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Paul Herbert 5th Dan
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'When I attack, I score...when they attack, I score'


An Interview with Wayne Otto OBE


Wayne Otto’s philosophy to fighting is this: ‘when I attack, I score… when they attack, I score.’ It is quite fitting and logical therefore, that he is regarded as one of the most successful fighters to come out of Great Britain, and as one of Britain’s ‘Greats’, I was very eager to interview him and get his thoughts and ideas. Here in this interview, he speaks about his competition career, his training philosophy, and his experiences later on as one of the England team’s coaches. In this interview, we get an insight into his experiences fighting under an international spotlight, his relationship with his former Coach Ticky Donovan and an insight into how he became such a successful fighter, and how he in turn is working with others so that they can also excel on a grand scale. – S. Banfield 08


Many thanks to Bo Channon, and all the readers of the site for their contribution for submitting suggested questions. (Shaun Banfield)     Can you please tell us how and why you first started karate?


(Wayne Otto)     I first started karate in 1980, basically out of jealousy really.  A friend/rival came to school one day with a really big trophy. I decided I wanted one so he took me to his club and I began training.


Wayne Otto OBE(SB)     And why exactly did you decide to follow a path in competition?


(WO)     Athletes, who train and dedicate their time to the sporting side of karate, deserve no less recognition than any Olympic athlete. The level of training, the commitment necessary and the mental attributes needed to succeed with the sport, gives an athlete a clear understanding of how to express oneself in the competition arena and to perform.


My path in competition was initially solely driven by the need to express what I have learnt and ultimately to win trophies. Later on this desire would change in my career, this drive would be replaced by the need to perform to the best of my ability, win or lose. In the end it wasn’t enough just to win, it also mattered how I won.


(SB)     You are now considered one of the greatest fighters to have come out of the UK. Can you please tell us what you consider to be the most important skills a fighter today in Modern competition must have to succeed?


(WO)     The modern fighter today should have, above all, self belief in ones ability to perform to the highest level, determination to succeed, discipline, and mental toughness.  In addition with regards to the physical attributes, fighters should be fit, have a good range of techniques, speed, and above all, excellent timing and reaction.


(SB)     And how would you suggest someone hoping to succeed in the competitive arena could improve such attributes such as timing and reaction? Do you have any methods/exercises or tips to pass onto readers who want to pursue a career in competition?


(WO)     Someone looking to improve their abilities in competition is pretty much straight forward, it’s not easy and it takes time. First an individual must decide what techniques and strategies for fighting they wish to improve, don’t tackle the whole aspect of fighting all at once, it’s too big to consume. Choose 2 or 3 techniques during training and repeat these techniques over and over using different conditions for executing them. Once they have the techniques perfected the way they wish, it is time to execute these techniques in real time i.e. (creating the scenarios in the dojo for the techniques}.


For timing and reaction training, this best done with a partner where the one half of the partnership provides the target which is revealed to the other side at random intervals and the other side reacts with a given technique, usually reverse punch.


Ultimately in order to improve an athlete should look to compete in as many tournaments as they can using the techniques they have worked on. The more you compete the more experience gained, the better each performance should strive to be there after.


(SB)     You mention the importance of speed in Modern Competition. In your experience what are the best methods of developing this kind of speed?


(WO)     Developing speed is much to do with repetition of techniques and additional training methods such as Resistance, Ply metric and sprint training.


Resistance training helps with the speed and explosive quality of the techniques.


Ply metric develops the dynamic explosive movements necessary for the athlete to move from A to B quickly.


Sprint training helps with all aspects including endurance and strength.


(SB)     Who played a major part in your competitive career and in what ways did they develop your skills?


(WO)     First and foremost my influence was my instructor, Terry Daly.  His influence was pivotal in my development, both professional and personal. 


Although there are numerous individuals, who have contributed to my career, I can only name a few, such as Ticky Donovan OBE, who I regard as the dictionary of karate, and is someone who has taught me a great deal throughout my career.


Other individuals who have influenced my career are names such as Joe Williams, Vic Charles, Geoff Thompson, Pat Mackay and Mick Salisman, who I regard as one of the best sweep and takedown competitor I have ever seen. 


