George Best is one of the UK’s most successful competitors, displaying the many traits synonymous with KUGB Karate: Power, speed and of utmost significance, spirit. A motto essential to karate is Mukin Shori. “The way to success has no short cuts”, a statement of very close importance to George Best.
Displaying potential during his youth, he caught the attention of the KUGB, where he came under the coaching of Sensei Enoeda and Sherry, eventually coming under the international spotlight with a superb competitive record, including famously beating Masao Kagawa twice.
Ged Moran, of the famous Legend Productions, in 2008 at the JKSA World Championships in Manchester, introduced George Best and I very briefly just as he was being called to run onto the tatami to fight. He is a real gentleman, as you will see throughout this interview, a superb karateka, and a passionate supporter of the art.
Within this interview, hear about his close relationship with his father and the impact this had on his career, his training and competition within the KUGB and now, the development of his own association. - S. Banfield 09
Many thanks to Steve Hogan of www.stevehoganphotography.co.uk for use of his photography.
(Shaun Banfield) Can we please start the interview by thanking you for kindly giving us your time. I am very much looking forward to learning more about your experiences within the Martial Arts.
(George Best) Thank you Shaun, I’d like to thank you and The Shotokan Way for inviting me to do this interview.
(SB) Our first question is one that you have probably answered a hundred times, but for the purpose of this interview, can you please tell us how you first got started in the Martial Arts?
(GB) My father, Sensei John Best, a major influence in what I’ve achieved, taught us Judo, Boxing and Shotokan Karate at the local youth club and scout hut which were our Dojos. Every kid on the block would turn up to train and we all trained on either one or all sessions training in Judo, Boxing or Karate.
I loved the Karate and found my forte in Shotokan Karate. It seemed so natural to me. I loved the speed of movement, punching, kicking techniques coupled with wrist and arm locks, which my father would teach us, along with Basics, Kata and Kumite. My father inspired me so much and still does. As an 80 year old he still trains and goes for runs. It was great training with my father and even better watching him train. He could deliver techniques with blistering speed and power. You see, my father was small, but the power to height/weight ratio was phenomenal. For a small man he could pack a serious amount of power and believe me, he did show it in a number of instances. This is where my initiation into the martial arts came from.
There’s one more influence in my life and that’s my mother. Athletes tend to forget their mothers and my mother would always attend every tournament, and I mean every tournament. It’s funny but there may be a few people out there who will identify with what I’m saying, but when I fought the only voices I could here were my mother and father, everyone else would be muffled, but I could always hear them with crystal clarity. “Thanks mar love you loads”.
(SB) Can you talk about your early training? Can you please tell us a little about it and share any memories that you may have from that early part of your karate career?
(GB) In the early days my father Sensei John Best taught with another instructor, a junior brown belt at the time. His name was Mike Ford. Mike went on to gain his Shodan. Mike and my father would put us all through our paces. I was always tall as a kid and would tower over the over juniors. So as a junior brown belt, I would train with the seniors. This was a daunting experience, but a very valuable experience, which I still to this day, put my many successes to.
I’ll elaborate on this. You see, training with seniors as a junior brown belt and holding your own wasn’t too bad, especially when you’re only twelve years old.
It wasn’t long before we were all a little itchy. You know what it’s like. We’d say to Sensei “when are we going to a tournament?” It wasn’t long before we were informed that a club tournament was being held in Rochdale.
Great I thought, and then it hits home, “Am I good enough? What are the others like? Oh God, have I made the right decision?”
That’s when my father stepped in to reassure me, having a logical approach to everything I spoke to him about. We’d train at the Dojo and out on the local school field with my younger brother Ian Best, who was Junior British Champion and a Junior England squad member himself. We’d work on different aspects and scenarios in order to evaluate a situation that may occur. It really put my mind at rest and made me so confident. On the day, things went extremely well as I took the title in the junior kumite and that was the start of things.
(SB) Were you always a natural competitor would you say?
(GB) Oh! Yeah, at school I would run the 100 and 200 meters, cross country, long jump and high jump. Whilst in the last year at school I attempted and gained the high jump record, which stood for eleven years after I left. This led to me being selected for The Trafford Athletics Team, which I competed in for many years.
