After months of concerted training, on the 14th July the Shukokai Karate Federation’s (SKF) squad of left Heathrow bound for the 2008 Kimura Shukokai International’s World Championships to be held in Zurich Switzerland. These championships attract over 800 competitors from as far afield as Australia, South Africa and the USA in three days of highly powered individual and team competitions. The competition took take place over 6 tattami in the main Zurich Saalsporthalle and was well supported by both family and friends of competitors as well as the local community in Zurich.
This was a relatively young adult England squad with both the men and ladies teams comprising of some members who had performed well at cadet level but whom had yet to really prove themselves in adult competitions. The cadet squad was once again strong and well prepared under the guidance of Shihan Eddie Daniels 8th Dan, Sensei Clem Braithwaite 6th Dan, Sensei Paul Richards 5th Dan, Sensei Solfrid Daniels 5th Dan and Sensei Audun Daniels 4th Dan.
Whilst other countries chose to train outside in full view of everyone, Tuesday 15th July saw the opportunity for the England squad to have a light but private training session with Sensei Paul and Sensei Audun in the hotel.
The traditional Gashuku with the four World Chief Instructors took place in the competition arena on 16th July, the day before competition was due to start. The opportunity to train with Shihan Chris Thompson 8th Dan from South Africa, Shihan Eddie Daniels 8th Dan from England, Shihan Lionel Marinus 8th Dan and Shihan Bill Bressaw 8th Dan from USA was welcomed by everyone and the 6 hour session seemed to pass in a flash. All four Shinans took it in turns to teach us more about Kimura technique in their own indomitable styles.
At the conclusion of the Gashuku, all national teams gave their individual welcome to the other countries.
Thursday 17th July Day 1 – Eliminations
With a busy programme of events, an early start was called for and the coaches left to hotel at 7.15am. Today was to be mainly for the team kata and kumite eliminations but with a few individual events also taking place. In the junior team kata events we saw the England 12-14 year old team of Jack Richards, Chris Plant and Peter Jelf qualify for the final with Niseshei perfectly performed. They were to be joined in the finals, to be held on Saturday by the girls 15-17 year old kata team of Sophie Powell, Ashleigh Whyte and Josie Farrow and Ladies kata team of Jenny Loftus, Katie Simpson, Emily Powell and Louise Thomas. The men’s kata team just failed to qualify for the finals but worked their way through the repercharge to take 3rd place.
In the team kumite events the men’s team had a tough task ahead of them having been drawn in a difficult pool. Having progressed through the early stages the team came up against the experience of South Africa South “A”. With the experienced leadership of Sensei Paul Richards, the team came up trumps, qualifying for the final against Portugal on Saturday. Many of the younger members of the team showed great maturity in their performances against much older and experienced karateka.
The ladies kumite team was the same as the ladies kata team and although only having an average age of 19 took the eliminations by storm qualifying in style for the final against Portugal. Again, this team shows great potential for the future and they have clearly benefitted from over 8 years of individual international experience.
Both Jasmine Pomeroy in her first International appearance (girls 11-12) and Ashleigh Whyte (girls 13-14) qualified for both their individual kata and kumite finals after excelling in the qualifying rounds and Jennifer Loftus also qualified for the girls 18-20 years old kata final.
Friday 18th July Day 2 – Eliminations
Another early 7-15 start was called for if all the remaining elimination events were going to be completed within the time allowed.
The Mens and Ladies individual kata events required several pools before the eventual finalists were found. The standard of kata performed increases year on year with so many competitors having clearly put an immense amount of time into striving for perfection. A considerable amount of emphasis was placed by the referees and judges upon the strength shown in the interpretation of the kata performed. Real Kimura Shukokai power and technique was required and the judges were not disappointed.
In the boys 16-17 year old kata category there was a bronze for Thomas Mullett who also progressed to the final of his kumite event. Sophie Powell took a well-deserved bronze medal in the girls 16-17 year olds heavyweight kumite category. Alex Whyte, competing in the Youths 18-20 year olds division progressed to both the finals of the (lightweight) kumite and kata events. Alex continues to perform beyond his years in every event that he takes part in. Ben Yates, notwithstanding a nasty bump on the head, won through to the final of the boys 16-17 year old heavyweight kumite event after some concentrated and determined effort. Paul Acton applied all his guile and tenacity in gaining a bronze medal in the veterans’ kumite event. After several rounds Katie Simpson just missed out on a finals place in the Ladies kumite, middleweight division, but then bounced back to take a well-earned bronze medal. Jennifer Loftus and Louise Thomas took joint third in the girls 18-20 year olds kumite event and Jennifer’s brother Robert Loftus progressed to a finals place against Tom Mullet in the boys 16-17 year old lightweights category. Audun Daniels also fought through several hard rounds in the Men’s Heavyweight kumite division to take his place in the finals.