My peers such as Ian Cole, Mervin Ettienne, Willi Thomas, Molly Samuels, and the Toney Twins to name but a few have all at sometime influenced my career.


(SB)     In your competitive career who would you say was your hardest opponent, and could you share your memories of that fight?


(WO)     I couldn’t really say who my hardest opponent was because I have had so many difficult fights within my time, and for different reasons.


Some fighters you fear because you think they are quicker then you, some you fear because you think they are smarter than you, but most you fear because you think they are going to hurt you.  I have had all but the fighters that stick in my mind are Christoph Pinna of France, Allan Lehetet of France, Paul Alderson of England, Thomas Herrero of Spain, Augustus Paul of England. Emmanuel Pindar of France, and Talarico of Italy.  However the one fight that haunts me was at the world championships in South Africa, 1996, the team final against France.


The teams were both level on points and the result had to be decided on a sudden death fight.  France sent out their best fighter, Giles Cherdeau and I went out for England.  The fight started off well, I scored the first point.  Then he scored second.


Two seconds from the end of the fight, he scored again.  With two seconds remaining on the clock, to the amazement of all, I managed to score a point to which many thought should have been ippon, and the winner.  However this was not meant to be, as the bout was even, the fight went to enchosen… Sudden death!


He won.


Not the hardest opponent I have ever fought, but the one fight that I will always remember. 


(SB)     In footage I have watched of you, one thing that particularly stands out is your excellent skill with the leg sweeps. May I ask how you developed these to be such deadly tools and do you have any methods of training and developing them?


(WO)     Sweep techniques were born mainly out of necessity.  Kicking was not one of my strongest tools that I had in my arsenal, so I had to try to develop other techniques which would gain higher points.  Sweeping therefore became a natural technique for me.  I had good hand speed, timing and excellent footwork.  All that was missing was the sweep techniques so I watched others who I considered to be good at sweeping and copied them.


Developing sweeps & takedowns is not easy because it requires a partner who is willing to take the fall, all the time, and training this way is not always practical.  The greatest tool for developing sweeps is the mental repetition of the techniques as you have seen it performed, and developing an instinct and timing for executing the technique. 


(SB)     You mentioned your footwork. How important would you say good footwork is to a fighter and how does having good footwork benefit you as a fighter? Any drills you would care to give to our readers to fine-tune or enhance their footwork?


(WO)     I suppose good foot work is necessary, however as you get older and wiser the idea of moving around the tatami and bouncing around really becomes quite redundant as we try to become more efficient as a fighter and not waste as much energy, coupled with the fact that at 34 years old you are probably not as fit as you were when you were 24, and the less you have to chase your opponent the better.


Still, good footwork does allow you to change your movements rapidly and become less predictable when fighting and in some case can distract your opponent, which you can use to your advantage whilst fighting.


(SB)     When you step out onto the tatami, or when you coach your fighters, what kind of mindset do you encourage them to have? To think and anaylse the fight as it’s happening or do you encourage them to not think but just react?


(WO)     When I was competing, I think I always had a game plan.  You could analyze a fighter’s ability before you go out to fight them, if you have the opportunity to see what they fight like, beforehand… but the game plan is always the same.  That is to score the first point, the second, the third, the fourth etc.  Ha ha!


The mindset, I think, is very much an individual process for each athlete, however the obvious must always hold true, and that is that the fighter should always think in a positive manner, generate a certain amount of aggression and, place themselves mentally in a state of readiness to perform.  They must also have the ability to react and change according to how the fight is going.


As a coach you always try to install in your athletes the best of what you have to offer, and your own experiences.  A lot of the theories & game plans I have used, do get passed down to the athletes.  In particular, the theory that is, ‘when I attack, I score… when they attack, I score.’


(SB)     WKF by some is considered quite an intelligent approach to karate fighting, what kinds of strategies do you get your students to work on and practice?


