Returning to karate

"What’s it like to return to karate after a 15-year break?"
Gael Pawson did exactly that when she joined Portchester in February 2009.

Gael on the right at the recent 2010 Legend Competition

I first discovered karate when I was 19 or 20. The university I was at in Cheshire decided to run self-defence classes for female students, and the instructor inspired a couple of us to carry on. We found a sport that developed our fitness, and completely absorbing, a perfect antidote to the pressures of the constant essay deadlines. But when I left uni, life took over and my Gi was soon consigned to the loft.

Some 15 years later, for the first time in many years I found myself without a long commute to work. With a New Year’s resolution to use my free evenings to pick up some of the activities I used to enjoy in the past, I was easily persuaded to join a friend I was visiting for a session at his local club in Poole. That first evening was very daunting, but an hour and a half later I was buzzing and had a big grin on my face.

As soon as I got home I went straight onto the Internet… a bit of trawling threw up the SEKU website and Portchester; I didn’t even really know where Portchester was, but it was a darn sight closer than Poole! I plucked up my courage and rang Sensei Merv. I have no idea what he made of the tentative voice that asked about joining, but I think I surprised him when I said I would be keen to come along that very evening. In actual fact, it would be the following week before I made it along – no comments please about girls and directions, I popped the postcode into my Sat Nav but it just took me to a roundabout! I certainly didn’t have the courage to walk into my first session late.

First few lessons

Arriving at the school the following Wednesday, I could see a stream of juniors clutching bits of paper, even finding the entrance was a challenge. Sensei Merv was easy to spot, fielding a range of questions from a gaggle of youngsters, his friendly smile helped to calm my nerves and he immediately set about introducing me to everyone.

Those first few lessons were a bit of a blur. I was very nervous, but I was determined to find my feet going to every session I could make. One minute I would find something that felt easy and natural, the next I would struggle with a very basic move. I was constantly amazed at what I remembered and how fast some bits came back. I was taken through Kion and Heinan Shodan; by the following lesson I could remember them.

Then Sensei Merv took me through Hein Nidan, commenting, ‘You’ve done this before.’ He was right, it soon came back. However, I found Kumite a tougher challenge, feeling very nervous facing any opponent, but everyone helped. For some strange reason I really struggled with one block in particular; Soto Uke – it was as though my body remembered some things, but had forgotten others. One-step felt easier than five-step, and I had completely forgotten what anything was called, had no idea what I knew and what I didn’t, but then I wasn’t even sure of my Kyu grade (having previously trained with a different organisation) and even had to be shown how to tie my belt again! There seemed to be so many different kicks, remembering which was which was a real struggle. The katas came back quickly, but then they were always my favourite. Slowly but surely I began to find my feet, although even now, 12 months down the line, there are things that jump up and surprise me when I find something I have remembered, or forgotten completely. But I am beginning to feel myself finding a level to grow from.

It’s the people that make the club

When I left university I didn’t give up karate straight away; I joined a local club, but soon found I didn’t enjoy it any more. The key to my return was definitely finding the right club. I immediately warmed to the balance that Sensei Merv has instilled at Portchester – serious, hard-working and focused, but with a sense of fun and enjoyment too.

Sensei’s sense of humour constantly makes me smile, and he is very skilled at working people out, understanding what motivates them. So many times he has asked for a volunteer to do something, and grinned, ‘well done Gael’ when I certainly hadn’t put my hand up, telling Sensei Sue or Sensei Faye to work us hard because ‘Gael’s been complaining she hasn’t had a tough enough workout!’ There was the day he asked for volunteers to perform kata in front of the class – having ‘volunteered’ me and four black belts for the Kion, he then asked for the most junior grade present to do Hein Shodan, grinning: ‘Oh that will be you again Gael!’ proceeding to get me to do Nidan, Sandan and Yondan with a different group each time. By the end of it I was exhausted, but elated from the challenge. I might be very nervous and shy sometimes, but I love a challenge and respond well to being teased – Sensei saw that from the start.

The list of people who have helped me settle in is massive, ranging from Sensei Faye – who chided me constantly about being too tense, and was a real inspiration to watch, to Milly who first showed me Kihon, There was Callum who always said hello and proved a great person to follow when I was struggling with an unfamiliar kata and Sensei Dave whose wildlife-taming skills are so legendary! In Kumite Sensei Sharon really helped, again gently teasing me, encouraging me to loosen up, as did Sensei Keri who first showed me one-step. Sensei Sue helped me to crack Heian Yondan, and there were so many others that have helped, and continue to help with a smile, a word of encouragement or advice. Thank you to everyone who has helped to make karate part of my life once more.

Megan, Gael and Lowri - 2nd in Ladies team Kata at the Legend Competition 2010

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Karate Day time lessons

Daytime Karate lessons are now being held on Thursday mornings at the Castle St, Portchester,  Day Centre. For further information please ring 07713284430 or email

These classes are for a range of people with varying abilities and in particular for the older and fairly active person that would like to benefit from the health aspects of practicing Karate and at the same time exercising their minds in the learning of new skills.

Existing students of Karate are also catered for in the lessons. In particular those on shift work and others that cannot get to their regular training lessons.

Further information

For the Portchester Karate Club and clubs in other areas or different training times, please email or telephone 07713284430.

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