Above: The UK’s first ever Karate class in Essex taught by Vernon Bell. Michael Manning (to Bell’s left) shared this photograph with us from his personal collection. This is the first time this picture has been published worldwide.
Background to the introduction of Karate to England
By the time Vernon Bell introduced Karate to England in 1956, the arts of Jujutsu and Judo had already been taught here some 60 years. The Edwardian musichalls were no strangers to the sight of Japanese Jujutsu players grappling with wrestlers and strongmen and eventually, thanks to masters like Gunji Koizumi and Yukio Tani, these arts spread through cities like London and Liverpool. It was not until the 1950s however that Karate appeared. A Frenchman, Claude Urvois and a French-Algerian Jean ‘Jim’ Alcheik trained in Shizuoka, Japan at the Yoseikan Dojo of Minoru Mochizuki, a master who has studied all of the main Japanese martial arts (mostly with the founder of each of these arts no less) and they convinced Mochizuki to introduce the arts of Karate and Aikido to Europe. Urvois and Alcheik joined with their friend, Judo instructor Henri Plee in establishing a base for European Karate and on July 12 1956, his son Hiroo Mochizuki arrived in Paris, later followed by Mitsuhiro Kondo to Switzerland, Shoji Sugiyama to Italy and Tetsuji Murikami, who would end up in England.
Above: Jean Alcheik with Minoru Mochizuki and Hiroo Mochizuki with Minoru.
Vernon Bell, a 3rd Dan Judo instructor under instructors like Kenshiro Abbe, began corresponding with Henri Plee and attending his classes in France, soon after Bell started what would today be called a “study group” at the tennis courts of his parents’ back garden. We should note this was around eight years before Japanese masters like Kanazawa, Enoeda and Suzuki ever came to this country.
We should note that while many Jujutsu schools may have taught atemi waza or strikes that had much in common with Karate or Kempo, this essay will only deal with official Karate-Do schools derived from the main Okinawan schools. A history of British Jujutsu is for another project.
We should also note that Bell’s Judo teacher Kenshiro Abbe – a great master who seemingly studied every art BUT Karate – did begin to advertise his credentials as including Karate. Abbe was a master of Jujutsu, Judo and Aikido so his repertoire of strikes was likely impressive, but since Abbe had not actually studied Karate, we do not class it as such.
Picture from Ilford Recorder shows Kenshiro Abbe (front row), Vernon Bell (far left), next to him Roy Salmon, Mike Manning (black gi), next to him Brian Hammond, far end kneeling Jim Trotter.
What kind of Karate was first brought to the UK?
Yoseikan founder Minoru Mochizuki studied Karate with Gichin Funakoshi and some suggest he was awarded the grade of 5th Dan. The Karate of Yoseikan resembled old style Shotokan. Mochizuki was also a master of Aikido under Ueshiba, Judo under Mifune (and briefly Kano) and many others styles. We can safely say that Mochizuki’s varied training will have ‘coloured’ his Karate. At his Yoseikan Dojo a Shito Ryu instructor named Yamaguchi also taught there so Yoseikan also had this influence. Reading Henri Plee’s Karate book, the Karate of Yoseikan was good, basic Karate.
Henri Plee wearing hakama demonstrating blocking techniques in one of his books.
Above: European Budo poster from the late 50s or early 60s depicting Yoseikan founder Minoru Mochizuki and Yoseikan instructors Tetsuji Murakami, Shoji Sugiyama, Hiroo Mochizuki, Masaji Yamaguchi and Jean Alcheik as well as others including Gogen Yamaguchi.
Vernon Bell was adept at Jujutsu, Judo and to some degree Aikido before ever studying with the Yoseikan, so we may also assume these skills will have been transferable to his Karate to some degree. Bell was awarded 1st Dan after 18 months of study on March 13 1957, dated on his certificate April 1 1957. He was awarded his 2nd Dan on July 19 1959 under Tetsuji Murikami. Bell’s group was called the British Karate Federation.
Above: British Karate Movement founder Vernon Bell. Photograph courtesy of Mr Michael Manning.