Saturday 19th July – Finals
Today saw the culmination of all the organisers and competitors’ hard work with the Gala Finals taking place.
A march on of all the karateka present opened the day and whilst all lined up Shihan Steve Lunt 7th Dan Chief Instructor from our host Switzerland, played guitar and sung along to moving footage of the late Master Kimura 10th Dan, which was projected onto a large screen.
Following the announcement of their name, each competitor or team of competitors then had to walk out from behind curtains, down steps from the spectator’s terraces and onto a single tattami set in the middle of the arena under spotlights. This all took place under the eyes of the four World Chief Instructors and Chief Instructors from all competing countries as well as several hundred spectators.
The opening events were the finals of the Team kata and the boys and girls both took gold with an impressive display of Nisheshei and Naipapo respectively. The Ladies team were just beaten into second place on a 3-2 split decision after performing Paiku. Then it was onto the individual events. Jasmine Pomeroy took silver in her kata final then disappeared behind a curtain to change into her lightweight gi and then came straight back out for her kumite final in which she took gold. Ashleigh Whyte did the same but took gold in her kata final and silver in the kumite.
Thomas Mullett and Robert Loftus then came out for the all England boys’ 16-17 heavyweight kumite final. All those hours of dojo training together now had to be put behind them for a two-minute battle of skill and tactics. Thomas eventually came out on top thus adding gold to his kata bronze.
Jennifer Loftus then took the silver medal in the final of the girls 18-20 kata narrowly losing out to her old rival Sabrina Fraticelli from Switzerland. We then saw Alex Whyte perform Chatanyara Kushanku, which had the crowd spellbound, and he deservedly took the boys 18-20 kata title. Ben Yates followed in the boys 18-20 heavyweight kumite and he was full of determination and controlled aggression; losing was simply not on the agenda. Ben kept his concentration throughout his fight and took the title he had dreamt of since Finland 2002. Alex Whyte then returned in his kumite category to take his second gold by defeating Jakko Sell from Finland. This achievement confirmed Alex as both World and European champion in both kumite and kata.
Audun Daniels fought hard in the Mens Heavyweight final but lost a close contest to Francois Van Staden from South Africa North.
This just left the team events both England –v- Portugal affairs. The Ladies team had it tough as the Portuguese team contained the ladies light and heavyweight champions as well as the girls 18-20 lightweight champion. This time it was not to be for the four young ladies but the future looks good for them and they deservedly took the silver medals.
The Men’s team of Paul Richard, Audun Daniels, Alex Whyte, Ben Yates, Matthew Acton, Anthony Callaghan and David Maynard fought strong and hard against the Portuguese team that had considerable all styles experience. Many of the fights were won or lost by a single point and the whole contest could have gone either way but eventually Portugal came through taking the gold.
The tournament finished at 6.45 and there were only 30 minutes to get back to the hotel before the coaches left for the party venue at 7.15! It is amazing how quickly everyone managed to get ready in such a short time and still look so good! A champagne reception for everyone acted as a good wind down from the stresses of the previous 4 days. The teams, coaches and supporters were then treated to a gastronomic extravaganza in a typical Swiss-style eating house with views of the Alps on the horizon. In typical Kimura Shukokai style, a good time was had by all celebrating with song and dance into the early hours before returning to the Hotel. Who will ever forget the duo of Shihans Lionel Marinus and George Pursianen !!
Sunday morning came around all too quickly and then there we were back on the bus for the airport and the flight back to England after a very successful and enjoyable trip.
On behalf of the whole of the SKF team and supporters special thanks go to Shihan Steve Lunt 7th Dan from Switzerland and all his students for the extraordinary amount of time that must have gone into organising the event and ensuring it went so smoothly.
The next International tournament for the SKF team is the European Championships to be held in Germany in 2009, squad selections are already taking place, and training is underway.