Senshuken Shotokan Karate Club is a family-friendly karate club based in Ipswich, Suffolk. Formed as recently as 2018, the club – like everyone else – has just endured a turbulent two years but has skilfully emerged out of the other side in great shape. We spoke to founder Jack Somers to find out all about this young, flourishing club.

Successful athletes from Senshuken Shotokan Karate Club show off their medals at the KUGB Central Regional Championships in March

KUDOS: Firstly, can you tell us a bit about Senshuken Shotokan Karate Club – your involvement in it, how it got started etc?

Jack, Senshuken SKC: The club opened its doors on 1st March 2018, after many years of training and competing for different clubs, I made the decision to start a club of my own with a view to developing the students under the guidance of the KUGB (Karate Union of Great Britain) – the association I have been part of since I began karate at the age of 6.

I felt it was time to give back some of the superb tuition I had received over the years. My aim was to start small and gradually build in numbers as the years progressed.

I teach all the sessions at the club with help from Sensei Daniel Woodward and my team of adult and junior black belts.

On the rare occasions I am away competing or unable to teach Sensei Daniel steps in, I also have guest instructors visit the club to give the students other perspectives in teaching, each person has their own unique way of delivering a lesson and this can be very beneficial to the learning process of an individual.

Once I finish competing my focus will be channelled 100% into teaching as well as continuing with my training and future gradings. I am eligible to take my 5th Dan in 2024 which seems a long way off, but no doubt will come around quicker than I think!

It sure will! So, with all the different forms of martial arts, what is it about Shotokan that appealed to you in the first place, and why might a newcomer choose it ahead of the other disciplines?

Like most children my parents choose different activities and sports for me and my sister to try, we both went skiing, swimming and Shotokan karate. This continued for many years and although I enjoyed all my sports it was karate that stood out as my favourite, and after long consideration I decided that to progress to the level I wanted to achieve I would need to fully focus on karate.

The choice of which type of martial art was again down to my parents. In Ipswich where we live there was and still is a wide range of different martial arts clubs to choose from. My parents chose Shotokan for many reasons –  they were looking for a style of karate that focused on more than just kicking and punching, and there was a friendly family club nearby called The Hollies Shotokan Karate Club. We already knew people that trained there and went along to try a session, my sister and I enjoyed our first lesson, we felt welcome at the club and liked being with others that we knew.

Over the years I moved clubs and spent many years training at Chelmsford SKC with Sensei Charles Naylor. It was Sensei Naylor’s teaching that helped me believe I could aim for the top – he believed in working hard and never giving up, something that I have carried with me to this day. Sadly Sensei Naylor passed away when I was 12 years old, My proudest moment remains being selected for the KUGB England karate squad whilst he was still alive – a tribute to his outstanding teaching and belief in me.

Shotokan Karate is an all-round martial art – it focuses on kata (set forms of movement), kumite (fighting) and khion (basic training drills). Added to this is self-defence and fitness. Karate is a fantastic way to work the whole body, it develops core strength and improves focus – especially in children. It’s amazing to see young children progress in Shotokan – they come into the dojo, see the discipline and respect shown by all the students to each other and it seems to transfer over onto them, and within a few lessons they also begin to show the same characteristics.

For adults, Shotokan allows them to improve their fitness whilst also enjoying a social element. Everyone helps each other, it’s an opportunity to leave the stresses of daily life at the dojo door and for a few hours each week focus on something positive.

Senshuken’s lovely KUDOS jacket, modelled by Jack!

We speak to a lot of clubs across different sports, and we’ve all (Kudos staff) been involved in a lot of different sports, but it seems to us that karate is different – it becomes about so much more than just the activity itself, and about something sort of greater – in terms of a way of life, instilling discipline, on a deeper and philosophical level, becoming a better person…is that fair?

