An interview Sensei Donovan
as featured in M.A.I Vol 15 No 12 May 2003

(Many thanks to the Managing Director of M.A.I for his kind permission to reproduce this artical)

If you asked most Martial Arts practitioners the question: “Who is the most famous Karateka in the world?” Top of the list would definitely be Ticky Donovan. Ticky has ruled as top traditional and tournament practitioner and top coach for nearly 40 years. He has guided the British Karate scene to being one of the best in the world ruling the World Tournament scene with FIVE successive world team title wins between 1982 and 1990 being awarded the OBE by Her majesty the Queen for his services to Karate.

Ticky Donovan is still the National Team Coach for the English Karate Governing Body and is poised for even more success. If any readers out there aspire to being World or Olympic Karate Champion read these words very carefully, because you couldn’t get better advice than from someone who has been there and done it so many times…..

STEVE ROWE- Hi Ticky, welcome to the pages of Martial Arts Illustrated, can you tell the readers how you became interested in Karate?

TICKY DONOVAN- I started Karate when I was eighteen years old in 1965, I was Boxing and my friend was into Judo, he brought round these magazines with pictures of Tatsuo Suzuki breaking bricks and said “let’s have a go at this…” so we went along to Tatsuo’s club at Clapham Common and started there.

STEVE ROWE- So you first started with Wado Ryu?

TICKY DONOVAN- That’s right, with Tatsuo Suzuki - and then Mr Shoimitsu came over and a Miss Hayashi. Later on of course, many other Japanese Instructors graced our shores.

STEVE ROWE- You started in competition early?

TICKY DONOVAN- In 1966 I was Junior Champion (by grade - it wasn’t by age then) but we started Karate to do the Art and didn’t really think of competition.

STEVE ROWE- How did you find the switch from Boxing to Karate?

TICKY DONOVAN- I’d boxed all through the schoolboy championships and to be honest after the first Karate lesson I was going to leave because I thought it was too slow. Every time I moved my shoulders were up and I bounced around on the spot… but that was on the Wednesday and when we finished I told my friend that I didn’t like it very much, but on the Friday there was a demonstration with Mr Suzuki, Mr Shoimitsu and Miss Hayashi and once I saw them do the demonstration I said “that’s it!” I was hooked!

STEVE ROWE- How long did you stay with Wado?

TICKY DONOVAN- About three or four years. Then came the political split. When I started Karate I worked on the newspapers and Karate was expensive, it was about 5 shillings a session to train, a lot of money at the time! Len Palmer said that if I collected the Dojo fees for him that I wouldn’t have to pay to train and that helped me a lot. The problem was that if there wasn’t a lot of money taken it was up to me to hand the money over to the Japanese Instructors! Anyway, when the split happened and Tatsuo Suzuki went to Kings Cross, he wanted me to go with him and Len Palmer wanted me to stay with him and teach. My loyalties were split, Mr Suzuki was my instructor but Len Palmer had helped me out when I really needed it. So I stayed with Len and taught, I had John Smith there to help me and then Mr Kanazawa came over and we switched to Shotokan. STEVE ROWE- So it was the club and not just you that converted to Shotokan?

TICKY DONOVAN- That’s right. We also used to go over to the Blackfriars Dojo to train with Mr Kanazawa and Mr Enoeda and then Mr Kanazawa went to Germany and Mr Enoeda went to Liverpool and then there was no Instructor! I then broke a bone in my hand at the selections for the European Championships and I gave up completely for six months. I had an offer of door work in the West End of London for Billy Walker so I took that on and gave up Karate. After the six months I felt that I wanted to train again and the nearest club to me was at Stratford in the East End of London with Steve Arniel in Kyokushinkai. When I walked in a lot of my friends were there and although the “finesse” of Wado and Shotokan wasn’t there, the atmosphere was great! So I changed to Kyokushinkai and trained with them for three or four years and took my second Dan with Mas Oyama when he came over. It was good there, but in the end splits came so I left and opened my own Dojo.

