Achievements & Success Stories

Success for Sensei Laurent in 2016

Speech written by Sensei Nicholas – Prize Giving November 2016

“Before continuing with the rest of the highlights of our 2016 year, I would just like to explain to the club why Sensei Laurent’s achievement at this year’s WUKF World Championships particularly stands out amongst the rest:

  • Firstly, I stand to be corrected, but as far as I know, Sensei is the only individual in our SASKA style to take home 2 medals at a single world championship event. For anyone who has ever competed at a world championship sporting event of any kind, you would understand that placing in any medal position at least once in your life is an outstanding achievement on its own
  • Secondly I can confirm that Sensei is the only person in our SASKA style who has won 6 world championship medals in total
  • Thirdly, for anyone who knows us well and has seen us compete, you would know that after 28 years of training together, a lot of our success at competitions comes from the constant support for and perfection of one another in leading up to the competition, right up until we walk on the floor to compete. This year was the first world championship event that Sensei would be competing at without me there by his side to support him on the day, as I unfortunately could not attend this year’s event, and so I believe that was Sensei’s first hurdle to overcome
  • The second one was that in Sensei’s Kata event, which is his speciality, the division changed from being a Shotokan only division in all previous years, to an All Styles division at this year’s championships. Sensei knew that over and above competing against the best competitors from all of the other style divisions, he would also need to convince referee’s from other styles that he was better than the best competitors from their own styles.
  • And the 3rd and definitely most difficult hurdle that Sensei had to overcome for this year’s event, was dealing with the loss on both his mom and brother who passed away in the same week in April this year, 2 months before the world championships. Sensei had to fly over to France, attend both funerals and wrap up all the family affairs in a space of 8 days. This alone was a challenge that could surely weaken most individuals. However, Sensei returned home and with the love and support of his family and all the training hours with me and the other black belts, he kept his eye firmly focused in his goal. He continued to train and prepare for the challenge he had lying ahead of him and knew what needed to be done. And so out of all the 6 world championship medals hanging on Sensei wall at home, I strongly believe these two mean the most to him considering all that he overcame to achieve them.
  • For anyone who ever has or will have the opportunity of going overseas to compete with Sensei at a World championship event, watch and learn from him. He is the only one who continues to train harder and longer as the event gets closer. He keeps his focus on the medal he wants, and is the only one who is able to stay away from all the distractions of an overseas trip and all that is involved in the days leading up the tournament. He is the only one who wants to train, train and train some more in the days leading up to the tournament. He continues to focus, warm up and prepare right up until he walks onto the floor to compete. He has a recipe for success that we can all learn from and if this is not enough to make Sensei your role model in karate, then no one ever will be.
    Congratulations Sensei”

Father & Son World Championship Medals – Italy 2011
Written by: Sensei Nicholas Gaston-Bellegarde