And with a name like George Best, well, I wasn’t too bad at football either and I played for my school team and the local team. At Trafford Athletics Club I’d get pestered as the coaches would say why are you doing this Karate stuff? You’re a natural athlete, you could be the next big thing in British athletics. “Arrh! Well I suppose we’ll never know!” But one thing I do know, my love and passion is in Karate.
The same competitive edge is built in to my brothers and sister too, as I said my brother Ian was British junior Champion and England squad member. He also ran in the trails for AAA Amateur Athletic Association Championships. My two sisters played Badminton for Trafford and my other brother John Junior was a fantastic runner and boxed for England. He had a fantastic professional career too.
The same competitive edge has been passed onto my son Jordan who plays football for Trafford, Manchester Boys and trained at Manchester United Football ground. So, yes I do think I have that natural competitive edge which has helped me to transfer sports.
(SB) Can you please tell us about your time within the KUGB? Could you share any memories that you have of Sensei Enoeda with us?
(GB) Yes I was ten years old at the time when I had my first introduction to Sensei Enoeda and the KUGB. We would travel to Rochdale for our Kyu grades. I remember seeing him warming up. He used to hit the makiwara and I thought “Wow!” This guy is brilliant; the speed he moved at was tremendous. The power he could generate in a punch was unbelievable, and I was always impressed by the way he could snap his Gi when he delivering a kick or a punch. He would stand still and deliver a punch that would make an almighty crack. This is something I always do to this present day as it shows correct hip twist and rotation speed of technique with a deadly stop to it. When the Gi snaps you know it’s correct.
In those days, Sensei was a real hard task master. If your posture wasn’t correct or your stance wasn’t solid, he would give you a swift kick in the leg. That’s if you were lucky. On a bad day you’d get swept to the floor with an ashi-barai leg sweep. He’d tell you to get up and say, “Keep your back straight and always keep bending your front knee, good stance stay strong”, or he would stand in front of you and look steely eyed right into your face and say, “Why you move like that Huh? You must concentrate and push body into technique.” He would then demonstrate the technique right in front of you in order for you to feel the power of it reverberate through the floor with that unmistakable kiai of Sensei’s.
With that, I’d shake a leg rather sharply and perform everything with 100% concentration and deadly accuracy. He never smiled at you much but when you got it right you’d get the acknowledgement of “Hu!” which meant? That’s better.
It was only when I got to know Sensei better that he would beckon me over to discuss training. He was an inspiration to me, a driving force when he would walk down the line where I trained. I would move as fast as I could trying to give every ounce of power I had into every technique in order to impress Sensei as if to say “look at this”. He would give me that look, the nod and a smile. That was bliss for me, it told me he was watching. You could say I grew up with Sensei as he graded me for all my Kyu grades. He trained me and watched me develop from a young ten year old into an adult.
I continued to train and grade as well as compete in competition. It was at this point when I first met the KUGB… I thought who are these guys? I’ve never seen them before, but I could see, even at that young age, they had the movement of Sensei, that power and that wild-eyed look on their faces that said it all. It was the likes of Andy Sherry, Terry O’Neill, Bob Poynton, Billy Higgins and Bob Rhodes.
I had just gained my shodan and won the Junior National Championships, when I was approached by Sensei Sherry, who invited me to train on the England squad. I thought “Wow! Me on the England squad?” I couldn’t believe it. I remember heading down the motorway with my father and saying that there’ll probably be some of the lads who were at the Nationals attending.
How wrong was I! We walked through the door to see the whole senior squad with a hand full of juniors, and when I say a hand full of juniors, I mean a hand full. The juniors consisted of: Miles Draper, Glen and Mark Turner, Richard Amos, Glen Hodgkinson, Tony Harrison, Mark Harrison and me.
Not forgetting the ladies of the day: Karen Finley, Jane Naylor, Christine Pullen, Wynn Hatton and Julie Nicholson. The seniors in attendance were:
Frank Brennan, Jimmy Brennan, Ronnie Christopher, Ian Roberts, Randy Williams and Gary Harford.
These sessions were as mad as hell. I was a thirteen year old 1st Dan with men coming at me with some storming techniques, and believe me when you got caught you knew.
“These training sessions were a test of your mental and physical endurance nothing but your best would do”.
