World Championships 2008 Blog
I have now booked my flight for Tokyo 2008. Follow my plans, travel arrangements and training regime over the next few months on this page.
To view my record of the Tampere Championships in '06 click here
Sunday 16th Nov. The final day of the tournament.
I spent the morning in Shinjuku district. This is what you might call tourist Tokyo. The seat of the government is here, and the skyline is dominated by huge skyscrapers. I passed the imposing Keio Plaza hotel, where many of the CyberBudo people are staying, and made my way to the area around the post office building. This area is alive with neon, and houses many electronic goods outlets where people with megaphones shout their wares to all who would listen.
I then took the Metro to the Nippon Budokan. When I arrived the English medal tally was still zero, with Loxley, Katie and Davin all yet to fight, and Jason awaiting the outcome of his opponent’s progress to see if he would make the -70kg repêchage.
Sure enough Jason made the repêchage but was unable to progress. Loxley and Katie were first round victims, so England’s hopes rested with former World junior champion, Davin Pack in the +80 category. Davin went out on encho sen in the first round to Horne of Germany, a highly dynamic fighter, who progressed to the final giving Davin a pop at a medal. Again no joy, meaning that this was officially England’s worst world championships ever, with not a single medal. (A note of comfort for all us now calling ourselves “British”, Scotland’s Calum Robb took bronze in the +80kg category.)
So, a disappointing end to the event although we all stayed back to watch the finals. Davin’s victor, Horne took silver in an exciting final against Maniscalo of Italy. The highlight was surely Azerbaijan’s Aghayev, taking his second gold of the tournament in the -70kg.
The team assembled to hear EKF Chairman Carl Lindley thank Terry Wingrove for his support and present him with a glass plaque. While the team went off to the after tournament party, I went back to the Keio where Terry had laid on booze and nibbles. Again Carl publicly thanked Terry for his contribution to English Karate, and I met up with old chums Tony Gray & Steve Scott.
This is the point at which I curse my mobile phone, which is not configured for Japan, which meant I was incommunicado for the week. Had I a phone I would have been able to join Steve and Tony who, I discovered had trained at the JKA, and sparred with some of their seniors, and also that they trained with Yahara, who was in Tokyo after all! And my gi stayed in the bag all week.
The three of us, and Tony’s club-mate Norman went off into Shinjuku in search of beer. Despite this being a lively, populous area, teeming with people, yet again a bar seemed very hard to find. After a Kentucky Fried Chicken we did manage to get ripped off for a swift Asahi down some back alley before making our farewells and returning to our beds.
Saturday 15th Nov
Today is the first day of the individual kumite. I spent the morning browsing the market at Ueno, which sells everything from fish to electronic goods. A real eye-opener.
By the time I got to the Budokan, Tom Canham had been eliminated in the U65 category, but he is young and will get more opportunities.
Natalie Williams had some tough battles in the U60 but was moving well. She cruised past Garro, her Costa Rican opponent with a brace of sanbons for jodan geri and a takedown. She then met Seck of Senegal, dispatching her 5-2. Victory over Pecekova of Czech put her against Varasteh of Canada (if I recall correctly, silver medalist in Tampere- I’ll check my notes) fighting for a place in the quarter final. Natalie held the Canadian to 1-1 at time, losing in the encho sen. Varasteh beat Spain’s Vicente in the semi, giving Natalie a shot at the repechage. Victory was not hers however as she succumbed in a bruising battle with Dogan of Turkey. Meanwhile, as she was fighting in the repechage the call was made for the female Openweight to register, so with no rest, off she went again. The effort obviously took its toll as again she found herself on the repechage, but again no medals.
Rory Daniels, eliminated in Tampere after being knocked out in the team event, was looking to reclaim his world openweight title in a tough field of 79 competitors, including Malguy of France, Vandersrick of Belgium and the almost legendary Aghayev of Azerbaijan. In round one Rory beat the Bosnian, Popovic, then took out Martins of Brazil. Turk, Erkan gave Rory a tough battle, their 3-3 draw forcing encho sen. With one Cat 1 penalty against him, Erkan struck Rory hard in the head during the sudden death, ceding a place in the quarter final. Margaritopoulos proved a battler but again a 3-3 draw at full time meant another encho sen. This time the Greek was quickest off the mark. Margaritopoulos beat Arkania of Georgia in the encho sen setting up a confrontation with Aghayev in the final. This gave Daniels a crack at the repechage. Again Rory was denied, so England ended day 3 with still no medals.
