What started with a few kids fascinated with the movie exploits of high kicking legends such as Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris has developed into a federation boasting world champions.
The Ulster Karate-Do Federation was born in 1983 and is celebrating its 30th anniversary in some style this year with members claiming an impressive medals haul in a recent world championship event in Romania.
Fittingly, 2013 is proving to be the most successful year internationally in the organisation’s history - something UKF head coach, Sensei Shawn Barron, says is a “culmination of many years of hard work by members”.
“We’re rubbing shoulders with the best in the world. As my UKF colleague Denis Donaghey says ‘the more we train, the luckier we’re getting’. The years of experience and hard work are paying off for us now and it’s great to see.”
During the World Union of Karate-Do Federation’s (WUKF) fifth world championship event for seniors and veterans last month, the UKF squad won gold in the male team kata category, bronze in veteran team kumite, the veteran rotation team event and the senior rotation team.
Shawn, a 5th Dan black belt who has enjoyed a 34-year-long love affair with the sport, achieved silver in both the veteran individual kumite and veteran individual kata. Martin Mc Cole, a second Dan, achieved bronze in veteran individual kata while Shawn’s sons Dean and Glen Barron won a world bronze in the senior team rotation.
In addition the club gained further international recognition when UKF President, Sensei Columba Mc Laughlin (6th Dan) - a man whose karate CV spans almost 40 years - was awarded the title of Vice President of WUKF in Europe.
But there’s no intention to allow the accolades for 2013 to end there. Training is gathering pace once again ahead of the WUKF Senior and Junior European Championships in Sheffield this October.
“This year is definitely the biggest success we’ve had to date,” Culmore-based veteran karate expert Shawn Barron told the ‘Journal’ following a strength and conditioning session at Aileach Youth Club in Burnfoot this week.
“We’ve had fantastic year so far with great success at the world championships in Bucharest. It’s been the culmination of many years of hard work and in the run up to the competition in Romania the senior squad was training up to 18 hours a week.
“We achieved Gold in the Veteran Male Team Kata Category which was a real feather in our cap. The hard training regime by Captain Paul Taylor along with Martin and myself paid off as we had stiff opposition from the Russian and Ukranian teams.”
In April, the senior squad travelled to Hungary where they secured gold, silver and bronze medals once again. Martin McCole won gold in the Veteran Male Kumite. The UKF Veteran Team won the gold medal in the Male Veteran Team Kumite, UKF Kata Team achieved silver in the Veteran Kata team event and bronze medal in the Senior Team Kata event while Shawn secured bronze medal in the hotly contested Male Veteran Kata event.
“The senior squad has won a lot of medals but so has the junior squad. In Dublin at the Collon Karate Club’s 10th anniversary championship the junior squad won gold medals in 14 events, silver in 15 events and bronze in eight events. They all did very well - it was testament to the hard work and training they put in.”
Thousands of young people have come through the doors of the UKF’s various clubs over the last 30 years. Currently there are 300 members in the organisation which is based at Aileach Community Centre with other clubs Culmore and Quigley’s Point.
Shawn, who was honoured for his service to sport in the Derry and District Sports awards in 2010 and as Coach of the Year in 2011 awards, says karate “brings out the best” in youngsters.
He’s keen to point out that “karate’s not about fighting”.
“Over the years I’ve coached great young people with great attitudes and karate has allowed them to learn discipline as well as the art of self defence. The sport is great for boosting self esteem and confidence in young people, I’ve seen it over and over again. You see children in the 4-6 year-old class gaining confidence and developing with the help of taking part in karate. At the minute we’ve got a lot of children and young people coming through with great potential and now we have brilliant coaches with the expertise and years of experience to help guide them. The current champions are training the champions of the future and they are great role models,” he said.
The coach said the success of the federation “owes a lot” to the support of local communities who continue to sponsor kids at the local clubs. “We’d like to thank every who supports our fundraising events.”
The 1970s saw the beginning of organised Karate-Do in the North West. The initial Founding Members of the UKF were John Cooper, Paul Bell, Rob Collins, Tony Ward, Olly Redden, Frankie McGlinchey, Danny Sherrin, Noel McLaughlin and Columba McLaughlin. In 1984 these senior members invited Shihan Ritchie Noblett 5th Dan to Ireland to take courses for the UKF. Over the years the advice and help provided by Shihan Ritchie Noblett helped the UKF and its senior grades to develop and grow. Since its beginning the UKF has grown from strength to strength and currently is one of the most successful organisations in Ireland. The organisation was a founder member of the Ulster Karate Council (UKC) and the UKF has been instrumental in assisting both the Ulster Karate Council and the Northern Ireland Karate Board (NIKB) to develop and grow. Members of the UKF practice the sport and the martial art style of Wado Ryu karate. The federation is always welcoming to new members. Training times can be found at the UKF website www.ukf-karate.com