“They wanted to see if you had the ATTITUDE, the ability to fight with a composed aggression but knowing what you have to do in order to win”.
Sensei Enoeda would push and push some more, always looking for that little bit extra. You also knew that every member of the squad was breathing down your neck gunning to take your place if you messed up.
Sensei Sherry would assist these sessions by overseeing the proceedings. Both Sensei Sherry and Sensei Enoeda would have a chat at the end. This was when you got to find out whether or not you’d made the squad.
Over the years I’ve seen so many people come and go. It takes a certain breed to be able to walk into a Dojo with fifteen guys all snarling because you’re the new kid on the block. “So what you gonna to do about it?” Well my first thought was “George, you better fight back kidder cause they’re going to knock your head off if you don’t”. So fight I did. The next letter I received said ‘We’re pleased to inform you, you are now a member of the England squad.’ What a feeling of relief it was; my Mother and Father were over the moon.
That was my first big test and I suppose my initiation into the KUGB England squad.
(SB) And being a part of the KUGB squad, how influenced were you by Andy Sherry?
(GB) Very much. Two things that stick in my mind is the emphasis he had on correct attitude; this was, and still is a must. The other is correct yori-ashi foot work; these are key points I always work on and instil in my own students today.
Sensei Sherry’s style of teaching would differ from Sensei Enoeda’s. As I said Sensei Sherry would look at footwork, timing, drills, body posture, hikite, all this and much more. Squad sessions were three hours long. Once the mind and body were used to the intensity of the sessions it became second nature, the only thing in my mind was to “hit and not get hit”, that’s all.
Those sessions were hard, very hard. If for any reason you couldn’t make a squad session, the drill would be to ring Sensei Sherry up and inform him beforehand. Or you would have to attend, sit and watch the whole session and then go home. Now you might think, why the hell should you sit and watch a whole three hour session and then go home! Well there was a lot to learn in those three hours and if I couldn’t make it I would go and watch.
(SB) When you were on the KUGB Squad, who were your team mates at the time? Can you please tell us a little about them?
(GB) By the time I reached sixteen years old I was a regular on the England senior squad which consisted of: Frank Brennan, Jimmy Brennan, Ronnie Christopher, Ian Roberts, Randy Williams, Gary Harford, Miles Draper and Elwyn Hall.
By this time we all knew the drill. All senior squad remembers would train on junior and senior squad session.
Now many of you would have seen us all fight in tournaments at some stage, but just imagine what it was like at England squad sessions. You had eight guys at the top of their game all ready to take a piece of each other in order to make sure you were in the starting line up of the five man team. Well, it doesn’t get any more intense than that, let me tell you.
You had Frank who was fast, sharp, powerful and dextrous with his hands or feet. Jimmy had a fantastic gyaku-zuki that would stop a bull. Ronnie, whose timing and distancing were second to none, was very powerful too. He was versatile with any technique.
Ian had an amazing ushiro geri and a great punching combo. Randy had an amazing gyaku zuki and could fire in excellent kicks too. Gary was small in stature and very elusive - he had a good punching combo and a good mawashi geri.
Miles, he too was small in stature but don’t let that fool you… he was quick. He had a great mawashi geri, ushiro geri and a very good punching combo. Last but not least, Elwyn, who was fast strong and would maim you given half the chance with fast punches, kicks and a killer ashi-barai that would take anybody off their feet.
This was the squad that dominated numerous EKGB, European and World Championships in the 80’s and 90’s. There was no little wonder really as we all had the ATTITUDE and that look, that wild-eyed look to fight and fight hard with an unbelievable will to win which resonated throughout all of us. This is something I instil into my own students today.
(SB) How close did you all become as team mates and did this, having this strong backing behind you, motivate and inspire you to do better?
(GB) It made us closer as we all wanted each other to win our individual fights and team fights. We’d support each other to the max, which motivated and inspired the next person to do well. Obviously that was against other people or other teams, when it came down to individual fights against each other, it was a case of every man for themselves, as we all knew we had a ding-dong of fight on our hands, which was probably fantastic for everyone else to watch but so intense for us.
(SB) Jumping a little ahead in time now. As a coach how have you with your own squad in your own association developed this close bond between members of the squad?