Who were the first British Karate students?
Vernon Bell’s first Karate students on record were: Dennis Clarke (the earliest recorded on August 18 1956), Michael Manning and Gerald Tucker as well as a D Blake and P Byron. In this very first year other students included D Brandon, B Dolan, D Dyer, Kenneth Elliott, B Miles, L Pearson and Trevor Guilfoyle.
In 2013, Michael Manning told Simon Keegan:
“I started having Judo lessons under Vernon at Thurrock Technical College in 1955, I was 18 years old. Things were very basic, coconut mat and a canvas sheet…. I finally reached the dizzy heights of 3rd Kyu. Mr Bell asked me if I would like to have Jujutsu lessons. He wouldn’t teach anybody [Jujutsu] below green belt [in Judo]. I jumped at the chance….
“Mainly our Jujutsu lessons consisted of a few basic locks, a few trips and sometimes a glimpse of Atemi Waza. It was this ‘dirty fighting’ that drew me in…. One morning Mr Bell sowed us a scratchy film about Karate…. He had been visiting a Dojo in Paris…”
Above: Vernon Bell demonstrating a wood breaking technique.
When was the first Karate grading in Britain and who graded?
On April 30 1957, at Maybush Road, Vernon Bell awarded the grade of 6th Kyu to Trevor Guilfoyle and Gerald Tucker.
When was the second Karate grading in Britain and who graded?
On May 31 1957, at Maybush Road, Vernon Bell awarded the grade of 6th Kyu to Michael Manning, P Byron, DF Clarke and Ken Elliott.
Michael Manning said:
“We were really stumbling around in the dark. Vernon would make weekly visits to Henri Plee’s Dojo in Paris, come back and pass on what he had learned…. Vernon would be so badly bruised he could only walk with a stick.”
Above: Posed picture of Gerald Tucker and Ken Elliott. Photograph courtesy of Mr Michael Manning.
When did the first oriental Karate instructor come to Britain?
On July 19 1957, Vietnamese Hoang Nam 3rd Dan (presumed to have studied some Kung Fu-like art prior to Karate and was billed as “Karate champion of Indo China”) taught his first class at Maybush Road.
Michael Manning said:
“It was an eye-opening experience… Nam was very small, very lithe and most polite. He made allowances for our lack of even the most basic skills and it was a joy to learn from him.”
Above: Vernon Bell demonstrating striking techniques on Michael Manning.
When was the first public Karate demo in Britain?
On July 20, 1957, Hoang Nam, Vernon Bell and his senior students gave a display of Karate at a village fete in Ilford.
Above and below: Michael Manning demonstrating techniques at a fete near Hornchurch.
Above: Eddie Lefevre executing a sweep, probably on Mike Manning.
When was the third Karate grading in Britain and who graded?
On July 21 1957 Hoang Nam awarded 6th Kyu to D Blake, P Brandon, B Dolan, D Dyer and B Miles; 5th Kyu to Mike Manning and Ken Elliott; and 4th Kyu to Trevor Guilfoyle and Gerald Tucker.
Above: Trevor Guilfoyle sparring with Ken Elliott. Photograph courtesy of Mr Michael Manning.
Above: Trevor Guilfoyle takes down Harry Raynor as Vernon Bell looks on. Photograph courtesy of Mr Michael Manning.
When were the first brownbelts awarded in British Karate?
On December 21 1957 Vernon Bell awarded 3rd Kyu to Trevor Guilfoyle and Gerald Tucker.
Above: Joe Sen practicing Shuto in around 1958. Sen was an Englishman of Chinese descent who trained with Bell. Photograph courtesy of Mr Michael Manning.
Joe Sen and Trevor Guilfoyle sparring as Vernon Bell looks on. Photograph courtesy of Mr Michael Manning.
Who was the first English woman to study Karate?
Doris Keane from Romford and a Miss Higgins have both been quoted as such at various times by Vernon Bell. It is possible that Higgins was the maiden name of Keane.
Where was the first UK Karate Dojo where Karate was taught?
