I recently interviewed Gerry Breeze about his Shotokan karate history, and his views on the current state of karate in the UK. I have known Gerry personally for over 44 years, having first met him at the 1970 KUGB National Championships: a highly respected instructor who teaches traditional Shotokan with the emphasis on strong technique. Gerry’s own organization is based upon the JKA standards he was introduced to in 1965 - under Kanazawa sensei; and still practices today.
GM. Gerry, the usual question – where and when did you start training, and please just carry on with your own memories, avoids me having to ask the usual boring question.
GB. I began in 1964 in Wado Ryu reaching green belt and Shotokan in 1965, after watching a demonstration of Shotokan, I said that’s for me and went back to white belt and started again, from then my interest grew, getting hold of the then, rare books, you know Nishiyama and Brown’s ‘The Art of Empty Hand Fighting’ and a few more, which you cannot buy today, you couldn’t even buy a Gi in those days, so I made my own from sail cloth.
Eventually I and a few more keen people started to train together, we didn’t have a regular club at first but eventually started the Bournemouth Kanku karate club and managed to get Kanazawa sensei down. This led to regular visits from Andy Sherry and Bob Poynton, Bob actually took his Shodan grading under Sensei Kanazawa at Bournemouth. Following on, as the club started to grow, we had a visit from The Boss, Enoeda Sensei, because Kanazawa had resigned from the KUGB, being replaced by The Tiger of Shotokan.
Bournemouth Kanku attended the first National’s at Alexander Palace, two purple belts who did well I remember. Immediately after the competition all the people attending the event were asked to attend a meeting. Those few that did attend gathered in a small room over a shop – and that’s when and where the KUGB was formed, making me a founder member.
My time with the KUGB was great, filled with the fire and enthusiasm that karate generated in those days, fuelled by Enoeda sensei – how we miss that man these days. However, as the years rolled on, I started to notice that karate was turning more and more towards competition and money – nothing wrong with that I suppose, especially as Abe’s FAJKO rules were used; basically if there was no blood, and the technique was in the scoring areas, the point stood. I remember one fighter getting his sternum broke from a reverse punch, at the KUGB Nationals at Crystal Palace, and as the man was being carried off on a stretcher, the judges were trying to convince Enoeda that the technique was too powerful and it called for a disqualification, Sensei wanted to award Ippon (chuckles…). Now obviously there has to be some control, and I fully appreciate that, but since the late 80’s karate in my view, has been weakened so much that it’s now very much geared up to a sport, a very popular sport, but isn’t the karate I learned in those early days.
As things were going more and more towards sport, the trophy seeming to be the most important thing, and there was now a significant degree of commercialism entering into the art, I eventually resigned from the KUGB in 1991. I and a small group formed the BSKU – British Shotokan Karate Union, a few years later changing the name to FBSKUI because of its growing international links. Since then the FBUSKI has gone from strength to strength, now hosting one of the karate world’s most popular events, the Gichin Funakoshi World Championships, and as you mention Ged, it’s great to see the old sho-bu ippon FAJKO style karate…(laughing). We also organize the Legend Trophy each year, the 2014 event attracting over 500 competitors, and the standard was very high, both kumite and kata.
As you know Ged, we often organize gashakus, you and Elwyn Hall attend two of them in Spain. Mick Dewey and myself regularly support each other’s events, with Colin Putt and others. To me Shotokan is still about my personal development and character – I still run three miles twice a week and train most days - I’ve taught at the same dojo now for over 40 years.
GM. In conclusion Gerry, what are your thoughts on the future?
GB. I strongly believe that all will be lost if unless the few senior instructors that are still around teach the strong basics and kata that we learned from Enoeda sense. These younger instructors that are coming up through the ranks, they must learn respect, etiquette, (which is sadly lacking these days) and must learn the deeper understanding of the art of Shotokan Karate, which starts with Basics and Kata and not just learning the fast techniques of sport karate. I tell students that you can only die once. (This relating to WKF Sport Karate.) Karate has to change in the modern world, no argument, but surely not for the worse, which often seems to be the case. We must make it stronger not weaker.
GM. Gerry, great and thanks for your time. As you know Legend Productions owes its very existence to people like you and the students you have created, so it’s a great pleasure to put on record your views and of course your history in our art.
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