In the evening I went for a barbecued sardine and clams, then went off in search of beer with my Australian tatami-mate. Easier said than done, it seems drinking establishments are hard to come by, even on a Saturday night, in this part of Asakusa. (For a moment we were tempted by the lure of canned beer in vending machines on almost every street corner.) We eventually found a first floor Jazz bar where a Japanese girl sang 40’s standards backed by a pianist and bassist. Whilst her voice was nice, I suspect she hadn’t a clue what she was singing, merely copying the sounds, karaoke style. She was followed by a Japanese Oliver Hardy lookalike who sang Latin samba numbers in Japanese, accompanied by himself on guitar and we the audience on maracas and tom-toms.
Friday 14th Nov
Still not fully adjusted to the time difference, I woke around 4.30am. After typing up my blog, I went for a stroll around the famous Asakusa Kannon Shrine. According to the guide books this temple aims to reconcile all the various sects of Buddhism in Japan. Not fully open at that time of the morning the temple had one resident, an elderly lady filling cups with water from a fountain. I’ll go back when it’s open to explore the temple and its grounds. Breakfast found me in a little fast food type bar patronized by what looked like working Japanese men - drivers, fitters, builders and the like. In this bar you put your money in a vending machine, and make your selection. For this you get a ticket, which you then hand to the server. Your food arrives in seconds flat. I had a bowl of rice with strips of beef and onion, a vegetable broth and green tea.
At the Budokan, a disappointing day for the English. In the female kata Ashleigh Kenny with a crisp Bassai Dai went out to the Serbian Madzarevic in round one. I thought the Serb’s head moved a bit too much but the judges must have liked her, as she went all the way to the quarter finals. In the men’s event Jon Mottram seemed to be on form. In the first round he beat a Mexican, then a German. In round three his Gojushiho Dai beat Barsegian of Russia’s excellent Chatanyara Kushanku 5-0 to put him in a quarter final with current world Champion and crowd’s favourite Luca Valdesi. Valdesi’s Unsu - including a huge jump – defeated Mottram’s Empi 5-0, but there was still a chance to match the Bronze he won in Tampere through the repechage. In the repechage he met Egypt’s Ibrahim. Jon was ao so went second. Notably, Ibrahim got one of the five judges’ flags in his third round clash with Valdesi, where both men performed Empi. Ibrahim’s Gojushiho Sho was impressive. Jon chose the tricky Gankaku, with the sequence of one legged Tsuru ashi dachi / yokogeris. I thought I detected a very slight wobble in one of his crane stances, but otherwise it was a great performance. Nevertheless the judges gave it 5-0 to the Egyptian. Mottram looked absolutely drained, and had to be consoled by Ticky, the ever-present coach. Valdesi went on to beat Diaz of Venezuela in the final. Interestingly though, Valdesi chose Gankaku against Diaz’s Chat Kushanku, and I felt he wobbled significantly more than Jonathan had. In spite of that (and let’s be honest, his jodan yoko geris from crane stance are just awesome, left and right legged) Valdesi retained his world title 4 flags to one.
In the female individual kata final, Vietnam’s Nguyen was in tears of joy and genuine shock when she beat Battaglia of Italy 5-0 with a quality Annan.
The men’s team final was a bad tempered affair between Turkey and Serbia, with many in the crowd feeling the Turks were play-acting, and every contact offence against the Serbs met with catacalls of disapproval from the crowd. After three bouts it was one win each and one drawn match, but Turkey took the next two to win the title, and the ecstatic team threw their coach into the air in celebration.
Tonight I went to a Teppanyaki restaurant near to my Ryokan. A traditional tatami floored low table restaurant with gas-fired hot plates to cook your own meal on. I chose whole cuttlefish in a ginger and soy dressing. Again it was delicious.
Thursday 13th Nov
So I have finally made it to Tokyo. I thought it was too good to be true when my train from Darwen to Bolton was on time (it never is), my connection from Bolton was on time, there was no queue at Manchester airport check in, and the flight to Copenhagen was actually scheduled to take off early. Indeed too good it turned out to be. No hassle transferring to the Narita flight. Checked in and boarded on time. Belted up and sat back as the aircraft accelerated up the runway on time. Then, suddenly the pilot slammed on the anchors. Take off was aborted due to some excessive vibration in the undercarriage at the nose. Call in the mechanics, and four hours later we are off. The extra four hours was spent on the plane. Food was served and videos watched, but four hours is four hours. We finally landed at almost 3pm (against a scheduled time of 10.30 am). An hour and a half on the train (Tokyo public transport is all it's cracked up to be. Clean, efficient and straightforward) and I'm in Ueno, north-east of the city centre.