The British Legion Hall, St Mary’s Road, Upminster, Essex (pictured below) began classes in December 1957.
Above: A very early shot of the Upminster Dojo. Vernon Bell back row second left. Courtesy of Michael Manning.
An off-balance Monty Russell attempting a kick. Note to the left a makiwara which according to Mike Manning was, “our only piece of equipment.”
Above: Reg Armstrong sparring. Vernon Bell is referee. Monty Russell is seated. Photograph courtesy of M Manning.
Who was the first Japanese to teach Karate in Britain?
Tetsuji Murikami (1927-1987) 3rd Dan Yoseikan under Minoru Mochizuki and 1st Dan of the JKA arrived in England in July 1959.
Michael Manning said:
“He began his first lesson by telling us that we were a load of rubbish. This didn’t please Mr Bell, after all he was our Sensei and we were the product of his teaching.
“We practiced full contact kumite and some of us wore cricket boxes with a thought to marriage in later life! Murakami sussed this our and ended this practice by delivering a Mae Geri to one unfortunate, completely splitting the box.
“….One another occasion…Murakami showed us a defence against a strangle hold and slammed Bob [Buckner’s] head hard into a wall. There was really no need for that level of violence.”
Above: Vernon Bell (in suit with Tetsuji Murikami) far right is Alan Ruddock who introduced the art to Ireland.
Above: Alan Ruddock who introduced Karate to Ireland in the early 1960s having trained under Vernon Bell, is seated far left with Aikido creator Morihei Ueshiba. He was one of very few westerners to train with the grandmaster. Michael Manning said of Alan Ruddock: “I greatly admired Alan. He was a true gentleman.”
Who was the first student to obtain 2nd Kyu and 1st Kyu?
Michael Manning was awarded 2nd Kyu on July 19 1959 and 1st Kyu on February 1 1960.
In applying for Manning’s 1st Kyu, Vernon Bell wrote to Minoru Mochizuki directly saying: “He is in charge of beginner’s classes and was graded to 2nd Kyu by Mr Murakami on July 18 1959. He has been doing Karate for four years regularly every week and has good execution of all five ippon and sanbon kata and the first three Pinan Kata. He can defeat six lower kyu grades in succession in Shiai and his technique is very good.”
Mick Manning and Ken Elliott in a posed picture.
Who were the first students to obtain 1st Kyu under Murakami?
Three years after Michael Manning was awarded 1st Kyu by Vernon Bell, Tetsuji Murakami awarded the grade of 1st Kyu to Terry Wingrove and Jimmy Neal.
Above: Tetsuji Murakami kicks Michael Manning.
When and where was the first national weekend seminar?
The first Karate summer school was held at the Ippon Judo Club, Scarborough, above the Imperial Hotel in September 7th-12th 1959. It was funded by Judo enthusiast and local business magnate Peter Jaconelli. Tetsuji Murakami taught the seminart. The event was repeated the following year – see poster below.
Where was the first Karate Dojo outside London/Essex area?
The Liverpool branch of the British Karate Federation was set up by Frederick Gille in around 1959 and officially recognised in 1961. Training was at Harold House Jewish Boys Club in Chatham Street before relocating to the YMCA in Everton where it became known as the Red Triangle. Early members included Andy Sherry who had previously studied Jujutsu with Jack Britten.
Above: Mike Manning and Terry Wingrove demonstrating at a fete.
When was the first Karate Dojo in Scotland?
Edward Ainsworth, a blackbelt Judoka, set up the first Karate study group in Scotland having attended the third ‘Karate Summer School’ in 1961. The Dojo was at Auchen Larvie, Ayrshire.
When was Karate introduced to Manchester and who by?
Despite nearby BKF Dojos in Liverpool (such as the Red Triangle) it is thought that Karate was introduced to Manchester in around 1960 by Martin Stott who had no affiliation with Vernon Bell. It appears Stott had trained with a teacher in Paris called Tam Mytho (alternatively Tham Ny Tho) who may have been Vietnamese. Stott, it seems, corresponded with Bell in 1961 over affiliation but it appears this did not go ahead but Stott continued to teach anyway.
