Karate kids are kickin’ it under Sensei Greg

Karate is relatively new to Cayman because over the years there have been few practitioners of the ancient Japanese martial art form.

Karate kids

Payyappilly (second left) passed his yellow belt
Photo: Ron Shillingford

That was until Greg Reid arrived on the island a year ago and started building up classes at the King’s Sports Centre.

With his dedicated band of instructors, Reid, aka Sensei Greg is developing the youth and adult programmes at a rapid rate. There was nothing really structured here and what he aims to do is train enough protagonists to compete at a national level for the Cayman Islands Karate Federation.

There are 60 kids in the programme and Reid, a Trinidadian, oversaw 40 on Saturday being tested for the next belt colour up. ‘What we look for in grading is their discipline, their Japanese language skills and physical fitness. Their co-ordination comes as they grow older and just their general knowledge of karate.’

Such has been the demand that a class for three to five-year-olds has started who are training once a week with the six to 12-year-olds. For the big kids, Tuesdays, Thursdays are theirs and the tots join in on Saturday mornings. Cost for the three classes a week is a reasonable monthly fee of $75.

‘We’ve been very lucky since I’ve came here because we’ve gotten a lot of people from previous clubs who arrived on the island who have come to me with various styles but now they’re learning our style, WADO, which is one of the four major Japanese systems in the world. What we’re trying to do is train people in legitimate karate so that they can compete in the world arena.’

The aim is to get at least Pan American standard karatekas within a few years. He sees adults as the foundation and kids as the future which is why some of the youngsters are cross training with the adults.

Reid, 48, one of only a handful of eighth dans in the world, still talks in a strong Trini sing-song accent. Very nice one too. (I wouldn’t want to upset him!) He trained a lot in Japan in Okinawa and with the late Sensei Masareo Shintani for 26 years who died in Canada where Reid was based before arriving here. Reid was the technical director there and is still involved with the Canadian set up.

He works in security, surprise, surprise and has written books on karate and produced videos. He coached the Canadian national team to the World Championships in Japan in 1994.

He lived in Cayman in the Nineties and was very happy in Canada until meeting old friend Carson Ebanks, the secretary-general for Cayman’s Olympic committee, at a breakfast meeting in Victoria Bridge, Colombia. Ebanks is a martial arts enthusiast and enticed Reid back to George Town. ‘I’ve had a lot of support from Carson and the Olympic Committee as well. We want to build the size of the group and also the technical aspect. With kids training it’s developmental. How you see them now is not how they’re going to be in six months. And, of course, you don’t expect the same from a five-year-old as a 10-year-old.

‘The parents really like that and what they really appreciate about the group is the discipline. That’s their biggest feature. It spills out into their school work and I get a lot of parents talking of the ripple effect and how much better they are academically. And occasionally you have behavioural problems and karate can help that too.’

Reid has to compete with all the other sports on offer in Cayman which is why he trains the children three times a week, so they have more options to fit it around their schedule.

Kevin Payyappilly, eight, attends Prospect school. On Saturday he improved his grading from white belt to yellow. He has been a karate regular since Reid started classes last September. ‘I like karate to get fit and also the movements and stuff. I didn’t get bullied at school, I just like it. I hope to become a red belt (the top grade) one day, but I don’t know how long it will take.’

His dad Andrew was a brown belt karateka in his homeland of India in the Nineties. ‘Kevin is very interested in learning karate and learning the skills. He also does swimming, soccer and basketball. Karate’s his favourite though because he wants to develop his skills, mentally and physically.’

Mum Binthu has no worries about Kevin getting hurt. ‘I like him doing karate because he will get more confident. He’s not a shy boy anymore. It’s helped him a lot.’

There are other martial arts schools in Cayman but Reid feels his pupils are more likely to represent the Caribbean and ultimately get to Olympic and world championship status. ‘I’m from the Caribbean and love the region and want to give back. As long as I give children a good experience in karate, whether they stay with me for one day or 1,000 years, it doesn’t matter, as long as they’ve learnt some valuable experience.’

Is he worried that some of his charges may be enticed into fighting in mixed martial arts contests? ‘Mixed martial arts is big but usually with people who want to fight professionally and make money. They have a big following so far as spectators but not actual participants, because not many people want to actually get to that physical level and get beat up and punched. You find that a lot of kids in traditional karate stay in it and go to the world championships and all the zones and provincial tournaments.

‘In Canada we have a huge organisation and we haven’t had one person leave to go to a mixed martial arts school. But I do like mixed martial arts and support all other martial art forms; judo, karate, kung fu, aikido and I hope many more people come to the island and start schools because I’m really into that. I would love more dojos (training places) and schools on the island.’