Mervyn Etienne

….. the relentless desire to be better than you were is a key trait in the highest performers – they appear not to be happy with the status quo and are always looking for ways of improving and finding the marginal gains that will give them the milliseconds in reaction time and information processing speed that will make them consistent winners.

Mervyn Etienne

Mervyn Etienne is one of the most decorated karatekas to represent Great Britain. He has been a member of many successful kumite teams. He has achieved much of his success without being a full-time professional competitor. Recognising the importance of mental attitude, he has been a pioneer in using cognitive neuroscience research to improve the performance of competitors. 

A cousin of Vic Charles, Mervyn Etienne was born in February 1963 in London. Originally from the Caribbean Island of Saint Lucia, his mother and Charles’s mother were sisters. 

At school, Etienne was a talented badminton player. Representing Essex Juniors, he won a County Championship. However, his pursuit of further honours was curtailed by a yearlong knee injury, sustained while playing for Essex Juniors. 

Following his injury, Etienne looked for an alternative activity. In 1980 He started training at Ticky Donovan’s Dagenham Karate club under instructors Joe and Phil Francis. Donovan, who was the current Great Britain team coach, had established his style of Ishinryu Karate in 1973. 

Etienne has chosen Karate as some of his friends were already training at the Dagenham club, which was local to him. It also helped that his older cousin Vic Charles was training there. As a young kid, he would sneak into Charles’s room to have a look at his medals and trophies. 

Compared to the other new beginners in his class, Etienne found the training difficult. Even at the age of 17, he had begun to realise the importance of hard work and commitment. It was around this time that he had his first taste of competing in club and national competitions. 

In 1981 Ettienne won a place at London University’s St. Mary’s College to study engineering. He had chosen to study there because it was close to the Karate club. By this time, he had moved into the main class taught by Ticky Donovan. In the class, he got to train with his cousin and another British international, Cecil Hackett. 

The following year Etienne got his taste of success when he was part of a team that won gold at the English Championships. 

1984 was a big year for Etienne. He received his first international call-up to face the Swiss National team. The year had seen him win team silver at the English Championships and team gold at the British Championships. He had also taken part in the Champion of Champions tournament in Paris, where he won gold. The highlight of the year was helping the British team become World team kumite champions at the World Championships held in Maastricht, the Netherlands. 

Success continued for Etienne the following year. At the European Championships held in Oslo, Norway he helped the British team win the team kumite event. A bronze medal followed this in the -80 KG, kumite event, won by the Spaniard Jose Manuel Egea. At the World Games held in London, he won a bronze in the -80 KG event. His cousin, Charles, won the Open weight class. He also became the British Student Champion. 

1985 also saw Etienne graduate with a BSc (HON) In engineering. After a busy year, he decided to take some time off. While he was a successful competitor, he struggled with mental preparation for competition. He found that he was using elaborate techniques that didn’t always work. He started analysing his techniques and started simplifying his techniques. In competition, he started using techniques that worked on the day. An already successful career became even more successful. 

In 1986 Vic Charles formed his own association, the British Sport Karate Association (BSKA). Etienne joined his cousin at the new association. Charles had very high standards. As a senior grade, Etienne was pushed hard. 

Success continued for Etienne. In 1986 he won the heavyweight title at the British Championships. This was followed by team bronze at the European Championships held in Madrid Spain. This was followed by further team success at the World Championships held in Sydney, Australia. The following year he had further team success at the English, British, and European Championships. He was also part of a team that won the Federation of English Karate Organisations (FEKO) team title. 

At the 1988 World Championships held in Cairo, Egypt, Etienne made his first individual kumite final appearance. In the final, he faced Dudley Josepa of the Netherlands. He lost the fight due to his lack of experience. Josepa was able to change his tactics when it was required. Etienne was also a part of the team that made it to the kumite final after hard-won fights against Spain and Japan. Considered the weakest British team for years, they faced the Dutch in the final. The British team were missing the likes of Pat McKay and Geoff Thompson. However, the team still came away with the team title. 

In 1988 Etienne was invited to compete in the Paris Champion of Champions tournament. Only the top eight competitors in the world are invited to compete. He became the first British competitor to win the title. He repeated the feat two years later. 

Etienne and a business partner established Efficient Micro, a company specialising in computer consultancy and sales. In 1990 he started working for the investment bank Salomon brothers as a Software Developer/Support Analyst in their IT department. He worked there for ten years. During this time, he was still competing internationally. 

At the European Championships held in Hannover, Germany in 1991 he won individual gold representing England in the -80 KG kumite event. He also won the English Championships, the English Open, and the European Club Championships. In September of that year, he took part In the Cowies Karate Challenge held in Mansfield. He won the event and was presented with a brand-new car. 

In 1994 Etienne took part in his sixth World Championships in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia. He helped Britain win silver against a strong French side in the final. 

Together with fellow Internationals Willie Thomas, Chris Mundle and Augustus Paul, Etienne helped found Kaizen Central Karate Federation. Kaizen Central is a multi-style organisation that encompasses Shotokan, Wado-Ryu and Sport Karate. Etienne is the Cognitive Performance Director. He oversees the use of Brain-Computer Interface (BCI) to help improve the mental performance of competitors in competition. 

Etienne missed the 1996 World Championships held in Sun City, South Africa. Two years later he made the England squad for the Championships held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. In the team kumite final, England lost to France. 

After a stellar competitive career that lasted over 15 years, Etienne finally retired from competitive competition in 2000. His successes include: 

  • World Championships, Individual Kumite (-80-kg) – 2nd Place(1988)
  • World Championships, Team Kumite  – 1st Place(1984, 1986, 1988, 1990)
  • World Championships, Team Kumite  – 2nd Place(1988)
  • European Championships, Individual Kumite (-80-kg) – 1st Place (1991)
  • European Championships, Individual Kumite (-80-kg) – 3rd Place (1985, 1987, 1990)
  • World Games, Individual Kumite (-80-kg) – 3rd Place (1985)

In 2018 left Salomon Brothers after 10 years. For the next three years, he worked for various companies as a Cognitive Performance Coach and Therapist. It was around this time that he started working towards a PhD at Birkbeck College, University of London. In 2015 he received his PhD in Applied Cognitive Neuroscience. 

At the 2016 World Championships held in Lintz, Germany, Jordan Thomas became the first Englishman to win a kumite well world since Paul Newby and Rory Daniels had done so at the 2004 Championships held in Monterey, Mexico. Part of Thomas’ success can be attributed to Etienne, who was a member of his coaching team. 

On 12 June 2022, it was announced that Mervyn Etienne had sadly passed away. A memorial fund was set up to raise money for a bench at Birbeck College, University of London, in his honour, and to also help with funeral arrangements.

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    • Anonymous on October 19, 2018 at 3:48 pm
    • Reply

    Hi .. really interesting article. Something’s in there that I had forgotten. Just one thing though, I haven’t finished my PhD.. I developed an autoimmune disease called sarcoidosis which has impacted my studies, so I am still grafting at that.

    1. Thank you for the feedback. It was a real pleasure researching and writing this article.

    • Anonymous on November 27, 2022 at 6:53 pm
    • Reply

    Mervyn passed away on Sunday, 12th June 2022.

    Team mate Molly Samuel-Leport MBE

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