Peter Spanton

I think it’s a shame that tournament seems to have taken over and we’ve lost a lot of our tradition.

Peter Spanton

A pioneer of British Wado-ryu Karate, Peter Spanton is one of the first generation of British karateka. He was one of the first Englishman to be graded to black belt in Wado-ryu by Tatsuo Suzuki. He has also taught many of the top instructors in the United Kingdom. Known for his flexibility and great kicking skill, he helped inspire a generation of karateka, such as Vic Charles.

Peter Spanton was born in 1943 in Bow, East London. In 1959 he left school aged sixteen.

Aged eighteen, Spanton joined the Merchant Navy in 1961 to see the world. He stayed in the Navy for four years. In February 1965 he left the Navy and got a job working in a brewery.

The Navy had provided Spanton with a certain amount of fitness. On leaving the navy he looked for an activity to keep him interested and fit. Not interested in sports like football or cricket, he navigated to Judo. However, it did not interest him.

Spanton saw a newspaper article on Karate. He got in touch with Len Palmer, the Club Secretary of the Clapham North Club, located in South London. He watched a training session taught by Tatsuo Suzuki and was very impressed by what he saw. The technique he saw in the martial art interested him and he seen joined the Karate club. David ‘Ticky’ Donovan, who would go on to become the most successful coach of the British Karate team, joined the club six months after him.

Spanton Was learning Wado-ryu Karate under Suzuki, as part of the All-Britain Karate-Do Association (ABKA). Suzuki was assisted by instructors Teruo Kono, Masafumi Shiomitsu, and Toru Takamizawa. The training was hard and involved a lot of repetition of basic techniques.

Developing as a fighter and technician, Spanton trained three days a week at the dojo, plus a lot of training by himself. While still a white belt he began sparring after only six months of training. He sometimes had the opportunity to spar against Suzuki.

Spanton quickly developed as a fighter. There is a story that Suzuki was upset at how well the novice Spanton was doing against the resident Japanese instructors, who were losing face when sparring against him. Suzuki sent Hisaomi Fuji, an All Japan Champion, to come to the UK to sort out Spanton. However, I’m not sure how true this story really is.

1966 was a big year for Spanton. He was selected to represent Britain as a green belt, in their first Wado-ryu international match, against France. Sometime after being promoted to brown belt he opened his first Karate club in Forest Gate, East London.

In 1966 Spanton represented Great Britain at the European Championships held in Paris. He won a bronze medal. During the championships, he defeated Dominique Valera, one of the best fighters of his generation, in the semi-finals. In a fierce match, Spanton broke his wrist and was unable to compete in the final.

In December 1966 Suzuki promoted Spanton to 1st Dan. Spanton and was one of the first students to be graded to black belt by Suzuki in Britain.

Spanton had a short competitive career and stopped competing around 1968. He was not interested in the sport aspect of Karate and wanted to concentrate on the martial side of the art. However, alongside Tommy Morris and Danny Connor, he became one of the first Britons to attend the WUKO Referees Course.

In 1967, due to internal politics, the Japanese instructors left the ABKA. The ABKA was renamed to the British Karate Association (BKA). Being a senior grade, much of the teaching was left up to Spanton. He travelled around the country giving courses. The BKA had been formed by Len Palmer, Ticky Donovan, Dave Mitchell and Spanton.

1968 saw the formation of the Higashi Karate Kai (HKK). The word “Higashi” means “East” and the Federation’s name pays homage to his club opened in East London.

Between 1972 and 1973 there was a split in the BKA. Spanton left the association with the 27 clubs that formed the HKK. He would eventually build HKK into a federation consisting of over sixty clubs, spread from Yeovil in the South of England to Middlesborough in the North. HKK also has affiliate clubs in Ireland, Wales, Spain and Australia.

In 1974, Spanton was promoted to 4th Dan. His grading panel consisted of Suzuki, Kono, and Takamizawa.

Spanton was at the forefront of many changes and innovations in British and World Karate. In 1980, alongside Ticky Donovan and John Smith, he helped form the English Karate Governing Body (EKGB). His HKK federation we are one of the founding members of the EKGB, and Spanton sat on its Executive Board. He also sat on the Executive Board of the British Karate Control Commission (BKCC).

