A legendary karateka coaches Jeremy Clarke in head buttsby Jeremy Clarke / April 20, 1997 / Leave a comment
Last weekend Billy Higgins came to Torquay. Higgins is a world famous karate expert. He is a black-belt, sixth dan. He is also a full-time representative of the Karate Union of Great Britain; and it was in this capacity that he held a training session for all grades of local karate students at the Torbay leisure centre. I was there, standing in the front row, spotless in my white gi, which had been especially washed and pressed for the occasion. At the moment I am very addicted to this most martial of the arts.
Usually the KUGB sends down Andy Sherry, a seventh dan, whose ascetic, menacing presence reminds me of Satan himself. It is said that even the Japanese karate champions are afraid of him. When it is announced in our karate club that Sherry is coming to the area and will be holding a special training session, a palpable frisson passes through the ranks. We roll our eyes and say to each other, “Good heavens, not him again.” But we go, because by golly he makes us learn.
I had not trained with Higgins before. While we waited in the corridor for an aerobics class to vacate the sports hall before his first session, I took the opportunity to study the legendary karateka at first hand. He is dark, short and square shaped; so broad across the back in fact that if he wanted to make a public telephone call he would have to insinuate himself into the kiosk sideways. Even his thick, powerfully arched feet were intimidating. We filed into the sports hall, lined up in rows and bowed.
He said, “Yoi”-which means “get ready”-and proceeded to take us through the warm-up exercises.
In spite of his formidable appearance, Higgins turned out to be a patient, tolerant teacher. He intoned his instructions in a high-pitched Scouse accent; never failing to append them with a friendly “all right?” or “okay now?” Now and then he threatened to summarily punish slackers with 20 press-ups on the knuckles, but he did not carry it out.
He did not show off either. Only once-when demonstrating a straightforward punch to an imaginary opponent’s sternum-did he allow us a glimpse of his power and fighting spirit. His delivery was like a steam hammer; the punch looked powerful enough to have made a hole in somebody. As his right arm and fist came…