tom's kolom

The formative years: Enoeda Sensei

Reading in Richard Amos Sensei's ‘Chasing Bushido’, inspired me to look into some of my own karate past. I had some experience in Shotokan karate when I started my study of Japanese Language and Culture in Leiden in 1987, but was somewhat of a ronin, training at various clubs in Leiden and The Hague without getting proper satisfaction. I remained a green belt until I went to Cambridge in 1990 to study Japanese protohistory. There I found the truly inspiring Cambridge University Karate Club. This was a large club, training 5 times a week in Fenner's Gym. A student President, a Men's and a Women's Captain shared the responsibility for the teaching, with a professional instructor visiting on Sunday and gradings done under Bob Poynton Sensei at the end of every term. A regular guest instructor to the club was the formidable Enoeda Keinosuke Sensei and this ‘kolom’ is about my own history with CUKC and my relation with Enoeda Sensei that grew with it.

I remember going to the student's fair when I arrived in autumn of 1990 and noticing the CUKC stand, where I received information about the training schedule and the freshers' course. I had taken my dogi and green belt across the Channel, but turned up wearing a white belt. Gethin Rees, the president in 1990, welcomed me at the door of a packed dojo, complementing me on the gi. Little things like that change your life. I trained excessively hard all sessions, soon wearing my green belt and grading to purple at the end of Michaelmas term, to purple-and-white at the end of Lent and to brown at the end of Easter term. The problem was that I was not officially enrolled in Cambridge University at the time. I was sort of a guest of Dr Gina Barnes. But the club had a pretty packed competition schedule and I was eager to participate, so I had to get an international student card. With that and membership I could participate both as a student and as a member of the club. It became a little dodgy with the most important match of the year, the Varsity against Oxford. I was picked for the B-team and Gethin and Captain Andrew Gates (boy, what a powerhouse he was) decided that it would be okay, as the real match concerned the A-team (obviously).

These guys where my role models and I wanted to be what they were. My dream was to lead the team in the future, if such a thing were possible. But first I had to compete as a B-team member. I still have some photos, I which I look very young (not surprising, as it is 30 years ago) and in which I am awarded several waza-ari during the kumite. I do not think I actually won. The photos only give that impression, because the photographer ignored the points given to the Oxford guy. I am also visible doing tekki shodan. My points were okay and my kiba-dachi looks decent enough. Afterwards one of the Oxford guys walked up to me and told me that he had never seen such a strong tekki. I guess it was stiff as hell, but I was pleased nonetheless. The strong A-team lost, which was dreadful. Oxford had some really good athletes that year. And with the loss the Enoeda trophy that was given to the winning party went to Oxford.

Varsity 1991, performing Tekki Shodan
Varsity 1991, getting ready for kumite, with Simon Hastings coaching

Enoeda Sensei visited CUKC every term and it was an absolute highlight when he did. When his Mercedes drew up in front of the gym nervousness and electricity hung in the air. His charisma was tremendous and the seniors would compete to try to curry favor by carrying his bag, holding doors open. Once a year the squad was invited to his house in Surrey. That sounded fabulous, and it was, but it also meant that we had to perform. By that I mean sketches or songs. The karaoke machine broke down the first time we visited, but Gethin sang a Welsh song all alone and that made us pick up our courage too. I sang ‘The Crystal Ship’ by The Doors.

Long story short, I left Cambridge bent on coming back, but first I did my military service and then graduated in spring of 1993. I had raised sufficient funds from various bodies (like the British Academy) to be able to properly enlist this time. I had returned to Cambridge to grade and visit the club in December 1992, at which time I passed 1st kyu and convinced the president and captain of that year that they really had to give me a shot at the captaincy for the year after. It was pretty unheard of that someone would just breeze in and become captain like that, but I convinced them that with Mark Daymond, who had been a training buddy during my previous stint, as president it would be a perfect combination. And so it was decided. I went to Crystal Palace and took my shodan with Enoeda Sensei and at the end of summer I returned to Cambridge as captain. Mark and I were a great team and we were lucky that some strong competitors joined that year or had come up through the ranks.

With Yash Kulkarni and Chris Lloyd I formed the kata team, working twice a week before class in a squash court on Jion and Nijushiho. The KUGB Student Nationals were in November and I teared up when we won gold. On the other hand, I made the mistake of not picking the strongest team for kumite, but wanting an all black belt team. The result was that strong brown belts like Harry Kavanagh were on the B-team, and that both the A- and B-team had to settle for bronze, whereas otherwise we could have swept the golds. I learned my lesson and at the BUSF National Championships (the All Styles Universities Championships) in spring we fielded the strongest team and won both the kata and the kumite events. Obviously, we thrashed Oxford in the Varsity too and took the Enoeda trophy back to where it belonged: Cambridge. I here neglected the results of the women team, because I did not compete in it, but I must do them justice for their great results with Oyun Sanjaasuren as their captain. Oyun by the way was not only a tough karateka, but also a chess player that demolished me on the chess board and went on to become foreign minister in Mongolia.

Varsity 1994, revenge. Happy faces with the Enoeda Cup. Standing from left to right Dave Sann, Yash Kulkarni, Mark Daymond, Chris Lloyd, Yannis Hatzioannou, kneeling Ramy Badawi, me, Harry Kavanagh.
BUSF 1994, Yash showing the box with the gold medal and celebrating with Dave, Harry, me and Ramy. My nose swollen from heavy contact after yame, which earned me another ippon as a penalty.

Enoeda Sensei had continued his patronage of the club and Mark and me had invited him and his wife Reiko for a day of punting on the river Cam and leisurely dining and from that started a somewhat closer relationship. I trained sometimes in Enoeda Sensei's dojo in Marshall Street before I was to go to Japan and consulted him regarding where I should go train in Osaka. When I attended class with him for the last time he honored me by giving me a silk belt with his name embroidered on it, but apologized for having forgotten to look up the dojo. But no worries, if I would ask for the JKA in Osaka, I could not possibly go wrong. Well, as we know, this small fact turned my world upside down and I ended up training at the dojo of Kagawa Masayoshi Sensei in the rival JKA.

After returning from Osaka in 1996 and having been suggested as a candidate for the JKA instructors course I briefly spoke to Enoeda Sensei during a training camp in the Netherlands. I asked his permission to join the course, although it was with the rival faction of the JKA. Although he clearly was not pleased, he gave me his blessing, understanding that it was too important an opportunity for me. I also had a question for him. Naito Takashi Sensei wanted to record Enoeda Sensei's remarkable history for posterity and had instructed me to ask Enoeda Sensei if we might be allowed to work with him on his memoires. Sensei just laughed and said he was too young to consider that.

Handwritten letter by Enoeda Keinosuke Sensei

Fast forward to 2002. I met Enoeda Sensei that year upon my return to the Netherlands and to my surprise he brought up the topic of his memoires and told me he had begun sorting material. He asked me to come and visit him in England when the time was right. I could hardly believe my ears and was elated. To work with him on his biography, in whatever form, would be fantastic. After all, Enoeda Sensei was one of the "larger than life" instructors of the heyday of the JKA. Later that year I received a nice handwritten letter in which Sensei explained that he had been very busy until now, but wanted me to visit him in London in February-March of the next year, as during December-January he would be back in Japan. The letter was very kind, but I failed to understand its deeper meaning. I do not know whether Sensei himself knew how serious his condition was.

Enoeda Sensei travelled back to Japan for medical reasons, but never returned to England. He passed away at age 67 in Japan on March 29, 2003.