(GB) The Hasha England squad has an unbelievably strong bonding. We have England squad sessions every week religiously in order to develop technically. We also socialise a lot, which helps the squad. Everyone is at ease and this was evident at the JSKA World Championships as we backed each other to the max during the team and in the individuals, taking Silver and Bronze, plus the team took a fourth place which was a fantastic result. After squad sessions we’ll have a sauna and Jacuzzi. It’s very important to relax the muscles, iron out the aches and pains, then we see the club physio for a little TLC, to discuss how training had gone and what things the squad members should be working on next. So a close bond is important.
(SB) In what year did you face Masao Kagawa at the World Championships? Can you please tell us your memories of fighting him?
(GB) Yeah sure. Kagawa had just won The All Japan Champions and was a man on form. I remember seeing him for the first time as we walked into the Brisbane Arena Sports complex in 1988 at The JKA World Championships in Australia. He was with Tomio Imamura, he was an awesome fighter too, but I had one thing in my favour, my training consisted of fighting one or both men at these World Championships.
After training sessions while my adrenaline was high, I’d watch video tapes of both men fighting in order to give myself some understanding into their psyche, get an understanding of their rhythm and timing of techniques.
This was something I had always done. I’d discuss it with my father and look at the best approach on attack, defence and what to do if it reached a sudden death situation. We trained hard for this and I was on song too.
I faced him twice. The first encounter was in the individual kumite and the second in the team kumite. In the individuals I went out there with the attitude to give it to him. “No matter what, go out there and take the fight to him”, which I did. I don’t think he was ready for this approach and such an aggressive attitude too. I remember hearing the crowd go wild as I sent him back with some powerful techniques and caught him with a punch combo receiving a Wazari. After a couple of exchanges I caught him with mawashi geri jodan, which sent him to the floor, earning me an Ippon and the match.
The second encounter was rather similar as I took the fight to him again securing the team match for England. I was so proud, a young 21 year old 2nd Dan fighting in my first World Championships in a three man squad, taking a bronze medal in the individual kumite and silver in the team kumite. As I said earlier there were eight other squad members gunning for the same three positions and only three could go so the build up was so intense. All positions for this tournament were based on our present tournament rankings in British and European tournaments. The hard work definitely paid off, “Thanks Par”.
(SB) Do you remember who else was on the Japan team when you fought Masao Kagawa?
(GB) The Japanese team consisted of Masao Kagawa, Tomio Imamura and Minoru Kawawada. All three men have won the JKA All Japan Championships at one point. Kawawada and Kagawa have both been Grand Champions winning both Kata and Kumite events. All three men know the game and knew it well, all are strong powerful fighters.
(SB) Throughout your career, did you face many of the other famous Japanese JKA Instructors? Can you tell us about them?
(GB) Yeah at the same tournament I faced Tomio Imamura in the semi-finals of the World Champions. This was a hard fight. I went at him like a bat out of hell. We had a few clashes and he scored with a jodan kizami zuki. Quite a few people who watched this fight said the punch missed. The match resumed and I caught him with a pearling ashi barai. To this day I feel it was the best one I’ve ever performed. It totally upended him. I countered with kizami zuki and gyaku zuki as he went down, but for some mysterious reason the referee gave him the score and I was out of the tournament.
I don’t worry about it too much. You see, there’s kind of a code of conduct. You don’t whinge if a decision goes the other way, you accept it. You see when we shook hands I could see it in his face, I knew and he knew and that means a lot to me. The crowd was incensed by the decision. But you bow and fight another day. As long as I fight hard and to the best of my ability, then I’m happy.
(SB) Who would you consider to be your most challenging opponent? Could you please recall your memories?
(GB) Hum! Yes, there are a few. I’d have to say Ronnie Christopher, Frank Brennan and Elwyn Hall, Ian Roberts and Randy Williams. Like I said before, when you’re fighting for your place in the England squad it doesn’t get much harder than fighting these guys. Let’s put it this way, when you can handle that kind of a pressure pot for fifteen years, I know I could travel to any Dojo in the world and not get stressed as I was already training, fighting and winning against the world’s best… Nothing else could bother me. These guys were the best in the karate world and I was one of them, every training session was testing and challenging.
(SB) So would you say that fighting your fellow KUGB Squad was the most challenging fighters you came up against?
