Saturday 4th May 2019 saw the landmark 50 year anniversary of the totally non profit making Handbridge Shotokan karate club, Handbridge Chester, come to fruition.
To celebrate this monumental achievement a special training class was held and despite the Bank Holiday weekend attracted 6th Dan Philip Gandy down from from Chesterfield, 5th Dan Keith Dennis all the way from his home in Spain 4th Dan Otto Blank from Market Drayton and Black Belt Thomas Lang and his wife Monika all the way from Germany plus a host of members, mostly residential senior Black Belts led by Dave Roberts 3rd Dan and Dave Craggs 3rd Dan.
From 5pm there was a 50 year anniversary party held at the Westminster Park Sport and Social Club where numbers were round the 80 mark to see Sensei Mike O’Connor 7th Dan the clubs co-founder and Chief instructor being presented with a fabulous Emporio Armani Chronograph Watch and a laser engraved glass Club’s badge as mementos of the day. Plus a custom printed card signed by Grandmaster Andy Sherry 9th Dan and Karateka from all over as well as members on the day
There were individual presents which again marked the day as super special as the gifts came from the heart especially from Colin Evans 2nd Dan and Dave Moss 1st Dan the clubs longest serving members with over 90 years membership between them
Mike entered martial arts as a Judo student aged 11 training with the Welsh Judo 3rd Dan, Miriam Thomas and in 1964 the Handbridge Judo club run by sensei Mick Edwards. I was the only non drinking member of the team when we travelled anywhere. I met Gunji Koizumi just before he died – a master of Ju-jitsu, Judo, Kendo and Katsu – resuscitation of life using many Dim Mak points.
I had my own samurai sword which my mother used to hide under her bed if my dad and brother and I were out of the house. How the Handbridge Shotokan Karate Club came about is very unique and all about timing and meeting the right people.
It was in the Summer of 1968 that two Karate Black Belts sensei Geoff Wilding and sensei Mike Cotgreave asked then Judokai Mike O’Connor if they could use space in the Handbridge Judo Club to practice their Shotokan Karate.
This led to an exchange of techniques and a great friendship began between Mike and Geoff. By a strange turn of fate the Judo Mats were sold by their owner in the Autumn of 1968 and a temporary Karate club was run by sensei Geoff Wilding whilst the members saved for replacement mats.
Sensei Geoff Wilding insisted we all take out KUGB licences in the January of 1969 and by April we had saved £125 so imagine Mike’s shock when he found out the mats complete cost would be £410, his fathers first and only new car was £653-10p that same year.
About to give up Sensei Geoff invited Mike to train with his teacher Keinosuke Enoeda though Mike was ungraded He had trained with Geoff and “Cottie” for nearly a year, much of that time just the three of them. Mike was immensely impressed by Sensei Enoeda and Enoeda thought Mike was very good for a white belt with very strong spirit.( attitude towards training).
Thus a very special bond formed that first meeting and led to many one on one training sessions lasting up to Sensei Enoeda’s tragically early death in March of 2003. Mike took all his Black Belt gradings with Sensei Enoeda up to 5th Dan being registered in Japan with each of them.
Also after that first meeting Mike asked sensei Geoff if he would formally start the Handbridge Shotokan Karate Club and after weeks of writing up club rules the most important one being that the club be totally non profit making HSKC was duly founded on Sunday the 4th May 1969. Mike designed the Club badge using his own fist as a template shrinking it down and had the idea of a hand punching through the bridge breaking it and bricks falling in the Dee registering all the changes of the design over the last 50 years has been a real struggle as tiny changes always mean new applications.
As Geoff had his own club in Deeside it was understood that as soon as Mike became a Black Belt he would take over the club.However sensei Geoff who went on to be the Welsh squad coach for the KUGB supported Mike and the Handbridge Club long after the official hand over and up to his death at the very young age of 59 due to a heart attack on the 27th May 2008. Certainly without sensei Geoff ‘Wildings’s influence the club would never have been formed.
With Sensei Enoeda’s tragic death in March 2003 Mike turned to Enoeda’s deshi sensei Andy Sherry as the clubs only grading examiner and took and passed 6th Dan KUGB under the direct tutelage of grandmaster Andy Sherry 9th Dan with grateful help from Sensei Terry O’Neill 8th Dan, Sensei Frank Brennan 8th Dan and the entire Liverpool Red Triangle Morning training class..
Attending all possible courses and being a National Referee and Coaching Assessor for the Karate Union of Great Britain the largest single style Karate association in the UK Mike has racked up many long standing achievements in his 50 years which was personally achieved on the 27th January 2019 but will be formally announced at this years 53rd KUGB Nationals on the 11th May 2019 in the Leicester Arena.
