In 1984, Stuart ventured into the world of karate. Unlike his two friends who decided to watch from the sidelines, Stuart jumped right in. It was a new world, and admittedly, his kicks weren't perfect. At one point, the sensei jokingly asked if he'd ever played football. Good thing this was before the era of viral videos!
My friends decided to watch that first class, but I just had to join in. It was an experience unlike anything I'd ever tried before.
The dojo was home to several elite fighters of the time. Surrounded by such talent and discipline, Stuart's commitment to karate was solidified. The dojo wasn't just a training ground; it was a place of excellence.
Stuart's karate journey began with training under a strict sensei and an ever-present "assistant" called the Shinai, a bamboo stick resembling the Katana sword. The occasional 'crack' of the Shinai would often focus minds in the dojo and Stuart admits it helped his stances improve!
In May 1989, Stuart earned his shodan grade, the revered first-degree black belt, under Sensei Asano in Nottingham. It's worth noting that Sensei Asano had mentored Stuart through his kyu grades. The subsequent years were rich with experiences. He trained under legends like Masao Kawasoe at the Cearleon Karate Club, Sensei Kanazawa, and the late Sensei Enoeda. Sessions were intense, taking place four times a week, a testament to his dedication.
By October 1988, Gordon Ogle began training at Stuart's dojo. Over time, figures like Sensei Chico Mbakwe and Sensei Gordon Ogle became pillars of inspiration for Stuart. Interactions with these karate luminaries, as well as courses with senseis like Rick Jackson, Aidan Trimble, and Dave Hazard, continually fuelled his passion.
Stuart's journey saw several milestones. He achieved his nidan in January 1994, and by October 1999, he'd earned his sandan. A notable memory is his kumite with Gordon Ogle, an intense yet thrilling experience. The yondan followed in December 2005, a recognition by both of his esteemed instructors.