Sensei Tony Dean is an Ishinryu 6th Dan and one of the most senior instructors in Ishinryu. He is also the longest continuously serving member of Ishinryu in the UK.
Today, Tony runs Ishinryu clubs in Rayleigh and Burnham-on-Crouch, as well as instructing on the Ishinryu Summer Course and other courses throughout the year.
This is sensei Tony’s Ishinryu story – told in his own words.
When I was 3 years old, I got run over by a car at Wanstead Flats in East London and spent 4 months in hospital with 7 fractures in my right leg and damage to my forehead and skull, I still have the lumps where it pushed it out of place slightly, also a stone went through my chin into my gum, I was in a bad way for a while, but managed slowly to pull through, the doctors said I would never be able to take part in sport football etc, as one leg would grow back longer than the other and cause me to limp and maybe other issues. The first I remember, was waking up laying on a bed with my leg in plaster held up by a pulley and I couldn’t talk as I had bandages everywhere. I do remember watching the original Batman tv series in the hospital ward, my mum used to wait until that came on, so she could go home.
I have mentioned this only as I was told by the doctors that sport wasn’t going to be possible. I was lucky; I eventually recovered and started to play normal sports, one leg is about an inch longer than the other and my hip won’t twist as well as the other one. but never did I dream that one day I would end up with an England badge for Karate.
How it started.
I started training at age 10 with Judo at the Hartley Centre in East Ham. In the next hall, one day I heard shouting, at the time I didn’t know what it was (Kiai) so we went in and watched – it was Karate! I had never heard of it before, it just so happened it was Ishinryu Karate being taught by Will Verner.
Within a couple of weeks, I had turned 11 and then joined the beginner’s course at the end of October 1973, being taught by Johnny Hassle 2nd Dan RIP . The training was hard and strict, but I was amazed by the movement and kicks that I was seeing. Johnny and Will were both great instructors. After training for about 8 months, I took my first belt which was red belt (in those days we started red belt 6th Kyu) which is equivalent to today’s orange belt. I only mentioned this for relevance to how hard it was to get a red belt back then.
It was as a red belt, that we had a visit to East Ham by Ishinryu Founder and Chief Instructor Ticky Donovan OBE. He came along to the club, taught the class with Will and Johnny, and actually sparred with us! Now Will and Johnny were very good, but this guy not only looked like a blonde Viking, when he taught, he spoke with a slight accent, which sounded European, this all added to the unique charisma that he had. He was incredible, his sweeps and punches were just amazing to watch, we were all spellbound by the session. This was the day I was hooked.
We trained for an hour and a half, three times per week, Monday, Wednesday, and Sunday. On Sunday we rushed home to watch the TV series Kung Fu with David Carradine that had just started! I trained very hard and managed to get 1st Class for my first two belts (Red and Yellow). I had been training for a year and had gone from a chunky unfit kid into a skinny kid who, despite earlier injuries, could actually do well. In February 1975 we were told that to grade we had to go on the general grading for orange belt at Woodlane with Sensei Ticky Donovan OBE. This was for 4th Kyu Orange belt, so we all went to Wood Lane Dagenham in the old Nissan hut, when we arrived, there were about 40 people from the other clubs grading too. I was the only junior grading at 12 years old – the rest were all adults. We were told, “If your name isn’t called out you haven’t passed. “ After about two hours or so, everyone gets up to get their grade. I am thinking I should probably pass but wasn’t confident. After all of the names have been read out, I realised that mine hasn’t! At this stage I am mortified embarrassed as I have failed in front of my club mates and everyone else, even though I had worked very hard to be ready. Just as I thought I am going home, Sensei Donovan asked me to stand up! (By now everyone else is already sitting down – feel the tension), so I gingerly get up and he says “well done you had a very good grading you have passed and we have awarded you 2nd class 3rd Kyu Green belt”. Well, at this stage I hadn’t quite grasped what had happened, but apparently, I had just jumped orange and gone straight to green belt! After a few days this sank in, and I thought just maybe I have found something that I might be good at! So, I upped my training schedule.
I continued at East Ham on Monday, Wednesday and Sunday, but also trained Tuesday and Thursday at Woodlane with Sensei Donovan, and on Friday at Plaistow with Sensei Tyrone Whyte. I also started training on Saturday’s at Woodlane with either Sensei Will Verner or Sensei Roy Jerome and/or Sensei Timmy Francis. I trained very hard and became obsessed with getting it right. For the next two belts (blue and brown), I got awarded 1st class. I also started competing, but wasn’t allowed to fight as aged under 16, (there was no junior Kumite back then), but picked up some trophies for Kata.
On the 27th of February 1977 I graded for my 1st Dan Black belt aged 14 at Forest Gate in East London, this was Peter Spanton’s Wado Ryu club, and it was a BKA grading. At that time, Sensei Donovan would not grade Ishinryu students to black belt, instead they had to go before a BKA panel. Before this grading I was told there would be sparring and that if I lost, as I was a junior, I would not pass black belt as I would be seen to be too weak! After a few hours of training Basic, Kata and Ippons we had to fight! Now here was a room full of 25-year-old physically fit brown belts, which didn’t want to get beaten by some skinny 14-year-old blonde kid. I can’t remember how many fights we had, but it was a lot, almost until you couldn’t carry on. Before it was over, I was so mentally fixated on winning that day, I didn’t feel the pain until afterwards . That was it, I had passed my 1st Dan Black belt, I had been graded by John Smith (RIP), Toru Takimizawa (RIP) and Peter Spanton (RIP). I was now an Ishinryu and BKA black belt.
At 16 I started Kumite competition and fought in every Ishinryu team, working my way up, from (I think) the ‘F’ or ‘G’ team (Ishinryu had so many) until eventually fighting in the Ishinryu ‘A’ team. At 17 I was picked to join the England junior Squad, and Eventually fought on the Senior squad, getting my England badge in 1983
There are many more stories, but this is an overview of my journey to black belt .
I would like to thank Sensei Will Verner for taking me from a beginner and giving me the foundation to go forward and continue my journey, and Sensei Ticky Donovan OBE, who has guided me since Brown belt and who has been the inspiration for my Karate, providing not only great knowledge but also setting the very high standards which make Ishinryu so special. Sensei Ticky Donovan OBE 10th Dan is not only one of the greatest competitors and worlds best Karate Coach, but more than that, he is our Sensei – which means even more to us! Sensei Ticky will always be my Sensei and I will always be grateful that I found Ishinryu.