In preparation for the JKS England Karate Championships on Sunday 1st November, Ruach Karate had a special guest in 3rd Dan Julian Cunningham Sensei to come join us for our session at Tudor Grange Sports Centre, Solihull.
Sensei Cunningham is a man that doesn’t need introduction if you’re familiar with the Karate Union of Great Britain organisation (KUGB), but if not his achievements within the World of Shotokan Karate are as follows:
- European Team Champion
- JKA Team Silver Medalist
- WSKA Team Bronze Medalist
- x 5 Senior KUGB National Kumite Champion
- Shotokan Cup Champion
- Junior European Team Champion
- Junior European Individual Bronze Medalist
- Junior Shotokan Cup Champion
Sensei Cunningham began his Shotokan karate training at Benson SKC trained by Sid Gordon Sensei at the age of 12 and found a natural aptitude for kumite. After winning his first tournament in the over 5ft 3, 12- 15 years category at an open event the very year he began karate gave him the competing bug in which the Shotokan journey started.
Whilst taking his 1st Kyu at 15 he was noticed by Andy Sherry Sensei who invited him along to the Shotokan Cup with a view to a possible spot in the Junior England team. This time aged 15 Julian Sensei again fought in the same category that saw him gain success at an open competition aged 12. After making it through to the semi finals he was well on his way to impressing to gain a spot on the Junior England Squad. It was in this round that he found himself fighting one of Sherry Sensei’s students and during this fight found himself disqualified for excessive contact to the face. For now his England ambitions would have to be put on hold as he heard nothing after.
Undeterred, Sensei Cunningham kept his head down and remained diligent in his karate efforts and just over a year later was noticed by the late Enoeda Sensei who invited him on to the England Squad. It wasn’t long after when Sensei Cunningham represented England at Junior level and was successful in the team kumite event taking home gold. From here the success continued to follow.
I remember Julian fighting during his days at Kaizen in the West Midlands and he was a pleasure to watch at Central and National tournaments boasting his strong, powerful kumite technique. Anybody that would face Julian would very well have ha a sense of anticipation due to the sheer presence of this fighter. I personally never fought Julian during a tournament. The closest I got was during a Team Kumite event at the Central Regions where our team Ruach comprising of 2015 Silver World medalist Greg Hegarty, Harry Kavanagh and myself faced Kaizen made up of Julian Cunningham, Austin Shields and one other for a spot in to the finals. I remember Greg deciding the order at the beginning. Greg was confident Julian would be going up first and I asked him to put me against him. Not thinking I had a chance of winning, more so hoping to use myself as cannon fodder, let Greg hopefully take out Austin and let Harry fight the remaining fighter for Kaizen.
It wasn’t meant to be. Greg wanted to fight Julian and that was that. I don’t blame him. If I was at the top of my game then I’d want to be fighting the best too. A chance to test myself against one of the best fighters in the country. Back then I was only thinking of tactics and progression to the final. Putting my body on the line against a better fighter to help the team push through to the next round. From what I remember we lost that semi final 2-1 with Harry winning and myself along with Greg succumbing to defeat. Austin gave me a good mawashi geri chudan kick in that match that I felt for a good day or so after! Fast forward around 12 years and now Julian had come to help out Ruach. Kaizen had since shut down and reopened fairly recently in the last few years under the guidance of Rahela Gordon and Junior Laing Sensei.
Sensei’s lesson overview
The lesson focused around speed reaction and multiple attacks. It was also worth noting that Julian emphasized on feinting with the opponent. The idea of drawing an opponent’s guard away from the target area with a feint before delivering one, two or more attacks in an unguarded area. From my own perspective the lesson was reaffirming information that we are taught with Ruach, which in turn is comforting to know that we are on the right lines with regards to the emphasis we put in to our Kumite training. I’d almost go as far as to say it was going back to basics, even with little things such as attacking when an opponent is on the back foot as opposed to coming forward. It seems obvious when I think about it now, but it’s funny how these seemingly minute elements help to create the difference between winning and losing. To take it further the difference between a possible black eye or not in the outside World. We train week in week out and sometimes forget the fundamentals and without these we have no solid base in which to progress.
The 2 hours spent with Julian Cunningham were extremely hard work pushing our stamina levels and mindsets to the limit. Anybody that has taken part in a Kumite event will know that bouncing around on your toes for 90 seconds may not sound a lot, but when incorporated in with techniques and reaction times for attack and defenses it can really start to take its toll. Doing this for a couple of hours had multiple benefits as our karate is only as good as the delivery of our technique and determination to succeed. Julian Sensei is a firm believer in being the best you can be and this is something I agree with totally. As the stamina levels drop and the technique starts to fade, the mental side kicks in. You come to a cross roads and at that moment have to decide whether to push through the pain barrier and “fight” on or give up. This lesson definitely tested me for that very reason and I’d like to thank Sensei for pushing me with the lesson he had planned.
People ask me if karate is good for fitness as a beginner. It’s a tricky question to answer, but let me try to explain. If we look at the syllabus for a newcomer, in essence it could be one block, one punch, one step. It doesn’t sound a lot and technically speaking it isn’t, but I tell them that it’s how you move and the determination you put in to succeed and move fast. Karate can be as relaxed or as tough (fitness wise) as you make it, although the first tends not to be in my dictionary! Although our lesson with Sensei was specifically for higher grades I mention the above as it is important to remember that just because the basics may come across as boring or unexciting, they are inevitably an extremely important part of our karate and it is my opinion that you should put 100% in to everything you do. With regards to any sport or karate we then have an added bonus that if we lose then we know that we could have done no more, our heads can be held up high. Julian Sensei thanked me for taking the warm up prior to his arrival, which he did not need to do, but to me displays an extra element of a down to Earth humble guy to add to his repertoire in addition to his Kumite skills.
Advise for karateka entering competition
Sensei Cunningham has kindly given advice to all karateka who are currently entering or are thinking of entering competition:
” Be totally ready on the day you not only train in club sessions but train at home/in a park/a room/wherever by yourself and with other motivated people as training in this way enables you to work on things that you especially want to work on and you will see great improvement. I also advise that you have your routine on competition day to get in the zone so warm up, practise some drills with a partner etc, get the body warm, the rhythm going and the mind right to get rid of the first fight jitters. The biggest battle when competing can be against yourself so as well as what I have said remember to relax and enjoy yourself to compete at your full potential.”
Thank you Sensei on behalf of myself and other karateka for the words of wisdom!
The morning after!
The next day was a 2nd battle I had not expected; Stiffness in the joints which preceded to go from bad to worse as the day went on. Whilst working in the GP Surgery I found myself getting to a stage whereby patients were asking if I was alright, the hobbling showing signs of a beating or another age related problem 😉 As they say however, no pain no gain and from this lesson I definitely gained so thank you again Sensei Cunningham. It was great to see you and hopefully we get to do another session in the not so distant future.
When Sensei Cunningham isn’t doing karate, he promotes his range of Forever products which are aloe inspired. In his own words:
” I offer a range of natural products to help people get more out of their training, these products are used by people at all sports levels from Amateur to Professionals, also an increasing amount of our products are HFL Sports Science Approved. This is the link to my webshop –
www.julian.myforever.biz/store. Should anyone want any further information on the products then please feel free to contact me on 07581 076 265″