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Paul Herbert 5th Dan
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Salih Soran in action - demonstrating his superb fighting style


On the 9th May 2009, Emma and I travelled to the Guildford Spectrum, Surrey (UK) to attend the Shobu-Ippon International Shotokan Open 2009 hosted by Simon Staples and Darren Jumnoodoo.

Emma and I travelled to Guildford on the Friday night, so as to ensure a good night’s sleep. After arriving, Emma and I visited the restaurant and enjoyed a wonderful meal of sirloin steak and fajitas and an incy bit of alcohol (on my part anyhow as I no longer compete so don’t have to follow the athlete’s rulebook). While in the restaurant, we bumped into friends of ours from around the country and enjoyed some nice company. The restaurant that night – unbeknown to staff – was filled with a pretty tough crowd.

This competition truly is, for many Shotokan Karateka - particularly those who are determined to steer well away from sport karate - the highlight on their competitive calendar. In my opinion, this was the best year yet.

In attendance were most groups from the TRADITIONAL scene here in the UK, with many attending from overseas. This truly was, as always, the competition to attend in the UK for a top quality traditional event. Organised and managed in the methodical way that the competition has become renown for, the primary objective of the day was to showcase the real talent present within the traditional world.

There’s something quite beautiful about Shobu-ippon karate. There’s a dignity, energy, a power, an emotional reality. These things you do not get with Sport kumite. For these reasons, in many ways, many WKF competitors are looking back towards shobu-ippon. It doesn’t have the glitz and glamour of red and blue gloves, or the back straight perfection of the choreographed referees. It’s simple; blood and guts in the metaphorical sense, with the reality that one wrong move can and often does result in losing immediately.

The rules of traditional competition reflect the brutality and simplicity of pavement side karate. Yes there’s a referee and medics to hand, but the simple fact remains that getting hit means losing. It can end in a matter of seconds. No second chance, no time to warm up to the mat – one chance, one opportunity. Fail and you lose.

This simplicity is very straight forward, so much so that some – who seek glory – want to look beyond it, for the bigger prize. In spite of this however, interest in traditional competition has without doubt seen an increase. Here in the UK, I truly believe this competition has something to do with that!

For all the faults of the Sporting system, one thing that most truly cannot be denied, is that they know how to run a competition. I am sure I am shooting myself in the foot here, and I have no doubt that many of you will have had bad experiences with the organisation and management of sporting competitions. They do, in general, however organise themselves effectively.

I am about to shoot myself in the other foot now when I say that at times, I am sure you will agree, traditional competition can be a little archaic. Again, this is merely a generalisation. This event however has brought together the vivacious energy of traditional competition, along with the dignity and pride of the shotokan style, and held it together wonderfully with their effective approach to competition management. Most importantly however, they had some pretty shit hot competitors making the traditional scene proud.

As always, the room was filled with some great talent, with SEKU, ISKF UK, SSKI and many others very much at the hub of the energy.

Throughout the kata categories, I saw some great talent. The kata I saw here had ‘fight’. No posing around, waiting between movements for a  camera flash. It was direct and beautiful in its delivery. I do however have a small criticism within these kata categories that I think it is worth mentioning.



Hannah Day (SEKU) vs Danielle Knowlson (BYAKKO)

This is solely my opinion, not necessarily shared by all I have no doubt, but I don’t like flags for kata. They are a wonderful time saver, and in the interest of saving time and the smooth running of the tatami they work well. For the competitor however, I don’t necessarily think so. In many of the rounds, there were people that should have, in my opinion, done a little better than they did. The person who takes 1st place will not be affected by the flag system at all as they are the official best kata performer with their category. The person that takes second place, third place and beyond however can be at a disadvantage, for if the rightful person who should take 2nd place - as they have the 2nd best kata in the category -  goes up against the winner in the first round, then the rightful second place winner does not get to rightfully stand on the podium. At times when I was looking at the kata final, I was surprised to see certain faces missing. Maybe these people had a bad day and their kata did not reflect their typical standard, but as a general rule, I don’t particularly like the flag system. But hey, what do I know about running a competition?

