Hong Kong Remembered

After just missing out on a medal position in the British Championships in Crystal Palace and qualifying to join the ‘British Squad’ to train with Ticky Donovan in 1987-88, I made the most difficult decision to leave my much loved Washinkai and English Karate and move to Hong Kong to start my banking career.
Karate was not advertised very well in Hong Kong at that time, for me it was trial and error to find a suitable club. My first experience of Hong Kong Karate was not very pleasant.  To cut a long story short, I ended up in front of the Instructor in a kumite line-up, a westerner who had recently been in a local Martial Arts Magazine. I knew it was not a good idea as there was no one else senior enough to control the situation. Hardly a couple of minutes into the kumite I realised if he catches me with one of his uncontrolled techniques, its lights off for me; being young Shaz at the time, I had to put him down. Several students from that club later on asked me to come back but I decided to move on.Shaz Squad
Eventually, a Chinese girl from the above dojo, after words, introduced me to Jimmy Ho’s Goju Kai club in the Wanchai area. The club was right above the fish market and I suppose the fish smell gave us much needed strength to train as the training was tough and got much tougher when I turned up at their doorsteps questioning their black belts. There were no amenities in the club, hardly anyone spoke English, we came, we trained and we went home. I will always remember the night when in the black belt session Jimmy Ho decided to test me or perhaps his black belts. We were about 25 black belts in the dojo; the training continued from one difficult exercise to another until one by one black belts stared to drop off. I couldn’t really remember how long we trained, but in the end just two of us were left on the dojo floor, as both of us looked at each other for a brief moment, little that I knew he would be the guy I would face in the open weight finals one day.  I think Jimmy Ho realised it was time to call this off and we got a much deserved break.
Although it was great training, I was not getting anywhere as I could not communicate with anyone except the instructor and I wasn’t really sure where this was leading to. Eventually I was again introduced to a great Goju Kai club, the Hong Kong branch of International Karate-do Goju Kai Association and representative of Japan Karate-do Goju Kai Association.   Shair Sze Fu (Shair Sensei) was a very welcoming instructor, I met great friends; established a valuable strong friendship with Siegel Cheung, one of the most senior instructor, his commitment to Karate always impressed me. I was strongly encouraged to take part in the national championship by everyone. 
Good to see HKMA still remember me, below is the recent screen shot from their Website
Competing in national championships turned out to be more challenging than just having the skills.  As a foreign face and a ‘non-westerner’, I wouldn’t get any score, didn’t think I was going to get anywhere with this.
I still have a lot of admiration for Jimmy Ho as a person, although he was not very popular with Hong Kong Karate.  I am not sure what happened to him, but despite leaving his club, he was the only one who turned to the audience for their support to override other judges’ decisions and to start giving me scores (the same thing happened in the ’93 World Championship in Japan, but that is a story for another time).
This action from one of the senior judges got everyone’s attention, I loved the much needed support from the audience, again cutting the long story short, I lost in the finals and got third place in my weight category of the 1989 Hong Kong Nationals.
I realise much work was needed, not just training but a change of thinking as I was in a different territory but more importantly needed to get myself recognised. So being a young silly lad I embarked myself on a crusade to go around to every karate club in Hong Kong that I knew and offered myself for kumite.  I had both good and bad experiences but all valuable and fortunately I was still in one piece!
At Shair Sze Fu’s dojo, we trained and we trained hard,  I don’t remember how often we trained, mostly kumite, week days, weekends, whenever we had time we trained. I used to find it quite challenging after having worked 10 hours in the office to just walk into the dojo and before I could even put the belt on Shair Sze Fu would say ‘Shaz you are next to fight’.  It was quite demanding physically and mentally.
At last the years of hard work came to fruition, in the 1990 Hong Kong Nationals. Not only the referees, but competitors also were familiar with my face, which was kind of nice but put me under more pressure I think. As always the first fight was the most difficult one, then it got bit easier until the semi-finals.  I lost the count how many rounds we fought through but eventually I won my weight category by comfortable margin.
Just when I thought it was time to go home, Shair Sze Fu told me that there was another competition scheduled – ‘Champion of Champions’ and he would very much like me to enter.  I reluctantly entered the competition which was to be judged by two senior Japanese (mirror judging was in fashion in those days).  This was good news for me, as Nagura San (one of the judges) used to take our national squad sessions on Sundays.
I remember later in the day Sze Fu came over put his hand on my shoulder and said he heard I had just won the championship and now I was in the finals of open weight Champion of Champions? I looked at him and nervously answered ‘yes.  He replied “very good, take care in your next bout!” We both knew my next bout would be against a big guy I trained with in Jimmy Ho’s club a year ago.
It was a memorable day for me; I was told I was the first non-Chinese to win the Hong Kong Champion of Champions and my own weight category at 1990 Hong Kong National Karate Championship, the trophy I will always keep as my prize possession.      
That give me recognition but at the same time I was a target for other dojo’s, however, after winning all over again in 1991, I decided to focus on International championships.
I went on to represent Hong Kong for the next 5 years, competing in Goju World Championship in Tokyo, the Asia Pacific Games in Malaysia, and the Asian Games, some with success some without.   The most painful experience was losing the medal position in the World Championship (Tokyo ‘93) by a wazari. However, the outcome I think was even better.  Yamaguchi personally acknowledged my spirit of karate, complemented Washinkai and I had a picture taken with him and his wife with few of my fellow team members. We were also issued WKF black belts cards and recognition of our grade (3rd Dan for me), which I will always cherish.