(WO)     In short, the athletes preparation for competition is varied and at times, complex.  Many things are taken into consideration, such as the period for training, and the type of training done at a particular time.  However athletes should always work on attacking & defending techniques, counter-reacting techniques, reaction & timing, ring craft i.e. Movement around the tatami, and understanding what techniques should be executed in particular circumstances during the fight. However above all I think that competitors today focus too much on the winning and losing, the most important aspect should be their personal performance. Athletes should strive to perform to the best of their ability each time and to improve on each performance each time. If their best is good enough to win then they will. Winning and losing should ultimately be regarded as by products of their performance.


(SB)     You are an important figure in the England Squad. Can you please tell us about how and why you decided to go down this route?


(WO)     After my success at the 1990 & 1992 world championships, I was approached by the coach, Ticky Donovan OBE, saying that he would like me to help more with regards to the national squad.  I wasn’t sure what I had to offer, to be honest, but as a close knit squad, we always helped each other, but I think Ticky had it in mind that I should play a much higher role in the development of the squad.


Only after I retired, I was then approached by Ticky to be his assistant coach, which after some consideration, I then decided that this could be another chapter in my career within the sport.  From here on, the main drive was not only to be known as a great competitor, but also as a formidable coach.


My years as a coach have been striving to achieve this goal.


(SB)     And can you tell us about working with Sensei Ticky Donovan and how he has influenced you?

 Wayne Otto OBE competing

(WO)     Ticky has for the longest time played an major role in my development as a competitor and a coach, and I think because we have both been around each other for so long that a lot of his ideas about competing, training and techniques have definitely rubbed off on me.


The result of this close contact is that when we worked together in the past during our athlete/ coach relationship, we understood what we required from each other in order for us to achieve ours goals and objectives. In the beginning, it was never a smooth partnership, and in fact for the first few years we were relatively strangers.  However as time went on I was able to trust his judgment when he was coaching me, and perform to a standard that afforded me a lot of titles.


Near the end of my career our understanding of each other was at a high level that although he was still there on the seat coaching the verbal communication between us was virtually no existent, and through key words exchanged between us, we were able to get the job done.


The coaching side, and working along side Ticky is basically a continuation of what we had while I was competing. Our style of teaching techniques is of a very similar nature, obviously because I have watched him work for so long. The type of techniques we both like to teach and use are also of the same nature, and on numerous occasions we have both taught techniques in a session and have commented about how we were going to teach that same techniques or teach a particular concept to the athletes. It is fair to say that I have been groomed to be the next national coach of England and I have been schooled well.


Just like in my fighting I have always constantly tried to develop myself and always look to improve on what others have taught me. I am now an accomplished coach with ideas and views of my own, and I am able to stand with any of the top coaches in the world today and be respected and recognized for my accomplishments. Working with Ticky was a tremendous experience and it has placed me firm within this sport for many years to come.


(SB)     Obviously as a coach you encounter a wide range of different types of fighters. Would you say natural skill is a primary ingredient in a successful fighter or do you think you can make someone a successful fighter?


(WO)     I think this is a debate that will always have two sides to it and an argument that can only continue for decades to come. My view is this; I don’t think a fighter has to have a natural skill in doing karate and performing techniques to be a great fighter. An athlete could just have the basic skill and be average but with hard work and after some time the athlete will be able to perform all the techniques required. It doesn’t matter whether the athlete acquire these skills in 2 years or 5 years, and in my experience it has always been the athlete that had to train the hardest because they were not natural gifted that has always in the long run been the better athlete. And this could be a key to the nature of the athlete.


I think the key ingredient to a successful fighters make up has nothing to do with what he is taught technically, but more about what they are exposed too and experience through others around them, and how they react. What I am taking about is the athlete’s social background and training environment, and the athlete’s mental toughness, courage, desire and will to succeed.


I was not successful because I grew up in Hackney; it was because I grew up there that I had to be mentally tough to survive. But Hackney could have been Knightsbridge and the mental pressure might have been different but the reaction might well have been the same. My environment determined how I reacted to situations, my karate club had some very tough individuals, therefore if I didn’t train hard and develop myself, I would get hurt, and on many occasions I did. Now it is at this point that you have a choice, do you crumble and forget it and just be happy to coast and settle for mediocrity or do you stand up, mentally resolve yourself to the fact that the road ahead is going to be hard and train harder and fight. Now if you are a fighter of any discipline and you are successful I already know what your answer is! But the question is can you teach that kind of instinctive reaction? Can you teach ‘Bottle?’ I don’t think so!


