I was born in 1964, on the Isle of Wight, a small Island off the South Coast of England. My mother practiced yoga and I also used to watch my father play hockey from the age of 5, so it is no wonder that I developed such an interest in these sports and activities later on!
I was a very energetic and boisterous child and when I was 10, my mum took me along to the local Judo club to help me release my energy in a more controlled manner! I liked Judo and the physical hard work that it demanded and it seemed to like me. I continued training for 8 years and achieved junior 1st Kyu (there was no junior black belt) but I felt unfulfilled in the training, as the style of Judo I practiced did not teach the kata, which I now know exists. Perhaps if I had practiced in a more traditional club, I would be writing a different story!!
I was always interested in karate, and so I started classes in Wado Ryu and did these as well as Judo (I was 13). I enjoyed these immensely and my Judo training meant that I found kumite easy. I was fairly fit, through cross- country running at County level and I had just started rowing, so I found that I could concentrate on the actual karate moves, rather than struggle with fitness. Unfortunately the club had to close, as the instructor was moving away and so I found Sensei Mike Lambert of Goju Ryu. I was 16 and had known Sensei Mike for many years but did not train with him until that time.
I loved the training and although Sensei Mike was not always at the dojo, I used to spend additional time with him and spar with him as much as possible. These sessions were in and outside of the dojo and it sometimes took on the form of surprise attacks to enable take downs and holds, on all types of surfaces, stairs, carpet, concrete, sand, but I never got hurt (I think that is youth for you!!). I continued to cross-train in different sports, hockey, rowing, squash, even a bit of ballet and aerobics and of course yoga. I loved the variety of training and although I do not think I truly realised it, the fitter I became the more energy I seemed to have!!
I started working for Nat West at the age of 19 on 4th January 1983 in the branch at Ryde, Isle of Wight branch. I remember my first week very well, because I really wanted to make a good impression, so sent out so much post that I got glue poisoning from licking so many envelopes and had to take a day off-sick!!!
Having had the opportunity to play hockey for the Bank in London, I was so impressed by all the sports facilities that were on offer, that within 18 months I was accepted for a transfer to London. I was sad to leave the Isle of Wight, but the pull of the opportunities that I truly believed lay ahead made me determined to make it a success. I drove a small motorbike then, so Sensei Mike very kindly drove all my belongings and helped me move into my new lodgings in Croydon. He then gave me the best leaving present and advice of them all, a letter introducing me to Sensei George Andrews of ‘The Marble Factory’, Camberwell and told me to go there and train, because “he is the best there is “!
It was 30 years ago when I came to London, in August 1984 and I have never looked back!
I pursued the sports and interests which I loved for Nat West Bank, and was very fortunate to row and compete at National level, Captain the ladies 1st X1 hockey team and play at County level, but most of all learn the wonderful life changing art of Goju Ryu karate.
In the first 5 years, I trained twice sometimes three times a day to fit everything in (rowing at 04:00 before work was not fun!) and it was not unusual for Sensei George to pick me up from a hockey match on a Saturday afternoon, before traveling to Oxford or some other such place to train.
However, I believe that this hard and consistent training, which continued for 14 years (although we discontinued the early morning rowing!), has enabled me to maintain form and fitness now. I am delighted to have won National, European and World Championships in karate, with the highlight being the three World kumite titles I won. The cups, trophies and medals which I have won in all my sports over the years felt like a nice pay back at the time, particularly for my parents and my grandparents who backed me financially so that I could undertake all the traveling and of course Sensei George and the other teachers who helped me.
The first time I met Higaonna Shihan was in 1987, at ‘The Marble Factory’, Camberwell as he was conducting a weekend course and then continued with the lessons the following week. It was absolutely wonderful and inspirational training and I felt so honoured and excited to meet Sensei George’s teacher, particularly when we used to go out after training, for bowls of noodles, what a treat! Higaonna Shihan’s warm, friendly and unassuming nature, made me quite forget his living legend position in the Martial Arts world and the very privileged position I enjoyed, to train with him. It was at that time, that I was inspired to train more intensely in my karate and always do my best in training for this great Sensei, thank you.