(GB) Yes they are along with the three Japanese I’ve mentioned. The reason I say this is because they all fight with their whole being, a formidable will to win without giving up. This is hard to combat unless you train in the same way.
(SB) In what year did you decide to compete and become a part of the All-Styles Team? How did that come about?
It was somewhere in the 80’s. The KUGB team had competed and won the EKGB team championships again and I had won the individual 75kg weight category again. I was selected by Ticky to go and fight in Budapest with his England squad. This was a fantastic experience. It wasn’t as much as when was I going to compete for Ticky’s England squad, but more to the point when was the politics going to stop hindering us from competing against other organisations which has stopped many a competitor from entering and possibly winning major tournaments which is a shame. But with politics standing in the way, it will make things very difficult for Karate to become an Olympic sport.
(SB) You also competed in the All-Styles British Championships. How different was it to compete in all-styles competition compared to the Shotokan only competitions?
(GB) People always ask me the same question and I answer it the same way that is to treat it exactly the same way. Why would you change your fighting style? It just doesn’t make sense. I look at it as if you were outside. You wouldn’t ask the person what style they did or what rules they fought to ie. Shobu-Ippon or Sanbon. I fight the same way, fight to win, no matter what the other person’s strategy. I fight the same way, fight to win.
I’ve fought in numerous EKGB tournaments in the team and individuals. I’ve won the EKGB individual championships three times against some very worthy opponents and I’ve won the EKGB team championship at least three times. I’ve also been a team member of the England squad headed by Ticky Donavan. I put it down to hard training in order to be head hunted for both England squads. There’s only been a handful of people who have had the ability to cross over to both sides.
(SB) You mentioned Ticky Donovan and being in a squad headed by him. His coaching abilities are internationally renowned. Can you please tell us a little about your time being coached by him and give us an insight into why he has developed such a respected reputation?
(GB) Ticky trained you hard. He also had a very relaxed atmosphere that obviously made things easier for the athlete.
(SB) Would you please give us an insight into some of the things Ticky Donovan would stress in his Squad sessions, and possibly share some exercises or drills he used?
(GB) He’d work on light, but fast combo techniques, drills, which he would make you do up and down the Dojo floor. Plus pad work in a line then he’d pair you up for free style. Squad selection would be similar but there would be about 100 hopefuls training on the day then you’d fight off for your place.
(SB) Who at these all-styles competitions were also successful? Could you give us an insight into the fighters from the other styles who were successful at this time also?
(GB) Oh! Gosh there were so many from different styles a lot of them were very good indeed which made tournaments interesting.
(SB) When you visit many all-style competitions, today it is very difficult in the kumite to distinguish what style the competitor practices…they all look the same. Do you think this is a good or bad thing that Shotokan in these competitions have lost many of its characteristics and has it always been this way?
(GB) Hum! Yes I see what you’re saying and you’re right; a lot of the fighters do look the same these days, as you say you can’t distinguish what style the competitor practices. I think it goes back to what I said earlier, why would you change? If you do change then it’s down to you trying to fit in with the rest. I feel you lose your identity, your individuality; that’s what makes me different from the crowd.
(SB) When you look back over your fighting career, what do you think has been the key to your success?
(GB) Now, now Shaun I can’t tell you all my secrets ha, ha. What I can say though is I put it down to lots of hard training. You may think this is a little obsessive but I train seven days a week and I’m blessed with a squad that has the same dedication to train just as hard, which I like.
This has paid off in my own organisation. Hasha International Karate the England squad has taken 1st place in junior and senior Northern Open Championships and National Championships. The senior squad, consisting of talented fighters such as: Jason Netherton, Antony Pendlebury, Dave Ward, Steven Pendlebury and John Marsh have taken 1st place in the senior team kumite in both the Northern Open Championships and the National Championships. We took an individual World Silver medal, an individual World Bronze medal and a fourth place in the team kumite at the JSKA World Championships.
So for me correct training is the key, we have a saying in Hasha International Karate. It is Mukin Shori. “The way to success has no short cuts”. In short what I’m saying is train wisely, train hard, but remember the way to success is long and hard, it has no short cuts. In order to achieve your goals you must train correctly.
(SB) As a fighter, and also as a coach, what do you consider to be the most significant things to develop in order to be a successful fighter?
