Sensei Merv O’Donnell

Sensei Merv O’Donnell commenced his Karate training (Kykoshinkai style) in 1967 at the Oval Karate Club in London. This was during his Degree course, industrial training period, in London. After a six week beginers course he moved back to his home of Portsmouth and joined the Portsmouth Karate Club (practicing Shotokan), based at the Southsea Community Center. (As far as is known Roger Stephens now being the only one, senior to Sensei O’Donnell at that time, still training). Editors note: In fact Sensei Roger Stephens is now understood to have retired from Karate.


Sensei Merv (Purple belt) demonstration - 1968

'Yes,  it broke'

Whilst completing his studies, Sensei O’Donnell moved every six months between Portsmouth and London. Hence he had the great advantage of receiving regular Japanese tution for most of his formative years as a Kyu grade.
He was lucky to have the opportunity to receive regular top instruction from Sensei’s Kanazawa, Enoeda, Kato, Takahashi and Sumi and Sensei’s Nakayama, Kase, Shirai, Ochi, etc at the annual Crystal Palace courses. In those early years there was one particular English Black belt instuctor that Merv feels made a very important contribution to his understanding of Karate and that was Sensei Ray Fuller, a regular visiting instructor to the Portsmouth club.

In keeping with many of the students of those days Merv usually trained on at least five days a week. Sunday training could be as much as three separate sessions.

Sensei Ray fuller on left and Merv when a 1st kyu, on right.
(blackfriars dojo 1970)

Shodan was attained at the London Blackfriars dojo in December of 1970.

Between the years 1974 and 1982 Sensei Merv was a regular visiting Instructor to a wide range of clubs in the South of England, including Selsey, Brighton, Eastleigh and clubs on the Isle of Wight. Also, with his sister, Maureen Dewey, he started the Portsmouth Junior Karate club.

Merv teaching at Portsmouth Juniors circa 1976

During this time there were many political problems in the English karate system and Sensei Merv with others, realised that they were going to have to take on more and more organisational responsibilities. Hence Sensei Merv became a committee member of the KUGB Southern Region for several years and also became very involved in the organising and running of various Karate competitions. These included the, KUGB Southern Region Championships at Crystal Palace, and a host of other events including inter club competitions and acting as event controller for some of Cliff Hepburns “Open Karate Tournaments”.

Sensei Merv well remembers the first KUGB Southern Region Chanpionship that he helped run at Crystal Palace. In those days the number of competitors were usually very large and as the day progressed Sensei Merv made two of the most unforgivable mistakes in running a competition (ie particularly when one does not know in advance when the various officials will be leaving). Sensei Merv ran the eliminations down to the last 16 in all of the senior events (as most competitors will know it is usually the last 4 in Kumite and Possibly 8 in the senior Kata). The other mistake was reducing the number of area’s being used.
As the evening drew on it became clear to all that the “event controller” (ie Sensei Merv) had got it wrong and seriously wrong at that. Apart from the obvious concerns for the competition itself, Sensei was convinced that it was the end of his Karate career. Fortunatly Merv had trained extensively in Sensei Enoeda’s classes over the years and so he (Sensei Enoeda) knew that Merv had a very serious attitude to his Karate and what was going wrong was part of the “learning curve”.
For the entire evening Sensei Enoeda gave verbal support and encouragement to Merv with the occassional famous “slap on the back” and saying “keep going Mervy”

Nidan was obtained in 1975 at the Sensei Enoeda’s September Karate course at Crystal Palace.

The South of England Karate Union (SEKU) was formed in April 1982 with Sensei Merv as Secretary and Senior instructor.
Having spent the last fifteen years as a member of the highly respected KUGB and having formed a wide range of friendships this departure was not an easy one.

In early 1982 Sensei Merv (with the very capable support of Sensei Pat O’Sullivan) started the Portchester Karate club and although now an 8th Dan, remains to this day fully commited to Dojo teaching. He is a firm believer, in that, whilst courses can have an important part to play in a students development, it is the instruction and effort in the home Dojo that leads to all round competence in Karate.

Apart from his role in SEKU, at that time, and being the Chief Instructor to the Portchester Karate Club, for some eight years also ran a club in the Netherlands. Many claim to be international Karate instructors but Sensei Merv truly is, in that he taught at his Netherland club on a weeky basis.

One of the benefits in teaching in mainland Europe was that Sensei Merv had the opportunity to train once again, under the direction of Sensei Kanazawa during his world tour in 2003.

Sensei Kanazawa

Although Portchester Karate Club seems to continuously enjoy a good sized membership Sensei Merv enjoys equally, the teaching of small or large groups of students.

On the competition front Sensei Merv believes that this is an important area of Karate in which individuals can “test themselves” in Kumite or Kata against unknowns. However in any competition there can only be one winner and it follows that “winning or loosing” makes no difference to the standing of a karateka, providing they tried their best.
Competition is not for everyone and whilst all of Sensei Merv’s students are encouraged to consider entering competitions he will never coerce his students to enter. It is an individual choice.

Sensei Merv has for many years held strong opinions on the need for those able, to help others develop to their full potential and in the Karate sense this equates to developing character, self discipline and respect. All being improved by regular training.

He is a firm believer in the principles and benefits of team teaching and in the dojo will “manage” the teaching and practice of Karate so that all students get the best of the other club instructors and himself. One of his favourite sayings is that "the students are the dojo". As such the overriding dojo objective is the students progress and although he is the Chief Instructor and a 8th Dan, if that is best served by getting a junior instructor to teach then that’s the way to go.

Since 1982 Sensei Merv has guided many students at the Portchester Karate Club through the grades to Black belt. He counts himself fortunate in that he has some 20 students (at January 2014) who still train regularly after some fifteen/twenty years since they first started.
Many students have to stop their training for many very good reasons eg work, university  etc. A key feature of the way in which Sensei Merv runs the club is the “welcome back” response to returning students.


Sensei O’Donnell was with British Telecomms for some nineteen years. Starting as a trainee Technician he gained promotion to Executive Engineer and was employed in the subsequent roles of: being part of a team developing the Digital Data Network, Manager of a British Telecomms (International) training school and Engineering Manager of the United Kingdom Telegram Retransmission Center.
In 1984 Sensei O’Donnell decided to stop working in London and change his working focus to Lecturing and took up a post in Engineering Lecturing at a Portsmouth College. He has now retired from Lecturing and devotes himself to the development of his Clubs and the Rengokai Karate Organisation.

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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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