Mikes been a National Referee for 43 years, a Coaching Assessor for for 26 years being in the very first seniors group to be appointed. Mike has also become the only KUGB member who has attended every one of the KUGB’s 36 Torbay Residential Courses who is not teaching on the course. Mike has trained with virtually all the great masters of karate and is one of a tiny group to train in the invitation only classes at the famous Liverpool Red Triangle.Mike has become a leading Dim Mak teacher and his knowledge of oriental weapons helps him explain hidden moves.
Since retiring from GM’s Vauxhall Motors, Mike became a full time Karate Instructor and was very fortunate to have a German student Thomas Lang, who invited him over to be at his 50th Birthday Party. At this party Mike met Karl Hans Konig 7th Dan Fudokan and that led to Mike being invited to teach regularly in Germany at several Main dojos where Mike specialities of Bunkai, Oyo – the explanation and application of Kata moves, Dim Mak which Mike has studied for over 50 years and oriental weapons Katana, Sai, Tonfa and Bo. Which has led to All day seminars at the Budocentre at Steinen, Germany
The success of these courses was seen by former HSKC member Kevin Little 4th Dan a student of Mike’s now living permanently in California USA. Kevin invited Mike over to train with senior US instructors who in turn asked Mike to teach his speciality Bunkai and Oyo on their main summer training camp. This has led to Mike making trips often twice a year for the last 3 years to the Bay Area of San Francisco where he has become a member of the International San Ten Karate Association (ISKA) and influenced senior members Laura C Lorenz 3rd Dan and sensei Bernardo Mercado 7th Dan to come over and train in the UK with the Karate Union of Great Britain. Which they did very successfully.
Laura was so good she was included in the Torbay course 2018 Demo team that featured on YOUTube and the KUGB website Mike said, ” There is a definite difference in the training in the USA Dojos but the instructors are of the very highest standard and there is a great exchange of knowledge as a result. What has surprised me most was the willingness of senior instructors to hand over their class to me and then joined in themselves, that is such privilege to know instructors like that.
Many wrote to Hanshi Sherry to express their satisfaction at my teaching and at the Bay Area Championships I was singled out by no less a master than Shihan Edwards 8th Dan for an award thanking me personally for introducing aspects into the Bay Area that instructors had found most useful in explaining hitherto unknown moves in Kata and lots of secret information that I bought in private training lessons with many of the late Japanese karate Masters like Masatoshi Nakayama Head of the JKA who died in 1987 and Tj Kase who died in November 2004 and Keinosuke Enoeda who died in 2003,.all were Dim Mak masters as well as Karate Masters and understood how Karate was often made safer by modifying moves for sport Karate. Sensei Enoeda and Sensei Kase always thought that for chosen students they would show the more dangerous variations so that they would not be lost. The current KUGB seniors are possibly that last westerners to get that information first hand and it is only passed on now to very sensible and senior black belts who are aware of the dangers of improper use.
Karate has been for me over the last 50 years all about meeting the right person at the right time and how dedication and respect pay back to teacher and student alike. My meeting sensei Geoff Wilding led to meeting Grand-master Keinosuke Enoeda, through him sensei’s Andy Sherry 9th Dan, Terry O’Neill 8th Dan , Bob Poynton 8th Dan , Bob Rhodes 8th Dan, Billy Higgins 8th Dan Frank Brennan 8th Dan, Jimmy Brennan 8th Dan and Garry Hartford 8th Dan who I train with on a regular basis not just to maintain my current grade but to strive to better myself in the future.
Sensei Thomas Lang has opened up teaching in Germany for me, helping me meet and teach with Karl Hans Konig , Dr Anton Schlatt and arrange special yearly seminars in Germany. Sensei Kevin Little 4th Dan and sensei Laura C Lorenz 3rd Dan have opened up so many long standing dojos in California – Benicia Karate Academy with it’s head Hanshi Rick Lewellyn 9th Dan who is also president of ISKA. Sensei Bernardo Mercado 7th Dan and Sensei Harry Imamura 5th Dan of the Fremont Karate Academy and sensei Rick Hutton 5th Dan who like me has been a special guest instructor for the summer training camps.
To all my seniors I owe a great debt for the hard earned knowledge passed on. To my students here in the UK and abroad I owe an even bigger debt that they should seek me out and give me the honour of teaching them.
Handbridge Shotokan Karate Club has been in it’s current home of the Queen’s Park High School Gym since 1982 so if you fancy a non profit making club with history then come and join us. Training is every Monday and Thursdays (Except Bank Holidays ) 6pm to 7pm for Juniors and beginners and 7pm to 8.30 pm for Black and Brown Belts. HSKC, The Gym Queens Park High school Queens Park view Handbridge Chester CH4 7AE or write to sensei Mike O’Connor 7th Dan at his email address – firstname.lastname@example.org – it could not be simpler and we are totally non profit making with no residential instructors including Mike being paid.
7th DAN KUGB