Returning to Karate

"What’s it like to return to karate after a 15-year break?"
Gael Pawson did exactly that when she returned to training in February 2009.

Gael on the right at the 2010 Legends Competition

I first discovered karate when I was 19 or 20. The university I was at in Cheshire decided to run self-defence classes for female students, and the instructor inspired a couple of us to carry on. We found a sport that developed our fitness, and completely absorbing, a perfect antidote to the pressures of the constant essay deadlines. But when I left uni, life took over and my Gi was soon consigned to the loft.

Some 15 years later, for the first time in many years I found myself without a long commute to work. With a New Year’s resolution to use my free evenings to pick up some of the activities I used to enjoy in the past, I was easily persuaded to join a friend I was visiting for a session at his local club in Poole. That first evening was very daunting, but an hour and a half later I was buzzing and had a big grin on my face.

As soon as I got home I went straight onto the Internet… a bit of trawling threw up a local club. I plucked up my courage and rang the club Sensei. I have no idea what he made of the tentative voice that asked about joining, but I think I surprised him when I said I would be keen to come along that very evening. In actual fact, it would be the following week before I made it along – no comments please about girls and directions, I popped the postcode into my Sat Nav but it just took me to a roundabout! I certainly didn’t have the courage to walk into my first session late.

First few lessons

Arriving at the school the following week, I could see a stream of juniors clutching bits of paper, even finding the entrance was a challenge. The Sensei was easy to spot, fielding a range of questions from a gaggle of youngsters, his friendly smile helped to calm my nerves and he immediately set about introducing me to everyone.

Those first few lessons were a bit of a blur. I was very nervous, but I was determined to find my feet going to every session I could make. One minute I would find something that felt easy and natural, the next I would struggle with a very basic move. I was constantly amazed at what I remembered and how fast some bits came back. I was taken through Kion and Heinan Shodan; by the following lesson I could remember them.

The next lesson the Sensei took me through Hein Nidan, commenting, ‘You’ve done this before.’ He was right, it soon came back. However, I found Kumite a tougher challenge, feeling very nervous facing any opponent, but everyone helped. For some strange reason I really struggled with one block in particular; Soto Uke – it was as though my body remembered some things, but had forgotten others. One-step felt easier than five-step, and I had completely forgotten what anything was called, had no idea what I knew and what I didn’t, but then I wasn’t even sure of my Kyu grade (having previously trained with a different organisation) and even had to be shown how to tie my belt again! There seemed to be so many different kicks, remembering which was which was a real struggle. The katas came back quickly, but then they were always my favourite. Slowly but surely I began to find my feet, although even now, 12 months down the line, there are things that jump up and surprise me when I find something I have remembered, or forgotten completely. But I am beginning to feel myself finding a level to grow from.

It’s the people that make the club

When I left university I didn’t give up karate straight away; I joined a local club, but soon found I didn’t enjoy it any more. The key to my return was definitely finding the right club.

Sensei’s sense of humour constantly makes me smile, and he is very skilled at working people out, understanding what motivates them. So many times he has asked for a volunteer to do something, and grinned, ‘well done Gael’ when I certainly hadn’t put my hand up, telling Sensei Sue or Sensei Faye to work us hard because ‘Gael’s been complaining she hasn’t had a tough enough workout!’ There was the day he asked for volunteers to perform kata in front of the class – having ‘volunteered’ me and four black belts for the Kion, he then asked for the most junior grade present to do Hein Shodan, grinning: ‘Oh that will be you again Gael!’ proceeding to get me to do Nidan, Sandan and Yondan with a different group each time. By the end of it I was exhausted, but elated from the challenge. I might be very nervous and shy sometimes, but I love a challenge and respond well to being challenged – Sensei saw that from the start.

Megan, Gael and Lowri - 2nd in Ladies team Kata at the Legends Competition 2010

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On-Line Club Lessons

During the Covid - 19 period of club closures. Online zoom lessons are been provided by various clubs. Between the clubs these lessons are being provided on each weekday evening. In addition there are morning lessons on Thursday and Saturday mornings.

To meet instructor insurance requirements these lessons are only available to students holding a valid licence.

If you are a rengokai member or someone wishing to join the lessons, then please email me on for joining information.

The clubs providing these online lessons, with telephone and email addresses are as follows:

Bognor Regis. Sensei Glen  on 07720 275 814 or email: .

Crookhorn. Sensei Craig on 07850 979100 or Andy on 07966 482 877 or email:

Eastleigh Southampton Fair Oak. Sensei Merv on 07713 284 430 or email:

Locksheath. Sensei Nicky on 07966 202656 or email

Portchester. Sensei Merv on 07713 284 430 or email:

Waterlooville. Sensei Craig on 07850 979100 or Andy on 07966 482 877 or email:

In addition the Bognor Regis club provides lessons in Kobujutsu.

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