Profile: Pat McKay

When one talks about the great fighters that have represented Britain, the name Pat McKay has to be in the mix. Fighting at light heavyweight (- 80 KG) his record is second to none. He is a 13-time Scottish Champion and a 5-time World Champion. Alongside Vic Charles and Geoff Thompson, he was one of Britain’s first multiple World Champions.

Patrick James McKay was born in Kilmarnock on 29 May 1959. Growing up he was a keen footballer.  

McKay began his Karate journey in 1972 when a friend invited him to a Karate club in the city of Glasgow. The Shukokai Karate club was run by Tommy Morris, sometimes referred to as “the Father of Scottish Karate”. By his own admission McKay was not a natural talent. However, by hard work and determination he made steady progress. He even took up gymnastics in an attempt to improve his agility.

In 1978, still only a 4th Kyu, McKay took part in his first international tournament. He was selected to represent Scotland at the European Championships held in Gent, Belgium. While he didn’t make it onto the podium, he gained invaluable experience.  

McKay changed clubs in the 1980s and started being trained by former Scottish teammate David Coulter. Coulter had been a top international competitor for Scotland and Great Britain. He had become a phenomenal trainer/instructor.

1980 saw McKay selected as a member of the all styles British Karate team. At the World Championships held in Madrid, Spain he was a member of the kumite team that finished seventh in the team event.  

1981 was a frustrating year for McKay. He received an injury to his Achilles tendon which prevented him from training for most of the year. He resumed his training the following May, with only a few months until the world Championships in October.  

The 1982 World Championships were held in Taipei, Taiwan. McKay was selected to represent Britain as part of a very strong squad that included Geoff Thompson and Jerome Atkinson. He won the -80 KG individual kumite title defeating Tapio Pirttioja of Finland in the final. He was also a member of the team that won gold in the team kumite event. A successful Championships saw Britain finish second behind Japan in the overall medal table with 18 medals – 3 gold, 1 silver, and 4 bronze.

The following year saw McKay compete in the European Championships held in Spain. He helped Great Britain win gold in the team kumite event.  

1984 was an eventful year for McKay. At the European Championships held in Paris, he represented Scotland in the team kumite event helping them to gold. He had been working as a mechanic for pressure instruments used on oil rigs. He made the decision to give up the job so that he could make the squad for the World Championships, to be held later in November of that year. The decision cost him around £10,000 in lost earnings.  

McKay made the British squad for the World Championships held in Maastricht, Holland. The team was coached by Ticky Donovan. As a member of the kumite team he helped Britain retain their title in the team kumite event. In the individual -80 KG kumite event he earned a place in the Guinness book of records by becoming the first man to retain his light heavyweight title. He defeated the much-fancied Dutchman, Otto Roethof, himself a former World Champion, in the final by a Record margin.

One would have thought that after all McKay’s successes he would’ve been lauded in his native Scotland. The sad thing was as a double world champion he was hardly recognised by his countrymen for all of his achievements.  

For the next few years McKay started to coach himself while also running his own Karate club. His main training partner was Tommy Burns, the Commonwealth light middleweight boxing champion. He also sometimes trained with fellow British teammate, Geoff Thompson.

In 1986 McKay was selected to represent Britain at another World Championships. The tournament was held in Sydney, Australia. He helped the kumite team win its third successive title in the team kumite event. However, controversial refereeing saw him lose to Jacques Tapol of France in the final of the -80 KG individual kumite final. The following year McKay helped Scotland win the team kumite title at the European Championships held in Glasgow, Scotland.  

Pat McKay’s major honors include:

  • World Championships, Individual Kumite (-80-kg) – 1st Place (1982, 1984)
  • World Championships, Individual Kumite (-80-kg) – 2nd Place (1986)
  • European Championships, Individual Kumite (-80-kg) – 1st Place (1987)

After retiring from competitive Karate competition McKay felt snubbed by the Scottish Karate board. He was invited by Gunter Mohr, Head Coach of the German Karate Federation, to help coach the German under-21 National side. McKay had been a frequent visitor to Ravensburg where he was invited to teach at a Karate summer camp held annually in the in the southern German town. 

 In 2016 McKay Was awarded his six Dan by Tony Dietl, a former World Games winner in 1989.  

Pat McKay is without a shadow of doubt, one of the best competitors to come from Britain. Alongside the likes of Geoff Thompson and Vic Charles he helped lay the foundation for what was to become a “Golden” period in British Karate. Through a lack of funding and support from his national governing body, he arguably did not receive the credit and accolades his successes merited.

Author: Patrick Donkor

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