Richard Heselton

I want to move on, improve and evolve – I once heard someone say “yesterday’s solutions don’t solve today’s problems” and I totally agree with this.

Richard Heselton

The name Richard Heselton it’s not as well known as it should be. He is one of the best Shotokan karatekas of his generation. Nicknamed the ‘Monster‘, he has developed a reputation for being a ferocious competitor. He is known for his speed and ‘one strike, one kill‘ attitude.

Richard William Heselton was born in the northern seaside town of Whitby, England. His father Doug was a ship’s carpenter in the Merchant Navy, frequently travelling and working in Zimbabwe, Algeria, and Germany.

A friend of Heselton was practising Karate at the Whitby Shotokan Karate Club, under Michael Howard. He took the 12-year-old Heselton to a class in 1988. Helselton had previously tried Boxing and Judo. However, after his Karate class, he was hooked. He was soon training twice a week.

The following year, Heselton also started practising Kickboxing twice a week. He wanted to supplement his Karate training. He did this for around three years and had a number of amateur fights.

Between 18 to 19 March 1990, the 3rd Shoto Cup took place at the Crowtree Leisure Centre, in Sunderland, England. The tournament was the JKA’s version of the World Championships. Heselton had the opportunity to see many of the worlds top Shotokan karateka. This included Yuki Mimura, Frank Brennan, Masao Kagawa, and Tomoyuki Aihara. He was inspired by what he saw. He wanted to reach the same level.

A student on the history of Shotokan Karate, Heselton had seen some film footage of Keinosuke Enoeda. He had also read about the likes of Andy Sherry, Terry O’Neill, and Frank Brennan in magazines like Fighting Arts International. He realised to get better he needed to train with the Karate Union of Great Britain (KUGB). By this time he was losing interest in Kickboxing.

The nearest KUGB dojo to Heselton was in York, a two and a half hour journey from Whitby. He started training at the KUGB York Kenshinkan dojo, under long-time KUGB instructors, Gordon Thompson, and Tivvy Gommersal, in 1992. Sometimes, training finished late, so he couldn’t return home. He would have to stay with some of his fellow students who lived in York.

In 1993 Heselton was promoted to 1st Dan by Enoeda and Sherry. That year he was also selected to the KUGB Junior National Squad. The squad training sessions were taken by Sherry, assisted by Frank Brennan. The training was extremely tough. Sometimes the juniors would have to train with members of the Senior National Squad. Heselton was a member of the Junior Squad for two years.

Heselton had grown up listening to his father’s stories of travelling. He wanted to experience the joy of travelling and practising Karate in Japan.

In 1995, at the age of 19, Heselton took out a loan for a visit to Japan. He obtained a three-month tourist Visa and travelled to Tokyo, via Moscow.

In Japan, Heselton discovered the Taishijuku dojo of JKA instructor, Tatsuya Naka, where he started training. He came to realise that relationships in the dojo and the wider Japanese culture were built on mutual respect. One of the things he had to get used to was the sempai/kohai relationship within the dojo.

While in Tokyo Heselton supplemented his income by teaching English at a foreign language school. He also started training under Naka and Koichiro Okuma at the Dokkyo University Karate club. He trained at the club until 1999.

In 1997 Heselton competed in the KUGB Shotokan Cup Under 21 Tournament. In the Individual Kumite event, he finished in first place.

1999 saw one of Heselton’s first tournament successes in Japan. He won the Individual Kumite title at the JKA Kanto Tournament.

Heselton enrolled at Takushoku University in the year 2000. He joined the University’s Karate club. He trained under the well respected Katsunori Tsuyama. That year he competed at the JKA Tokyo Tournament, where he won the Individual Kumite title.

Heselton’s time at Takushoku was mentally and physically challenging. He had to juggle his time between his studies and his tough Karate training. He normally trained around six hours a day and frequently took part in competitions, as a member of the University’s Karate Team.

In 2002 Heselton made history by becoming the Captain of the Takushoku Karate Team. He was the first foreigner to hold the position. In fact, he was the first foreigner to hold the position at a premier Japanese university Karate club.

At the 43rd All Japan Karate Championships, Heselton was part of a team that won the Team Kumite event.

In 2004 Heselton graduated from Takushoku University.

At the 2004 JKA Tokyo Tournament, Heselton won the Individual Kumite title. However, he had been suffering from intense back pain. This had developed during his time at Takushoku University. Following an MRI it was discovered he had two herniated discs and a large benign tumour on his spine.

Leading up to the 47th JKA All Japan Karate Championships, Heselton couldn’t really train, because of his back pain. In the Individual Kumite event, he finished in the top eight. In a controversial match, he lost to Koji Ogata. He clearly won the match, with two clean scores. However, to the displeasure of the crowd, the judges awarded the bout to Ogata.

In 2005 Heselton established the ISKC dojo.

By 2008 Heselton had been promoted to 4th Dan by the JKA.

On 27 June 2010, at the 53rd All Japan Karate Championships, Heselton finished in joint third with Riki Kumeta. This was his highest placing at the All Japan Championships. Keisuke Nemoto won the title, with Shimizu Ryosuke in second place.

In 2011 Heselton appeared in the Japanese film, ‘Karate Girl‘, starring Rina Takeda. He played one of the henchmen in the film. Tatsuya Naka also appeared in the film as Takeda’s father.

On 18-19 October 2014 the Funakoshi Gichin Cup 13th Karate World Championship Tournament was held in Tokyo. Heselton was part of an English Kumite Team consisting of Joel Woof, Mohammed Salih, Jovan Masalunga, and George Draganov. The team finished in a respectable 4th place, behind Japan, Belgium, and Chile.

On a visit back to the UK in 2014, Heselton took a trip down memory lane. He visited and trained at the York Kenshinkan dojo, where he had trained as a teenager.

In 2017 Heselton became an Associate Professor in the Faculty of International Studies at Takushoku University. He primarily taught English to speakers of other languages.

Richard Heselton has shown how one can turn dreams into reality. He had a dream of wanting to learn Karate in Japan. This has become a reality for him. He has gone from being a much-respected competitor to being a much-respected teacher. He has developed a good rapport for teaching kids, especially those with learning disabilities. Married, he has made a life and home for himself in Japan.

Author: Patrick Donkor

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