After six months of preparation involving intensive training and fundraising, November finally arrived and the boys and I underwent a 24 hour journey to get to Tokyo for the 2011 International Karate Friendship Games. Despite huge efforts in the previous weeks to put on weight for the competition, both Benny and Jamie weighed in very light for their categories – Benny at 41kg in an under 55kg category and Jamie, weighing in at 64kg, could have been a lightweight but unfortunately had to stay put in the sub-75kg middleweight category into which he had initially been entered. Benny particularly also suffered a slight disadvantage in that the cut off date for ages was designated as 1st April – having turned thirteen in March, he was therefore in a 13-14 year old category where you could also actually be 15 if your birthday was April onwards. However, these matters aside (I don't want to look like I'm making any excuses!) – the standard of competition was, as you would expect, world class and of a calibre which neither of the boys had met before. Benny was first up in a category comprising almost entirely of around fifty Japanese mid-teen fighting machines – punch, punch, low kick and don't stop was the order of the day - and, although he did his best to withstand the relentless onslaught, he was overpowered by the superior strength of his Japanese opponent from the onset of the fight and found himself on the back foot for the next 1 ½ minutes. Jamie's opponent didn't show for his fight in the first round so he was automatically awarded the fight by, much to my excitement, none other than my hero Shihan Francisco Filho. He had to wait almost two hours before he was next called onto the mat, his opponent a Ukrainian. As was the case with his brother before him, he was outclassed from the start and found it difficult to find any sort of retaliation against such superior strength, focus and persistent attack. Despite initially being hugely disappointed and frustrated with their performances, both boys came round to seeing that the majority of these competitors trained and thus fought in a way far beyond the training programme which we had been undertaking for the past six months. Without doubt there was nothing wrong with their fitness or technical ability, but the deficiencies lay, I felt, with a lack of 'match' practice – they certainly would have profited from loads more sparring and a higher calibre of sparring partners to prepare them for the fight – is it wrong for a mother to say her sons would have benefitted from a bit of a kicking in the months preceding the competition? Probably not deemed particularly politically correct in this day and age, however, in the world of international Kyokushin fighting, be it seniors or juniors, if you want to be a winner then from a coach's point of view I think this is a pretty fair observation.
Having recovered from their disappointment, we then had the luxury and pleasure of sitting back and watching the Senior competition – and it was, we all agreed, an amazing experience. If there is one thing that sets Kyokushin on a pedestal above all other sports, it is for me the incomparable spirit of its competitors and without doubt, the eventual winner of the men's world tournament, the Russian,Tariel Nikoleishivili, won by his absolute inspirational dogged determination and refusal to give up. Although built like a super solid powerhouse, he was small by many of his opponent's standards and was certainly dwarfed by his fellow finalist, Ewerton Texeira. At no point did he go backwards, no instant of hesitation or doubt ever, just forwards, forwards punching and low kicks and in the last 30 seconds when his opponents were faltering, he stepped up the pace to the rhythmic beat of his coaches' claps and shouts. Karate purists may argue the skill in this type of performance but for me, and the boys too, it was totally uplifting and mesmerizing to watch and witnessing pure 'Kyokushin spirit' to this indomitable degree really was an unforgettable highlight and of a wonderful trip to an amazing country, an inspiring experience which will certainly stay with me – and I truly hope stays with the boys – for always.
Senpai Catherine Petch
(Coach and mother to Jamie and Benny Petch, Kyokujitsu Kyokushin Karate Club)
Report by Senpai Cathy Petch on her trip to the Friendship Games held in Tokyo in Nov 2011