In an interview with Traditional Karate magazine the late Danny Connor who trained with Stott said:
“My father saw an advert for a Karate club opening in Ashton-Under-Lyne, and so I went along to this Judo club that was called Kyushindokwai. There, Martin Stott was teaching Karate, and so, at last, I learned how to pronounce that word. The mats at the club were a series of bedspreads with sheets pulled over them. I started training there, alongside Roy Stanhope, Tony Hudson… This was about 1960. I trained at the same club for three years, and then Martin invited me to be his partner and we moved to central Manchester and opened a gym there. Now at this time, we thought that you only had to know three katas to get your black belt. They were Kata One, Kata Two and Kata Three. There were no names! Somehow we located a book called ‘What is Karate?’ by Mas Oyama, and I used to hold the book while Roy Stanhope executed the katas that were in it.”
Who was the first notable Brit to practice Karate to black belt level outside of Vernon Bell’s organisation?
Charles Mack was graded 1st Dan Shotokan by Masatoshi Nakayama on March 4 1962 in Japan. His grading kata was Bassai Dai.
What was the next Karate style to come to the UK after Yoseikan?
Shotokai Karate was introduced to England in 1963 by Mitsusuke Harada in 1963. Harada was graded 5th Dan, a very senior grade at the time by Gichin Funakoshi himself.
When was Wado Ryu Karate introduced to the UK?
Yoseikan inheritor Hiroo Mochizuki returned to Japan from France and studied Wado Ryu with the founder, so when he returned in about 1963 technically he introduced Wado Ryu to England. Officially however the art was introduced by Tatsuo Suzuki, a 6th Dan at the time in 1964.
When did official JKA Shotokan come to the UK?
Vernon Bell was ratified as a JKA blackbelt on February 5 1964 having corresponded with the JKA in Tokyo and relinquished his Yoseikan grade. Taiji Kase, Hirokazu Kanazawa, Keinosuke Enoeda and Hiroshi Shirai gave the first JKA demo at Kensington Town Hall on April 21 1965.
Why did JKA Shotokan replace Yoseikan Karate in the UK?
When Vernon Bell began teaching Karate in 1956, with Tetsuji Murakami and under Henri Plee and Hiroo Mochizuki, he was under the impression that the Yoseikan Dojo was the personal HQ of Gichin Funakoshi and that Murakami was a designated representative of the JKA. Eventually it came to light that this was not the case and so Bell contacted the JKA directly and asked for his grades to be ratified in Shotokan. The JKA obliged and Bell requested Hirokazu Kanazawa and other Japanese instructors to come and live in England. Murakami took umbridge and left the country, later re-emerging as a 5th Dan Shotokai under Harada. At this point Bell had already fallen out with Henri Plee.
Who were the first UK students to be graded brown belt in JKA Shotokan?
Jack Green was awarded 2nd Kyu by master Kanazawa on June 24 1965; Andy Sherry and Joseph Chialton were graded 1st Kyu around the same time; and Eddie Whitcher and Robert Williams were awarded 1st Kyu in February 1966.
Who were the first UK students to be physically graded black belt 1st Dan in JKA Shotokan?
Andy Sherry and Joseph Chialton of the Red Triangle, Liverpool were graded 1st Dan by master Enoeda on February 10 1966 and Blackpool area instructor Jack Green around the same time. Sherry, Green and Whitcher were also the first to be graded 2nd Dan in 1967 at Crystal Palace. The first female blackbelt was Pauline Laville graded by Kanazawa in 1967.
Above: Pauline Laville with Hirokazu Kanazawa who graded her 1st Dan.
Who were some of the other Liverpool Shotokan Karate pioneers?
Terry O’Neill whose father trained in Jujutsu with Gerry Skyner before the war, began training with Andy Sherry in about 1960; Ronnie Colwell who began studying Jujutsu with Jack Britten in 1953 was also an early Karate instructor teaching “Kempo” in the Southport area; Charles Naylor was also a founding member of Andy Sherry’s group.
