Synopsis of my Karate history - Colin Putt
I started training in the early 1970's, daunting days for the aspiring karate-ka, a little like a voyage into the unknown.
We were training together with my brother and a friend of mine in the Plymouth Shotokan Karate club, the instructors in those days were Les Clarke sensei and Dave Herrity.
My club "mates" were a friendly lot (outside the dojo) but once training commenced it was hard and very exacting. We had a lot of very good and talented students such Jim Bowery, Bob Greep, Shaun Blight, Shahib Falaki and many more, and when I think back on the standards of those days, I wonder what ranks some of them would have achieved if they had continued training.
We were fortunate to have visits by some of the world’s top sensei such as Kanazawa, Enoeda, Kato, Asano.
Regular visits by a Japanese instructor commenced with Hideo Tomita sensei who had been seconded to the UK as Enoeda sensei’s assistant by the JKA.
I remember the first session, our Japanese was virtually non existent (limited to karate terminology) Tomita sensei’s English was much the same, or so we thought. It is said that the only time Tomita got the better of Enoeda sensei was during the English classes they attended in London.
The session was designed to evaluate our expertise and depth of knowledge, boy did we work, all basics and repetition.
Over the years we regularly attended the 2 week courses held in Crystal Palace, London, where we were able to train with an even wider range of Japanese Masters such as Nakayama, Kase, Asai, Abe, Osaka, Tanaka, Shirai, Ochi, Sumi, Yahara, Naito, Nakahara and many more including of course our very own resident sensei Enoeda, Kawasoe and Ohta (took over from Tomita when he returned to Japan).
In 1976 I took my Shodan on this course, the grading panel Kawazoe, Shirai, Tanaka, Kase and of course my sensei, Enoeda.
Later that year I also sat and passed the competition judge examination, I therefore joined the ranks of those people who obviously require glasses and know absolutely nothing. I continued to become unpopular by qualifying as a referee in 1978.
In 1980 I attained the rank of Nidan again in Crystal Palace, at that time the rank of Nidan was quite high and respected, I can remember sitting, waiting for the results of my examination and looking at the three karate-ka taking their examination for Sandan and thinking that there was no way on this god’s earth that I will ever be able to reach that level, it was that serious and difficult. But then in 1983, Enoeda sensei and my sensei Les Clarke told me I was ready for Sandan; Les at that time was going for Yondan.
We both passed, Les certainly deserved the long overdue grade, such is the measure of his committment.
Some time later I found myself at a crossroads in my karate, I had long ago started my own club, and sadly due to politics and some uncontrolable influences from a club near to Plymouth, I decided to resign from the KUGB, this was the saddest day of my life, I felt as if my world had come to an end, karate was my life’s passion, I had a lot of very good and talented students, what would they do, where could we go for continuing guidance? At that time I was approached by an old "adversary", sensei Gerry Breeze from Bournemouth, another club with an excellent reputation , he had been in a similar position to me and, along with some other very good karate-ka who had been in our position, had formed an organisation called the British Shotokan Karate Union (BSKU). He invited me to have a look at the organisation with a view to membership, I was a little sceptical, how could anything compare with what we had grown up with? I have to say that there is always something else that is special once you look outside your comfort zone and open your mind to alternatives, see the passion and committment elsewhere, so I put it to my club members and all but one agreed to follow me to our new future.
The BSKU had an organisation of very good instructors and worldwide affilliations and indeed had just started an International competition comprising of 6 countries, we now had an international dimension to our karate, something we never had before.
In 1994 I attained the rank of Yondan, graded by Kenneth Funakoshi Shihan, a direct descendant of the late Gichin Funakoshi, founder of the Shotokan style, I was one of the most senior European karate-ka to be graded by Funakoshi Shihan at that time. This was not just a physical grading, you were also observed over the two days of the World Championships on the way you conducted yourself, personal qualities etc., the result of the examination was then made at the presentation of competition results. By now I had truly earned my glasses, I had also become a senior International Referee, wow, I had graduated, now I really know nothing about karate.
After some years of membership, I was asked to stand for election as the Chairman of the BSKU, I was accepted and all but for an 18 month spell I held this position.
We have changed the international dimension to truly reflect the membership by founding the Shotokan Karate - Do of United Nations (SKDUN), we now have 52 countries affilliated, hold the World Championships in nominated countries every year, have a truly international group of senior instructors, hold Dan Gradings, Refs / judges qualifications, international Gasshuku, courses on request etc., a truly international karate family.
We also changed the name of our national organisation to reflect the many improvements and developments that took place over the years, we became the Federation of British Shotokan Karate Unions (International), the FBSKU(I) Life after comfort zone !
During 2001 I attained the rank of Godan, graded by the FBSKU(I) and EKGB. I was also affiliated to JSKF Toshiaki Namiki sensei who graded me to 6th, 7th and 8th Dan.
It should be noted that our affiliation in those early days were to the KUGB and the JKA, I have to say that there are a lot of people practising today at senior level who owe a lot to our Japanese (previously mentioned) and English sensei Sherry, O'Neil, Poynton etc. and to all its critics I would say that in those days at least we had direction, cohesion and a reputation that was second to none internationally and we should not forget the Japanese expression and understanding of Giri.
In conclusion, karate has taken me all over the world teaching, refereeing, and promoting the true values of the Nakayama way, passing on the knowledge and skills that have been taught to me over the years, starting with Les Clarke, and that are still being taught to me by lots of senior and knowledgeable people, such as Gerry Breeze (SKDUN GB), Toshiaki Namiki (JSKF), Yasuyoshi Saito (JKI), Keigo Abe (JSKA), Dave Hooper (JKA), and others like Richard Amos.
We mourn the passing of the great masters who we have been privileged to have known, been trained and counselled by, but it is up to the new generation to maintain and improve the values and standards, not to be sucked into a business first culture to the detriment of our ART, and ensure we give all our knowledge to the coming generations in order for them to overtake us as the future instructors. I consider myself fortunate to have met some of the nicest people in the world.
Thank you to all my students, past and present, for teaching me a lot.