Spotlight: Frank Brennan – The Complete Karateka

Frank Brennan can arguably be described as one of the most technically gifted karate-ka of his generation. He is one of the few competitors to be equally comfortable in kata or kumite, excelling in both disciplines. As a competitor he was totally respected by his opponents. JKA great, Mashiko Tanaka, once said that part of the Japanese team’s training strategy was how to beat him.

Frank Brennan was born on 6 May 1960 in Liverpool. His father, a publican, encouraged his sons, Jimmy and Frank, to train in various sports. At school Frank excelled at gymnastics, which would eventually help his Karate in years to come.

In 1972 the Brennan brothers tried joining the Red Triangle Karate Club, one of the top Karate clubs in the country. Aged twelve, Frank was considered too young to join the club and was told to train at the local Judo club for a year. Jimmy, however was allowed to join the Karate club. A year later Frank was allowed to join.

The Red Triangle Karate Club was a founding member of the Karate Union of Great Britain (KUGB), whose chief instructor was JKA legend Keinosuke Enoeda. Brennan’s main instructor was KUGB stalwart, Andy Sherry, who had been practicing Karate since the early 1960s. Sherry would become not just his instructor but also his mentor.

It was clear from the outset that there was something special about Brennan. His early gymnastic practice had provide him with great flexibility and his year of Judo provided some fundamental strength.

In 1974 Brennan entered his first tournament as a brown belt. At the KUGB Northern Regional Championships he won the Junior Kata title.

The following year at the 1975 KUGB Northern Regional Championships, the Red Triangle Club faced Leeds in the team kumite final. Bob Poynton from the Red Triangle Club broke his leg in an earlier match. Brennan who had only been entered in the kata event was drafted in as a late replacement. The young Brennan faced the experienced Andy Harris from the Leeds club and won the match. This helped the Liverpool team win the kumite title. Since 1967 the Liverpool had won all but two of the team kumite titles.

In 1978, aged only 19, Brennan was selected to represent the KUGB international squad at the European Championships held in Sweden. He came second in the kata event. The following year at the the championships held in Belgium he won both the kata and kumite events, becoming Grand Champion. He would repeat this feat on three occasions.

From 1979 to 1992 Brennan dominated the KUGB National Championships. He was Grand Champion on ten occasions. He won the kata title fourteen times. He won the kumite title ten times. He faced some of the KUGB’s best talent that included Terry O’Neill, Steve Cattle, Gary Harford, Ronnie Christopher, Elwyn Hall and George Best.

1980 saw Brennan take part in his first World Championships, the 3rd IAKF World Championships held in Bremen, Germany. Although he didn’t win any titles, his round house kick to the head of Toshihiro Mori, the reigning JKA All-Japan Kumite Champion, was one of the highlights of the tournament. Mori would go on to win the kumite World title.

At the 2nd Shoto Cup held in Brisbane, Australia, Brennan had one of his best World Championship results, finishing runner-up to Tomio Imamura in the kumite final. Brennan’s team mate George Best was third in the event.

In 1990, Sunderland, England hosted the 3rd Shoto Cup. The KUGB team captained by Brennan had one of its best tournaments against the dominant Japanese team. Ronnie Christopher won a silver medal against Masao Kagawa in the kumite final. Brennan also won a silver medal in the kata event against Tomoyuki Aihara. The British team also made history by becoming the first non-Japanese team to win a Team Kumite World title. The KUGB squad was coached by Andy Sherry.

At the 4th Shoto Cup held in Tokyo, Japan in 1992, Brennan won his second kumite silver medal, again losing out to Tomio Inamura. Brennan was one of the few competitors (the only non-Japanese ) to win medals in kumite and kata.

In 1991 at the inaugural World Shotokan Karate-Do Association (WSKA) Championships held in Calgary, Canada, Brennan won the kata event and was 3rd in the individual kumite event. He also helped the British team win the team kumite title.

Frank Brennan retired from active competition in 1993. A stalwart of the KUGB, what makes his competitive career remarkable is that he very rarely competed in open Karate tournaments. He however did compete against some of the best kumite and kata specialists of his generation. He competed against some of the most talented competitors from Japan and never looked out of place.  All those that competed against him, including those those that had great success in the open arena, regard him has one of the toughest competitors they ever faced. His major honors include:

  • JKA World Championships (Shoto Cup) – Team kumite – 1st place (1990)
  • JKA World Championships (Shoto Cup) – Individual kumite – 2nd place (1987, 1992)
  • JKA World Championships (Shoto Cup) – Individual kata – 2nd place (1990)
  • WSKA World Championships – Individual kata – 1st place (1991)
  • WSKA World Championships – Team Kumite – 1st place (1991)
  • WSKA World Championships – Individual kumite – 3rd place (1991)
  • European Kata Champion – 3 times
  • European Kumite Champion – 3 times
  • KUGB National Kata Champion – 14 times
  • KUGB National Kumite Champion – 10 times

Karate has always been a major part of Frank Brennan’s life. He has gone from being a talented junior to being a top competitor. If this was not enough, he has gone on to become a top Karate coach, instructor and grading examiner for the KUGB. He has remained loyal to both the KUGB and his mentor Andy Sherry.

As a coach Brennan has brought his wealth of experience to a new generation of competitors. As coach of the KUGB Under-21 England squad, he has coached teams to European and World success.

In 2015, alongside his brother Jimmy, Frank Brennan was awarded the rank of 8th Dan, making him one of the most senior instructors in the KUGB. He is currently the vice-chairman of the organisation and remains dedicated to the art he loves.

Author: Patrick Donkor

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