STEVE ROWE- Is this when you formed Ishinryu?

TICKY DONOVAN- Actually, Ishinryu was my club name. I remember going to a dinner with a lot of the Japanese Instructors when Sasugawa (STEVE ROWE-: a well known Japanese businessman and financier of Japanese Karate) came over and I was sitting next to Mr Kimura (a famous Japanese Shukokai Instructor who was resident in England at the time and who tragically died a few years ago) and he said “Ticky, you’ve made a new style called Ishinryu” and I told him it was the name of my club and he said “but there’s a few clubs” and I said that they were my students clubs and he said “then you have a style!” I thought if he says that….. then I guess I have!

STEVE ROWE- How did you get the name?

TICKY DONOVAN- I wanted a name that meant “open mind’ but when translated it came out as “empty head” so I couldn’t use that…. I met this Judoka Japanese guy when I was on holiday and he got this great big translation book out and came up with the name Ishinryu that meant “everybody with one heart” and I asked if there was any Ishinryu in Japan and he said no, it was only later that I discovered that there was one in Okinawa. The name grabbed me because I’d learned a lot of good things from Wado Ryu, Shotokan and Kyokushinkai, in Japan I’d learned some good skills from Mr Higoanna in Goju and I could put all of those skills together and use them under that name in my club. Quite often people think of Ishinryu as a tournament style – but they forget that we dominated the Kata events for years! When I’m asked to do a course it’s normally for competition training… people don’t realise that we do basics and Kata just the same as them!

STEVE ROWE- How did your clubs spread?

TICKY DONOVAN- Peter Dennis went to Basildon Will Verner opened in East Ham, Tyrone White opened in Stratford - we created our syllabus and that’s how we became a style and group.

STEVE ROWE- Can we backtrack a bit for the readers and track your tournament career from the start? TICKY DONOVAN- My first ever fight I lost when my opponent hit me with a low roundhouse kick and I went to fight on and was told to sit down because he’d won… I sat down and thought “well, this is a load of rubbish! I was only there for a few seconds!” But I stuck with it and won the Southern Area Junior Championship and then the Southern Area Seniors the following year and then the British Championships in ’73 ‘74’ and ’75. That was important to me because although others had won the Championship before, no one had won it twice. I had contact with Dominic Valera at the time and he had this list of how many times he’d won the French Championships and I thought “that’s the way I want to go!” I was travelling on a train once with Allan Francis (a well known Karate politician in the past) and he said “you should really stand down now after winning the British title twice” and I said that I wanted to make it a hat trick! When I won it the third time I fought Tyrone White who was one of my students and he won the Bronze, I knew then it was the time to make space for the others and the next year Tyrone did win it. My “hat trick” of British titles can never be beaten because after that they started weight categories and it all changed.

STEVE ROWE- What happened then?

TICKY DONOVAN- Then I fought in the team internationally and we won the World Championships in 1976 .

STEVE ROWE- Still the greatest moment for British Karate.

TICKY DONOVAN- When I think of the publicity we had then! It was in all the national papers, because we’d beaten Japan in the finals the reporters and photographers had come through customs and as we were walking to get our baggage everyone was taking photos… I remember thinking yeah…. We’ve arrived! The team that won the World Championships in ’76 never fought as a team again. I had thought that ’77 was going to be my year - and in my first international match of the year in February in France I ripped the ligaments in my knee. That year I went to Japan and fought, but I was only 70% with the injury and Roy Stanhope took over from Steve Arniel as manager. I asked him if I could fight in the team again and he said that he wasn’t staying as manager and that I was the next in line for the job. He said that if I went back to fight I would miss the opportunity and someone else would get the job. It was really good advice from Roy and I’m indebted to him for it. I took over as coach and we continued to win the World Championships in ‘82, ’84, ’86, ‘88 and ’90. That record of 5 consecutive wins still stands - France came close to equalling it but only made four times, so it’s not going to broken for many years yet!

