Karate can never be only a sport because it is first and foremost a martial art. Competition is only a part of the martial arts scene. Whilst I admire the top competitors, it is not the be all and end all of Karate.Cyril Cummins
A pioneer of Shotokan Karate in the West Midlands of England, Cyril Cummins was known as the “Trainer of Champions“. For over 50 years he trained many National, European, and World Champions. Some of his successful students included Ronnie Christopher, Slater Williams, Franklyn Doras, and Ronnie Canning.
Cyril Cummins was born in the West Midlands, England on 20 January 1938.
Cummins began his Karate training at the Kyu-Shin-Kan School of Judo Ltd in 1964. The dojo was located in Sparkhill, Birmingham. At the time he was working as a bus driver.
Cummins had always wanted to learn martial arts. He became aware of Karate after watching the 1961 documentary film, “Mondo Cane“, which had a scene showing the little-known martial art.
At the Kyu-Shin-Kan School, Cummins’ initial instructors were Jonny Brown, Tommy Ryan, and Les Hart. They were Judo instructors, who had learnt their Karate mainly from Hidetaka Nishiyama’s book, “Karate: The Art of ‘Empty-Hand’ Fighting“. Although the training was not very technical, it was still very hard.
In 1966 Cummins was awarded his 1st Dan from the Budo of Great Britain. That year he established his first dojo, the Birmingham and Weoley Castle Shotokan Karate Club. This dojo would go on to become one of the longest-running clubs in the West Midlands. Cummins would go on to have several clubs in Birmingham and the surrounding areas.
Cummins affiliated his dojo with the KUGB (Karate Union of Great Britain) in 1967. This became the KUGB’s first dojo in the West Midlands to do this.
As a member of the KUGB Cummins attended his first training course with Keinosuke Enoeda at Crystal Palace in 1967. He attended every one of Enoeda’s courses until Enoeda’s death.
In 1968 Cummins had the opportunity to train with Hirokazu Kanazawa when he visited Birmingham with his assistant, Katsutaro Takahashi. Now training under the KUGB headed by Kanazawa, Cummins retook his 1st Dan grading in front of him.
Cummins eventually left his job as a bus driver to become a full-time Karate instructor in the 1970s. He taught classes 6-7 days a week. He also frequently travelled the Midlands, promoting Shotokan Karate by giving Karate demonstrations.
By 1986 Cummins had been a member of the KUGB for 20 years. That year he was graded to 5th Dan, in front of a grading panel including Taiji Kase and Keinosuke Enoeda.
However, as a 5th Dan Cummins preferred not to grade his own students. He didn’t want his students accused of getting their grades through favouritism or having watered-down gradings. He would rather invite top instructors to his dojo to give seminars and conduct independent gradings of his students. Some of the invited instructors included Taiji Kase and Keinosuke Enoeda.
On 29 March 2003, Keinosuke Enoeda died from stomach cancer in Tokyo, Japan. Following his death, the KUGB left the JKA (Japanese Karate Association) with whom they were affiliated. This meant that they lost access to many of the top JKA instructors, who frequently visited the UK to give seminars and courses. This was a blow to Cummins who trained with many of these instructors whenever he got the opportunity.
Cummins eventually left the KUGB to establish his own independent Shotokan group. He was never content to rest on his laurels and was always looking to improve his karate. He frequently attended courses and seminars given by many top instructors including you Yukichi Tabata, Yoshiharu Osaka, Hideo Ochi, Hiroshi Shirai, and Morio Higaonna, to name a few.
In 2014 Cummins was awarded his 8th Dan by NAKMAS (National Association Of Karate & Martial Art Schools). In honour of his new rank, his senior student started referring to him as Shihan. However, he was happy to be referred to as Sensei.
Cummins celebrated 50 years of Karate training in 2014.
Martial Arts Illustrated inducted Cummins into their Hall of Fame on 11 March 2017.
On 12 May 2017, Cyril Cummins died following a short battle with cancer.
On 12 June 2017, a funeral service was held at the Our Lady and St Rose of Lima in Weoley Castle. The service was attended by family members, friends, colleagues, and students from Cummins’ Karate days. This included Yoshinobu Ohta, Ronnie Christopher, Ronnie Canning, and Slater Williams. Many other people from his time as a bus driver also attended the service.
A professional instructor, Cyril Cummins taught in the west Midlands of England, promoting Shotokan Karate every chance he got. He was also frequently invited by Ted Hedlund to conduct courses across Southern Sweden.
Cummins encouraged his students to take part in competitive Karate, producing a number of national and international champions. However, he saw Karate first and foremost as a martial art. He found the exploration of kata to be a very important aspect of Karate training.