A quick inspection of my Ryokan (so far my Pidgin Japanese has got me a train, a taxi and a hotel check-in), and I'm happy. Taito rRyokan is a bit tatty, but friendly and cheap. Facilities are basic (Japanese style beds- futon on tatami; toilets- a hole in the ground; and shower - a pit with a drain and shower hose and head attached to an electric thermostatically controlled pump.
Again a metro trip across town. Damned clever these Japanese, the tube has not only colour-coded lines á la London Underground, but numbered stations too. I got to Nippon Budokan just before six and encountered my first example of less than perfect efficiency. Admittedly it was the end of the day, but I wandered into the complex, over a low wall, without any pass and made my way past VIP lounge, press room, athletes area and so on without a murmur from the many security and WKF staff in attendance. I found myself in the athletes' area alongside Ticky, Wayne, Greg and the squad. Today was the team kata, and the preliminary rounds of the team kumite. The England ladies had beaten Belgium in round one but lost to Switzerland in the next round, so no more tournament for them unfortunately.
The men fared somewhat better, being drawn against Benin in the prelims. For some reason the Benin team pulled out so England qualified for the tournament proper by kiken. These preliminary rounds were necessary to get the draw down to 32 teams. Ticky told me that 99 countries had entered this 19th World Championships.
As I entered the stadium the opening ceremony was beginning, with the massed athletes and their national flags lined up in the centre of the tatami. The dignitaries - officials and guests - all seated in front of them looked as numerous as the athletes themselves. As the announcer pointed out, it was important that the WKF and their hosts, the JKF put on a good show as next October the IOC make a decision on whether to allow two, or one, or zero new sports into the Olympic programme. And karate is on their short list.
Before the team kata finals, and after presentation of a few dignitaries, and a bit of singing, a display was put on by the hosts. Part theatre, part Hollywood, this music and light spectacular told the tale of some good versus evil, ninja vs samurai epic battle. Flags, swords, hands and feet flew everywhere as heroes vanquished villains in a martial arts pageant.
The two team kata finals both featured France in aka (red) and the hosts, Japan, in ao (blue). The men were up first and France performed a technically excellent Unsu. The coordinated jumps and turns were executed flawlessly, but for my money the overall performance was overly dramatic, with long moody pauses in the performance. The bunkai display was equally flamboyant with many leaps and throws. But it begs the question “is it karate?” Japan’s Annan was an altogether different proposition. Crisp, sharp and efficient, the execution lacked the showyness of the French kata, and was all the better for it. Their bunkai allowed some showbiz to enter proceedings, notably when one exponent lifted his opponent across his shoulders, spun him and struck his second assailant with him before casting him to the ground. Bet you won’t find that application in any text books. Behind me, 11 times English kata champion, and 2006 bronze medalist in Tampere Jonathan Mottram declared that the hosts would take it five flags to zero. I was inclined to agree. We were however proved wrong as France were given the decision, and the world title 3 to two. In the ladies’ event, again France were up first. Their mainly assured performance of Gojushiho Dai produced one error, as one of the ladies performed a closed fist punch instead of a four finger spearhand thrust. Again a spirited, theatrical bunkai demonstration, but for me a couple of stumbles made it a less than perfect performance. Japan’s women, like their male compatriots performed Annan. This kata is on the face of it simple, but with many rapid turns, and the girls put on a near perfect display. Again they went to town with the bunkai, including a tomoe nage (stomach throw from judo). In another sequence, one woman attempted to throw her opponent with ippon seio nage (one arm shoulder throw). This was countered by hopping over the thrower, retaliating with ushiro mawashi geri to the would-be thrower’s head, and following up with a koshi guruma (hip throw). No doubts here, as the home team this time took the title 5 flags to nil.
Off for something to eat, I found a delightful Japanese restaurant on the third floor of a building in a shopping area in Ueno, near my hotel. I chose steamed sea-bass with “healthy vegetables” which was cooked at my table in a bamboo steamer for seven minutes, and served with a soy and vegetable dip, flaked chilies and a couple of glasses of Sapporo. It was as delicious as it was beautiful
World Championship Update 10th November
Only a day to go now. Starting to throw a few things in a bag. Camera? Check. Passport? Check. Currency? Check. Best new white dogi? Check. Favourite old obi? Check. Oh, and a pair of pants and a toothbrush. That'll do.
