… I had to learn Karate, I had to look after myself…Ray Fuller
A pioneer of Shotokan Karate, Ray Fuller was one of Vernon Bell’s first Karate students. His association was a founding member of the English Karate governing body.
Raymond Edward Fuller was born on 27 January 1934. After leaving school he joined the British Army, serving as a paratrooper.
Towards the end of October 1956, the Israeli Armed Forces moved into Egypt, following the nationalization of the Suez Canal by the Egyptian President, Gamal Abdel Nasser. The Suez Canal is an important waterway that connects Europe to Asia. Israel’s move into Egypt lead to the Suez Crisis, also known as the Second-Israeli War. Fuller’s unit was sent to the area to monitor events.
After leaving the army, Fuller got a job working as a painter at Union Cold Storage, based in Blackfriars, London, opposite the renowned Guys Hospital.
Fuller had first heard about Karate while serving in the army. During the 1960s Alan Whicker’s television program, Whicker’s World, was a popular show. During one episode there was a feature on Karate. Fuller had seen the episode and was interested in trying the esoteric martial art.
In 1964 Vernon Bell was the only man teaching Karate in the United Kingdom. His dojo was located on the top floor of the Horseshoe Pub, in Clerkenwell. Before being allowed to join the club, Fuller had to watch a few training sessions. He also had to provide references to verify who he was and the quality of his character.
On 20 January 1964 Fuller officially joined the British Karate Federation (BKF). He trained twice a week, with the likes of Terry Wingrove, Jimmy Neal, Eddie Whitcher, Mick Peachey, and Michael Randall, to name a few.
Fuller and his friend Michael Randall would sometimes visit Epping Forest to do some extra training. They both worked together at Union Cold Storage. They found an area in the basement of one of the company’s buildings where they could also train. Sometimes they would also train on the roof of one of the buildings owned by the company.
One day while training on the roof, Fuller was seen by a nurse in the opposite building. Not knowing what Karate was, she phoned the police. It came as a shock for Fuller when he was tapped on his shoulder by a policeman. His company did not see the funny side, and he was sacked. The incident was covered by the press, and had the title ‘Karateman Gets The Chop‘.
By 1965 Vernon Bell had opened another dojo at the Lyndhurst Hall. He invited the Japanese party to visit a training session at the dojo. This was the first time Fuller and his fellow BKF students has seen Karate performed to such a high standard.
After the JKA World Tour had ended, Hirokazu Kanazawa became the resident instructor of the BKF. The BKF had left the Yoseikan group of Minoru Mochizuki and had become affiliated with the JKA. Kanazawa’s teaching style made him a very popular instructor.
Between 28-29 July 1965 Kanazawa held his first official grading on behalf of the JKA, in London. It took place at the Lyndhurst Hall dojo. Fuller had a successful grading and was promoted to 4th Kyu.
On 8 November 1965, Kanazawa held his second official grading at the Lyndhurst Hall dojo. Enoeda was also present at the grading. Fuller was successful, receiving the temporary grade of 3rd Kyu.
Kanazawa’s third grading at the Lyndhurst Hall dojo took place in February 1966. This time Fuller failed his grading for 2nd Kyu.
On 11 May 1966, Kanazawa left the UK for South Africa. His contract with a BKF had not been renewed. In part this was due to growing disagreements between him and Vernon Bell.
Kanazawa’s teaching had a massive influence, especially on his students in the London dojos. The students felt directionless and wanted to be taught by no one other than Kanazawa.
A meeting was organized by some of the senior members of the BKF, mainly from the Liverpool and London dojos. The likes of Eddie Whitcher, Fuller, Pauline Laville, and Andy Sherry were present at the meeting. In a lively meeting, many wanted to continue training with Kanazawa and the JKA. This led to a split in the BKA, With the Karate Union of Great Britain (KUGB) being formed. Around two-thirds of the BKF membership moved to the KUGB.
Kanazawa was named the Chief Instructor of the KUGB. As the Lyndhurst Hall dojo had been hired by Bell for the BKF, the KUGB had to find a new dojo in London. They started training at the John Marshall Hall, which came to be known as the Blackfriars dojo.
In 1966 Fuller was awarded his 1st Dan by Kanazawa. This made him one of the senior students at the Blackfriars dojo. When Kanazawa and the other Japanese instructors were unavailable, Fuller would teach the class.
On 22 July 1967, the 1st KUGB National Championships were held at Alexandria Palace. Kanazawa, Enoeda, and Shirai were in attendance. Fuller was a member of the London Kumite Team that consisted of Eddie Witcher, Rob Williams, Michael Randall, and Sam Firlej. They narrowly lost to a Liverpool Red Triangle Team, which included Andy Sherry and Bob Poynton.
The following year, the 2nd KUGB National Championships was again held at Alexandria Palace. The Chief Instructor of the JKA, Masatoshi Nakayama, alongside Satoshi Miyazaki, and Shiro Asano were also present. They performed a series of demonstrations. In the Individual Kumite event, Fuller finished in the top eight. Nakayama presented him with a special certificate and silver tie pin for his work in promoting Shotokan Karate. Fuller had the opportunity to have some private training sessions with Nakayama.
In 1969 Kanazawa left England to take over as a Chief Instructor in Germany. Enoeda became the Chief Instructor of the KUGB and moved from Liverpool to London. He set up a dojo at Marshall Street, Soho, which became a Shotokan Mecca in London. Fuller and Laville took over the running of the Blackfriars dojo.
1969 also saw Fuller marry Pauline Laville, in Camberwell, London. Laville had started Karate in 1962, under Fred Kidd and Walter Seaton of the BKF in Middlesbrough. She moved to London in 1964 where she started training at Vernon Bell’s Horseshoe Pub dojo. It was around this time she met Fuller.
In 1970, the Fullers started opening Karate clubs in South London and the Kent areas. They open their first club in Dartford, Kent.
The Fullers split from the KUGB in 1975. They founded the Thames Karate International that consisted of clubs in the Thames area. They worked in conjunction with Jimmy and Val Patterson. Both Ray and Pauline Fuller were 3rd Dans. Even though they had left the KUGB, they continued to train with Enoeda.
At the height of its success in 1977, Thames Karate International had grown to have sixty clubs with four thousand members. It had also been a founding member of the Federation of English Karate Organization (FEKO).
After almost 10 years of marriage, Ray Fuller and Pauline Laville separated. This led to a split in the Thames Karate International. Fuller remained the Chief Instructor of Thames Karate International. He continued teaching his students traditional Shotokan Karate.
At the time of his death in the 2000s, Ray Fuller was ranked as an 8th Dan, one of the highest-ranked Karate practitioners in the UK. He was one of the stalwarts of English Shotokan Karate. Around at the dawn of English Shotokan Karate, he has taught many of today’s top Shotokan instructors in the UK.