In the latest Club Focus, Christine Coffey caught up with Christopher Brady of the UCD Karate Club to discuss martial arts over zoom and Hollywood interpretations of the sport.
It’s clear that UCD Karate is a club that cultivates a unique environment that goes beyond the simple transfer of skill and competition of a traditional sport. Club captain Christopher Brady says: “Explaining what is different about karate is pretty difficult without giving you an essay or sounding like a motivational speaker from YouTube. To say that karate has a rich history is an understatement and many people become interested because of the culture…you are taught respect; [respect for] those around you, your teacher, and especially opponents. Focusing on a single task with a clear goal in mind over a long period of time builds self-discipline, you begin to feel more in control, and it changes your approach to problems outside the hall”.
Brady states that karate is a remarkably safe sport to train and compete in, despite the fact that students are learning how to hit people, because of the fundamental principles and inherent discipline. “[This is] because rather than learning how to hit the hardest, control is much more important. The goal is never to hurt your opponent, only to be able to control the situation. That is why you will see us training by punching towards someone’s head or chest. We get within centimetres of the face, but we have never had a serious incident resulting from this, because control is so strenuously taught. Even in competitions if a competitor is being too aggressive and hitting too hard, their points will not be counted because of this”. No Cobra Kai-esque instructions to ‘sweep the leg’ or shouts to ‘put him in a body bag’ then.
That said, it is still a “practical martial art [with] real world self-defence applications”, somewhat divorced from the “Hollywood karate flips and spinning kicks you see in movies…thankfully, none of our members have ever had to use it outside the ring”
The club has been very successful in recent years, and Brady is quick to point to the work of his predecessor in the club captain role, Callum Terry and other alumni. “Being named Club of the year and Callum winning the Administrator of the year are linked. Callum was the captain for three years in a row (though we had to persuade him the third time) and his contribution cannot be overstated. When he took over the club, he tripled it in size.... We cannot thank him enough and I can only hope to continue that legacy, though it can be challenging during Covid-19. Winning club of the year came down in a large part to our consistent competition success, our consistent events, and landing our title sponsor, Bank of Ireland”.
Brady also went into detail about how senseis and senior grades are pulling together to try and bring good quality instruction to members from their own homes and showing the dedication and support that has been key to the club’s success at All-Ireland Intervarsities, Intercollegiate Cups, and particularly in beginners’ categories at various events. “One of our senseis exclusively teaches from a platform he built in his back garden because he doesn’t have space indoors… one of our senseis tried to pull [their] daughter onto the screen so he could give a live demonstration”. “For correcting, we have senior grades teach beginners in smaller breakout rooms within the calls. While adjusting our teachings have been difficult, our senseis have focused on core concepts like expansion and contraction which can be done in small spaces”.
When explaining the practicalities around the contact nature of the sport, Brady touched on some challenges unique to karate and plans the group have in place to deal with these going forward. “We haven’t had any laptops falls or unfortunate family members getting punched just yet [though furniture and walls have been dealt some collateral damage]”. Brady puts great emphasis on the group nature of the sport in pre-Covid times: “Karate is a sport where you are often paired with a partner, even without you will train in sequence with others, moving at the same time despite working individually”. The captain admits that the some of the previous social aspects of the club are difficult to replicate over Zoom, but the club continue to organise online events, including online escape rooms, game nights and collaborations with Japanese Soc, all in the hopes of maintaining the sense of community within the group and engaging new club members
“For in-person events, we have already completed a Covid-19 risk assessment that details our procedure for when we are allowed to return to training even during the lower levels of lockdown. Both myself and the club's safety officer have undergone Covid-19 safety training and we are well prepared for when in person training is allowed to resume… unfortunately, with restrictions on events being what they are, competitions have been left by the roadside. As restrictions get lifted our plans will surely change but as is, we cannot make plans not knowing when the country will be in lockdown.”
For the time being UCD Karate continues remote training, much to the detriment of assorted pillows and household items. There has been a considerable effort made by UCD clubs to keep members connected despite the barriers of distance, none more so than the UCD Karate Club. Like any other group, they are planning for and looking forward to a future where they can once again assemble in UCD’s sport halls. The physical aspects of training will be but a nice bonus.