(GB) As a fighter you need that unstoppable will to win, your concentration shouldn’t wander. Techniques should be practised tirelessly in order to perfect them. They must be done with deadliest seriousness at all times.
There are certain drills which I’ll use in order to develop certain aspects of kumite which in turn helps develop my athletes mentally and physically.
I’ll change caps now. As a coach I’m looking at each of my fighters; what are their strengths, what’s their weakness, what’s needed in order for them to develop in terms of their kata or kumite? There are loads more things, but I don’t want to give away too much. If you want to find out more guys you can contact the website and book for courses at: www.georgebestkarate.com
(SB) Once you have identified one of your fighters’ strengths and weaknesses where do you go from here? Do you tailor squad sessions so that each fighter is working on what it is that they need?
(GB) If it’s a strength, then I capitalise on it. If it’s a weakness then I dissect what it is they’re doing until it’s corrected. Plus I do take time talk to each squad member. It tells them I value each one of them as well as a team unit.
(SB) Specifically, what competitors most influenced you would you say – from either fighting them or watching them?
(GB) I’d have to say Masahiko Tanaka. I’d watch his movement, study his strategy and most importantly adapt and change them where necessary in order for things to work for me. I’d take things from other fighters, such as Terry O’Neill, as everyone is aware Terry is a big man extremely strong, agile, fast and dextrous with hand or foot so I’d look at his style in order to incorporate and blend these styles in order to invent my own way of moving.
(SB) You speak about Masahiko Tanaka who of course is renowned for his fighting prowess. You mentioned that you studied his strategy. Can you tell us what you learned about his fighting method?
(GB) Tanaka has brilliant movement, very agile fast and has extremely good footwork. These are things I picked up on. There are certain things that I’ll work on in order to train myself to move in a certain way. I’ll use the same method when training the England squad which helps develop their fighting too.
Tanaka was an All Japan Champion plus he won the World Championships at the age of 41. Again this shows Tanaka’s awesome ability to train and compete at such a high level.
(SB) And how about coaches or teachers? Who had the biggest impact on you?
(GB) That’s the easiest question for me to answer and it’s my father. I’ve had many coaches, the sole thing I can put it down to is the fact we are father and son. He knows what buttons to press to get the best out of me. He can see just by looking, he understands exactly what is needed from me in order to develop, then we’d work on it. I work the same way with Hasha International Karate squad members, feedback has been great and results speak for themselves.
(SB) Can you please tell us why you decided to leave the KUGB and go your own way?
(GB) Yeah, if you look at it in terms of going to university and you’ve graduated, obviously you’re looking to start work in a certain profession or start your own business. Within the KUGB it was difficult to move up in the structure, so the only logical thing to do was to move outside of the organisation and start Hasha International Karate. I’m not the only person to have left who has competed for the KUGB and won at a high level and I’m sure I won’t be the last.
I met with Jason Netherton who is one of Hasha International Karate’s senior instructors. We have grown and gained in strength over the years. Our members have developed at an alarming rate and this is pleasing to see.
We have developed the Instructor Qualification Course or IQC.
This is used to develop our instructors under Hasha International Karate’s curriculum. Our curriculum is also used in many schools within PE.
But returning to the original question sometimes you have to move on and I am very happy where I am today, very happy with Hasha International Karate, extremely happy with the members and the England squad.
I have to say a big thank you to the senior instructors of Hasha International Karate: Jason Netherton, Antony Pendlebury, Dave Ward, Steven Pendlebury, John Marsh, Joe Prem and Kate Chauveau.
(SB) We were introduced while at the JSKA World Championships in 2008 by Ged Moran. When I spoke to people at the event, everyone was very eager to watch you fight. Why, when you have such a wonderful competitive record, do you still continue to compete?
(GB) Ha, ha, as they say it’s in the blood Shaun. Seriously though in order to develop Hasha International Karate and its members I have to lead from the front. The way I train is the way I want the England squad to train and perform along with the rest of the organisation, so I give it my all in training. I put my all into developing all Hasha International Karate’s members. That’s the way I am and all the members see that too.