STEVE ROWE- What do you think about the difference between Tournament Karate in those days and now?

TICKY DONOVAN- People often say that in the old days it was a lot stronger and harder, but in fact it was because we just didn’t have the control! We used to do our “normal” karate training of basics and Kata and then go to a tournament over the week end and just beat each other up, no protection, nothing! Although it was hard and strong then, the competitors now are complete athletes, it’s a different world. If you look at the eastern bloc countries now it’s like some of them 4 arms! With the new rules, 3 points for a kick to the head, 2 points for a kick to the body, competitors have to be a complete athlete. I like the new rules they makes tournament much more exciting. We used to look for a good draw but now there’s no such thing, no easy countries, places like Bosnia and the Czech Republic are so strong!

STEVE ROWE- My student is the Czech National Coach and he texted me straight after they beat the English team in Poland, he was over the moon! It shows that they still consider England as the team to beat!

TICKY DONOVAN- That’s right! Our juniors then went on to win well in the individuals, if you consider that the 5 in that team 1 took Gold, 1 took Silver, 1 took bronze and the other 2 got through to the last 8! So all 5 did well individually. A lot of these emerging countries in the Karate world are really sharp! We lost to Spain and then in the repercharge Czech beat them easier than Spain did! So with the new rules and the ever changing environment they have to train a lot harder than we ever used to.

STEVE ROWE- For the readers, the tournament situation can be confusing, it seems that everyone’s a “World” “European” or “British” titleholder, can you explain what the situation is?

TICKY DONOVAN- The official titles can only be won through the World Karate Federation. We’ve just had the World Championships in Spain – it’s a BIG Competition! Every country goes to it and the standard is just phenomenal! We’re in the last few sports now for Olympic recognition, we should have been in years ago and it’s only petty politics that have spoiled it. Karate is the tenth biggest sport in the world now.

STEVE ROWE- So for any reader aspiring to be a proper World or Olympic Champion – what’s his or her route forward? TICKY DONOVAN- There is only one route. They have to belong to the English Karate Governing Body, and if their club instructor or they feel that they have the potential, they should attend the English Karate Governing Body Squad training sessions. It’s for both Junior and Senior competitors and I stress that these sessions are open to ANYONE that holds and EKGB licence. Instructors and ex Internationals come along just for the training, we had a session just a couple of weeks ago and Tyrone White and Diane Riley (both former world title holders) were there just for the training! After the training we hold the selections. If they want to join the selections they have to submit a form. Many people come for the training and then watch the selections for a while until they feel that they’re ready to try out for them. It gives them the opportunity to train, spar and practice pair work with current internationals without any pressure and really relax with it until they feel that they are ready to go for selection themselves. Don’t forget we’ve also got Dave Hazard there for the Kata, so we have the ability and the structure there for anyone with potential to come and train and get the recognition and selection to represent their country in both fighting and Kata.

STEVE ROWE- How do you feel this system is working?

TICKY DONOVAN- When I was the Squad Coach in ’96 we had the best squad in the world. We won 5 gold medals in the World Championships and topped the medal table. We won the Womens’ team event and only lost the Mens’ team event on encho sen. The Squad worked well, anyone coming into the squad could see me giving instruction to Wayne Otto, Ian Cole, Tricia Duggin, the Toney twins and the other current medal winners from the coaches chair and getting an instant response, so they just followed suit. We all had confidence in each other. Losing the job for three years meant that when I came back, it was different people and that the repartee wasn’t there. I was on the side giving instructions and the response just wasn’t happening. They lacked the confidence. It’s taken me three years to build that back and now when I call from the line they respond. The fighter is narrow visioned being so close to the opponent and I can see the broader picture from the line, but the fighter needs to be able to trust me and my instructions to instantly respond. It’s taken three years to build this back and now we’re getting the results. We lost the World Championships in Spain 3 – 2, to the home team. The referee had his licence taken away because of his decision making and most people felt that we should have won. It’s a shame we didn’t win it but we’ve got 2 years to get it right for next time. Our Women’s team is strong with all medal winning individuals and I feel really confident for them.

