’, says Nick, ‘where there was an interview with American Shotokan pioneer Robert Fusaro, where he talked about his Dojo in the USA.  He spoke then (mid 1980’s) of developing a large Dan grade base, effectively building a Karate empire within his own city.  This is what we feel we are doing now within the Leeds and Harrogate area.  We are very proud of our Karateka, particularly those that pass Dan gradings as well as win championships.’

With Randy, Nick and Matt having all competed internationally for the KUGB over many years, they all feel that it is important to give LKA Karateka the opportunity to meet, train and compete with Karateka from abroad.

‘We have taken the Leeds Team abroad many times now over the years.  We’ve been to Holland, Belgium, Germany, Ireland and Canada over the years’, says Matt.  All these trips have been made through friendships made during years of international competition. 

The latest trip that the LKA has planned is scheduled for April 2007 when a party of 16 Karateka from the LKA are heading to Florida to train in preparation for the KUGB National Championships to be held the month after.  We have hired 2 villas’ to house everyone, a Dojo to train in whilst in Orlando and will visit a club that’s affiliated with the KUGB in North Port, South West Florida.  The whole exercise is designed to build a strong team spirit as well as prepare the competitors for the National Championships.

‘It’s through trips like this that we generate and maintain both enthusiasm and hopefully loyalty amongst our Karateka’, says Randy.  ‘Meeting and training with Karateka from other countries can be very rewarding’. 

For the past 3 years both Nick and Matt have run a training camp in Normandy, France each June.  ‘We have hired a villa and take a party of roughly 35 karateka over to train for the week.  The group consists of all ages and grades.  ‘We’ve had ages from 6 to 60 and from beginner to Sandan training.  It’s been very successful and enjoyable and we hope to be able to continue with this for many years.’  Again, it gives Karateka that are training week in week out a goal and something to look forward to.  ‘Whilst the week’s training is very arduous, it’s also thoroughly rewarding and the camaraderie is tremendous,’ says Brian Lister, a Shodan within the LKA, who has attended every camp so far.

‘We all feel that we’re building something very important and powerful within the LKA’, says Randy. ‘Who knows where this will end, but we’re just going to keep on plugging away day to day and building something we hope will be special.’           

Anyone interested in either training with the LKA at one of their Dojo’s or going on one of their courses can visit the club website at www.lka.org.uk 

Sensei Williams is contactable at Randolph@wiliams3153.freeserve.co.uk

Sensei Heald is contactable at n_heald@hotmail.com

Sensei Price is contactable at sensei.price@ntlworld.com