Karate : The Bishopthorpe Connection

Karate_1There’s a small but thriving Karate club in Bishopthorpe that has been surprising some of the more established clubs with the success its members have been getting at National Championship events.

The senior instructor at the club, Sensei Brian Williams, invited Bishopthorpe.net to have a look at the club and see what goes on there. The club meets at 6:30pm on Mondays and Thursdays in St Andrew’s Church Hall, so your intrepid correspondent went down to the Church Hall a couple of weeks ago to meet Brian and the team.


You’re referred to as Sensei – what does that mean?

Sensei is a Japanese title often used to address doctors, musicians, professional people and so on. It’s a term of respect and in the martial arts world it’s used to address the teacher of a class of students; it’s a bit more than that though, and also means guide. Literally it translates as ‘one who has gone before’.


Getting ready for action – some of the club members, with Brian on the right 

Everyone probably has their own pre-conceptions about Karate from films and TV. What’s it really all about?

Kara means empty, and te means hand, so karate means empty hands, or the art of empty hand fighting. Karate originated around 400 years ago as a secret fighting art among the oppressed people of Okinawa, Japan. In its original form it had a simple aim; to kill your opponent before he has the chance to kill you. Its success meant that the techniques were closely guarded until the relatively more civilised 20th century, where it became increasingly popular as a method of physical and mental development, and a formidable system of self defence. Karate consists of techniques of punching, blocking, striking, and kicking, combined into specific patterns called kata (forms), and applied against opponents in kumite (controlled sparring). There are a number of different styles of karate practised around the world. The style we use in the Bishopthorpe club is Wado-ryu, really a fusion of karate and jujutsu. Wado-ryu means harmony, way, and style. But don’t think that by harmony we mean pacifism; it’s a way of explaining that sometimes yielding is more effective than a brute force approach.

So how does that work in practice?

One of the key principles of Wado-ryu is the Japanese term tai sabaki, which means body-management. This means using body manipulation to move the defender as well as the attacker into the best position. The way to achieve this is to ‘move along’ rather than to ‘move against’–or harmony rather than physical strength.

What sort of people come to the club?

We’re still pretty small but that means we’re friendly, and able to spend time with everyone in one-to-one sessions if they want to. There are about 15 active members at the moment, ranging from 8 years old to the over 60s. We encourage anyone to get involved; young or old, male or female. You don’t need to be that fit to start with, and you don’t need any special equipment. Just a t-shirt and jogging bottoms are fine to see if you like it. Once you’ve got the bug though you’ll find that you want to push yourself harder, train more, and maybe get the proper gear. It’s not expensive though.


We’ve all heard of black belts, but how does the belt system work?

Beginners start with a white belt, and work towards achieving a higher grade and progressing through the colours – white, yellow, orange, green, blue, purple, brown, and then black. We run grading sessions about every 4 months or so. If you achieve the black belt level there’s then the dan ranking; 1st to 5th dan denote technical expertise, with 6th to 10th dan being honorary ranks.

And what belts do club members have?

We’ve got the whole range of levels. We have 4 black belts at the moment and plenty at the other levels, so anyone starting from scratch won’t feel that they’re on their own. We’ve done very well in competitions over the last couple of years, particularly at the National Karate Championships at Cheshunt. We had Gold, Silver, and Bronze medals in various disciplines, notably the Fighter and Kata events. Kata are pre-defined sequences of movement that need a lot of concentration, while the fighter events are competitions against similarly matched opponents. We got a team kata bronze too.


What should I do if I’d like to find out more, or even have a go?

We’re always pleased to see new faces at our club sessions, so you can just turn up on Mondays or Thursdays at the Church Hall at around 6:30pm, and we’ll take it from there. Alternatively you can contact me, Brian Williams, on 01904 701931 if you’d like to have a chat first. Our club secretary Lesley Edwards would also be happy to talk to anyone who’s thinking about getting involved. You can contact her on 01904 700380.

Thanks for talking to Bishopthorpe.net Brian, let’s hope the club goes from strength to strength.

On the Home Front in Bishopthorpe

Home_GuardBishopthorpe Home Guard on parade in Main Street.


Seventy years ago, on 3rd September 1939, Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain broadcast to the nation.  It was a momentous yet typically downbeat statement that, apparently, most of the British nation listened to, having been alerted that it would contain the news that it did.

Mr. Chamberlain revealed that he had not received a response to his demand that the German Government should withdraw their troops from Poland, by the deadline of eleven o’ clock a.m. “I have to tell you”, he continued, “that no such undertaking has been received, and that consequently this country is at war with Germany.”

