Spotlight: David ‘Ticky’ Donovan – Coach Supreme

For people of a certain generation in the United Kingdom the name Ticky Donovan is synonymous with British Karate. As a competitor he was part of a World Championship winning team. As a coach and manager he guided the British Karate team a golden era of success at world level.

David ‘Ticky’ Donovan was born 13 December 1943 in Loughton, just outside London. As a boy he was into many sports. However boxing was his main passion.

In 1965 Donovan attended his first Karate class with a friend. It was run by Wado-ryu master Tatsuo Suzuki. The class was taught at the Wado-ryu Clapham Common Club. Initially he found the pace of his first lesson a little too slow for his liking. However following a demonstration given by Suzuki he became hooked on Karate.

For the next three years Donovan studied the Wado-ryu style of Karate under Tatsuo Suzuki and Len Palmer, an early pioneer of Karate in the United Kingdom. However in 1968 Suzuki and Palmer parted ways due to internal politics. Donovan had deep respect for both men, but ended up staying with Palmer.

Following the political split the Clapham Common club switched Karate styles from Wado-ryu to Shotokan. This enabled Donovan to train with Shotokan masters, Hirokazu Kanazawa and Keinosuke Enoeda at their dojo located in Blackfriars, London. He trained with both men until Kanazawa left for Germany and Enoeda left for Liverpool.

During the trials for team selection for the European Championship, Donovan broke his hand. This caused him to give up Karate for around six months.

The pull of Karate was strong and Donovan resumed his Karate training. He searched for the nearest club to him and ended up changing Karate style. He started training in Kyokushin Karate under Steve Arneil. Arneil had trained in Japan under Masutatsu Oyama and brought this style of Karate to the UK in 1965. Training took place at Arneil’s Stratford, London dojo.

Donovan loved the tough direct style of Kyokushin, eventually earning his 1st Dan from Arneil. He went on to earn his 2nd Dan from Oyama who was visiting the UK at the time.

1973 saw Donovan develop his own style of Karate called Ishinryu, not to be confused with the Okinawan Karate style of  Isshin-ryu. He had loved his time as a Kyokushin karateka. However, he felt it was time to open his dojo. Meaning ‘All of One Heart’, Ishinryu amalgamates his experiences from training in the Wado-ryu, Shotokan and Kyokushin Karate styles. He opened his first first dojo in Dagenham, Essex. Over the years Ishinryu has grown into a style now being practiced in the UK, Australia, Canada and New Zealand.

While Donovan has always been a traditionalist, he has also loved the competitive side of Karate. As a competitor he won the British Karate Championship, at the time considered one of the toughest tournaments in Europe, three years in a row (1973-1975). In 1975 he was part of the All Style Karate squad, managed by Steve Arneil, that defeated the Japanese to become World Karate Champions. In the 1976 Black Belt Magazine’s Annual Yearbook he as named in the list of the “Top Ten European Karateka”.

In 1977 Donovan became the coach and manager of both the English and British teams, taking over from Roy Stanhope. Earlier in the year he had torn the ligaments in his knee while competing in an international tournament in France. Donovan continued to compete, even though the injury hampered him. He stopped competing on the advice of Stanhope, who believed he was in line to become coach after him.

Thus began one of the most successful periods in British competitive Karate at a European and World level. In 1982 he emulated his former instructor, Arneil, in coaching a team to a World Championship Team Kumite title in Taipei, Taiwan. This feat was repeated in 1984, 1986, 1988 and 1990, with the British team winning an unprecedented  five consecutive world titles.

Between 1982 and 1996 Donovan’s teams earned medals at every World Championships, not finishing below third place in the overall medal tables. In that time the British team won a total of fifty-three medals, twenty-three being gold.

In a career lasting over thirty years Donovan has coached some of the best British Karate talent. This includes Pat MacKay, Aidan Trimble, Geoff Thompson, Vic Charles, Molly Samuel, Wayne Otto, Jillian and Juliet Toney, to name a few.

In 1991 Donovan was awarded an OBE in the Queen’s honors list in recognition of his achievements as a Karate coach.

In 2006 Donovan was suspended by Karate England following alleged claims of racism and bullying. However following a rigorous investigation by the police, his name was cleared of all allegations and he was reinstated as national coach.

Donovan finally retired as coach and manager of the British and English National Karate teams, after over thirty years in the position. He however continued to serve on the board of the English Karate Federation, the national governing body of Karate, from 2008 to 2013.

2009 saw Donovan honored at a testimonial evening. The event was attended by a who’s who in British Karate from many different styles.

Donovan is still actively involved in Karate. Every year he hosts an Open Summer Course held at Clacton-on-Sea, Essex. The event was first held in 1976 and normally takes place in the third week of June.

Author: Patrick Donkor

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