Some of the kata I saw were wonderful. I enjoyed Adam Cockfield’s (SSKI) kata in particular, whose Unsu was very impressive. Similarly from the ladies category, Hannah Day’s (SEKU) Gojushiho Dai was very clean and efficiently delivered, rightfully earning her another gold medal! I was also quite impressed with young Danielle Knowlson’s (BYAKKO) Heian Ni Dan, and had she not been unlucky enough to go up against the eventual winner in round one (and if I remember rightly, one of very few people who didn’t have a ‘bi’) I think she would have done well.

Adam Cockfield's winning UnsuHannah Day's winning Gojushiho Dai

Watching the Ladies 3rd Kyu to 1st Kyu category it was evident pretty quickly that the strong, aggressive and lovely-to-watch kata of Deimante Jodokeviciute (SKE Chingford) was the one to watch. There were crisp movements and clean transitions, and Deimante rightfully took the first place position in this category.

I was also very keen to see some of the great talent within the younger rounds. I am always eager to keep an eye at them as they, in the future, will be the karateka to take karate on to another generation. Let me just say that I really think traditional karate will remain in safe hands if some of these young faces continue to develop!

Meg Knowlson (BYAKKO) displayed a very strong kata in the 6th to 4th Kyu category, taking a gold medal. She also performed very well in the 6th to 4th Kyu Kumite category, taking the silver here. As always, Sobell – ISKF produced many champions in the Junior Kumite events, and is always one to watch for strong young competitors.

There are certain groups within the traditional competition circuit that have a huge impact on the quality of the competition. You know for example that when SEKU turn up, you’ll see some great fighting. Similarly, I am always, always, very excited to see some of the competitors from ISKF UK.  They have a great deal of talent within their group, with the likes of Salih Soray, for example being a very evident example of their quality. The other group within the kumite categories that I was eager to watch were those from Hasha – George Best’s group. Not only do they have a very impressive and determined squad, but George led by example and demonstrated his inspirational skill. In looking around the room at all of the faces, I could tell there were going to be some hot encounters throughout the day.

Dave Galloway (SEKU) put in a very admirable race for gold, displaying such dynamic energy when fighting. He faced some very tough competitors from all corners of the globe, but his clean technique and aggressive approach meant that the gold landed in his hands. 

Dave Galloway demonstrating his superb speed and spirit

This year showed a particularly exciting team Kumite final bout, between SEKU, and Hasha. There were some very close fights, and it was a very tough one to call, but eventually, after some big scraps, SEKU came through to take the gold. You can always guarantee that there will be some nail-biting finals when you come to watch a Shobu Ippon tournament, and this one was certainly no exception!

In the next few months, we are looking to start a traditional competitor gallery of sort. We want to present profiles on some of the talent competing today. While this will start as a UK based process, it will eventually develop we hope to Europe and further also. Some of the names I have mentioned will certainly have to be within them, but there are others who will also be more than deserving of the centre stage on TSW.

One of the things I love most about Shobu-ippon, and again I generalise here as there are of course plonkers who embarrass themselves, is the attitude. Win, you win with dignity. Lose, you lose with dignity. If you feel cheated due to a possible bad decision, you walk away with dignity. No farting around, throwing gloves to the ground followed by a big dramatic sulk in the corner. Their actions speak louder than words. This cannot be illustrated any better than the after Yame punch that Frank Brennan received during his superbly successful competitive career. He didn’t dive to the ground, demand a reprimand for his opponent. He simply let his karate do the speaking, scoring with dignity and a cool head. In many ways, that is the perfect example of shotokan karate. It’s straight down the line and I love that.

Hasha vs SEKU - George Best in action

This competition had very much the same sense of decorum. All of the competitors expressed themselves on the tatami and shook hands immediately with a hug. When a blow was delivered that was a little too hard maybe, there was no crying or winging, they just got on with it.

And it’s always this sense of excellent sporting attitude that keeps such strong competitors coming back year after year, and this attitude that shows the standard of competitor getting higher and higher as each year passes. The fights get better, the kata gets stronger and the spirit of each competitor grows. And this will always keep people coming back, least of all me and Emma, demanding front row seats.

This event is, without doubt, the MUST attend competition every year for traditional karateka. It’s a pleasure to attend as everyone there has the same goal. Can I just say a big thank you to Darren and Simon and all of their team on the day for putting on such a superb competition. Their efforts and the impact they are making for the traditional scene speaks volumes, and if traditional competition rests in the hands of such competition organisers then the TRADITION isn’t going anywhere.


Shaun Banfield & Emma Robins