(SB)     What do normal kumite squad sessions consist of, if you don’t mind sharing?


(WO)     In short a typical session may depend on what concept of Kumite is to be taught. However the format may be of the following:


  • 15 – 20 min warm up and stretching period (I prefer to do light sparring for this)
  • Technical session on the techniques and concepts needed to be taught.
  • Pair work, which then progresses to some line work.
  • Work the techniques in real time scenarios, trying to recreate situations in the dojo that may be face on the tatami in competition.


(SB)     And are there any nations in particular that have influenced your approach to squad coaching?


(WO)     Not really, I do take note of other countries success at various championships, and I do keep a breast of what fighters are doing in order to be successful in competition, but in general I do believe that Karate in England is amongst the highest in the world. We have always been world leaders and innovators within this sport and I suppose that attitude has always remained with me.


(SB)     What types of training outside of karate would you advise to suit the karate training, but enhance the competitor’s strength, speed and stamina?


(WO)     A karate athlete’s training outside of the dojo is quite varied and will range from roadwork to strength and conditioning.


This will involve some long distance running, sprint training, distance speed runs, and Hill Sprints.


Weight training, circuit training, Heavy Bag work, Focus pad training and Mirror work.


In addition the athlete will also incorporate Ply metrics, strength and conditioning and resistance training all of which will aid in gaining more speed power and explosive movement for the athlete.


The real skill is knowing when to use what type of training.


(SB)     And how would you say working with Sensei Hazard influenced you?


(WO)     Dave as I would like to refer to him is one of the all time great karateka’s I have ever met in this sport. I have nothing but total respect for his knowledge of karate and he is a genuinely likable individual. I have watched Dave work on many occasions and I am always amazed at how much just from watching I have learnt from his sessions and as a result I have incorporated some of his idea’s into my own sessions.


I would say that we worked well together, although our fields are different the ideas we have about fighting, competing and training are very similar and from our point of view that makes good conversation for us.


(SB)     Although you are perceived to be a Sport karateka, are you interested in the more traditional aspects of karate?


(WO)     I would like to make this point clear for all your readers.  There is a great debate which seems to rage between a traditionalist and the sporting side of karate.  I am well aware that many people view me solely as a sports competitor in karate however I would just like to make this point clear, I have both traditional karate roots and Kumite.  My style of karate is called Uechi-Ryu, which dates back to the mid 18th century.  The roots of this style are from China, which then traveled to Okinawa, where the style was finally developed. 


I am very much interested in this traditional side of Uechi-Ryu and put great importance on good solid basics as a foundation for all that follows after.  The sporting side is an expression of the skills I have gained of which I have been able to excel.


(SB)     You have released the ‘Born To be King’ DVD two part series. Can you tell us the premise behind the DVDs and why you decided to compile them?


(WO)     The premises behind the Born to be King DVD was mainly to produce a series of DVD which fully illustrated what is involved in the modern day Karate athlete’s training. The video it self covers a range of subjects regarding sport karate, ranging from competition techniques to tips on mental preparation for athlete’s prior and during competition.


The DVD itself also was meant to show others out there that in order to succeed in this sport a certain amount of sacrifice had to be made, nothing but total hard work and dedication to the sport would yield good performance, and to show any one who was interested that there was no real secret potion as to why I was successful. The DVD clearly shows that in order to achieve you have to believe that you are training harder than anyone else in the world, and in order to do that you have to train, and train hard to believe that what you feel is true.


I have never seen a video or DVD, which covered the concept of competition from a mental point of view. I wanted to produce something which could be referred to for many years from now ands still be inspiring to the viewer. Thus wanting to share with others my methods and tips, and I suppose my philosophy about competition I gave them ‘Born to be King’.


(SB)     With all of your major successes, which would you say is the most rewarding, competition as the competitor or as the coach?