I have concentrated solely on karate for the last 15 years and although had a small pause in the proceedings in the year 2000, when I snapped my Achilles whilst training, I try and train at on average at least once a day as well as teaching, sometimes more.
You might ask, with all that huge amount of sporting activity over the last 40 years, why am I now not bored? Well, whilst all the experiences that I have had have been very fulfilling, I am no longer searching or filling in my time with activities to achieve my ambitions, because I have found the length and depth of Goju Ryu karate, its family and a home.
When I snapped my Achilles, 2 days before my 5th Dan grading, the disappointments that I have been through in all sorts of competitions meant that I was ready to handle this event. It really was not the end of the world, as I have previously achieved complete dedication to the cause and I have won, and all those lessons learnt enabled me to work hard and get my leg better, quicker than both mine and other physios had ever seen. However, this still could not have been achieved without the support of my partner.
For my fortieth birthday I couldn’t wish for a more wonderful present from my partner, than an all expenses paid five week trip to Okinawa to not only attend the World Budosai but train at Higaonna Shihan’s dojo beforehand. This was a fabulous experience to be able to concentrate solely on training, eating and sleeping was a dream come true. It all started even better than planned being able to train at the dojo for 2-3 hours in the morning on my own and then at class for 2-3 hours in the evening. The classes were taken with Higaonna Shihan and sometimes Yamashiro Sensei and were absolutely inspirational. The complete humidity that is July in Okinawa means that any kind of movement results in a pool of sweat, let alone hours of kata!! I was also fortunate enough to be asked to be part of a TV commercial with other ‘Higaonna Dojo’ students for Okinawan TV to advertise the World Budosai!
There were some wonderful personal times in the dojo during my morning sessions:
- Anichi Miyagi Shihan popping in to see Higaonna Shihan whereupon I enjoyed some of his teaching
- when Higaonna Shihan was also training on the makiwara whilst I was training
- Kururunfa class with Leon Pantanovitz Shihan followed by a further hour with Higoanna Shihan
It was only one week into my stay that the first inkling of a disaster struck. I first thought I had food poisoning/heat stroke after some lunch but went training in the evening despite not feeling well. The following week felt pretty rotten whilst training but then felt much better, so bad luck over. However, three days later I just didn’t feel right and actually felt poorly, so went to doctors who suspected appendicitis but the diagnosis was inconclusive, so sent me to rest in bed with some medicine. It was two days later that I eventually went to hospital where it transpired that my appendix had actually burst ( about five days earlier i.e. when I thought I felt better!!) and I needed emergency surgery, no wonder I had a headache, my temperature was hitting 40 degrees!!
When you are feeling ill and a long way from home, to have the presence of Nakamura Sensei and Higaonna Shihan as you go into Theatre and at the end of your bed when you come round was such a comfort. I am forever grateful to Anni Moynihan, Leon Shihan, Nakamura Sensei and Higaonna Shihan who supported me throughout that ordeal so that the fighting spirit never waivered and of course my partner who helped nurse me in and out of hospital and then back to full fitness.
However, the story didn’t end on a low because I was awarded a special certificate from Higaonna Shihan at the Sayonara ceremony that I treasure which translated means:
You have been dedicated to the pursuit of Okinawan Goju Ryu Karate-do for many years and you have left an achievement (footprint), which can be a role model for all junior disciples.
We very much respect you for your achievements and your strong willpower.
On the 25 th anniversary of the founding of I.O.G.K.F., we praise you for you devoted endeavours.
27 July 2004
International Okinawan Goju Ryu Karate-do Federation (I.O.G.K.F.)
