The KWU held its 5th World Youth Tournament in Varna, Bulgaria from 3-4th December, and was hosted by the Bulgarian Kyokushin-kan Federation on behalf of the KWU.
The BKK, as an IFK federated member of the KWU, selected 5 fighters, three from Wales (Dylan Baldwin, Luke Jones, Jaime-May Rowlands), and two from England (Callum Pearce, Olivia Pickthall) to represent Team GB.
The under-18 event, with competitors from 12 years upwards, was perhaps the largest and strongest tournament for Kyokushin rules with over 650 competitors from 33 countries, across 32 categories.
The logistics of transporting all the competitors to Varna plus registrations was quite a challenge. Some country teams were united (under a single team of multiple organisations) and others had separate teams primarily from member countries IFK, Kyokushin-kan, KWF and Shinkyokushin but there were also representatives from Rengokai, WKB and other independents from Japan.
The team left the UK in the early hours of Thurs 1st Dec arriving in Sofia with a long stop-over, finally arriving at the team hotel in Varna closer to midnight; some of the team had been on the move for close to 24hrs and departing Sofia for Varna gave them their first contact with other countries also on the same flight. Speaking with other country coaches and teams, their travels into Varna were even longer.
The following was long and arduous day which saw the GB team safely weighed at 3.00pm and teams still arriving at the hotel late into the evening everyone was told to be ready to transfer to the venue at 8am the following morning for a 10am start; the last fighter completed weigh-in and medical at 1.30am.
The event started as scheduled but with the sheer volume of fighters participating it meant the anticipated first day over ran as fights only reached the start of the quarter finals as opposed to the anticipated completion of semi-finals.
Luke Jones was first for the team as he stepped up against a Russian opponent. As expected, the Russian came out strong unsettling Luke's aggressive style and rhythm early on. Luke took a number of strong body shots eventually giving away two waza-ari inside two minutes.
Dylan Baldwin had drawn the 2016 Russian Champion. From the outset his opponent came out with strong combinations, putting Dylan on the back foot where he attempted to block and counter. Although the Russian began to tire towards the end of the round, and Dylan was able to get off some of his own combinations, the power differential between the two was clear; 5-0 decision after 2 minutes.
Jaime-May Rowlands drew the 2016 Russian Champion runner-up, with a considerable height difference. The unusual and spoiling kicking style of the Russian immediately unsettled Jaime, as she struggled to find a way through the long range techniques and constant barrage of head kicks. Having lost one waza-ari, Jaime went for broke and ended dropping a second score to another head kick. She stayed on her feet fighting throughout the bout but it was clear the rapid kicking style of her Russian opponent was not something ever encountered.
Having received a bye in the first round, Callum Pearce was up against a strong Bulgarian opponent and partisan crowd. He took this in his stride and fought his way to victory over three hard rounds making good use of his low kicks, driving his opponent around the mat towards the end of the fight and even seemed to be enjoying the whole experience as the bout continued; 5-0 decision to Callum.
Olivia Pickthall received a bye into the next round, which meant both her and Callum were subject to long waits prior to their next fights. At 7.30pm having started at 8am, it was clear neither were going to fight again that day, as the organisers decided to finish at 8pm and push the quarter-finals into Day Two.
Day Two saw the event run all the way through but due to the extra 60 bouts on each of the three tatami before the finals could take place, the tournament finished at 10.30pm.
Callum was the next to draw a Russian opponent, and focused from the outset. Long to medium range fast combinations were being deployed in an effort to unbalance his opponent early, whilst the Russian picked power shots in retaliation. Halfway through an even round Callum received a spinning back kick to the body which visibly affected him. From this point in, Callum closed his defence tight and the Russian sensed a chink in his armour as he continued to land power body shots in an effort to get the stoppage. The remainder of the fight was dominated by the Russian as Callum worked hard to stay on his feet and move around the mat with his focus fixed on staying in a tight defence. 5-0 decision at the end of two minutes.
Olivia Pickthall received a second bye into the quarter finals making for a long wait halfway into Day Two before she made it on the tatami against another GB vs Russia draw. Her much shorter opponent took a face punch at the start and Olivia was immediately given a genten-ichi, meaning if it stayed that way at the end of the round the decision would be against her. From the restart the two engaged in the centre of the mat, Olivia throwing shita-tsukis against a bullish opponent throwing fast and heavy chest and body shots intent on getting the fight over with quickly. The Russian continued to press hard, Olivia attempting to gain space with reverse and circular movements which her opponent closed down quickly by maintaining a ferocious pace even jumping with punches at the close of the round to gain further leverage and steal more ground. 5-0 decision against Olivia.
Overall the standard of fighting was extremely high. The Japanese team were incredible at the 12-13 age groups with not only amazing fighting spirit but real ability to fight with style and good positioning. As the age groups advanced the Russian, Bulgarian and Kazakhstan teams proved to be worthy winners but it was good to see IFK countries other than Russia pick up trophies.
As for the British team once again it was a huge learning curve not only competing in such a high level event but also trying to manage the long wait before competing. This was probably the toughest test for them.
Reflecting on where we are as a national organisation/ federation is also part of the learning process if we are to improve both the condition and technical ability of our fighters. The importance of exposure and training time is key in order for us to give our fighters the best opportunities to compete at such a high level.
Thank you to Kyokushin-Kan Bulgaria for the tournament, and KWU in totality in its mission to bring Kyokushin under a united banner at least from a Tournament perspective. For the youths in attendance it helped to forge some lifelong friendships and draw the strength from which Kyokushin can be built and united.
report by Sensei Wai Cheung