I don’t ask the team to do what I can’t do, so if I ask the team to go out there and deliver in a competition, I go out there first and deliver. I show them what I want by going out there and performing at my best. “No pressure by the way” ha, ha. It gives the guys the incentive to perform when they see me go out there and perform too. Plus I’ve been blessed as I haven’t had any serious injuries and this has prolonged my career and allowed me to train and compete for so long and at such a high level too.
(SB) One question that has floated about on THE SHOTOKAN WAY for a while regards the issue of timing. Do you think having a good sense of timing is something good fighters are naturally blessed with, or do you think it can be learned? If you agree with the latter, how do you as a coach go about developing this sensitivity to timing with your opponent?
(GB) Ha, ha, ha now, now Shaun you’re at it again. I don’t want to give away too much but I’ll give you a little insight into it. It’s definitely a learned process. People just look at one aspect, “Timing”. They see it as the be all and end all. For me it’s the whole package: Distance, Timing and appropriate Technique. For me these are key factors, you can’t have one without the other. But if people would like to know more, please contact the website and book a course at www.georgbestkarate.com
(SB) How has tournament fighting changed do you think since you first started competing, and how big an influence has sport WKF karate had on traditional Shobu-Ippon fighters?
(GB) Since the introduction of sport WKF Karate things have changed considerably. I feel the martial spirit has been taken out of it. Back in the day a technique would only score if it was a solid technique within Shobu-Ippon. We had a gentleman’s agreement, by this I mean if you took a smack, it was considered as part of the sport. You bowed and you got on with it. This is where the Budo side comes into it. The Way of The Warrior. We have to remember it is in fact a MARTIAL ART.
But I’m not saying you should maim the other person either. Control is a key factor. A good technique is one which makes contact, but without damaging the other person too much. Back in the day we competed without pads and yes there were injuries, something needed to be done and as a result gum shields, mitts and footpads were introduced. Some may say this adds to injuries as competitors tend to try and hit the person, this is another bowl of contention.
I also hear the argument for sport WKF Karate and I understand this too.
In order for it gain support and be recognised by the IOC it needs to look attractive to the audience, have a sexy appeal in terms of a scoring system that the audience can get to grips with. Flamboyant red and blue mitts with belts, foot pads… All this is fine but we need to keep the Budo. The Way of The Warrior, this is important.
We have to remember, sport WKF Karate came from the origins of Shobu-Ippon fighting. “One strike, one kill”. This is the motto and to me this is how it should be, this is the Budo way.
(SB) So would you support the introduction of karate into the Olympics? What impact will this have do you think on traditional karate?
(GB) Hum! This is a hard question. I’d love to see Karate in the Olympics but at what cost? It would have to have Shobu-Ippon Kumite in it to. I’m going to mention a few things first. For me the way forward would be to have Shobu-Ippon and WKF Karate in the Olympics, let me expand on this.
The Olympics already have Volley Ball and Beach Volley Ball, all be it one is played on sand and the other on a hard surface. Plus you have Basket Ball and Net ball, the principal rules and the games are roughly the same and these sports are accepted as Olympic sports. So why not have Karate? Traditional and WKF Sport Karate? The obvious question does come to mind though. It has to be done democratically in England and I mean a Supporting Body working with each organisation NOT a Governing Body in which you have to affiliate to and if your organisation fits, then we may let a couple of your members go if you’re lucky.
A Governing Body does exactly that, it tells its members what it can and can’t do, it tells its members which tournaments and courses they can go to.
The Governing Body holds its own tournaments which non affiliated members can’t enter. Then they select from their own. How can this work? When there are lots of good karateka in the country not getting a look in due to the fact that a Governing Body has sole control of an event, or they simply accept one organisation per country and side tacking the rest!
Now a Supporting Body does exactly what it says on the tin, it supports its members. If they want courses from someone from another organisation, then they support the members and put the course on. Now if you want to find a top calibre athlete for your team then open it up to organisations that would like to have a shot at competing. I’m sure you’ll see a big difference. I feel there is a very big void stopping Karate here in England and stopping it getting into the Olympics. I feel it will one day make its entrance into the Olympics but at what cost? Will the Tradition go? Or will the flash WKF prevail? That’s one question I can’t answer Shaun, what I do know is there’s a way both can survive if they are both selected as Olympic sports on their own merits, one as Traditional and the other as Sport Karate.