I would agree with this. Having tried other sports, which I enjoyed for both the physical and competitive element, karate is not just a sport, not just for competing. Most karate students choose martial arts more for the development at all levels, and discipline plays a huge role, both inside the dojo and outside. Karate teaches you to respect those around you, we are encouraged to avoid conflict which seems strange to say when most people presume martial arts are for self-defence! Yes, there is that side to it, however there is so much more to martial arts than fighting, and that’s why karate appeals to all ages and abilities adult and children. There are not many activities or sports available for the whole family to take part in at the same time! It is because there is no barrier to the age a person can take part in karate, and you find that many students and instructors continue with their training way beyond the age that most sports become inaccessible.

In the KUGB we have a huge amount of instructors and students who are in their 50s to 80s, and these people have an active role to play: they have a wealth of knowledge to pass down, and add this to the younger instructors who have learned from their teachers and are adding their own ideas to the mix, then Shotokan karate is in a fantastic place to develop and adapt going forward. That certainly shone through when dealing and adapting to the pandemic.

Jack, dripping in trophies and medals!

Ah, the pandemic! So how did you as a club – instructors and members – cope during the lockdowns? Was Zoom an option, and if so, how did it work out for you?

Lockdown during covid-19 came as a complete shock to us all, something we had never experienced before. Once we got used to the fact that we were unable to meet up it became obvious by speaking to my students and their families that we were all struggling to deal with this new isolation both physically and mentally.

As a club we talked through various ideas and I decided to offer the option of Zoom sessions. These were planned out to consist of both karate and general fitness – I am a qualified PT so had a solid background of fitness to draw upon, and the challenge was to make the sessions work on a screen.

My students all had different issues with accessing the sessions, some were lucky enough to have home gyms, and garages to train in, but for many they had to be inventive and resort to using living rooms, gardens, kitchens, and hallways. The list of possible places to train was always inspirational! For myself, my training and teaching took place in the dining room with roll out mats to try to protect the floor!

The internet also played a massive part with connection issues from time to time, and it took everyone, including me, some time to get used to multiple small screens on a laptop!

Zoom proved a massive boost to us all, though. I was teaching 6 days a week, 3 days of karate and 3 days of fitness. The karate was split into separate lessons to allow students to be taught in grade order, alternating between kata, kumite drills, basics and countless different fitness sessions concentrating on core, legs, arms etc. The aim was to keep everyone motivated, fit and ready to return to the dojo once we were allowed to.

It started with just the karate students, my own and those linking in from other clubs in this country and abroad! This soon changed and I found I had a dedicated following of parents, brothers, sisters all joining in for the fitness sessions.

We also held quiz nights, coffee and cake get-togethers for parents and friends to have time to chat to one another – the options with Zoom were never-ending!

Once we were allowed, we resumed training outdoors on a large field owned by Sensei Daniels family. Thankfully it was summer so the weather on most days was pleasant, although we did have to be careful of sunstroke and rehydration on the hotter days! These outdoor sessions complemented the Zoom online training, and between the two we finally made the transition back to the indoor dojo.

These weekly sessions allowed us all to stay connected, to keep fit in both mind and body. It’s amazing how much we all realised we missed human company.

We can relate to that! Some clubs we’ve spoken to found that the pandemic maybe highlighted areas of their practices and methods that could be improved, issues that hadn’t dawned on them until we were all forced into this new reality…getting creative etc. Was that the case for you, and if so, have you kept on any of those changes?

I certainly agree that the pandemic highlighted different areas – the logistics of teaching and training in restricted spaces being a major one. Each training session began with a safety check for each person to make sure that their training space was as safe as it could be. This also became evident when we first returned to training indoors and had to socially distance with no contact being made, so again we had to be inventive, dividing our training sessions into correct distance apart, keeping classes small to allow for the extra space needed.

Once we were able to return to more normal training and social distancing relaxed, I decided that dividing the sessions in grade defined classes worked well. This meant changing from our normal pre-pandemic two sessions a night to expanding to three sessions each night – more teaching involved for me, however the new classes worked well and meant that all students are trained with their specific requirements in mind.

For us as a club this has proved a positive step and one that I intend to keep.

That’s really great to hear. So how do you manage instructing and competing concurrently?

This was always going to be a balancing act – as a KUGB England squad competitor I need to ensure that I keep my own fitness levels at their maximum. I use the gym daily before I go to work, and this side of my training complements the karate sessions in the dojo. I train as many times each week that I can, plus sessions at the weekend. This often means travelling to other dojos around the country to train with different instructors.

