History of the Cobras Club – where it all started
Written by Nicholas Gaston-Bellegarde – November 2017
“For Sensei Laurent and myself, karate all began in 1989, almost 3 decades ago. At the age of 5, I had apparently been begging to start karate. I joined the Funakoshi karate club in Alberton, together with my older sister and 2 months later after sitting and watching all of our classes, Sensei Laurent couldn’t help but sign himself up too.
Since then, we have never looked back. We spent the first 3 years of our karate careers travelling from Johannesburg to Bloemfontein, Durban and every little town in between where any and every competition was hosted. We were clearly hooked and spent many hours on end, preparing for upcoming competitions or our next grading.
A big event for us, was in 1992 when our instructor decided that in order to present better opportunities for his club, he needed to change styles and we then affiliated to SASKA under Shihan Koos Burger (www.saska.co.za). I still remember the first grading we had under our new style, where Shihan Koos came in person to grade all of us. I highly doubt that the two of us, let alone Shihan Koos, had any idea whatsoever that 26 years later we’d be part of the Shihan Kai helping him run the entire SASKA organisation.
To give you a brief summary of our progression through our belts:
Sensei Laurent’s Grading History:
Started Karate in 1989
1st Dan Black Belt – 1993
2nd Dan – 1995
3rd Dan – 1998
4th Dan – 2002
5th Dan – 2008
6th Dan – 2014
My Grading History:
Started Karate in 1989
Jnr Black Belt – 1995
1st Dan – 1999
2nd Dan – 2001
3rd Dan – 2004
4th Dan – 2008
5th Dan – 2015
History of the Cobras club
The Club was opened in 1996 by Sensei Laurent and his then partner, Sensei Dave Shekyls with myself and my sister as assistant instructors. We started the club at the Presbyterian Church hall in Brackenhurst, where we now hold our weekly black belt classes, and started the club with just 3 members, all of which were family. In 1997 the club had grown so much that we had to move to Glenview Primary School to accommodate us, and that is where we have been for the past 21 years.
Over the 22 year history of the Cobras club, we have literally seen hundreds of students passing through the club, some staying for longer than others, but all in all the club has gone from strength to strength and we are now firmly positioned as one of the strongest clubs in the SASKA organisation.
Sensei and myself, have over the years continually strived to push our all of our students to not only perform at their best, but to keep up with world class karate standards which we have witnessed first-hand, by attending many of the World championship events held over the past 15 years.
Both of us have been lucky enough to have attended a number of world championship events, and managed to succeed at some or most of these events too.
In 2002 – I attended my first world championship, at 19 years old, with Sensei who attended as my coach. I was part of the South African All Styles team and we competed in what was then known as the country of Yugoslavia. With fairly dismal results, we returned home with lots of work to do and a new found respect for the world class karate standards we had just witnessed.
In 2005 we both attended the next World Championship event in Brazil, as part of the SASKA team representing South Africa, and managed to achieve much better results, but still no medals.
The next world championship event was held in Spain in 2007 where Sensei held the South African Flag high and returned home with a Bronze medal in his kata division.
With success firmly in our sights and on the cards, we again attended the next world championship event which was held in the Ukraine in 2009. Sensei improved his performance and again returned home, now with a silver medal in his kata division.
Next up was the World Championships held in Italy in 2011. A very significant event in the history of the cobras club, where both Sensei and I achieved medals. Sensei Laurent a silver in his kata event and me a bronze in my kata event.
Our last World championship event that we both attended together was in 2013 in Romania. Sensei again did us proud and returned home with another silver in his Kata event.
In 2016, I unfortunately couldn’t join sensei in attending the World championships which were held in Ireland but he had the support of some of our senior black belt karateka who competed as well, and this time he went on to bring home 2 medals. Silver for his kata division and bronze in his team kumite division.
To sum it up, karate has become a way of life for Sensei Laurent and I. It is highly doubtful that either of us could imagine life without karate. We hope to continually strive for better in all aspects of our karate and that we can pass on all our knowledge, skills and experience to our aspiring karateka who always make us proud.”