How karate changed his life and still does today
I was born in Liverpool in 1977 where I lived with my mother and father, Pauline and Colin, and my older brother, Carl.
We then moved to Runcorn and this is where my story begins.
We lived at Kingston Close near the old town and I went to The Grange School.
By the time I was five, my parents had separated and my Mum was bringing us up on her own, but me and Carl were going to be ok because we had the strongest Mum in the world - working two jobs just to put food in our mouths. My Nan used to look after us a lot.
Growing up in Runcorn in the 80s was good - apart from getting bullied. Somebody was always getting bullied.
I was bullied from the age of seven. It was always the bigger kids in the school that would bully everybody.
I remember when I was being chased, I would be running as fast as I could, then just as I thought they would catch me, I would stop and roll up into a ball on the floor.
As they were bigger than me, they would go tumbling over me then I’d be back up on my feet and running the other way.
I used to think that I was on my own and I had nobody to talk to about it until I told my Mum one day.
And that was it! She was off down to the school like a screaming apache, giving them all what for.
This worked for a bit but after a while the kids had forgotten how scary my Mum was and I went back to being another kid that got bullied.
When I was 10, Mum met this bloke called Vic. He was about 6ft tall and I thought he was massive and scary looking, but he turned out to be this really nice guy who Mum really liked.
Eventually, he became my stepdad and we moved to Widnes.
I started a new school and I thought all my troubles were over.
I was wrong. It turns out I was just an easy target and it was going to happen again.
One time I had to run all the way home. I got through the front gate and there they were behind me: two of them coming down the path after me.
My Dad opened the door and I thought “that’s it - this guy’s going to scare these kids away.”
I was wrong again. He just said: “you have to stick up for yourself, lad”.
Now, it’s a good lesson to learn, but a hard way to learn it. The two boys got a look at him and ran off anyway.
Realising that he’s not always going to be there to open the door I turned to my brother.
Carl’s always been quite a rough lad if you annoy him, so he would stick up for me - or so I thought.
Nope. Wrong again! He would stand and watch and if the bullies got the better of me then he would step in and help, which was most of the time.
Apart from once.
Carl wasn’t there, and this time the bullies decided that they would give me a real pasting.
That day, I didn’t go straight home. I went to my friends house to get cleaned up first and to borrow a jumper as mine got ripped off my back.
Whilst walking home I saw a poster of a karate club that had opened in town.
I knew straight away what I had to do but as money was a bit short at home, at the age of 13, I got a job as a trainee printer so that I could afford to pay for the lessons myself.
I would finish school and go straight to work for a couple of hours then I’d walk down into town to find this club.
I remember the first time, looking through the window in the door I saw this big guy shouting commands to everyone.
And I’m thinking, actually this might not be for me, but then I’m thinking that getting bullied for the rest of my life isn’t on either.
I opened the door and that big monster turned to look straight at me and then the door closed behind me.
Damn what do I do now?
And then he said: “come in mate and have a seat if you like”.
So I did - probably because that’s what he said I should do.
The lesson finished and then he came over to talk to me: “Hi - I’m Sensei Jimmy.”
He said that if I liked what I saw, then to come back another time and give it a go.
So that’s what I did. I asked my friend Justin if he wanted to give it a go with me and he was well up for it.
The next lesson we were there, ready for action.
“This can’t be that hard,” I told Justin. I had seen all the others the previous class, punching and kicking and they made it look easy. As usual, I was wrong again.
Everybody stopped what they were doing and ran into lines. It was just like me to run to the wrong end.
There I was – standing with about five black belts - thinking I’ll copy these boys, they know what they’re doing.
Not a chance. I was told to go down the other end where I would be more comfortable.
It turns out that, actually, I didn’t have a clue but I gave it a go. There I was, throwing my arms and legs about like a toy Action Man falling down the stairs.
By the end of the lesson, I was so tired but at the same time I was buzzing at what had just happened. I knew from then that this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.
And I enjoyed it much more than getting bullied.
On the way home, Justin and me did the best we could, trying to remember how to count up to 10 in Japanese.
We used to practice all the time in Justin’s back garden.
Now - in that club, if you were good enough, you could jump a grade on your first grading. So, that was our aim. If we weren’t at school, or I wasn’t working, we were practising. We never did anything else.
All our training paid off because we both jumped a grade.
Oh yeah - and I stopped getting bullied by the time I was 14.
As we kept training, we were getting better going through the grades just like everybody else.
I think it was by the time we reached our purple belts that Justin had to leave as he was moving to Wales. So that was it - I’d lost my training partner. It was all up to me to practice on my own.
In a way, that was a blessing because it meant that I had to look deeper into my own karate and I think it paid off when it came to do my black belt because a lot was expected of you.
The 1st Dan grading was four hours long. I know what you’re thinking - how can a test take 4 hours? But - there was a course first, then a normal lesson and then the grading.
By the time it came to the grading, we were all very tired and I think that’s what they wanted as it’s only when you’re tired that you can see your true technique.
Anyway, I passed my grading and that was when I realised that it’s time to learn just what all these techniques did and how they worked.
I joined the Army for four years in 1996 when I was 18.
During that time, I tried to train as often as I could and although I didn’t have a club to go to, I could still practice what I knew.
As I was practising, people would stand and watch me.
After a while, one of the officers came to me and asked what I was doing, as they were impressed.
“It was karate,” I told him. “One of the most effective forms of self-defence in the world.”
In 1997, I was sent to Bosnia and this is when I got my first taste of teaching.
The same officer came to me and asked if I would do a self-defence lesson for the battery as there wasn’t much to do; when we weren’t out on patrol they were stuck on the camp. So, to keep them occupied, I decided to teach two lessons a week.
The whole regiment got posted back to the UK in 1998.
I decided to find out about the Army Karate Squad and how to get in to it, but that soon came to a halt when my regiment decided that I was of more use to them driving ammunition than training all day, every day, to get in to the karate squad.
So, I found a local club to train with, which eventually led me to Easingwold and our club was born in a small upstairs room in the town’s Galtres Centre. The room was too warm and it had a thick carpet.
I’d spread the word around Easingwold that there was to be a new club and I waited nervously to see if anyone would turn up. Five students arrived – and I had never been so glad to see anyone in my life!
I’ve taught over than a thousand lessons since then, but I still remember that first one as if it was yesterday.
Things are very different these days. We train in a massive hall with a proper floor and have more than forty students.
In 2013, I was delighted that our club was accepted into the prestigious Karate Union of Great Britain. This organisation is run by some of the most experienced instructors in the UK. Sometimes I can’t believe the knowledge these guys have.
My own instructor, Sensei Ian McLaren is like a walking encylopedia. I could listen to him all day. I sometimes think I have learned more from him in the last year than in the twenty that went before – and that’s saying something!
My passion now is teaching. I just love it. Karate has been handed down from teacher to student for more than a thousand years and will carry on like that, hopefully forever. It gives me a massive buzz to think that I am part of that – as, I hope, will be some of my students in the future.
I wouldn’t say karate is a way of life for me but, after my family, it is the one thing that I can say will always be a part of my life.
Sensei Grahame Hunter (Yondan)
Easingwold Shotokan Karate Club
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