My England squad training takes place in the Red Triangle dojo in Liverpool. For me this requires a round trip of 500 miles each session! I have been part of the KUGB England squad for 16 years, with 5-6 sessions each year that soon adds up to many miles on the road.

Added to this are multiple trips to venues around the country to access training. We are very fortunate in the KUGB to have access to many high-level instructors, and as an association all our squad training and many courses throughout the year are offered free of charge to students.

This year is a particularly important one as England are hosting the WSKA World Shotokan Karate Championships in Liverpool on 10th and 11th September 2022, and I am very much looking forward to this event.

The ESKA European Shotokan Karate Championships will be taking place in Switzerland in December. I hope to be selected for both events, and in the lead up to selection I will compete at various competitions including Nationals, Grand Slams, and the Shotokan Cup.  

Jack – winning

Do you cater for all ages and abilities? Can people join just for fun, or will they always end up competing?

The club covers all aspects of karate for all ages and abilities, from those who enjoy training to those who want to aim for elite level. Whilst most of our club members train for the enjoyment and progression of grading for their belts and for the social side of being with family and friends, we have an extended “karate family” that likes to train and socialise outside of the dojo, something we really encourage.

We are also there to encourage and help develop those who express an interest in competing. It is always a choice rather than expected and we never force a student to compete.

At present, including myself there are five England squad members: Sensei Daniel, Millie, Maddie, and Samuel. Whilst I have been part of the KUGB England for 16 years these youngsters are new to the squad, and they have worked extremely hard to get selected and must train and compete at a high level each year to keep their standards high.

There are a few other younger students who are also preparing for selection in 2023 – they also follow the same training regime as those who are already squad members.

These youngsters are role models to the other students at Senshuken Shotokan Karate – they show what can be achieved if you are willing to work hard and want to aim for the top.

Personally, I have been very fortunate over the years to compete at the highest level in karate at World and European Championships around the world. To date I have 5 World medals (1x Gold, 4x Bronze) and 12 European medals (7x Gold, 2x Silver, 3x Bronze), 17 International medals in total.

I still enjoy competing and training and, although one day I will stop the competition side, I will certainly not end my training or teaching; those are the things that I will continue for as long as I am able to.

Fantastic. And so, finally, if someone reading this is thinking about coming along and joining, how would you convince them to come along? How would you sell it, in a nutshell?

Senshuken SKC is a family-oriented club, we already have many mums, dads and their children training with us, and we find that a lot of our enquiries to join the club come from recommendations from existing members.

The club is fully inclusive, we cater for adults and children (from the age of 5), there is no upper limit on age and no limits on ability, whether it is your first-time trying karate or you are experienced we have classes aimed to suit all.

The training is structured around each student, with targets mutually set to help progress at a rate that suits the individual.

Karate is a fantastic form of exercise and is accessible to all ages and abilities, it helps with a person’s physical and mental health, teaches respect, helps to develop confidence, is proven to improve social skills and you will learn self-defence.

Shotokan Karate is also excellent value for money, with most clubs charging reasonable rates for each session and discounts applied if multiple members of one family train together, or a person wants to train in multiple sessions per week.

The initial outlay for equipment is minimal – for the first few weeks you can train in a pair of joggers and a t-shirt… we train in bare feet, so no expensive trainers required!

The first session is FREE which enables new students to have the opportunity to try a lesson to see if karate is for them. Once a student has trained for a few sessions they will need a karate Gi (suit which comes with your first belt), plus a KUGB karate licence which is renewed annually.

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Thanks so much to Jack for such an enlightening and fascinating chat. It’s clear that Jack and Senshuken are completely immersed in what they do, like so many people involved in karate. That passion for their sport fuels our own passion – it drives us to be as good as we can possibly be, and as such help those clubs who wear Kudos, in just a small way, to be as good as they can possibly be, too.

If you’re interested in popping along to Senshuken Shotokan Karate Club to give it a try, you can get in touch with them via their Facebook page, or alternatively get in touch with us and we’ll point you in the right direction.

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