STEVE ROWE- How do you feel about strength in the English Karate Governing Body at the moment?

TICKY DONOVAN- I was over the moon when I got my job back, many of the Association Heads and squad coaches came to the first squad training just to wish me well and they continually feed me good potential champions. The EKGB has a lot of strength now. When you look all the way down the line we have very strong potential youngsters. It takes several training and selection processes to build their strengths and confidence but it’s really coming together now.

STEVE ROWE- Do you feel that there’s enough good quality competitions in England for our competitors?

TICKY DONOVAN- No. The benefit the others have in Europe is that they can just jump into a car and drive across the borders to plenty of high class tournaments. It’s expensive for our competitors to cross the channel and get out into Europe, but they’ve just got to do it.

STEVE ROWE- We used to have a lot of international tournaments here… what happened?

TICKY DONOVAN- Everyone in Europe keeps asking when we’re going to stage the Europeans and Worlds – but…. I guess that’s up to the powers that be, but we definitely need more opportunities at a high level for international experience.

STEVE ROWE- What about the idea for the seeding of fighters and referees through a series of Regional Tournaments?

TICKY DONOVAN- We’ve talked about this for years and it’s a great idea, but it’s never got off the ground - that’s why we have the open training sessions and selections the way we do. They’re open to anybody that’s got an English Karate Governing Body Licence and if they want to just come and train, they can. We’ve just had a session at Goresbrook in East London and over 100 attended and trained, but only about 30 went for selection. People travel from everywhere, we hold sessions at Loughborough and Birmingham as well.

STEVE ROWE- How do you see the future?

TICKY DONOVAN- Getting this job back was the best thing that happened to me, it couldn’t have come at a better time, it’s helped me to focus right down. Sport England have even made me stop teaching at my own club so I’m completely focussed on the National Team. The English Karate Governing Body is doing really well. I’ve got a great partnership with Suzanne Genery the National Coaching Officer and we work very well together with the National Lottery and funding schemes. Terry Pottage has done a really good job with the Referees and we’ve had more of our International referees qualify in Poland just recently. England is being recognised again. In two weeks time we’re taking both Men’s and Women’s teams to Madrid, paid for by the Spanish authorities because they want to fight England. Last year we were taken to Italy, France and Spain twice, so all these countries are saying that they want England because of our standard. Our juniors finished 6th on the medal table, not good enough for me but it’s up from 14th last year! We recently did very well at the Paris Open with several medals in Kumite and Kata. I’ve got great support with Dave Hazard and Wayne Otto as my assistant coaches and a great medical team. We’ve got a good Executive Committee who work well alongside our Technical Committee and I’d say that the English Karate Governing Body is the place to be! We have open arms to anyone who wants to join us and it’s good to have a friendly, supportive, well structured Governing Body. John Gilliland put it in a nutshell when he said that too many people say “EKGB” and I think it’s important that we say “English Karate Governing Body” because that’s what we are. There are many “National Governing Bodies” out there but only one official English Karate Governing Body. If any of these other “National Governing Bodies” tried to take a team to the European or World Championships they would be rejected because there is only one English Karate Governing Body. We are affiliated to the British Karate Federation and if we get Olympic recognition it will go through them.

STEVE ROWE- Thanks Ticky, some sound advice there for our aspiring competitors.

TICKY DONOVAN- Thank you Steve, finally I’d like to thank Suzanne Genery (EKGB Coaching Officer) and Wayne Otto (Assistant Squad Coach) for all their help over the last few years.

Sensei "Ticky" Donovan 9th Dan OBE
founder and chief instructor of Ishinryu karate

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