Sensei Mike O’Connor, Chief Club Instructor of the Handbridge Shotokan Karate Club was honoured at the 52nd Karate Union of Great Britain (KUGB) National Championships held at the Morningside Arena Leicester on Saturday 5th May 2018, the day after the club celebrated its 49th Anniversary of being a totally non-profit making Karate Club in Chester, by being promoted to 7th Dan Black Belt ..
Sensei Mike in his 10th year of being a 6th Dan was at the Championships as he has been since 1976 in the role of one of the KUGB’s National referee’s and had been working as such throughout the elimination rounds from 10am.
The finals started with an introduction to the audience of last year’s World and European KUGB Gold, Silver and Bronze medal winners and this was followed by awards to long serving KUGB members for 20, 30, 40 and 50 years membership.
The announcement was “And now sensei Sherry has a special award for Mike O’Connor,
Sensei Mike said “As I walked up to the main table I thought it might an award be for being one of only two people to have never missed the Torbay Residential course in the 34 years of it’s being run or for the success found in teaching in Germany and the USA since retiring from work two years ago.
It was only when being shaken by the hand of the Chief Instructor of the KUGB Andy Sherry 9th Dan and hearing him say “Mike your being promoted to 7th Dan and it’s very highly deserved” that the penny dropped that in fact the “mystery award” was in fact promotion to the rank of 7th Dan or Degree Black Belt.
There followed a brief discussion with the announcer and then she said there are two further promotions to 7th Dan, which was the moment that all mystery was lifted from the audience burst into applause. That still means there are currently only 4 KUGB 7th Dan’s in the whole of the UK and Ireland.
Sensei Mike said ” I was very moved that all my hard work in running the non-profit making Handbridge Shotokan Karate Club and attending training courses and being a referee at most of the KUGB National and local events was being recognised by this award but it was also very humbling and emotional as so many of my seniors wanted to take pictures congratulated me and ALL of the referees and judges were rushing forward to offer congratulations and best wishes on the humongous event.
Mike went on to say “We are so lucky in the KUGB to benefit from a history of Champions, ALL eight of the current seniors of the KUGB are ALL former World Champions and I train with these instructors on a very regular basis on the Free Black and Brown Belt Courses and the Special Dan Courses as well as the heavily subsidised residential courses held twice a year at Torbay and Lancaster. Plus, there are monthly visits to the Handbridge Dojo by either Hanshi Sherry 9th Dan or Kyoshi Frank Brennan 8th Dan.
Since retirement Mike, formerly Acting Plant Protection Manager at the Vauxhall Motors Car Manufacturing Plant in Ellesmere Port, took advantage of his free time and became a full time Karate Instructor but a German student Thomas Lang who sensei Mike had helped pass his first Dan Black belt, invited sensei Mike to Germany for his 50th birthday. At this party sensei Mike was introduced to sensei Karl Hans Konig 7th Dan and world tamashiwari (Breaking wood) Champion and they hit it off so well and sensei Karl-Hans was so impressed with sensei Mike’s explanations of Kata and unique Dim Mak that he turned over his Dojo’s to him for the rest of the week . A further chance meeting on another course in Germany under Ochi sensei led sensei Mike to return last year and teach at Dr Anton Schlatt’s Dojo a class of some 84 Black Belts.
Later that year sensei Mike returned to Germany to teach a 5-hour Kobudo weapons course for Sensei Karl Hans at his professional permanent dojo in Steinen-Hollstein.
News of that success in Germany reached sensei Mike’s former student sensei Kevin Little now 4th Dan Black Belt in the USA and sensei Mike was invited over to the USA. At the Benicia Karate Academy in San Francisco 9th Dan Hanshi Ricardo Llewellyn also not only turned over his class for sensei Mike to teach Kata but also invited him to be the Guest Instructor at the ISKA (International San-Ten Karate Association) Summer Karate Camp in the Sierra Mountains. That led to many more invites -so many in fact that sensei Mike returned to the USA in November 2017 for a further 3 weeks.
Teaching in the USA encouraged the executive secretary of ISKA Laura C Lorenz to travel 6000 miles to train at sensei Mikes Dojo in Handbridge and to attend this year’s 2018 Torbay course.
Laura says she is delighted that sensei Mike O’Connor has been honoured for his lifetime dedication to Karate and the KUGB.
No sooner had Laura returned to the USA when Sensei Bernardo Mercado 7th Dan Chief Instructor of the hugely successful Fremont Karate Academy also made the 6000 miles trip to train with sensei Mike and the KUGB, sensei Bernardo said he felt sensei Mike had a fantastic understanding of both Kata Bunkai, direct interpretation of Kata, Kata Oyo , where you add throws or extra moves and the very restricted Dim Mak system which sensei has studied since his judo days over 50 years ago with frequent courses from masters of the art which made him an uniquely special.instructor.
Sensei Bernardo has already invited sensei Mike back to the USA later this year.
We believe sensei Mike is the First Chester Born Cestrian to become a KUGB 7th Dan and we are very proud of him. Sensei teaches every Monday and Thursday in the newly refurbished GYM of the Queens Park High School in Handbridge Chester, classes for beginners and Kyu grades are from 6pm to 7pm each night and from 7pm to 8.30pm for Black Belts. The Clubs grading examiner is Hanshi Andy Sherry 9th Dan who is at the club virtually on a monthly basis when unavailable Kyoshi Frank Brennan 8th Dan is our monthly external visitor.
Mike said ” Although Handbridge Shotokan Karate Club is Totally Non-Profit making the rent alone for the school Gym is £6,500 a year, only external professional instructors are paid and that with further insurances brings our outlay to just over £10,000 a year, so we are proud that we offer family rates as well as alternative nights at our sub dojo in Westminster Park. Children train for just £4 a lesson and Adults £5 but an adult and child together is only £6 plus one pound for any additional child. gradings with the KUGB are only £10 so we are very proud that we have served Handbridge and Chester as a centre of KUGB Karate excellence for over 49 years. (Winning the Griffin Award for People in the Community for the running of a totally non-profit making club in Chester).
Finally, sensei Mike wanted to pay very special thanks to the Dojo Founder Sensei Geoff Wilding 5th Dan and Welsh Coach who tragically died 10 years ago this month and to his other former Japanese Karate teacher Keinosuke Enoeda 9th Dan who died 15 years ago this year – I am sure they both will be very satisfied that the Club and the KUGB are still in safe hands and proud of their part in my attaining this very high rank in Karate with the KUGB.
Photo Hanshi Sherry 9th Dan congratulating sensei Mike on his 7th Dan promotion.