Sensei Mbakwe is one of Britain's most experienced and respected karateka. 'Been there, done that, got the t-shirt to prove it' is something people say when they've achieved. In Chico's case, this would be an understatement.
He is currently Wales National Kata Coach. Formerly, Chief Referee to the British Karate Federation and the Welsh Karate Governing Body. And a former EKF and WKF World 'A' referee.
Close to where he grew up, Chico began practising karate in January 1971 at the Rising Sun School of Karate Club in Loudon Square, Tiger Bay, Cardiff.
The club was initially affiliated with the KUGB until 1975 but continued under the guidance of senseis Shiro Asano and Hirokazu Kanazawa when they formed the SKI (Shotokan Karate International). During this period, senseis Selwyn Gould, Sid Nogan, Peter Moore, and brother Jerry Mbakwe were his instructors. Peter and Sid left in 1976, and Chico and his brother parted ways with Selwyn in 1978.
In May 1991, Chico and his brother sadly separated from Sensei Asano and the SKI to establish the Welsh Shotokan Karate Union, their own association.
I could describe my kumite honours at length, but I would rather express my gratitude to the people who helped me reach this level of success.
Chico Mbakwe's life has revolved around sports, ranging from amateur boxing, football, baseball, competitive swimming, and rugby - which was and still is his biggest passion. After leaving school, his rugby career progressed with the well-known Cardiff and District side, the CIAC. However, his rugby career was cut short due to a knee injury. After eighteen months, Mbakwe began training in martial arts.
Chico Mbakwe was graded to shodan in August 1974 by Asano Sensei. Due to the problems caused when Asano and Kanazawa Sensei formed the SKI whilst still in the KUGB he couldn't grade to nidan until 1982, which he obtained from Kanazawa Sensei.
Sensei Mbakwe then obtained his sandan from Asano Sensei in 1985 and his yondan in 1989 from a Japanese panel headed by Asano Sensei and assisted by Aragane, Nagi, Akita, and Norio Kawazoe. He was awarded godan in 1993, rokudan in 1999 by the EKF, and shichidan in January 2006 by the Welsh Karate Governing Body, becoming the first Karateka in Wales to be honoured with this grade.
Chico's hachidan was awarded in 2017 by the WKGB at a seminar in Pontypridd, Wales. In his inimitable way, he asserts never to have chased high rank to show off status. A resume this comprehensive speaks for itself.
Sensei Mbakwe's first tournament was eight months after he started training, gaining a bronze medal in the team event at the West of England Championships at Exeter University in September 1971, where he first encountered Dave Hazard.
His competition career was long and distinguished, going on to represent Wales internationally at the Senior EKF Championships in Ostend, Belgium 1975 and in two SKI World Championships, the highlight being in Japan in 1988.
During years of competition, he witnessed and experienced poor and biased officiating. As his competitive career ended, Mbakwe took an interest in refereeing, further enhancing Chico's knowledge of the martial art and his experience at the most elite levels of karate-do.
Refereeing soon revealed itself to be more complex than he initially thought, despite his first impressions. Courses hosted by the governing body presented the challenges and pitfalls of refereeing at different levels.
Under the guidance of Keith Mumberson, who was the chief referee of the governing body at the time, he qualified as a Welsh National Judge in 1984 and then as a referee in 1986. Qualification as a kumite judge "A" in Vienna gained Chico European honours in 1990, followed by Kumite Referee "A" in Prague in 1993. He achieved World Judge "A" qualification in South Africa in 1996, then the ultimate refereeing qualification: World Referee "A," in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, in 1998.
Chico credits his brother Jerry for providing him with much-needed belief and an abundance of support, and Master Asano, whose strong basics shaped Chico's karate.
Summer camps hosted by the now legendary Kanazawa sensei and exposure to the greatest exponents of karate-do have moulded sensei Mbakwe into the complete karateka his contemporaries and students know today.
The students and instructors of the Welsh Shotokan Karate Union (WSKU) are honoured and grateful for Sensei Mbakwe's dedication, unwavering support and tuition.
The roll-call and accolades of the karateka he has trained over decades are testaments to his experience and expertise. We are proud to wear the WSKU emblem and aspire to his standard in karate-do.
SKI British Team Champions 1987, Chico receives the Wilkinson Sword of Honour. From left, John Allen, Chico Mbakwe, Bob Matthews, Andrew Chick, Stuart Gregory (C), and David Spettie.