Jeff Whybrow

There’s a time to stop, and a time to push

Jeff Whybrow

A legend of British Kyokushin Karate, Jeff Whybrow was a protege or Steve Arneil. He was one of the faces of British Karate during the 1970s and the 1980s. He was equally comfortable in knockdown tournaments as well as point-fighting competitions. He was known for his all-around skill as a competitor and instructor.

Jeff Whybrow was born on 16 May 1958 in South London. He was the eldest of two boys.

In January 1970 Whybrow, aged 11, began learning Karate. He trained at the BKK (British Kyokushin Karate) dojo in Wimbledon, under Steve Arneil. His father was already training at the Wimbledon dojo. At the time it was not common to find children training in Karate.

Steve Arneil had decided to establish a new junior class at his Wimbledon dojo. Whybrow’s father decided that he should join the class. Initially, Whybrow had no interest in Karate. He used to skip classes with his younger brother to go to the movies. However, after around six months, something switched within him, and he became more interested in Karate.

By 1972 Karate had become an important part of Whybrow’s life. Initially, he trained twice a week. Eventually, he started visiting other Kyokushin dojos to get in extra training. Arneil could see the potential in the young Whybrow. As a junior, he was allowed to train with the adults.

As a junior, Whybrow looked up to seniors like Brian Fitkin and Howard Collins. The difference in skill between the two men and the other students was very clear to see. He also looked up to Joko Ninomiya, one of the most dynamic Kyokushin practitioners in the world.

In 1974, Whybrow had the opportunity to attend a Kyokushin Summer Camp in Holland. Following the camp, he was asked to grade for his black belt. In front of a grading panel, consisting of Steve Arneil, Tadashi Nakamura, Shigeru Oyama, and Loek Hollander he was successfully promoted to 1st Dan. Aged 16, he was one of the youngest black belts in Europe.

By 1975, Whybrow had become an assistant to Arneil. He travelled around Europe, assisting him with courses and seminars.

Aged 17, Whybrow opened his first dojo in 1975 and also a martial arts shop.

1975 also saw Whybrow win his first major tournament. He became the British Junior All-Styles Champion at a tournament held in Manchester.

In 1976, Whybrow started competing at a senior level and was soon finding success. At the 1976 BKK British Open, he finished in joint third with Alwyn Heath, behind Howard Collins and Bill Walsh.

By 1978, Whybrow had become one of the men to beat in the heavyweight division. In that year’s, BKK Open, he lost to Howard Collins in the heavyweight final. He later lost to Collins in the heavyweight final at the 1st European Weight Category Karate Championships, held in London.

Whybrow travelled to Sweden in 1979, where he trained at the dojo of Brian Fitkin. Fitkin had relocated to Sweden in 1974 and taught at Stockholm’s Karate Kai club. In Sweden, Whybrow met a young Dolph Lundgren, who was a student of Fitkin.

At the 1979 BKK Open, Whybrow faced Dolph Lundgren in a memorable bout, on his way to the heavyweight final. In the final Whybrow defeated Bernard Creaton to win the title.

Between 1-3 November 1979, the 2nd World Open Tournament was held in Tokyo Japan. Whybrow was selected to the Great Britain team. In the tournament he faced American, Chuck Chism, in a bout refereed by Steve Arneil. He lost to Chism in what was considered one of the highlight fights of the tournament.

Whybrow showed his versatility a week later, by competing at a WUKO tournament held in Crystal Palace. He finished in third place.

By 1980. Whybrow had been promoted to 3rd Dan. At that years, BKK open, he finished in third place behind champion, Dolph Lundgren and Roya Banton.

Around 1980 Whybrow got married. He decided to retire from competition to focus on teaching. He was in his prime as a competitor at the time.

Apart from teaching at his dojo’s, for the next few years Whybrow also travelled around the world, helping Steve Arneil at courses and seminars.

In 1989, Whybrow, who was aged 30, returned to actively competing, after almost ten years. At the British Open, he defeated Richard Von Mansfeldt in the final to become champion. This was ten years after his last title.

Whybrow was promoted to 5th Dan in 1990. That year he was awarded the title of Shihan. At 32 he was the youngest person in British Kyokushin history to achieve the title.

In 1991, Whybrow had the opportunity to travel to Japan. He trained at the IKO (International Kyokushin Organisation) for a month, under Shokei Matsui.

Whybrow informed Steve Arneil in 1994, that he would be leaving the BKK to establish his own Association. They had just been to Russia to go to conduct a training course. Arneil, who had become a father figure to him, was not happy with the decision.

Whybrow had wanted to try his own thing. However, because of politics within the Karate world, the Association didn’t really take off. He eventually returned to the BKK.

In 2000, following the breakdown of his second marriage, Whybrow decided to take us a sabbatical from teaching Karate. He gave his clubs to his senior students to operate.

A free spirit, Whybrow decided to travel around the world. Some of the countries he visited included, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Canada, and Nepal. Wherever he went, he would find a Kyokushin dojo to train at. He was very happy training for training’s sake. Also during this time he had the opportunity to explore the more spiritual side of his training.

Even though Whybrow will still physically fit, in 2021, he collapsed at his home. This was due to blood clots in his lungs. To improve his health he resumed his karate practice

On 2 July 2020, Whybrow’s mentor and teacher Steve Arneil died.

Jeff Whybrow has trained and trained with many of the best British Kyokushin talent. This includes Steve Arneil, Brian Fitkin, Howard Collins, Nick Da Costa, David Pickthall, Liam Keaveney, Felix Ntumazah, Darren, Stringer, Wesley Jansen, and many others.

As a higher grade, Jeff Whybrow was always humble and approachable. This is evident in how people still talk about him with respect and affection. As Arniel’s protege, it is arguable that he could have replaced Arneil as head of the BKK, had he remained in the organisation.

Even though Whybrow has retired from teaching, he is still training 53 years later. He sometimes trains with Darren Stringer and Wesley Jansen whenever he gets the chance.

Away from Karate Whybrow is keen on archery and the nunchuku. In the past, he has given several nunchuku demonstrations that can be found on YouTube.

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    • Tim on March 4, 2023 at 11:05 pm
    • Reply

    Great piece on a Karate legend. I spent years as a Junior training under him and always had a massive respect for him. Saw the legendary fight with Dolph Lundgren st Crystal Palace and have never forgotten it.

    • Anonymous on January 30, 2024 at 9:05 pm
    • Reply

    Inspirational piece on a true legend , remember watching Shihan Whybrow at the National ( Crystal Palace ).some great fights!!

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