(WO)     In short both sides for the fence have there rewarding moments, winning gold medals has always been a rush and having that winning feeling is not easily replaced. However coaching has just as much reward, coaching and influencing an athlete’s career to that point were they have performed to a level to win major titles is very special.


I suppose the question you should be asking is which is harder, and the answer to that would definitely be coaching. Whilst I was competing I was very much in control of the results I gained. When you are coaching the control you have over the result of the athletes are relinquished the moment they step on to the mat. It is much harder because to be honest you experience loss more times than you win, but when you gain that win it out weighs all the losses you have experienced in the past.


(SB)     In so many places you can read the likes of ‘How would a top WKF competitor of today fare against a top Shobu Ippon fighter from the 70’s and 80’s’. What’s your view on the difference between the two, and do you think too much emphasis is placed on comparing them?


(WO)     To be honest I don’t really concern myself to much with this question, it a bit like asking me to compare Carl Lewis a 100 meter sprinter with Hali Gabriel Salassi a 5000 and 10000 meter runner, they both run but different discipline. I have competed in both and I would say that there is much more physical strength required for Ippon Shobu, but speed, timing and reaction favor WKF. The sport today has evolved; athletes today are faster and fitter and it has made the sport better to watch.


(SB)     Would you care to share any drills or exercises that fellow coaches may adopt that you have found particularly useful?


(WO)     It’s rather difficult for me to give an example of a drill to use in written form, and to be honest to get the best out of a drill such as the ones I would teach, you really have to be there in order for me to demonstrate exactly what it is I want you to perform, and to make sure that it is being performed correctly and that you fully understand the concept of what I am trying to teach.


I would be happy to show any of your readers any concepts of competition karate they wish to know. I am invited all over England and the world to give seminars, so if any one is interested in inviting me for a seminar at there dojo, they can contact me at the following email address: wayne.otto@blueyonder.co.uk.


(SB)     What is the most important aspect of Kumite for you - a good defence or a good offence


(WO)     The last 6 or 7 years of my career winning was not the only main focus. My goal was to improve my performance as an athlete and fighter, so not only did I prepare myself to win tournaments, but what was really important to me was HOW i.e. the manner in which I won. (the idea was simple Score maximum points and give away no points). This lead to not only developing my attacking skills which were already well established, but in order to be complete may defensive skill had to match that of my attacking ability. So for the last few years of my international career I focused on becoming totally rounded as a fighter. So for me both aspects are of great importance. Many who have been to any seminar that I have taught at will remember my kumite karate philosophy lesson rule 1: It states “When I Attack, I Score. When they Attack I Score”


(SB)     Have you got a series of tried and tested techniques that you always use - with a few in the bag for back up - or do you frequently try new things?


(WO)     Yes I have series of tried and tested techniques these are called my bankers i.e. when all else is failing I can create the condition in a fight in which to execute these techniques which I know will gain me an advantage. I also have many others techniques that I could use during a fight depending on the fighter and the situation. Some techniques have been performed before but not often, and some are instinctive, I react and they just happen.


(SB)     Do you think that it is important to make full use of the Jogai rule by pushing on or drawing your opponent in?


(WO)     The Jogai rule is there to be used and can place your opponent in a position that makes them feel very uncomfortable, and as a result induce great pressure on them.  The result of this pressure can be used to your advantage and can be the difference between winning and losing. The pressure may force them to make a mistake, usually from panic.

In my experience if you have some one on the Jogai line it is usually because they are wry of you, and as such you should keep them there until you have ceased the advantage, i.e. either they have step out or you have scored a point.


(SB)     When you first faced an opponent how long would it take you to ‘sus’ or figure your opponent out, and what were the most important things you would study in those first couple of seconds to give you the info you needed to determine how you would approach that fight?


(WO)     During the first 5 to 10 seconds of a fight this is usually long enough to find out what type of competitor you are facing. From testing your opponent , and fainting techniques you can tell whether you have a fighter who is (1) going to back away from you, or (2) one who is just going to attack, or (3) the clever ones who wish to move and test with you looking for the opportunity to block and counter.


