Graham Hopkins 4th Dan Wado Ryu - Aldershot club instructor

When did you first start Karate?

Graham Hopkins 4th Dan Wado Ryu - Aldershot club instructorIn the autumn of 1975 when I found a club which was in the then UKKW. (United Kingdom Karate Do Wadokai) I had just stopped playing rugby, after some 20 years in the sport, and was therefore looking for something physical to replace it. Although I enjoyed playing squash and tennis they did not really meet that need. Then I came across an advert for a beginner's course in Karate which was to take place in the "Peter Driver Sport's Centre" in Fleet, Hampshire. I remember there were around 30 of us at the first lesson, which was being taken by a charismatic and highly talented Karate-ka, called Mick Robbins. Such is the way of Martial Arts that I recall that there were only two of us left at the end of six months, myself and a Solicitor. One year on and there was only myself that was left still training! Anyway, I carried on and I've not really stopped since.

So what did you like about the training back then?

That's such a good question, as some of the training in the 70s was really tough and often done with exercises that today are regarded as dangerous! For example, doing basics with a partner sitting on your shoulders, was to say the least, a little uncomfortable". But we survived, although it is understandable why so many students did not continue to train. As a beginner it would have been very hard to understand why this should have been so. The following Tibetan quote I think explains the rationale behind such training very well.

"The iron ore thinks itself senselessly torchered in the blast furnace, but the tempered steel looks back and knows better"

Now after so many years there is still a great feeling in trying to improve your movement and technique and looking for new applications hidden in Kata. They say that when you become a green belt you think you know everything; on reaching brown belt you start to have doubts but as a black belt you realise just how much there is to learn. But it is the learning that is the fun. What I find that's really good is coming home from work tired, yet dragging myself to training and then coming away completely energised. It works every time!

Graham Hopkins 4th Dan Wado Ryu - Aldershot club instructorWho have been your instructors over the last 30 odd years?

I have been very fortunate with all the instructors I've been fortunate to train under. As I mentioned earlier, my first teacher was Mick Robbins who sadly died in his early 30s, but sowed the seed for my enthusiasm. Then there was Sensei Bill Bishop, a remarkable man who survived Dunkirk, North Africa and Italy during World War Two and then taking up Karate in his fifties. Bill made sure we learnt the syllabus really well and was an inspiration to us all. I then trained with his son Dave, a very innovative instructor whose basics were never boring, shattering yes, but never boring! My senior Instructor Sensei Shiomitsu Hanshi has been the biggest influence on my Karate. He is never satisfied and yet he continues to try and improve himself and that is a first class and excellent example for us all.

Have you taken part in competitions?

I had a torn retina in1980 and that really put paid to any Kumite competition if I'm honest, although I was probably past my sell by date in that when I actually first started Karate! Sensei Shiomitsu kindly brought me a full face mask from Japan so I could at least spar in the club and at all of my gradings. I had entered some kata competitions over the years with a little success. However in 2005, I was training hard for my 4th Dan and as part of that preparation I entered the annual Army Martial Arts competition and won the senior kata by a whisker. This gave me the enthusiasm to enter more competitions and my luck held in the veterans' kata competition in the Super-games in New Zealand and the weapons kata in the Inter-service competition all in the same year. So for me it was a year to remember and I think a message for all that it is never too late to compete and try to better yourself.

Graham Hopkins 4th Dan Wado Ryu - Aldershot club instructor Have you ever trained in any other martial art?

Yes, when I had my injury, I had to take a couple of years out from Karate and I was desperate to maintain some contact with the martial arts, so I trained in Iaido. In those days there were no kyu grades, so once you had reached the appropriate level you went on to take your Dan grade exam, provided a Japanese Master was in the country. I remember taking mine in the West Country, following a long weekend course. The exam taught me a lesson that I will never forget and one that my students are probably sick of me passing on to them! The grading involved us going on to the dojo floor in groups of 3 and after bowing on, performing a series of moves in front of the examiner. It seemed to go ok until we came to bow off. As I lay my iaito ( practice sword ) down in front of me, out of the corner of my eye I saw that the other two students had their swords facing in the opposite direction, so as formally as I could, I turned mine around to face the same way as theirs. How wrong can you be?!! My instructor, Sensei Len Bean, pinned me to the wall after the grading and told me that my sword had been in the right position in the first place all along and that I had turned a pass into a fail! So the message was that you should learn by and trust your own hand, not others.

That was a hard lesson. Have you ever trained in anything else?

Oh yes, in 1999 I spent a year doing Tai Chi, as well as Karate and learnt the short form, which I still find a great way to relax. Also within the Army martial arts association, we have a one week training course each year, where we have the opportunity to experience other martial arts including Tae Kwon Do, Aikido, Jujutsu, Judo and karate, all with high level guest instructors. After 1999, we introduced a beginner's week in Kendo, which is now also an annual event. This event caused some excitement and the Japanese ambassador came to the first course, as did the British Kendo team. It was such great experience!

