Spotlight: Pauline Laville-Bindra – Shotokan’s Tigress

Pauline Laville-Bindra is a true pioneer in the world of karate. She was the first woman in Britain to earn a JKA (Japan Karate Association) black belt in Karate and went on to train for over forty years, eventually reaching the rank of 8th dan and becoming one of the highest graded female Shotokan practitioners in the world.

Published by Monabooks

Born on the 8th of January 1945 in Middlesbrough, Pauline Laville began her martial arts training in judo aged 12, at the Middlesbrough Judo Club. She reached the rank of blue belt.

Laville first came into contact with karate through the Middlesbrough BKF (British Karate Federation). Originally her sister paid for her lessons as her parents would not have allowed her to train, as like many people of the time they thought karate was a masculine fighting art not suitable for women.

Laville stated training at the BKF’s Middlesbrough dojo in 1963, under instructors Fred Kidd and Walter Seaton, both brown belts in Yoseikan Shotokan karate. Because of her short stature, she found she was more suited to karate rather than judo.

Towards the end of 1963, Laville moved to London with her sister Louise to find work. In Middlesbrough, she had trained to be a nurse but did not like it as it interfered with her training. They moved into a hostel and she managed to find work as a typist.

In March of 1964, at the age of 19, Laville decided to resume her karate training in London. She attended Vernon Bell’s dojo at the Horseshoe pub. At first, Bell was reluctant to train her, only relenting due to her persistence and the fact that she was an existing member of the BKF.

It must be remembered the time in which Laville was training. Women were treated as second class citizens and although there were other women training, there was some chauvinism shown towards them.

Laville’s early days training at the Horseshoe pub were not easy. Some of the male students at the dojo made things difficult for her. They did everything to avoid partnering up with her. Training with her was considered a form of punishment. However, Laville’s perseverance enabled her to stick it out. She credited her faith (a Seventh Day Adventist) as helping her cope with the difficult times.

Shotokan's Tigress

1965 saw the JKA invited to the UK to tour and give a series of demonstrations, showcasing their brand of Shotokan Karate. The tour proved such a great success that Vernon Bell arranged with the JKA for Hirokazu Kanazawa to remain and teach for the BKF. The contract between Kanazawa and the BKF was for one year. In that year Laville graded with Kanazawa and jumped grades from 8th to 6th kyu.

Like the many students who were fortunate to be taught by Kanazawa between 1965 to 1966, Laville’s karate flourished. Kanazawa stressed the importance of basics. Students were drilled by performing many repetitions.

When Kanazawa’s contract ended and was not renewed by the BKF, Laville and some of her fellow students were very disappointed. Many of the students had grown close to Kanazawa and liked his teaching style. In what became a significant moment in British karate history, Laville and fellow students including Eddie Whitcher, Chris and Nick Adamou broke away from the BKF. They set up the Karate Union of Great Britain (KUGB), with chief instructors Hirokazu Kanazawa operating from London and Keinosuke Enoeda operating from Liverpool. The KUGB set up its main dojo in Blackfriars, London.

In 1967 Pauline Laville made history, becoming the first woman in Britain to be awarded the grade of first dan by Hirokazu Kanazawa and the JKA.

After Kanazawa left the UK for Germany, Keinosuke Enoeda took over as the chief instructor of the KUGB. The next couple of years saw Laville develop her karate even further under Enoeda. The Japanese didn’t recognize gender differences when it came to training. As a black belt training was tough and no quarter given.

Laville developed the reputation of being a tough but fair teacher. She believed in hard training, following in the tradition of two of the best karate masters, Kanazawa and Enoeda, who had stressed the importance of technically correct basics. During this time she also competed in tournaments, while also teaching.

In the early to mid-70s in Britain women were not allowed to compete in karate competitions. So Laville had to travel to a tournament held in New York to compete. Already being one of the highest female Shotokan black belts in the world, she was only allowed to compete in the male black belt kata event. She placed second in that event.

In 1979 Laville married Lee Bindra. In 1980 Pauline Bindra and her family moved to San Francisco. With the help of Enoeda, she was offered a student/teaching opportunity with Richard Kim (then the President of the IAKF – Hidetaka Nishiyama‘s organisation). She and her family stayed in the United States for three years.

Pauline Bindra and her family returned from the United States in 1983. She formed her own association, International Shotokan Karate (ISK), with her husband Lee. The ISK was a founding member of the English Karate Federation (EKF), a body recognized by the sports council and the World Karate Federation (WKF).

Apart from running a successful karate association, Bindra with her husband also founded the successful Blitzsport Corporation, one of the UK’s largest suppliers of martial arts equipment.

On 21st July 2010, the karate world was shocked to hear of the death of Pauline Bindra following a brain aneurysm. She was survived by her husband Lee and her three children Danny, Elida and Jason.

Pauline Bindra (nee Laville) has had a great influence on British Karate. Apart from the personal accolades of being the first female black belt in Britain and one of the highest-ranked female Shotokan practitioners in the world, she has also taught and influenced many of the top Shotokan instructors currently teaching in the UK. She has been a founding member of several major Karate governing bodies in the UK. She has helped found her own successful association and established a successful martial arts equipment company. Pauline Laville-Bindra can be rightly thought of as a Karate pioneer.

Author: Patrick Donkor

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