Yes we Kanzen! Back to karate class as Dundee prepares to welcome world championships

Sensei Roy O'Kane keeps Ian right.
Sensei Roy O'Kane keeps Ian right.

There is not even a vague memory left intact from the last time I did karate.

However, I would guess that I would have taken my new Smiths album off the record player, put on my bleached jeans and trendy Pringle jumper, shoved my crumpled suit and belt into my bag, and joined my dad in his trusty Volvo for a lift to the gym at St Clement’s Primary School in Dundee.

Yes, 1985 was a wee while ago.

Several pounds heavier, a few curly locks missing and over three decades older, I somehow persuaded myself that the ideal way to mark the hosting of the seventh WUKF World Karate Championships by my home city would be to give the martial art another go.

Kanzen Karate Scotland, the masterminds behind what will be one of the biggest events of the year in Dundee, welcomed me with open arms.

Roy O’Kane, a man whose in-tray would shame a prime minister, has been transformed from chief instructor into manager, organiser, PR executive, liaison officer, co-ordinator etc. Indeed, the only time he seems to be off the phone is when he is teaching at his club’s impressive premises at Manhattan Works.

So it is crunch time for Kanzen and its members, with the clock ticking down to the greatest show in town at Dundee Ice Arena from June 14 to 17.

Yet, they still had time to embrace my grand plan to see if there was a punch and a kick still in there somewhere after a childhood spent learning the Shotokan style with first the Satori club then a move with Sensei Rab Kane over to Tenshinkan, where I would earn my black belt at the age of 14.

To add to the drama, I planned to go in cold.

Not for me any sneaky stretching exercises or going over old moves in the living room. A bit of swimming in the days leading up to it to make sure I didn’t totally seize up and I was good to go. Or at least I hoped I was.

This wasn’t just jumping in at the deep end, this was climbing to the top of the Olympia diving board and throwing myself off.

Kanzen kindly supplied me with a gi (karate suit) after the optimistic attempt to get into my old one caused much hilarity at home. My belt had faded in colour after years spent pinned up on my bedroom wall – as only a daft teenager could do with such a prized possession – but, remarkably, it made it twice around the body…just.

I had kidded myself that I would be able to hide at the back of the class, away from the critical eye of Sensei O’Kane, but that hope was quickly dashed.

Instead, I lined up alongside my fellow black belts and was told, in no uncertain terms, that I would be expected to play a full part in proceedings. Quite rightly, too, because these guys had a world championships to prepare for and couldn’t be expected to mollycoddle a gate-crashing journalist.

After some warm-up exercises – mercifully not as repetitive and numerous as I recall from back in the day – it was on to the action.

I was particularly impressed by the way the sensei broke down every technique as he clearly explained and demonstrated to class. His aim is to achieve a deeper understanding of what are, after all, very intricate and ancient moves that deserve respect.

 

My fight partner for the evening was the very understanding Mark Faulkner, who indulged me when I lost count of the blows and blocks or failed to understand simple instructions.

By now, I was beginning to really enjoy myself but then I was ordered to centre of the floor by the sensei. There was no hiding place, with several dozen eyes fixed upon me as I acted as his partner for a demonstration. I survived the ordeal, albeit not quite unscathed as my chest proved itself no barrier to one or two expertly-executed choku-zukis.

My sweat-drenched face was now resembling Niagara Falls and the only break for me came when the others went through their katas, which is a series of moves that can be extremely graceful. This was shown by an elegant demonstration from instructor Cyrielle Maroteau as she performed the kata with which she will be competing at the championships.

Before I knew it, we were saying our goodbyes and I wished the Kanzen team all the best for the worlds.

I left the dojo pretty pleased with myself but any smiles were wiped away the following morning to be replaced by grimaces as several aches and pains greeted me when I woke up.

It was worth it, though, and if you fancy trying out karate then there is no better time than now. After all, you will soon have the world for company.

Factfile:

~ The seventh WUKF World Championships take place in Dundee between June 14 and 17.

~ The event will be run by the World Union of Karate-do Federations (WUKF), website: www.wukf-karate.org

~ Kanzen Karate Scotland are the host club.

~ The venue is Dundee Ice Arena.

~ Over 4,500 visitors are expected in the city to compete and spectate at the championships.

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