What are your goals as an instructor?

There are two key points. I'm always trying to engender an enthusiasm for the art of Wado karate with everyone that I teach. I work on the principle that because without any enthusiasm within a student, you won't be able to get the technical aspects of the art over and this is the second key point. So enthusiasm and trying to break down the movements so the students understand what they are trying to achieve on a technical basis.

As instructor, what do you most difficult challenge?

I'm lucky that I teach karate, but before this, I was also a Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) tennis coach. After qualifying with the LTA, I then went on courses at places like Bisham Abbey, where they gave us so insight in how to teach correctly and I learnt so many fun drills, which help to keep people interested. They also showed us psychological techniques, so that you are able to help every individual. So I think the challenge is really trying to get the most out of every student. I have to say I'm very lucky, because my instructors in the old days sometimes left me to teach at a moment's notice and therefore you had to on your feet. Whilst really difficult, it made you think and adapt and has been really useful in the long term. It's still relevant now, especially as you don't know any class mix from week to week. Therefore it's so difficult to stimulate everyone, when you have beginners and brown belts in same the class, but that's the challenge!

What's the thing you find most difficult as student?

I guess I will have to say it is because karate is not seasonal, like football or cricket and everyone has periods of being less enthusiastic than at other times. Therefore I find keeping my constant motivation to teaching and training the hardest thing.

What's your favourite kata?

It consistently changes. My current favourite is Bassai, although it varies throughout any point during the year.

What have been your best achievements in the Martial Arts?

Well, I was the founder chairman of and am now president of the Army Martial Arts Association. I am also the founder chairman of the Combat Services Martial Arts Association, both of which have been very successful. I am also the Wado Academy's doctor which reflects my occupation in the armed forces is as a consultant Rheumatologist. I have been really lucky to be able to treat many famous sportsmen in their rehabilitation over the years. I'm also fortunate to be able to run courses on first aid and martial art injuries, which always helps others.

Who else's karate technique or spirit do you admire?

Sensei Arthur Meek was without doubt one of the cleanest technical fighters I've ever seen. Nikki Hawker on the female side, who represented the full GB team in both kata and fighting, was very similar. For courage, combined with technical ability, I'd have to say Craig Hadley, who is now captain of the Army karate team. I recall having a seminar many years ago with Ticky Donovan OBE, who was just unique and taught us all on another level. Of course more recently, I've had the privilege of training at Haslemere with Wayne Otto OBE and he is equally as inspirational.

What do you think are the best things for training?

Well, a top instructor, a good partner and a mirror. You have to know that repetition is important, but so variety is equally important.

Who would you like to train with, that you haven't already?

I know that although I was training at the time, I wish I had taken the opportunity to train with Grandmaster Ohtsuka 1st before he died. Other than that, to be honest, I've been so lucky to train with so many top instructors, such as Terry Pottage, Sensei Kobayashi and Sensei Tatsuo Suzuki. I therefore think that I've already trained with pretty much anyone I could have wished to. I've been been very fortunate to have trained under who I have done over the years. I couldn't have asked for better instructors.

Graham Hopkins 4th Dan Wado Ryu - Aldershot club instructor Who do you admire outside of karate?

Aha, an easy question! It is Nelson Mandela, Mikhail Gorbachev or the Dali Lama.

The Dali Lama, because he's always smiling, which brings me back to my earlier point!

Mikhail Gorbachev because he instigated, or helped instigate, the end of the cold war, at great personal risk to himself I think. Nelson Mandela is a man who shows to all of us, you can go through hell without becoming vindictive and bitter.

What's your motto in life?

Another good question! I guess it's "Keep smiling whatever happens", because it's infectious and people smile back, which then makes you feel better. So just keep smiling! In my job in the army rehabilitation clinics, I'm continually working with some seriously injured soldiers, who have come back from places like Iraq and Afghanistan. When you work with these young men, who have serious injuries and limbs missing and yet still always manage to look happy and smile, then it makes my problems seem irrelevant. They are inspirational people.

News Headlines

Wado Academy Winter Course 2017
The bookings forms will be available soon. The dates are Sat Feb 18th to Weds Feb 22nd at the Guildford Spectrum.

Xmas closing dates 2016
Farnham - Last class Sunday 18th Dec. Reopens Sunday 8th Jan

Haslemere - Last class 14th Dec. Reopens Weds 4th Jan.

Aldershot - Last class Weds 21st. Reopens Weds 4th Jan.

We often get asked about beginners courses. We don't run them specifically, but beginners are welcome at any time at any lesson. Call us if you want to chat first, all serious students welcome.

New Dan Grade syllabus
The Dan Grade syllabus for 2015-2017 is now available at this link.