Club Column: Karate

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Each fortnight, SCAN brings you an exclusive inside peek at one of our fantastic sports clubs. Read about what they get up to, and get the latest on how they are representing Lancaster in competitive sport around the country.

In this week’s club column, we’re looking at a sport that, to many, is seen as the quintessential martial art of all (and sees itself as by far the most popular). Karate has always held a special place in the hearts of many due to the, frankly, amazing Karate Kid movies, featuring easily the greatest ending of all time (despite the crane not even being a real Karate move, disappointingly). Away from the big screen, however, Karate has enjoyed a storied history, with over 100 million followers worldwide and with recent success stories including confirmation that it will officially be a part of the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo. We take a look at Karate’s recent history as a competitive sport and its context in the wider world of martial arts. As well as taking a look into Karate itself, this week’s club column also speaks to the Lancaster University Karate Team’s newly elected President, Robert Mawdsley. We began by asking Robert about what separates Karate from other sports and societies within Lancaster University. ‘Karate is such a great society because we get the balance right between being chilled out but also competitive. The society is of mixed ability, with lower grades and higher grades and the fact that we can cater for all without compromising the quality of training is what makes us so great. We can be very beginner friendly but also provide high quality and competitive training for higher grades. There’s always something there for everyone’.

Many would argue reached its pop-culture zenith in the late 70’s and early 80’s, with blockbusters like ‘The Karate Kid’ and film stars like Chuck Norris at the peak of their popularity, Karate was the simply the cache-all phrase used to describe any form of martial arts. However, if these times were seen as the peak of Karate (at least in the eyes of the public), the early 90’s to the early 00’s can be seen as the sports grey patch. With the rise of UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) in 1993 and throughout the 90’s and early 00’s, Karate was shunned as being ineffective in a real fight, due to MMA fighters who specialised in Karate almost always losing every fight to much smaller opponents who would specialise in fighting styes like Brazilian Ju-Jitsu. As Karate has very little base in ground fighting and is far more based within striking, it makes it difficult to succeed in the type of fighting environment the UFC encourages. This was until Lyoto Machida burst onto the scene in 2009. In the co-main event (the other headlined by Georges-St Pierre to give a sense of Machida’s popularity) Machida defeated fellow undefeated Brazilian Thiago Silva to earn a title shot at the light heavyweight title of Rashad Evans; with over 600’000 watching live, Machida defeated Evans with a knockout in the second round. Many attribute Machida’s success to his karate background as his opponents were simply not trained to deal with competitors who could strike in that manner. His ability to then combine this with more traditional MMA styles not only lead him to great success but has gone some way to restoring Karate’s credibility to its once great level, as the quintessential martial art.

With this in mind, we asked Robert what he believes separates Karate from other forms of martial arts. ‘I have a lot of respect for other martial arts and what they do but I don’t think that there’s anything that is quite as varied as karate. It is such a broad martial art but doesn’t lack any of the detail. I have had experience of other martial arts and I am a firm believer that in terms of the amount you learn karate is second to none’.

Alongside a great learning experience, Karate offers many opportunities for success. We asked Robert about the team’s performance from last year and their plans to build on this for the upcoming season: ‘This season we have made remarkable progress from last. We made it to BUCS this year and competed against people who were looking to qualify for world champions. It is likely that there were future Olympians competing alongside us and we still provided good competition. We’re targeting a Roses win and are confident we can deliver that. We are also looking to put together a women’s squad for the HDKI GB 3rd annual Female-only competition’. Furthermore, we asked about his own personal highlight. ‘For me personally it has been getting back to national competitions I’ve mentioned BUCS before but to go to a competition of that level after so many years out of competing and still be competitive really was something special and an invaluable learning experience. So, for me, that would have to be the stand out moment of the year so far’.

The Karate team at Lancaster prides itself on being a club that leaves long lasting memories on all members, no matter your ability. When asked about this, Robert said that the club ‘Busy. We have something going on most weeks ranging from bar crawls to film nights to all you can eat Pizzetta, so again there’s socials for all tastes. The atmosphere in lessons is relaxed as well so the social side is one of the strongest parts of the society’. So not only does the society have plenty of opportunities to achieve success on the field but also offers multiple occasions to make friends and socialise.

Finally, after running through the society as a whole, we asked Robert to give a final summary of why prospective members should seriously consider making Karate their new favourite sport. ‘There’s something there for everyone regardless of ability. We have our teams for competitions and our beginners that we are guiding through the belts. We’re a really close knit and friendly society so training is always a nice place to be and something that you look forward to each week. You learn a great skill and make new friends and have a laugh whilst doing so, what could be better?’.

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