Club 1: Northumberland Karate Academy

On the basis it was Sensei Ian Willis’ fantastic training session that inspired my journey, where better to start, than at his club which also happens to be the furthest away from home. Just a small 320 miles away! But I wasn’t going to let that stop me…I would make a long weekend of it.

I got to planning. Coinciding my trip at the same time as a club grading, gained me a travel companion for part of the journey.

Saturday 18th December 2021

My first stop was Stratford-Upon-Avon. The birthplace of William Shakespeare, steeped in culture and history, and set on the banks of the river Avon. I definitely needed more than a couple of hours there but it was great to have a mooch round the Christmas market and add it to the list of places I would like to explore further one day.

Next stop Manchester. The birthplace of Sensei John Parnell, who was to become my travel companion for the final leg of the journey. I’ve been to Manchester a couple of times before and once again it did not disappoint. A bustling city with so much to see and do.

Final stop, Ponteland in Newcastle upon Tyne. This is officially the furthest North I have ever travelled in England!! Unfortunately, by the time we arrived it was dark so I did not get to see much. However, the training on Sunday (which after all, was the main purpose for my trip) more than made up for it.

Sunday 19th December 2021

After being chauffeured from my hotel to the training venue, eventually it was time for training. I say eventually because the additional 10 loops of the most complicated car park known to man, extended the journey time from 10 to 20 minutes. I blame the driver!

Sensei Ian Willis was waiting to greet us, and if he spotted us circling the car park, must have questioned what he’d let himself in for!

Anyway, we were here, and I was hugely out of my comfort zone! Any nerves I felt soon disappeared though, as everyone at the club was so welcoming. A dojo full of new faces, none of which I’d ever trained with before. Fantastic!

The experience did not disappoint. I partnered every karateka pictured here. When you don’t know what to expect from a training partner, it automatically forces you to up your game. I would like to thank each and every one of you, firstly for making me feel so welcome, but also because I learnt so much from each of you in the space of 2 hours.

I really came to understand why training with karateka you don’t know is an important part of your karate journey. At your own club you know what to expect, and you develop a feeling of safety based on familiarity. In another dojo, with an unknown partner, it is altogether more scary and more challenging. I kept thinking, when I take my Shotokan Connect dan grading, this is what it is going to feel like, so I need to get used to it.

My training was done for the day. I now got the opportunity to sit back and watch the gradings, which in my opinion is always a privilege. For this part of my blog, I will let the photos below tell the story. Congratulations to you all. The standard was so high, and every pass was thoroughly deserved.

The journey home was less eventful, although there was another car park incident! If anyone ever stays at the Premier Inn in Bury and parks in their recommended car park, give me a shout and I will explain how you can escape the car park on foot!

Final thoughts…

Car park failures aside, this was an amazing experience. I don’t need to tell anyone reading this about the hours and dedication we all put in on our individual karate journeys. Life is busy but this weekend was a great example of how with a little bit of creativity, a visit to a new karate club can be turned into a mini adventure. I managed to visit two new places I’d never been before; spend some time with a friend; attend a fantastic karate session; and train with some new karateka who I have since connected with via social media and look forward to training with in the not-too-distant future. Hopefully, at the next All Grades Training Session.