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Paul Herbert 5th Dan
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A few weeks ago, Pat Jamieson (Technical Director for the National Karate Institute Scotland) sent me the new book ‘Ronnie Watt, 8th Dan’ by Dr. C. Layton. As a fan of his work, I was very excited to read this new piece, but was also eager to learn more about this widely respected karateka, Ronnie Watt.


I must admit to not knowing too much about Scottish karate. Whilst I’ve always known that the standard of Scottish karate is second-to-none, I knew very little about its history and development. Although I have never had the opportunity to meet him, I had heard the name Ronnie Watt many times, always followed by a very positive, praising remark. Therefore, when I was offered a copy of this new book, I was very eager to get my teeth into it.


Through reading quite a lot of Layton’s work, I had gotten to know his style and approach to writing quite well. He is, after all, one of the world’s most respected martial art writers and is renowned for his thorough and meticulously detailed approach. I’ve read most of his books several times and the likes of ‘Masao Kawasoe, 8th Dan’ and ‘Shotokan Dawn’ are amongst some of my favourite reading material.


I received the book on the Saturday morning and I had hit it pretty hard by mid day. Emma had been away with friends for the day, so I had quite a few hours to marinate in the story of this highly respected karateka and instructor.


In his typically detailed exploration of Watt’s life, Clive Layton compiles a story of one man’s dedication to Shotokan Karate, using thorough analysis of archive written and video material, and in-depth interviews with the man himself.


This is exactly the type of karate book I love. It’s factual and informative, but most significantly, it’s incredibly story led. It’s filled with detailed descriptions of the events that have moulded Watt’s karate life. Through these stories, told vividly by Watt, we get to know far more than the details of years gone by however. We get to know Ronnie Watt the man.


We hear stories from his first journey to Japan, a trip organised by Sensei S. Kato. He discusses the training there, notably the training at Takushoku University under Sensei K. Tsuyama and sparring with Omura.  I, like most karateka, love to hear such stories and they are told so well that every page is a pleasure. You can visualise the events, smell the scents of the dojos, and hear the kiais booming throughout the stories.


Much of the book of course looks at the so called ‘Golden Years’ of Shotokan Karate – pre splits, separations and splintering. Today, it would be odd to have a seminar and hear certain names being listed alongside one another in the same sentence. Back then however, the karate scene was very different and this makes for superb reading as this era, no matter how well documented, remains very much in the interest of karateka today. What struck me in reading this however, made me a little sad. In many ways, there’s a reality that things are no longer quite what they were. Technically, karate arguably has advanced to no end, but there are so many organisations, so many groups, all separated, and unwilling to communicate. All great karate, without any interaction, and this struck me as quite sad.


This aside however, it’s a real treat to hear about the seminars, events and experiences had by Watt over the years; conveyed through his own character and Layton’s deep delving writing style. We hear about times spent with Senseis Enoeda, Kanazawa, Kawasoe, Kase, Shirai, Tsuyama, Osaka etc… the list is quite endless and is a real feast for the shotokan enthusiast.


One wonderful part of the book is the analysis of a video filmed during Sensei Nakayama’s visit to Scotland. It details the events of the seminars and the technical details stressed by Nakayama Sensei and the other visiting Japanese instructors. I loved this, and read this in complete excitement. Footage such as this must be terribly rare, so to have details of its content is wonderful, and really caught my attention.


We hear, with great depth, about his decision to join Sensei Kase’s group WSKA. Kase is one instructor, very much at the top of my list, that I wish I had been lucky enough to train under. He visited Wales in the past, but a little before my time…missed out there, but I had often heard many stories of Sensei Kase and his karate. I loved to hear some of the stories and memories shared by Watt about his experiences with Sensei Kase – in particular about his personality and the extent to which budo was a part of everyday life, rather than a Monday and Wednesday occurrence (something all too common). I was enthralled by his description of Sensei Kase drinking from a glass and the manner in which he did so (I’ll let you read it to find out more). This all fascinated me, and tickled my karate taste buds!


As the front cover indicates, Ronnie Watt is the ‘Director of Shotokan of the World Karate Confederation’. Therefore, the final chapter is dedicated to this current phase in Watt’s journey and his involvement with the WKC. This I enjoyed, for although I had originally had a little background information on the WKC, this gave me a fuller understanding of its goals and developments.


Supporting all stories and descriptions of events, and visually aiding the mental pictures being created, we are given a vast and wonderful set of photographs. A pleasure in themselves, they show Watt’ journey in picture – training under and spending time with many top class karateka and gives the stories a beautiful visual context


Something quite remarkable with this book, as with all of Layton’s work, is the ‘References and Notes’ section at the end of the book. This section is a book in itself, and is a perfect drop in centre if you want to read some interesting facts, or read something less substantial.


When reading any kind of biographical material, it is important I feel, to not simply be fed a long list of events held together tenuously with detail. For me, it’s essential to get down to the nitty-gritty, and get a real sense of personality and character. Through reading this book, I most certainly felt I got to know Ronnie Watt. Layton’s writing style facilitated this, and it made for great reading.


I cannot stress enough to you all that Layton’s books are essential reading. They are informative, super detailed, and highly respected for their accuracy. If you want to learn more about Scottish karate, and one of its leading figures, then this book is most certainly for you!


Shaun Banfield


To purchase this book, please visit MONA BOOKS on www.monacomputers.co.uk/monabooks/index.php or contact Mike on mike@monabooks.co.uk