An early picture of Andy Sherry, Terry O’Neill (and Dave Hazard?)
Who was the pioneer of Shotokan in the Midlands?
Judo instructors Jonny Brown, Tommy Ryan and Les Hart began teaching Karate in around 1963 probably from a book. Their only notable student was Cyril Cummins who began studying with them in 1964. He also trained on seminars with Harada and was awarded 1st Dan in 1966 by ‘Budo of Great Britain’. He later retook his Shodan with Hirokazu Kanazawa and was a prominent KUGB instructor, running the Birmingham Shotokan Karate Club . Phillip AJ Handyside began studying Judo under Preston Judoka Richard Butterworth in 1963. After watching a demonstration by Hirokazu Kanazawa’s assistant Sadashige Kato in around 1965 he turned his attention to Shotokan, travelling by train to the Midlands to train with Cyril Cummins. He took his 1st Dan under Hirokazu Kanazawa and launched the Red Sun Karate Club (later Shobukan Karate) in 1973.
Who were the early pioneers of Wado Ryu Karate in the UK?
Among the first 1964 students of Tatsuo Suzuki were David ‘Ticky’ Donovan, John I Smith and Danny Connor. John I. Smith who studied Wado Ryu Karate under Tatsuo Suzuki from 1964, began teaching in London in 1968. He later joined with Danny Connor to devise a system of Karate called Bujinkai which included influences from Connor’s Kung Fu training including Preying Mantis. The Bujinkai Academy was launched in Plymouth in 1972. An early student in this style was Bob Carruthers, who opened the Bodmin Bujinkai (Cornwall’s first dedicated Karate Dojo) and later returned to his hometown of Wigan, taking his 1st Dan under PAJ Handyside.
Who was Britain’s first Shukokai practitioner?
Scotland’s Tommy Morris visited founder Chojiro Tani’s Dojo in Kobe in 1967, some years before Terry Wingrove also trained there. Morris became Scotland’s first blackbelt.
When did Vernon Bell lose control of British Karate and why?
According to Shotokan Dawn , from around 1963 Bell’s health began to deteriorate and he suffered a nervous breakdown, therefore for the two years 1963-1965 he took a backseat in the Dojo, both to his seniors Murakami and later Kanazawa and to his assistant instructors Terry Wingrove and Jimmy Neal. By 1965 many students were growing closer to Kanazawa than to Bell. Among those seniors worth mentioning are Nick and Chris Adamou, Michael Randall, Eddie Whitcher and Mick Peachey. In 1966, Kanazawa’s contract with Bell ended and he went to teach in South Africa for a spell. Many London students (loyal to Kanazawa) and Liverpool students (loyal to Enoeda) decided to break away from Bell and form their own group called the Karate Union Great Britain (KUGB). Eddie Whitcher was the senior member of the KUGB at the time of the break in 1966. On the tournament scene the Liverpool Red Triangle Club was the most successful. In 1967, 1968, 1969, and 1970 Andy Sherry won the men’s kata; and every year from 1971 to 1978 Terry O’Neill did the same (with the exception of 1976 when Dave Hazard won.) Sherry and O’Neill also dominated the men’s kumite between 1967 and 1978. From 1979 to 1992, Red Triangle Karateka Frank Brennan dominated both the Kata and Kumite.
What became of Vernon Bell after the KUGB was formed?
