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Karate master and student each celebrate distinction

Sensei Bobby Smith awarding the rank of Advanced Junior Shodan to Zachary Bishop (Photograph supplied)

A 15-year-old karate prodigy who attained his junior black belt in 2017 at age ten is now his teacher’s first student to reach advanced junior black belt below the age of 18.

Zachary Bishop has now attended more than 750 karate lessons at the Academy of Martial Arts on Front Street in Hamilton.

His teacher, Sensei Bobby Smith, now carries the coveted distinction of an eighth degree black belt, awarded this year.

Zachary’s achievement marked a first for Sensei Smith in more than 40 years of teaching, with only five students having made it to junior black belt on the island in the International Okinawan Goju Karate Federation — the world’s largest Okinawan Karate organisation.

Okinawa, the smallest and least populated of Japan’s five main islands, is the birthplace of several martial arts, including karate.

“Karate has been a part of my life as long as I can remember and the discipline certainly helped me study for my GCSEs,” said Zachary, a pupil at Saltus.

“I’ve learnt a lot from the opportunity to volunteer at the dojo for the Duke of Edinburgh's Award and to help other students move up the ranks over the years.”

The Southampton teenager added: “It’s a great leadership experience and I’m very grateful for the guidance from Sensei Smith.”

Sensei Smith was awarded the eighth degree by the IOGKF this year.

His academy follows the international syllabus that 75,000 members in 63 countries are tested on, according to the same standards — and Sensei Smith has joined only a handful of masters ranked eighth dan or above.

The term dan refers to rank, and runs from one to ten, the highest.

Sensei Smith said that karate was “literally a way of life and I have always been a fan of keeping-it-real self-defence techniques”.

He added: “Covid made it very tough to train students.

“But we adapted to Zoom and several students surpassed my expectations.

“Attendance hasn’t bounced back to pre-pandemic levels but this is to the benefit of existing students, who have found that smaller class sizes really helps them, with extra attention.”

The tests for both student and teacher were gruelling events, he said.

Zachary had to show judges his additional knowledge around hojo undo training — supplementary exercises designed to develop ambidextrous physical strength, stamina, muscle co-ordination, speed and posture.

“I’ve been training now for ten years and continue to really enjoy spending time at the dojo with Sensei Smith and my father, who often trains with me,” Zachary said.

“Putting my accomplishments on my university applications next year will be viewed really positively from a discipline perspective.

“Training is a great workout and has helped me with fitness in the gym generally.”

Proud parents Gavin and Lisa Bishop have been supporting Zachary on his karate journey.

“We would never have anticipated Zach’s level of commitment to karate,” Mr Bishop told The Royal Gazette.

“Sensei Smith has been such a positive role model for him and all of the other students at the academy.”

Front Street made for easy access to the dojo and the flexibility of training gave the family “a normal to look forward to” during disruption caused by the pandemic.

Sensei Smith said the academy had diversified in recent years having become the local official venue for both the World Axe and World Knife-throwing leagues.

“As well as martial arts training and self-defence, we also host many corporate events and party events,” he said.

“I’m looking forward to the autumn term and sharing in the successes of Zach and my other students.”

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Published August 10, 2023 at 7:51 am (Updated August 10, 2023 at 1:26 pm)

Karate master and student each celebrate distinction

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