“In my speech today I would like to give you some of the history of where karate began for Sensei Laurent and I and how we have progressed along the way and what got us here today.
It all began in 1989, when I was just 5 years old. I am told that I had been begging my parents to start karate for a while, when they finally saw an article in the Alberton record about a karate club in Alberton. So believe it or not, I actually started karate before my dad, even if only just by a couple of months. Although, this had been a sport which Sensei had been interested in since being a child himself and had tried out once before in his teenage years, clearly what was needed to get him properly involved in the sport, was a son to do it with him.
So at the age of 5, after having just started primary school, my parents enrolled me in the Funakoshi karate club in Alberton. I started together with my older sister and my cousin, and it only took about 2 months of Sensei sitting there watching the lessons for him to be roped into the class and so began our 23 year journey of doing karate together with each year being even better than the last, with our knowledge, experience, teaching abilities and performances going from strength to strength each year.
Our first few years of karate were filled with enthusiasm and excitement about all the new techniques and kata’s we were learning. When Sensei tells all of you that you need to train at home to improve your karate, he really is speaking from experience. It really was a case of moving the furniture around in the lounge at home so we could practice our kata’s before competitions and doing our grading techniques up and down the passage at home when preparing for our gradings. When we say you need to breathe, eat and live karate it is because this is what we have done and it has proven to be a great method to success. We literally did karate until it came out of our ears. We watched karate movies, we trained at home in the house, garden and garage and were constantly stretching, kicking or punching one another be it at home or out at the shops. It is clearly our calling in life and has been so since day one.
Although, it hasn’t been an easy path as some might believe. We are where we are today through hours and hours of training and hard work. Competition karate has changed a lot over the years with styles becoming a lot more divided in recent years making competitions a lot smaller than they were, and age, belt and weight categories were far less fairly divided making competitions very tough in our first few years of karate. I remember having up to 20 competitors in my division at local club tournaments, with the divisions going up to 30 or 40 at provincial level and over 50 competitors in my division at national level tournaments. Believe it or not, neither of us placed anywhere at our first SA’s championships. We had a tough start in the beginning, particularly Sensei being a senior at the time. Needless to say, once we had a taste of victory nothing has stood in our way of doing the necessary preparation and training that we needed to win at all or most of the competitions we took part in.
After doing karate for 3 years in the Funakoshi style, our Sensei at the time decided to change over to the South African Shotokan Karate Academy under Shihan Koos Burger. It was a decision that was needed due to the lack of the Funakoshi style being internationally recognized. We were initially upset about it at the time as we were happy with what we had, but actually had no idea what was in store for us. And so in 1992 we joined the SASKA style to which we have now been affiliated for 20 consecutive years. We were purple belt at the time and I still remember the first grading we ever had under this new style because Shihan Koos attended and was there to grade us. I remember I still won a trophy that day for doing the best grading of the day, and so our success story in this Shotokan style of karate was underway. Sensei graded to his 1st dan at the end of 1993 after just 4 years of doing karate. I on the other had had to wait until 1995 when I was 12 years old, which was the minimum age at the time, until I could grade to my junior black belt. Since then we have successfully passed each and every one of our Dan grading’s after waiting the specified minimum waiting times between each grading. Once we were black belts we soon realised our ability to teach and pass on our knowledge to others. In 1996 we opened the Cobras club. Teaching and passing on our knowledge of this magnificent martial art has just made karate become even a bigger part of our lives. Although we had already achieved great levels of success in our karate careers at all our grading’s and at local and national tournaments, we soon began to realise how big karate is in the world and that our next goal would be to conquer a world championship event.
Our first tour overseas was when I was selected as part of the South African All styles team to participate at the Children and Juniors World Championships held in Novisad, Yugoslavia in October of 2002. We went over with a team of about 50 participants and were absolutely stunned at the sheer size of the event and divisions I was to partake in. I fell out in my first round of kata and after my first fight. So it turned out to be a very tough first international experience. Our next overseas tournament was the WKC Seniors and Veterans World Championships held in Brazil during 2005. This was the first time Sensei was taking part internationally and my first in the Senior’s category. Our success rate was a bit better at this championship with both of us making it to the final round in our kata events. We then competed in Spain during 2007 at the WUKO Seniors and Veterans World Championships, where Sensei achieved his first medal at a World Championship event. He got a Bronze in his kata division. Next up we competed at the WUKF Seniors and Veterans World Championships which was held in Ukraine during 2009. Sensei again achieved great success at this tournament and moved up the ranks to achieve a silver medal in his kata division. Our latest international competition was the WUKF Seniors and Veterans World Championships held in Italy in May this year. This has been to date our most successful international tournament, where Sensei again achieved a silver medal in his kata division and myself a bronze in my kata. I can honestly say in all my 23 years of doing karate this was the absolutely pinnacle of my karate career, not only achieving my first medal at a World championships, but doing it together with my dad. It was a first for our style to have a Father / Son combination achieving international success and definitely a first for our family, and I can assure you it definitely won’t be our last. It is definitely my most memorable moment in my 23 years of doing karate and will be a memory I will cherish forever.
Each and every time we compete internationally we come back more motivated and hungry for better, harder, faster and more intense training and we will continue to strive to improve ourselves and so pass on this knowledge and experience to our students. While World championships continues to be our main focus on a personal level, teaching our students and getting them to reach these same levels of achievements is another goal we wish to fulfil in the near future. I think I can safely say that we will both do karate for the rest of our lives until our physical health allows us to, and one of the main factors attributing to our great success in karate, and that we both know in our hearts, is that we will always have each other to train, teach and succeed with.”