Chairman Morio Higaonna
Why didn’t I recognise symptoms before the hospital? Partly I didn’t want to, partly I genuinely thought that the high humidity climate, different food etc- food poisoning, partly training regime meant that I was always aching somewhere!
What did it teach me? Know your body and your usual food intake when you are training (muscle stiffness, appetite after training not internal aches and lacking interest in food), check your weight (aside from some usual weight loss, muscle mass should ensure that this is not drastic, I lost 1.5 stones), take a thermometer when you travel- it is difficult to determine fever heat from climate, consult with a doctor early on- when you are in a different country you need local expert opinion!
It took about a month to get back to physical fitness, six months to re-gain energy levels. Once again a short interruption in my training (about 4 weeks) and then back to the dojo to build myself up again.
It was uplifting to be invited to try for my 6th Dan in Okinawa in 2005 after the previous year’s disappointment and I felt a freshness about my training to move forward from the rehabilitation that I had just come through.
I was delighted to have performed the grading in front of Higaonna Shihan and Leon Shihan and passed and honoured to be there when Leon Shihan was awarded 8th Dan.
It was with huge sadness that Leon Shihan passed away in 2006 quite suddenly, having just shared another European Gasshuku with him in France. His gentle presence, friendliness, genuine concern for all living beings, wholehearted commitment to training, promotion of Goju-Ryu Karate-do and really bad jokes, leave a legacy to which we should all aspire. The IOGKF family truly miss him but I am so grateful for the personal time he gave me in sickness and in health that is so typical of a great teacher.
In October 2013 I was invited to take 7th Dan at the Chief Instructor’s Gasshuku in Okinawa. The grading was held in Higaonna Shihan’s dojo and the panel consisted of Higaonna Shihan and Senseis Bakkies Laubscher, Kazuo Terauchi, Ernie Molyneux, Henrik Larson and Tetsuji Nakamura. The final stage of my training journey was to hone all that I have learnt over the last 37 years and perform to the best of my ability. This commenced three months before when I stepped up my regime further to training twice a day totalling 6-7 hours. I have always needed to be very single minded about important events and this time was no exception. I focused very much of course on my training regime, to ensure that I included both Go and Ju, as well as having an appropriate diet with additional vitamins, rest and rehabilitation (e.g. massage, hot baths). I am very pleased to report that all the preparation paid off and I passed my grading and whilst I am relieved, I felt that immediatley it is time to step up again and move onto a new level.
I retired from the Banking Industry after 30 years in October 2012 and now teach karate fulltime. This has given me time to train more, as well as teach more classes at my Dojo and also around the world. It is very fulfilling and I am looking forward to the future with IOGKF!
Goju-Ryu karate is the most challenging and gratifying mental and physical activity that I have ever experienced. It is very personal but there are also very intimate moments that you may share with your Sensei. By this I mean that when you suddenly understand a certain move, which may have been eluding you for some time, the realisation and perfection of it, is so uplifting and inspiring, there is unique feeling and a wonderful sense of connectivity that only a true Sensei can generate.
Goju-Ryu is a way of life and I feel that Goju-Ryu kata training is like an assault course for the body, mind and spirit. It is truly inspirational to see great exponents of kata perform and the energy that flows through them can leave the audience quite stunned and almost breathless themselves!
I also believe that Okinawan Goju-Ryu Karate-Do gives everyone an opportunity to challenge their whole self mentally, physically and spiritually in a very natural way and I firmly believe in the motto that describes the Goju-Ryu system completely:
” Never was a greater mistake made by the man who did nothing because he could only do a little” (anon).
There is something for everyone and certainly evidence that other masters were overawed with this unique system, particularly Jigoro Kano Shihan, the founder of Judo. So, maybe from my early start in Judo, it is not surprising that Goju-Ryu feels so natural.
My personal goal is to be a role model for women in karate, to continue to enjoy training myself and others and to strive to improve myself and master the system, for as long as I am able.
7th Dan, Goju-Ryu Karate, IOGKF