To commemorate this historic anniversary, villagers’ reminiscences and photographs showing how they buckled down to life on the Home Front, can be seen in Bishopthorpe Library.

The Local History Group delved into the Bishopthorpe Community Archive for photographs and memories from recorded interviews.  Many of them reveal the indefatigable spirit and sense of humour which carried the villagers through six years of war.

Take, for example, Miss Carol Woollcombe’s recollection of listening to Neville Chamberlain’s announcement:

“We were listening to the radio in the study.  My sisters had been to Westmorland, where my aunts and my grandmother lived and they’d met my eldest uncle. And he was one of those chaps who was either up in the attacks or down in the dumps, you know. He was very mercurial. And he got very depressed over this news and my sisters came back and they said, ‘Uncle Cecil says we must sue to Hitler for the best terms we can get.’ And my mother said, ‘What on earth is Cecil thinking of? We shall fight to the death.’

I always remember her saying that. She was going to hit him with a hockey stick, I think.”

In Bishopthorpe, like everywhere else, men, women and children on the Home Front adapted to a different way of life; they put up with shortages; saved for the war effort; “dug for victory”; “got on with everything” and “did their bit”.  They joined organisations such as the Home Guard, the Civil Defence and the National Fire Service; they raised money for Spitfires and Hurricanes; they knitted much-needed socks for seamen.

WIBishopthorpe Womens’ Institute knitting socks for seamen using special ‘oily’ wool.


If you would like to see more, then visit Bishopthorpe Library where our display will be on show until 4 September.



Library opening hours:

Monday: 2 – 5 pm

Tuesday: Closed

Wednesday: 2 – 7.30 pm

Thursday: 10 am – 12 noon and 2 – 5 pm

Friday: 2 – 7.30 pm


Jean on February 8, 2010 11:43 PM

Thank you Linda for your most interesting articles. Carol Woollcombe was my Sunday School teacher over fifty years ago. I well remember her class and playing with plasticine and sitting in small round backed wooden chairs in the vestry on Sunday mornings.

Veterans visit to the beaches of Normandy

June 2009 saw the 65th anniversary of the D Day landings, a crucial turning point in World War II.

Among the veterans who travelled to Normandy to take part in the commemorative events was Roy Rowbotham of Keble Park South. Roy was accompanied by his son Robin, who has written a great account of their experiences exclusively for the bishopthorpe.net website.

‘At the going down of the sun and in the morning… We Will Remember Them.’

June 4th 2009

An early start (well for me) saw me and my father, Roy Rowbotham, in a taxi on our way to York station to pick up the coach that would take us to France. There we met up with the group of my Dad’s mates who would be going with us to celebrate, if celebrate is the right word, the 65th anniversary of the D Day landings at Normandy. I was tagging along as an official helper.

If I wasn’t looking forward to the 15 hour journey I’m sure my Dad and his chums certainly weren’t, the youngest one there being 84 years old. We set off in hearty spirits though with a dash across country stopping off a few times to pick up the odd straggler including our guide Paul Reed.

We eventually made it to Rouen late in the evening with no time even to hit the local wine bars, although a few of the group did us proud in the bar.

June 5th 2009

An early start (again!) and we were off to Colleville-Montgomery (the latter part of the towns name being taken in honour of the famous Field Marshall). What seemed a disorganised shambles soon turned out to be a very pleasant ceremony and march past by the veterans. After the service the veterans were once again marching, this time down towards the beach of Colleville. They looked a fine bunch proudly displaying their medals and marching in time like the good old days. A fly-by by a couple of spitfires and a Lancaster made the event even more special. The march took them to a square by the beach where they received special commemorative badges given to them by the local schoolchildren – a lovely touch.


Normandy_09_2After the ceremony we hung around for a while chatting with the locals (as best we could given my atrocious French) who wanted to shake the hands of all the veterans and tell them how pleased they were to have them back. This was no empty gesture but sincere gratitude from people genuinely thrilled to meet up with their heroes. This attitude was to be repeated many times throughout the weekend from the local population.


After a brief stop for fantastically fresh baguettes in Ouistreham on we went to the next service at Caens memorial gardens – a lovely open space and fitting lasting monument to those that lost their lives in Normandy. It was a very hot day and there was no messing about from my Dad as he informed the nearest senior officer that he wanted to sit for the ceremony – said officer duly obliging, leading him and a few of our gang to the ‘best seats’. This gave me and one of my fellow helpers a chance to take a look around the museum which was excellent – recommended if you’re ever in the area.

We ended a long and enjoyable day with an evening meal in Caens before heading off back to the hotel at Rouen – where we finished off the evening in the bar, enjoying a couple of beers with some Harley-D bikers who were just finishing off a cross Europe tour.