In the 1980s Spanton became more involved in sport Karate. He trained as a referee and eventually became Chief Referee for England. He eventually became a kumite and kata judge at world level.

With the advent of computers, Spanton created a club membership register program, that was the first of its kind. He also created a computerised tournament draw program, that ended up being used by many Karate federations and associations around the world. He also produced a month computerised balance sheet to every club in HKK. The aim of this was to let everyone in the federation know where their membership fees were being spent.

In 2004 Spanton was promoted 8th Dan by the HKK and EKGB. In 2015 he was promoted to 9th Dan.

Apart from being a phenomenal fighter, it is kata where Spanton excels. Apart from the official Wado-ryu kata, where he places an emphasis on the applications of the kata, he has also created three additional kata: Higashi Sho; Higashi Ni; and Higashi San. These katas are taught to his senior black belts.   His knowledge of kata saw him become the first European WUKO kata judge. He has officiated at several WUKO World Championships.

Peter Spanton died on 23 November 2020 following a small illness. He was aged 77 years.

Spanton was at the forefront of British Karate, alongside notable names, such as Steve Arneil, Andy Sherry, Ticky Donovan, and Terry O’Neill. A phenomenal fighter known for his great kicking ability, he was one of the first professional Karate instructors in the UK. As a successful judge, he officiated at several WUKO World Championships.  His computer programs helped revolutionise the tournament scene. He will always be remembered as one of Tatsuo Suzuki’s original black belts in Britain.

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    • Graham Lane on November 24, 2020 at 11:06 pm
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    So sad to hear today that Peter Spanton has passed away. He will be greatly missed.

    • Alex Moore on January 31, 2021 at 4:21 pm
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    My friend Tim Carter was one of his student’s, he passed away last week. I wanted to contact Peter to let him know. God bless

    • Vic fenech on March 7, 2021 at 10:10 am
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    Great times was training in Swindon Pete Whitney Martin salsman. Pete Spanton use to come down to the club oases I

    • Vic fenech on March 7, 2021 at 10:12 am
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    Sadly missed

    • Lee Trumper on March 21, 2021 at 10:50 pm
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    When did sensei Peter pass away?

    • Terry Titmus on June 15, 2022 at 5:30 pm
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    Sensei Peter passed away 2oth November 2020. I had the great pleasure and was very fortunate to be one of his students for a few years at Forest Gate in 1970’s, his younger brother Colin was a black belt at the club at that time.

    • Terry Titmus on June 15, 2022 at 5:33 pm
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    Through Sensei Peter connections I was also very fortunate to spend some time training with Tatsuo Suzuki when he visited the UK during the 70’s.

    • Kevin Brooker on January 21, 2023 at 12:30 am
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    So sad to hear that H Peter had passed away, many fond memories of training with him and his brother Colin. We had some amazing parties in the late 70s and early 80s with the big one at Swindon Oasis each year. Great times

    • Rob Skeels on November 12, 2023 at 9:37 am
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    What a great instructor he was travelled to Forest Gate to take my 1st Dan at the age of 13 1983 , Peter came our club a few times there something about him, I watched him launch a student twice like he was 7 stone not 17 demonstrating 2 moves from a kata
    My instructor was les birkin. He told a story about Peter fighting against a Japanese fighter and winning with a broken arm
    Also I think Peter was a body guard .
    And had brother that lived Clacton

      • Anonymous on November 12, 2023 at 12:54 pm
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      Hi Rob, yes Peter was a great instructor indeed. I initially trained with the Adamou brothers (Shotokan) in Walthamstow in the late sixties for two years then trained under Peter at Forest Gate for four years in the early seventies. I know exactly what you mean about Peter’s almost mystical strength, he pulled a fellow student, who was holding Peter’s foot, off his feet by just retracting his leg from a ‘posed’ Yoko Geri Kekomi. Peter’s younger brother Colin was a Dan grade and trained at Forest Gate while I was there. Through Peter’s network I was also fortunate to train with Tatsuo Suzuki and Ticky Donovan.

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