Making arrangements to meet a few KU-ers in Tokyo. My family has drawn up an extensive shopping list of presents I must bring back - or face certain death. I'll try to blog at Manchester Airport. Oherwise the next update will be from Tokyo.
World Championship Update 5th November
It's now geting very close to departure day. I've written to the WKF secretariat asking for details of how to get my press pass, but to date have had no reply.
A Shitoryu group headquartered in Tokyo has written back to me, politely refusing my request to train there, as they are apparently "very particular about whom they teach"... well, I'm very particular about whom I receive tuition from, so it's their loss. I am asking around my contacts for other recommendations. I guess I can tag along with the EKF / Cyberbudo party, but it would be nice to find somewhere on my own too.
I've bought my Yen at 148/£ which hurts.
The England squad has now arrived in Kobe. I'm jealous I am not there.
I twisted my ankle sparring with Matthew Rathmill last week. Nothing too serious and I don't think it will hamper me in my training in Tokyo. It would be a great shame not to get the full benefit from my Japan experience
World Champs Update 27th Oct 08
I have had confirmation that the EKF has accepted my offer to cover the event for the UK press. I now have to contact WKF to sort out the paperwork for my press pass. Mike Dinsdale has been very helpful. Thanks Mike.
I made contact with Paul Kallender-Umezu of the KWF (Karate no Michi World Federation) through my membership of the KU Forum. Paul speaks for the almost-legendary Yahara Mikio, and it would be fantastic to train with him in Tokyo. Unfortunately Yahara Sensei is off teaching around the world, but I will meet up with Paul in Tokyo, and maybe get a sweat on with him too.
I also made contact with a representative of Suzuki Sensei, of Shito Ryu Seiko Kai International. They also have a honbu in Tokyo and I await Sensei's permission to train there.
I am still trying to listen to my Japanese language CDs daily, but it's hard going. I appear to have hit a plateau about 5 years ago. Very little else is sinking in. Maybe when I have to ask for a menu, or a train time, it will all make sense. Or maybe it will be a disaster. Never mind- one can but try.
A colleague of my wife - who lived in Tokyo for two years - has given me a few social tips that one wouldn't necessarily find in a guide book- bath etiquette and all that for example (I understand there is a spa bath near where I am staying, so it would be good not to look a complete idiot tourist). I didn't ask her how she knows so much about what Japanese men do in the bath!
She also mentioned that Westerners smell something horrid to the Japanese- rather strongly of mouldy milk apparently. I guess they don't have dairy in their diet to the extent that we do. With a bit under three weeks to go I have cut down on my dairy intake in deference to my hosts. Last week I allowed two cheese sandwiches to pass my lips, and I do take a tiny splash of milk in my tea; but I drink my coffee black anyway, and have forsaken a cereal breakfast in favour of toast or eggs. I hope it makes a bit of difference.
I am rueing my decision not to buy Yen 6 months ago when there were almost 200 to the £ Sterling. Today's rate is about 158, and I am hoping that today's falls on the Nikkei will impact the Yen - at least a little bit.
I can't complain too much about my fitness. Regular dojo sessions have been OK, but in addition I have entered the Tough Guy race in Feb 09 (well, January 32nd, officially) and have been running to supplement my regular training. My old back & neck injuries appear to be holding out fine so I shouldn't discgrace myself, or Old Blighty in any Japanese dojo.
October 13th 08
I have booked the Taito Ryokan (pictured left). A real bargain at Y3000 / night (about £15).
One of the few remaining wooden Ryokan inns in Tokyo, although I am in a dormitory (4 people sharing) the proprietors have been really helpful and friendly (by email at least).
It's apparently the real deal, with tatami, futon, shoji and all that, and only 20 mins from the Budokan
Sept 7th 08
November seems very close now. My flight has been booked since Springtime, about £650 with SAS via Copenhagen.
I hope to stay in a Ryokan when I get there but Terry Wingrove tells me these things are really rural phenomena, and I would have to get a train into Tokyo each day. He's kindly offered to get me some details. I met with Terry and the Cyberbudo people at the weekend, and a number of them are taking the trip. Bit of a sickener really, I chose to make my own way as I could not justify a two week holiday on my own, but after I had booked my flight, CyberBudo offered a one week deal at £1250. I reckon it's going to cost me all of that for my four days. I'm told the day passes for the Budokan are £25 a DAY.
I understand that Ohta Sensei of JKAE is joining the England group on the trip and he is trying to get training set up at the JKA Honbu and the famous Takushoku University. If I ask him nicely, he might let me tag along...