June 6th

Off early again and this time headed for Bayeux . We built in a couple of stops to see some of the battle areas on the way and ended up in Bayeux just after 11.00. After a battle with some over officious gendarmes (eventually solved with help from one of the locals who left the poor gendarme in no doubt about the amount of respect he should show these old liberators!) we made it in to the Bayeux cemetery and a service held in the presence of Prince Charles and President Sarkozy. My Dad got to have words with Prince Charles – telling him he ‘had the set now’ as he had met the Queen last time he was here. Despite the over zealous police activity (to be expected, I guess, with such dignitaries attending) it was a touching ceremony; well organised in a beautifully poignant setting and old Charlie spent a great deal of time chatting with the veterans which they appreciated. Fair play to him.

Normandy_09_4Next stop was the Chateau La Longue, scene of German local headquarters and some fierce fighting in 1944. A memorable event for those that had been there all those years ago made even more memorable on the day as the lady of the house came to greet the party and give everyone a tour around the grounds. The old boys were truly touched by her gesture.

The afternoon was to be a different story. Without going over too much old ground (see articles and letters in The Press) the ceremony at Arromanches was disorganisation taken to the extreme. From the moment we got there no one knew what was going on, traffic was at a standstill, the car parks were over flowing and it was obvious the organisers hadn’t expected this many veterans and spectators.

Normandy_09_5The afternoon started off happily enough – the sun was shining and most of the veterans managed to get a seat in the square where they took part in a badge giving ceremony and were treated to the odd marching band. Dad even got interviewed live on the BBC! The weather took a turn for the worse which caused problems,  but another fly-by from the Spitfires and the Lancaster was greeted with great cheers and buoyed everyone up.



Normandy_09_6The ceremony itself was very good although could have been shortened somewhat to lessen the time the veterans were stood in the pouring rain. I must admit to pleasant surprise when Gordon Brown and the rest of the VIPs joined the veterans on the parade ground for an impromptu rendition of Auld Lang Syne – a very touching moment. After the ceremony, with the rain still continuing to pour down, we faced the prospect of a long uncomfortable wait for our coach – but luckily our tour guide, Paul, had a word with his friend, BBC’s Dan Snow, who then led our cold, wet and bedraggled troupe to the BBC hospitality tent where they provided hot soup and coffee for the gang. So a big thanks to Paul, Dan and the BBC!!

We missed our meal in Merville but sated our hunger in a service station on the way back to Rouen!

June 7th

This was to prove my favourite day. No deadlines to meet, no ceremonies to attend – we could take our time and spend the day visiting places the group wanted to see.

Normandy_09_7The day started off with a trip to a cemetery and the burial spot of one of the party’s (Arthur Wragg) brother in law. Our resident lay preacher Burt Barrat gave a poignant eulogy – it was a very moving and humbling experience.

After that we went on a tour around the Normandy countryside and once again were made very welcome by the locals. Lunch was taken at Pegasus Bridge, a place I was looking forward to seeing having read Ambrose’s book about the encounter, a brilliant feat of soldiering whereby troops of 6th Airborne led by Major John Howard held this key bridge over the night of the 6th June until relieved the following day (One of the members of the reinforcements was actor Richard Todd who would later play Major Howard in the film The Longest Day ). We visited the famous Gondree Cafe and the museum commemorating the battle which still houses the original bridge.

Normandy_09_8After lunch we carried on our tour. First stop was the Green Howard memorial at Crepon as we had a former regiment member (Ken Cooke) with us. This stop was also notable for the meeting of an American couple who had just driven all the way from the South of Spain to ‘meet some vets’. They took pictures of some of our mob and were obviously very moved by the whole experience.

Our final visit of the day was to a memorial to Hill 112. The Battle for Hill 112, known as the “Verdun of Normandy” was crucial for both sides in 1944 and the hill swapped hands several times until the Allies held it on August 3. The battles were hard and bloody and we were honoured to have a veteran of the battle amongst us.

And then it was time for return to the hotel, via supper in Caen. We were all tired and emotional but this didn’t stop a few visiting the hotel bar. We were off early the next morning and an uneventful trip home eventually saw us in York before midnight.

Despite the problems in Arromanches I think everyone had enjoyed the experience and found it rewarding. Personally I felt very honoured to be amongst this bunch of heroes. I was made to feel very welcomed by the whole group and it is an experience I will never forget.



BERNI HENNESSY | November 3, 2009 2:51 AM



hazel burgin | September 19, 2009 6:59 PM

Well done Uncle Roy and all your veteran friends. I was immensely proud . You restored my failing faith in mankind. Thank you.