My martial arts journey began in 1989. I remember clearly, being 7 years old and telling my dad that I really wanted to learn Karate. I don’t recall where the idea came from because in those days, growing up in Soviet Russia, there wasn’t that much on TV about martial arts. However, I was determined to start training and was specifically drawn to Karate. Somehow, I just had an affinity with it and a felt that Karate would be a very prominent part of my life. As I would later find out, my feelings were spot on.
After a few requests, my dad agreed to take me to my first class. I was super excited. It was a cold dark winter evening, we walked up to the training hall to find a small notice on the door. I asked my dad what that meant and he replied that the class was cancelled. Oh no! My dreams of learning Karate were crushed. I was deeply disappointed.
A year later, found myself with a copy of Bruce Lee’s book. It was a gift from my parents and got me really excited - finally I could start learning a martial art. It wasn’t Karate but it was close enough and I was really happy. I took this book with me to my grandma’s for summer holidays, determined to start training. I remember looking at the pictures and trying to understand the technique from the descriptions but things just didn’t make sense. I had no idea where to start. So, I put the book on the shelf next to bed, hoping that one day I would wake up and start practicing, but it never happened. I had plenty of time, but without guidance I just couldn’t do it and the book remained closed for the rest of the summer. That year, I’ve learned a very valuable lesson - it’s not possible to learn martial arts from a book. Having a teacher, especially at the early stages of training, is paramount.
The following summer, I had a fight with a boy from a neighbouring town. I can’t recall what the fight was about, but I do remember how I felt. He put me in a head lock and I couldn’t get out. I felt constricted, frustrated, out of breath, and weak. The situation was resolved when my grandma walked up the hill and broke up the fight. I was grateful for her help but also quite disappointed in myself. How could I let that happen? And more importantly, how could I prevent that situation from happening again? I began strengthening my body by training on the chin-up bar and became even more keen to start martial arts training as soon as the opportunity arose.
In 1992, my family relocated to Lithuania and my martial arts journey continued. I remember watching some action films (“Rambo” being one of them) and felt inspired to find a club and start training. So, together with a good friend, I joined a local karate club. The class had a female instructor who was amazing. I still remember my first class - I felt really welcome and supported. She showed interest in the students and ran the class in a friendly and enjoyable manner. I remember having a really good experience and was eager to continue training, thinking that this is where I would get my Black Belt. However, after three months, she suddenly disappeared. We just arrived at the class to find a young male instructor has taken her place. He wore a black belt, looked strong and had a good karate skill but his attitude to running the class was much different - something just didn’t feel right. This instructor didn’t seem to make much effort to connect with the students. He just didn’t seem to have any interest in us or why we were there. I no longer felt good about being in that class, lost motivation and stopped training. My friend stopped as well.
My main lesson from that experience was that no matter how much interest somebody might have an activity, being in a friendly and supportive environment is essential for that person to continue. Having that contrasting experience was very valuable for me, making it clear what type of teacher I would prefer to be around.
In 1995 my family moved again - we came to England. I was 12 years old and after watching The Karate Kid, my excitement in getting a black belt was reignited once again.
This time, I was more prepared - I knew exactly what was I looking for. I wasn’t just interested in karate but also in a pleasant and supportive environment. So, I found a club nearby, did a trial class and realised it wasn’t for me. Then, a while later, I came across another club and did a class, then left. Over the next 7 years, that pattern repeated several more times until I found Kenshukai Karate.
I still remember my first day. I was at my local gym for some personal fitness training when I saw people in karate uniforms standing outside the studio. I’ve been going to that gym for months, at different times, but never saw this group before. I was intrigued. I’ve been drawn to learning karate for the last 12 years, but never found the right place. Could this be the club for me?
I came closer to find out more when another student noticed me, held out his hand to shake mine and with great enthusiasm said “Welcome to Kenshukai! My name is Conrad. How are you doing.”
My heart jumped with joy. “Wow”, I thought, “the positive energy here is amazing”.
Not knowing anything about the club, I asked if I could just watch a bit of the class. I sat down on the side, intending to watch a few minutes but ended up watching the whole session. The training was fast-paced and physically intense. I liked that! Everyone was highly focused and dedicated, with sweat pouring from their faces they were determined to do their best. The instructors were strict yet also light-hearted and gave each student personal attention – showing that they cared and wanted them to progress. At the end of the class, I remember watching Black Belts do their kata and thinking “Wow”. I was in awe and couldn’t wait to start.
I was there at the very next class, training with the group and loving every moment. Finally, I found the club I was searching for.
I was 19 then.
And now, 19 years later, I’m still here.