In 1966 Bell and Charles Mack (the first Briton to be awarded Shodan in Shotokan in Japan and the first to be awarded 5th Dan in Judo) set up the British Karate Control Commission with Alan Francis and chairman. Bell left the JKA and reverted to the Yoseikan method of Shotokan and even began inviting Hoang Nam back to teach. By the late 1960s one of Bell’s senior students Terry Wingrove was living in Japan and had become employed by the Federation of All Japan Karate Organisations (FAJKO) and through his many contacts arranged for various Japanese instructors to visit Bell as patrons of his organisation. Among the most notable patronage of Bell’s organisation was Masafumi Suzuki of the Nippon Seibukan. Among Bell’s loyal students who stayed with him after the split were Ted Clarry and his son Chris at the Upminster Dojo; and Trevor Jones in the Manchester area. Bell maintained his Jujutsu classes also and by the time of his death in 2004 aged 81 he was graded 10th Dan in what he described as Tenjin Shinyo Ryu Jujutsu. Terry Wingrove currently holds the grades of 9th Dan Karate and 9th Dan Jujutsu. Trevor Jones’ Manchester Yoseikan/Seibukan Dojo was inherited by his student Mike Newton who in 2002 was graded 7th Dan Karate, Jujutsu and Kobudo by Vernon Bell. The British Karate Federation was resurrected in around 2007 as a member of the World Karate Federation and parent group of the English Karate Federation. Michael Manning who may well be Vernon Bell’s oldest (in the sense that he trained the earliest) student continues his interest in the martial arts. In 2013 he told Simon Keegan:
“I managed to contact some of Vernon’s old students, Brian Hammond, Jimmy Neal, Terry Wingrove and Bill McGee a real blast from the past…. I sometimes even get the chance to don a gi and get stuck in…. When we do get together, talk always seems to come around to Vernon Bell and the golden days of British Karate. The younger students’ eyes glaze over, yawns are stifled… But we don’t care we were the first!”
The Ballad of Vernon Bell
Vernon Bell was famous for two things. Introducing Karate to Britain, and charging two guineas for everything! Two guineas was 42 shillings (two pounds, two shillings) or £2.10 in today’s money (allowing for inflation about twenty pounds today). He was a real character and inspired a whole generation of Karate practitioners. According to those who knew him though – he made sure you paid for it (usually two guineas). Here is a poem written by his oldest student Michael Manning in tribute to the founding father of British Karate and his love of the two guinea coin.
The Ballad of Vernon Bell by Michael Manning
Some men come from heaven, and some men come from hell.
But one man fell between both camps, his name was Vernon Bell.
Some are born with silver spoons, large houses and acres of land,
Poor Vernon came screaming into this world with two guineas clutched in his hand!
He went to school, was no man’s fool and studied without distraction
It came to pass he came top of the class in adding and subtraction.
It’s a well known fact, that if you can subtract, enough from a young man’s pocket
Over the years and barring arrears your bank balance soars like a rocket!
But along came the war, it was all such a bore, but Vernon was not one to frighten
He never was strafed and was perfectly safe in the RAF on the outskirts of Brighton.
Upon his demob he was out of a job but our Vernon was not a shirker,
He remembered some tricks, strangles, punches and kicksm that he learned from a one eyed Gurkha!
He then opened a club (with a two guinea sub) in a British Legion Hall
And along came the ninnies with lots of two guineas, Uncle Tom Cobbley and all.
“It’s no good complaining, if you want your training, you’ve got to come up with the subs”
This was Vernon’s refrain, again and again, (by this time he had twenty clubs).
Things were quite jammy until Murakami (a little man straight from Japan)
Brought his parcel of tricks, and much harder kicks and a horrible thing called ‘gedan’.
All the lads it is true were kicked black and clue, but their spirits were never diminished
Still Terry and Brian (a pair of young lions) were glad when the ‘bloody’ class finished.
As they limped to their homes with bumps on their bones, and their shins all bruised to hell
They cried ‘what a party!’ THE START OF KARATE and it’s due to VERNON BELL!
Good old Vernon.
The legend lives on.
Please note, do not copy this ballad without forwarding two guineas to Michael Manning.
Vernon Bell with his first four students including Michael Manning in 1956
Fifty years later…. Bushinkai Chief Instructor Simon Keegan with two of Vernon Bell’s earliest students, Alan Ruddock and Terry Wingrove in 2006.
Mitsuhiro Kondo, one of the four Japanese masters who brought Karate to Europe in the 1950s, pictured in 2003 in Sutton Coldfield near Birmingham. Course attended by Simon Keegan.
Alan Ruddock teaching in 2006.