Profile: Vic Charles

Vic Charles has been described as “the epitome of what a Karate competitor should be”. As a competitor he was tough, resilient and technically proficient, in equal measures. Jerome Atkinson, a former world champion, described him as “the greatest competitor he had ever seen“. A winner of multiple World Championships, he was part of a British squad that included the likes of Geoff Thompson, Pat McKay and Molly Samuel that ushered in a new era of British dominance of kumite in the 80s and 90s.

Victor John Charles was born on the island of Saint Lucia. He moved to England with his family at an early age, settling in London. An athletic young man, he was a keen swimmer and good footballer. However, following a cartilage operation he was advised to give up football.

Charles needed to be active and searched for an alternative sport to football. He found Karate. He began Karate in 1973 at the Zen Shin Karate Association who were offering classes in his local area. He stayed with the association for around three months. Later that year he started training in Wado-ryu Karate under Tatsuo Suzuki’s United Kingdom Karate-Do Wadokai (UKKW) until 1978. During this time, he began competing. In 1975 he became the Wado European kumite champion.

Charles eventually left the UKKW partly due to political problems and also because he wanted to improve and expand his kumite. He joined Ticky Donovan’s Ishinryu association, training at the association’s Dagenham club. In 1978 he entered the Quest for Champions tournament held in the UK. He made history by becoming the first person to win two different titles in the same evening. He won both the Open and Heavyweight titles.

In 1981 Charles announced himself on the World stage by winning gold at the European Championships held in Venice, Austria, followed by gold at the World Games held in Santa Clara, USA.

1983 saw Charles become one of the major faces for the Sport of Karate. He appeared on the BBC sport program, Superstars, representing Karate against sports men from disciplines such as athletics, rugby, skiing and swimming. He gave a good account of himself, finishing third behind pole vaulter Brain Hooper and rugby league star, Des Drummond.

Charles founded his own Karate association, the British Sport Karate Association (BSKA) in 1986. The association is primarily concerned with sport Karate and more specifically kumite. It does not concentrate on kata for competition. The BSKA has clubs based in London, Kent and Yorkshire. The association has been successful at domestic and international level. With Charles as coach they won numerous national titles and also three European club titles. They became one of the most successful men’s teams winning 5 English and 6 British titles in a row. Also 2 European club bronze medals and 2 European club gold medals in a row.

In 1989 Charles won silver at the European Championships held in Titograd. Later that year he was awarded an MBE for services to Karate, in the Queen’s Birthday Honor’s list. In receiving the honor, he became the first karateka to receive an MBE. His book Karate: The Skills of the Game was also published.

Charles retired from competition in 1990. He is the winner of 11 world medals (including 7 golds), 13 European medals and 3 European club titles. His major honors include:

  • World Championships, Individual Kumite (+80-kg) – 1st Place(1986)
  • World Championships, Individual Kumite (Ippon) – 2nd Place(1988)
  • World Championships, Individual Kumite(Open) – 2nd Place(1988)
  • World Championships, Individual Kumite (Ippon) – 3rd Place(1984)
  • World Championships, Team Kumite – 1st Place (1982, 1984, 1986, 1988)
  • World Games, Individual Kumite (Open) – 1st Place (1981, 1985)
  • European Championships, Individual Kumite (Open) – 1st Place (1981, 1982)
  • European Championships, Individual Kumite (+80-kg) – 1st Place (1984)
  • European Championships, Individual Kumite (+84-kg) – 2nd Place (1989)
  • Wado-ryu European Championships, Individua Kumite – 1st Place (1975)
  • English All Styles Championship, Individua Kumite (Open) – 1st Place (1979)

Like rival and fellow teammate, Geoff Thompson, Charles has always been opinionated and never afraid to express his views. This has led him to question the governing body running the sport of Karate. However, in 1996, he was appointed coach of the English national Karate coach by the EKGB. His main aim was to bring more youngsters into an aging squad. Through the 70s, 80s and early 90s, England/Great Britain had been one of the leading Karate nations. However, many of its top stars were now in their thirties.

With a lack of publicity, the sport of Karate was losing talented young athletes to other more prominent and lucrative sports. Charles wanted to focus cadet and junior levels, who with the right exposure and experience would develop into elite senior competitors. His ideas helped develop some talented youngsters, such as Leon Waters, Jason Ledgister, Tanya Wickes, Craig Burke, Liam Brennan, Joanne Horner and Roy Daniels. He also wanted to put the sport on a more professional footing. To do this he hired extra coaches such as former World Champions Wayne Otto and Ahbdu Shaher and also Eddie Cuthbert, Tery Daley and Steve Kelly.

When his contract was up in 1999, Charles did not renew it for a number of reasons. Because of the intensity of the job, it took him away from his young family, a 7 year old daughter and a 4 year old son. The job also impinged on the day to day running of his association and also his fitness business.

Charles retired from coaching in 2000. However, he continues as the chief instructor of the BSKA.

Now ranked at 8th Dan, Charles remains the chief instructor of the BSKA. He is also a board member of Karate Sport England (KSE), the national governing body of English Sport Karate. He is also the KSE Lifetime Honorary President.

Outside of Karate Charles has been involved in the local Stoke Newington community of London. He has served as school governor and also on the panel of the local business association.

Vic Charles alongside teammates Geoff Thompson helped usher in a golden period in British Karate at world and European level. His appearance on Superstars also helped bring Sport Karate into the public eye. As a competitor he was tough, with a strong mentality. As a coach he helped usher in a new generation of talented youngsters.

Author: Patrick Donkor

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