(SB) Shotokan fighting to some extent has been characterised by the use of gyaku-zuki and often very little else. Would this suggest do you think that Shobu-Ippon is predominantly defence-based…what are your feelings on this?
(GB) Hum! Yes I see what you’re saying but I put it down to the fighter, I like to have a wide and varied approach to my fighting as it keeps my opponent guessing which is good for me, and a big problem for them. Some people have a very limited approach and feel only a couple of techniques will suffice, hence they may want to defend. I think it’s a case of what’s best for each person and what techniques they feel comfortable with, but I wouldn’t just put it down to Shotokan fighting and Shobu Ippon fighters as I’ve seen it in sport WKF Karate too.
For instance you may have watched a sport WKF Karate tournament and may have seen them go at it fast and furiously. This is because they:
1. Have more time on the clock
2. Are fighting for more points
This means they have more time and chances to play with, while in Shobu-Ippon fighting, you have the “One strike one kill” attitude: kill or be killed.
So in Shobu, a person may take more time and just stick with something easy like a gyaku-zuki. But in sport WKF Karate a person may think, well I’ve got time on the clock, I can be flamboyant, so I’ll throw some outlandish techniques knowing they have time to pull a score back or win.
But saying all of this, I myself have competed on both sides of the coin and have successfully transferred my skills set into both tournament settings. For me it’s more about fighting the person at hand. If I concentrate on wining then I know I can win. Time and the amount of points are secondary “the main objective is to win”. But coming back to the question at hand, I feel it’s down to the fighter and how wide and varied their arsenal is. If you’ve got more in the locker then when you call on it, you’ll bring it out at the right time.
(SB) What do you think is most vital to develop, speed or timing? Or do you think they are inseparable?
(GB) Now for me these are two separate entities. Speed is something you have to work on. There are drills which you can use in order to develop speed of technique, be it hand or foot or speed of footwork in terms of yori ash.
Timing, it’s like I said before, for me timing encompasses the whole thing, distance, timing and appropriate technique. For me you can’t have one without the other.
(SB) Do you think it is important to fine tune a small variety of techniques rather than a wide variety, and if so can you please explain why, and what are the main weapons in your arsenal of techniques?
(GB) Ha, ha, ha! Well I can’t tell you what they are. I don’t really have a favourite technique I just train and use everything in my arsenal.
(SB) You are most renown for your competition in kumite…did you enjoy competing in kata also?
(GB) Oh! Yeah I love Kata. I’ve competed and won British and European Championships, I was on the England junior squad, which gained 3rd place in the European Championships. I’ve also been British Grand Champion wining Kata and Kumite. People seem to think I just fight but Kata is so very important in my Karate which I practice every day. For me Kata is Kumite, without Kata there is no Kumite.
(SB) What is your favourite kata and why?
(GB) I have at least three, which I think are the best kata in the Shotokan series. They are: Kanku sho, Niju shiho and Sochin. One Kata to get me through the preliminaries, one I would use if I drew and the other I’d use in the final. I chose these Kata for their smoothness, speed, and power in certain places. All have kicking techniques and as you are aware kicking is my forte so I feel they suit my whole persona.
(SB) What are your hopes for the future, and where do you see your own karate heading?
(GB) My hopes and dreams for the future lie firmly with Hasha International Karate. I’m focused on driving the organisation into the future while making sure the Karate I teach is at its best. We hold open courses on a regular basis, which are well attended by many organisations and groups.
If the past has anything to go by, then the future looks so bright for Hasha International Karate and the UKGB, United Karate of Great Britain, an umbrella supporting body which is set up for groups who are apolitical and wish to train on courses, squad sessions and tournaments without the politics. We have just finished a course with another 100 Karate-ka taking part, the feedback has been phenomenal with clubs asking for more of the same. Another course will be held in the near future. If clubs and associations are interested in joining the UKGB, then please don’t hesitate to contact us. Clubs can join up, train and compete making it completely open without the politics.
For more information on courses with George and the UKGB please contact us at: www.georgebestkarate.com
(SB) Can we please say a very big thank you for this opportunity to speak with you and gain an insight into your karate. May we also wish you every success for the future!
(GB) Once again Shaun I’d like to thank you and The Shotokan Way for inviting me to do this interview it was a pleasure, thank you.