No conversation about top female Karate competitors would ever be complete without mentioning the name Molly Samuel. She is arguably Britain’s most successful female competitor, winning multiple European and World titles. She was Britain’s first individual female World Karate Federation (WKF) World Champion. Fighting at middleweight (-60-kg), she was a pioneer of women’s competitive Karate, paving the way for future British world champions. Under coach Ticky Donovan she was an integral part of the golden era of British Karate in the 1980s and 90s, when Britain was one of the top Karate nations in the world.
Molly Irene Samuel was born on 12 September 1961, in Paddington, West London. She grew up in Forest Gate, East London, attending the Sarah Bonnell Secondary School in Stratford.
Samuel’s brother and sister were members of the Ishinryu Karate club, located in East Ham. The club was run by Will Verner. Initially, Karate held no interest for her. At a Karate fundraiser, to which she was invited to by her brother, she got chatting to one of the instructors, Jerry Leport, who she would eventually marry. He challenged her to attend a beginner class he taught. She took up the challenge and was soon hooked. This was around 1981.
After watching a men’s kumite competition in which Leport was competing, Samuel fell in love with kumite, and wanted to compete. At the time women’s competitive Karate was some way behind men’s the men’s event. Some women competitors struggled with kumite. However, there were exceptions like the talented Guujse van Mourik, who dominated the women’s heavyweight division.
Samuel dedicated herself to becoming a top competitor. In 1985 she won the English Championships and came second at the British Championships. Between 1985 and 1994 she won the English individual kumite title a total of eight times. At one point she won the title five years in a row. She was also British kumite champion on six occasions. She was also runner-up several times.
1986 was a break out year for Samuel. She was also selected to represent Great Britain at the European Championships held in Madrid. She won gold in the –60-kg weight class. At the 1986 World Championships held in Sydney, Australia she won silver behind her more experienced Finnish rival, Ritva Varelius.
The following year Samuel continued her success. She retained her English, British and European titles. She also added team kumite titles at the English and British Championships and became World Cup champion.
Two years later, in 1989, Samuel retained her World Cup title and was part of the British team that came second in the team kumite final. She won gold at the European Championships, having won bronze the previous year. At the English Championships she won her 4th consecutive individual kumite title and 3rd consecutive team title. To add to an already great year she was named International Sports Woman of the Year by The Sunday Times. She was also appointed the first women’s national Karate coach by English Karate for Great Britain (EKGB).
Samuel had a mixed year in 1990. She was runner-up in both the individual and team kumite events at the English Championships. This was the first time she had not been English Champion. She did become British Champion in both the individual and team kumite events, having been runner-up the previous year. At the World Cup she won team gold, also repeating the feat at the European Championships. However, at the European and World Championships she finished third.
1992 was arguably Samuel’s greatest year. She retained her English Championships individual kumite title and was also runner-up in the team event. At the British Championships she won double gold in the individual and team kumite events. This feat was repeated at the European Championships. At the World Cup she and her teammates retained the team kumite title. The culmination of her year was winning her first world title at the World Championships held in Granada, Spain. She defeated Chiara Stella Bux of Italy in the final. Her second gold came in the team kumite where Britain defeated the Netherlands in the final. This was the first time the team kumite event had been held for women at a World Champions. Britain made history becoming the first champions of the event.
Overall the 1992 World Championships was a great success for the British squad. Apart from Samuel’s success, other winners include Wayne Otto in the –75-kg kumite event and Willie Thomas in the –70-kg kumite event. Jillian Toney also won a silver in the –53-kg kumite event.
By the time Samuel retired she was one of the most successful British competitors, male or female. During this period, she was coached at club level by Will Verner. Her coach for the English and British Karate squads was Ticky Donovan. Her husband, Jerry, who had challenged her to take up Karate, was her personal coach. Her major honors include:
- World Championships, Individual Kumite (-60-kg) – 1st Place (1992)
- World Championships, Individual Kumite (-60-kg) – 2nd Place (1986)
- World Championships, Individual Kumite (-60-kg) – 3rd Place (1990)
- World Championships, Team Kumite – 1st Place (1992)
- World Games, Individual Kumite (-60-kg) – 1st Place (1993)
- World Cup, Individual Kumite (-60-kg) – 1st Place (1987, 1989, 1993)
- World Cup, Team Kumite – 1st Place (1990, 1991, 1992 1994)
- World Cup, Team Kumite – 2nd Place (1989, 1993)
- European Championships, Individual Kumite (-60-kg) – 1st Place (1986, 1987, 1989, 1992)
- European Championships, Individual Kumite (-60-kg) – 3rd Place (1988, 1990)
- European Championships, Team Kumite – 1st Place (1990, 1992)
- European Championships, Team Kumite – 2nd Place (1991, 1993)
- British Championships, Individual Kumite (-60-kg) – 1st Place (1986, 1987, 1988, 1990, 1991, 1992)
- British Championships, Individual Kumite (-60-kg) – 2nd Place (1985, 1989)
- British Championships, Team Kumite (-60-kg) – 1st Place (1987, 1988, 1990, 1992)
- British Championships, Team Kumite (-60-kg) – 2nd Place (1989, 1991)
- English Championships, Individual Kumite (-60kg) – 1st Place (1985, 1986, 1987 1988, 1989, 1991, 1992, 1994)
- English Championships, Individual Kumite (-60-kg) – 2nd Place (1990, 1993)
- English Championships, Team Kumite – 1st Place (1987, 1988, 1989, 1991, 1993, 1994)
- English Championships, Team Kumite – 2nd Place (1990, 1992)
From 2004 to 2006 Samuel was appointed Karate England’s National Coach. She also served as an EKGB board member from 2004 to 2005.
Away from Karate, Samuel focused on her education. In 2006 she received a BA(Hon) degree in Education and Training from the University of Greenwich. She worked in a number of teaching posts. In 2011 she started working for Crisis, a charity that helps homeless people.
If this was not enough, she entered the world of politics in 2014, wanting to give something back to her local community. In the 2015 and 2017 General elections she was the candidate for the Conservative party. She fought for the seat of Walthamstow in East London, both times losing to the Labour Party candidate, Stella Creasey.
Ranked as a 6th Dan, Molly Samuel-Leport still continues to train 3-4 times a week. She is the Vice-President of Karate Sport England, an association dedicated to the promotion of Karate as a sport.
In 2015 Molly Samuel-Leport was awarded an MBE for Serices to Karate, in the Queen’s Birthday Honor’s List. She received her award on 25 June 2015 at Buckingham Palace.
Molly Samuel is arguably Britain’s most successful women’s kumite competitor. From the mid-80s to 1990s she was the female face of Karate in the UK. Her successes inspired a new generation of women competitors who would carry on her successes at domestic and international level. Her success also helped bring Sport Karate more into the public eye.