Brendan O’Neill

Brendan O’Neill

I recall at the age of eleven being in possession of a paperback book that explored the martial art of karate.

I remember neither the karate style, nor the author, and I do not know where, or how, I acquired this book. For whatever reason I had it and it held my intrigue. Was it a case of being bullied? Perhaps, but then surely all eleven year olds endure some form of bullying. Maybe, at a subconscious level, it was about survival? After all, growing up on a working class estate in 1970’s Northern Ireland, was no picture postcard. With little prospect of turning burgeoning imagination into reality, I eventually set this book and any hope of learning karate, to the one side.

Fast forward seven years and I was off to University in Belfast. The Troubles still raged, but cocooned within University life were opportunities to explore new things. A karate club based at the college campus was to offer me with the opportunity to finally try karate. However, my participation was short lived, as the two instructors that ran the club had contrasting philosophies and approaches. While one instructor had an obvious passion for karate and keen to pass that passion onto others in a genuine and respectful way, the other preferred to show off his prowess. Disillusioned, I walked away from the club and any likelihood of learning karate.

Almost twenty years later an incidental meeting with a lifelong friend rekindled my interest in karate. He shared that he was attending karate classes being taught by an Englishman called Dave Martin, in the nearby town of Irvinestown. He suggested that I come along to one of the classes and see what I thought. At thirty seven I perhaps felt that I was now too old to start learning karate, but hesitantly I went along. At the first session I really struggled. However, obstinacy saw me return the following week and then the week after that. Weeks turned into months and three years later I was preparing for my Shodan grading.

The ambience at Sensei Martin’s club is completely different to what I had experienced at University years before. There is a strong camaraderie and respect within the group. While the standard of karate that is taught is of the highest calibre, classes are also laced with enjoyment. The opportunity to establish my own club in in my hometown of Omagh occurred by chance. Sensei Martin had been trying to cajole me for a quite a while into forming a club, but I had quietly resisted. Then, in conversation with my sister, she mentioned that a work colleague of hers was looking for someone to establish some form of martial arts class at the local Hospital Road Community Centre. So, that is how the curious eleven year old from the 1970’s, became a karate instructor.

Brendan O’Neill

4th Dan

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