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Old 03-10-2009, 12:20 PM   #1
kanku
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Interview with Gary Chamberlain UK Branch Chief Enshin

Part 1

H) Why karate?

There wasn’t much choice at the time. I needed to toughen up a bit and it was pretty much boxing, judo or karate – either Shotokan or Kyokushin. The boxing club was local but the kids all looked washed out and my build was just totally wrong for judo. It was purely by chance that my mother rang the Kyokushin dojo first.

H) How did your family react to your karate training?

My mother was very keen. She paid for my membership and gi on the strict understanding that I would stick it out for a year. After that I was hooked. My father was just scornful. He had fought in Korea and had a very low opinion of all things oriental.

H) Did you have to give anything up to progress in karate?

Not really. I was fifteen when I started so not into a career or anything. I obviously gave up hanging around with my mates drinking – at least on training nights! That did me no harm.

H) Was it easy for you going through the grades?

Definately not! The training was very tough (1971) and made even worse as I had to cycle 15 miles to get there, run around the drill yard 20 times, train for three hours then cycle home afterwards. I was permanently stiff and sore but I had promised so I had to handle it. We graded at the club until 4th kyu and then went to Haringey for higher belts. Those tests were very hard.

H) Did you cross train at all?

Are you kidding? I was too knackered and needed time to recover. After a while I used to go to other clubs and styles for a bit of a punch-up but nothing too serious. I’ve tried a few other things but always came back to striking as a first option.

H) Tell us about your preparation for shodan?

There wasn’t any really. We just trained hard and the instructors told us when we were ready. Since I joined I had passed everyone else in the dojo but Pete Kisby didn’t want me to test. I went to Holland for a summer camp though and everyone told me to go for it so I did - and passed - in 1975.

H) Did your working career help, or hinder your karate?

I worked shifts so it got awkward sometimes getting leave, but in 1976 the Leicester dojo moved to full-time premises which meant there was something going on every night. I was used to long sessions so regularly got there early to work the bags. I then trained in the early class, taught the middle class then trained in the late. I was usually there for about 4 – 5 hours at least twice a week, depending on my shifts.

H) At what grade did you start competing?


We had our first inter-club events when I was 16 (and they were fierce – enough to put anyone off!) but my first proper Tournaments were from 19 when I got my shodan. The early ones were ‘points’ fighting and I didn’t do well as my control was very poor.

H) I understand your shodan grading caused problems, please tell us about it?

Pete had refused permission so he was not happy. He pulled me out in front of the club and gave a big speech congratulating me on my efforts - then got me up to fight him. I was surprised at this as he never sparred usually, I moved around well and landed a few respectful shots. He didn’t like that so he grabbed my gi, punched me full in the face and broke my nose! Not the happy homecoming I’d expected, and the beginning of the end as far as trust and mutual respect was concerned.

H) How did your kyokushin career fare after that? Where did it take you and how did you fare what did you achieve?

I stayed at the club and tried to put it behind me, but in the end the seed was sown. I don’t want to just bad-mouth Pete, he had a lot of good qualities and was a very technical instructor. I wanted to do well in Knockdown though which he had no real experience of, so I started going to squad trainings. They were tough but very helpful. I’m not sure that delighted Pete as I came back with new ideas which the Leicester fighters were keen to learn. I never consciously tried to undermine his position but in the end things got tense. I started my club in 1980 after we had a couple of clashes, perhaps naively thinking we might get along better both being instructors. It didn’t work out like that though so I cut all ties and was happier on my own.

I travelled about a lot and trained with some great instructors to improve my experience and fighting style. The best of these was Brian Fitkin who had a real influence on me, not just technically but mentally too. I won the BKK Tournament in 1981 after his coaching in Sweden and then focussed on building up my dojo.

H) Leaving the BKK as a 4th Dan and a highly respected instructor must have been a difficult decision, why?

LOL – I’m not too sure about the ‘highly respected’ bit! ‘Charnwood’ did well in all forms of competition though and for a small dojo we had lots of champions. Let me start by saying this is all in the past. Over ten years ago now and the time has flown by. I bear no-one any ill-will so I’ll just state the way I saw it then without trying to re-open old wounds.

I was on the Technical Committee, the Referees Committee and the Executive Committee and looking back I got far too involved in the internal politics. I disagreed with a few of the changes that Hanshi Arneil instituted after the split from Japan. Being the gobby type I voiced this opinion strongly at meetings and soon found I was out of step with the rest.

You reach a point where the moaning has to stop and you either back down and accept what’s being changed or get off your knees and make a choice. I left in 1998. Following leaving I had some pretty unpleasant feedback, as certain people felt the need to rally round and protect the king, but that’s all water under the bridge now. It did make me wonder at the time if I’d wasted all the effort on committees over the years, as being honest and upfront had obviously not been taken in the spirit it was intended. It was nice when I went to the Tournament at K2 last year and everyone I saw greeted me as an old friend.

H) You are now the UK branch chief of Enshin karate, how did your Enshin career come about?

After leaving the BKK we trained independently for a while as I looked around at other groups. Some were real rip-off merchants. I saw Kancho Ninomiya’s book and it just struck a chord. Combat applications shone through. It reminded me of my early training when fighting ability was my only goal and of course long before politics got involved. I contacted Kancho and the fact he wouldn’t consider my application unless I was prepared to travel to Denver fired up my enthusiasm. The rest (as they say) is history. I love the style and have never regretted joining. Kancho is a very hard man in a gi, but decent and honest with a good sense of humour as well. That helps!

H) I understand you trained in Japan under Sosai Oyama, please tell us about Sosai as a man and instructor and your experiences there?

I travelled to Japan in 1989 and 1991. Not to ‘find myself’ or any such notion, just to try the training and face the challenge. I was told stories from day one about how tough Honbu was and I suppose I just wanted to see how I coped. I really enjoyed it. I trained at Honbu and at Tatsuo Nakamura’s Zama dojo and it was a great experience. Most of the people I met were great – especially at Zama dojo. The atmosphere at the Honbu though was a bit strained. I wouldn’t describe it as being a happy place, especially for the Uchi-Deshi.

I found Sosai Oyama very friendly and helpful. The man was a legend with a tremendous presence but still thanked me for coming all that way. He was surrounded by middle rankers though that seemed to go out of their way to be arrogant with foreigners. You have to laugh really! Some of them obviously thought they were the Emperors Bodyguards or something. I’ve met top military men since who don’t strut around like that and mixed with Lords who expect less pomp and formality. I would stress I doubt if Sosai asked for all that – he seemed almost fed up with all the adulation. I sometimes imagine he’d have been quite happy to sit and relax in an English pub over a beer, but his entourage were constantly fussing around him.

(Part 2 to follow)
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Last edited by kanku; 03-11-2009 at 02:02 PM.