Moments in history: The 1975 WUKO World Karate Championships

In 1975 the 2nd edition of the WUKO World Karate Championships took place in Long Beach, California. Over two hundred participants from thirty-five countries took part in the event held at the Queen Mary Hyatt hotel. There were only two events in the tournament, the men’s team kumite and the men’s individual event. The team event took place on the first day of the championships.

Britain sent a very strong all-style squad to Long Beach. The team was managed by Steve Arneil and consisted of captain Billy HigginsEugene Codrington, Hamish Adam, Brian Fitkin, and David ‘Ticky’ Donovan (who was replaced by Gene Dunnett due to injury). The team received a bye in the first round, then faced Belgium, South Africa, before defeating the Philippines to reach the final. It should be noted that Higgins almost didn’t make the team. Earlier that year he had taken part in the 1st IAKF World Championships, a rival to the WUKO World Championships, which saw many JKA affiliated organisations (including the Karate Union of Great Britain) attend. It was thought that any competitors that had competed in the IAKF event would be banned from the WUKO championships. However, Higgins was given a last-minute reprieve.

The British team faced a strong Japanese team in the final. The strong Japanese team featured Kazusada Murakami and Junichiro Hamaguchi who would contest the individual kumite final a day later. The Japanese had defeated teams from New Zealand, Switzerland, Singapore, and Holland on their way to the final.

In the final, the British team made a slow start. Captain, Billy Higgins drew his match and Fitkin lost to Japan’s Ono. Much to everyone’s surprise replacement Dunnett defeated the tough Hamaguchi. This was followed by Codrington defeating Tsuchiya in the fourth match. Adam just needed to draw with Murakami for Britain to win the title.

The British team became the first non-Japanese team to be crowned Team Kumite World Champions. Higgins received the trophy from WUKO president Ryoichi Sasakawa.

The following day saw the start of the individual kumite event. The World individual kumite title was the only major title missing from Dominique Valera’s collection of titles. He arrived at the championships with high expectations. In the first round of the tournament, he faced Pedro Rivera from the Dominican Republic. Valera had knocked Rivera to the ground several times during the bout. The referee Roy Stanhope felt that Valera had made excessive contact during the last knockdown and disqualified him. Feeling aggrieved by the decision Valera attacked Stanhope and the corner judge Peter Rousseau. He was eventually escorted out of the arena by security guards.

Jacques Delcourt, the head of the French Federation, was so disappointed in Valera’s behaviour and how it reflected on the French nation that he banned him from the federation. Valera also received a lifetime ban from all WUKO tournaments.

Britain had four entries in the individual kumite event. Billy Higgins, Eugene Codrington, Hamish Adam and Terry O’Neill. Following the Valera incident, the judges were very keen to stamp out any lack of control. O’Neill was disqualified in his first match after he lost control with a kick to Saudi Arabian Al Hemof. Higgins made it to the second round before losing to a New Zealander. Codrington fared better. He reached the quarter-finals before losing to Pedro, the nemesis of Valera. Adam also made it to the quarter-finals where he was defeated by eventual finalist Murakami, who he had fought in the previous day’s team event.

The individual kumite final was between Japanese competitors Kazusada Murakami and Junichiro Hamaguchi. Murakami eventually won the title. Rivera went on to finish third in the tournament.

Following the World Championships British coach Steve Arneil was widely acclaimed as one of the best coaches in the world. His team became the first non-Japanese team to be crowned Team Kumite World Champions. That same year the French Karate Federation awarded him the title ‘World’s Best Coach’. He was flown out to Paris where he received the award from Karate Administrator Jacques Delcourt. The pinnacle of his career was the winning of the 1975 World Karate Championships. He stepped down from the position shortly after.

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