Once I have established what kind of a person I have in front of me, my strategies and techniques are then tailored for that fighter. However one must always realize that situations in fights can and do often change. The dynamics of a fight change as soon as you score a point or if you lose a point, and as such you have to be prepared to change strategies in order to change with the conditions of the fight. That ability to change within a fight is most important.


(SB)     You have commented that your kicks were not your strongest part of your waza in your arsonel, but spectators of your fights comment on your kicking ability. Do you think a fighter should figure out his/her strengths and capitalize on them?


(WO)     I think all fighters should use what’s best suited for them in their arsenal, but should always try to develop and use those that they may not be so confident in executing. Remember winning and losing are just by products of an individual’s performance. If you only develop one aspect of your fighting sooner or later it will no longer be a mystery for your opponents and they will start defeating you. So continue to develop and always be a mystery, keep your opponents guessing, and never give them a chance to figure you out.


(SB)     The build and frame of a fighter can be quite important in determining the way they fight. Coming from a tall perspective what kind of advice would you give to fellow tall karateka in their method of fighting?


(WO)     I am not sure whether there is a specific difference, tall fighters should use their reach to gain their advantage over shorter opponents. And shorter fighters should use their speed and smaller target to gain the advantage over some one taller than them selves. Taller fighters tend to be heavier than the shorter opponents which tends to lead to shorter opponents being taken down when caught in a clench, however the best of the shorter fighters I have seen tend to have giant hearts and lots of confidence and their commitment to their techniques is outstanding which makes them so effective as fighter.


Other than that the training and preparation for competition for both sizes are relatively the same.


(SB)     With reference to recent events in England - where do you see yourself in the mix in the future plans for Karate England?


(WO)     I think I would always like to be involved in English Karate especially working with the national squad and hopefully one day becoming the National Coach. At present I give my time to the national EKF squad for free because I believe in English Karate and I want to be apart of its development and growth for the future. However, as with all things in life, times and events have a habit of changing. So although I would like these things to happen in reality it may be a very different picture. I will wait and see, and if the opportunity arises and the time is right may be I will get my wish.


(SB)     In your own personal karate, what importance does kata have for you?


(WO)     Kata has always been important to me, I place a lot of emphasis on my own students on good solid basics and making sure that their Karate is of a very high standard. Kata helps with this aspect and just as I was raised in a very traditional karate back ground with Sanchin kata as our base, so I have continued that trait. As for myself I have always enjoyed performing kata, and used it a great deal when mentally preparing myself for competition and relaxation.


(SB)     Can you please tell us what your favorite kata is and why?


Wayne Otto OBE(WO)     Actually there are a few Kata’s that I really like, some I like to perform but most I like to watch being performed by competitors who I have seen at world championships.  Of the Kata’s I perform in my own style, I like doing the first basic Kata in Uechi Ryu which is called Sanchin Kata, this kata requires you to be strong but at the same time soft, a controlled breathing rhyme and no matter how long you have done this kata for, you can always improve on your own performance and make it better. The second kata I like performing is a kata that I  performed for my 1st Dan grading, the kata is complex as one would expect for a kata of a Dan grading level, but I have never practiced a kata as much as this one, so for sentimental reasons this one is amongst my favorite.


Of the kata’s I have seen in my time  the Kata’s I love to see being perform are by some of the following competitors, obviously some are current and others are long retired but nevertheless made a great impact on me. The current world Champions Italian national Kata team performing Gankaku, 3x World Champion retired Tsuguo Sakumoto of Japan performing Annan, Helen Rye former European Champion performing Seipai and Michael Milon and Jonathan Mottram’s Unsu.


(SB)     One last question, your name is most certainly up alongside the likes of Frank Brennan, Terry O’Neill, Ticky Donovan and Aidan Trimble in regards to some of the most successful British talent in competition. How does it feel having your name alongside such karateka and to be known as one of the best fighters to come out of the UK?


(WO)     I suppose I should feel great, Those that you have mentioned before me are certainly legends and to be honest if others see me in there league then I am more than grateful for their support, but deep down, I am just Wayne a normal person who just happened to be really good at fighting.


(SB)     Can we just say a huge thank you for this excellent interview and we wish you every success for the future.