2014 Champion - Khai Tran

 

khai-tran-2014

It’s often the perception in life that bigger is better, but it’s not always the case that bigger creates better. While some martial artists want to train at the biggest gyms in the country, some of the best athletes around can be found training in some of the smallest schools. Sensei Ettore Senatore, his son Delio and close friend Khai Tran run Seishin-Ryu Karate-do Australia, a small school in Queensland that packs a big punch. Their dominance on the NAS tournament circuit over the past few years brings an old saying to mind — ‘It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it's the size of the fight in the dog.’

khai-tran-2014The NAS Champion of Champions title is one of the most coveted titles in Australian sports karate and it has been dominated over the past four years by Seishin-Ryu. In 2011 and 2012, Delio Senatore won back-to-back Champion of Champions titles before taking a well-earned breather from competition.

 “I’ve taken a break from competitions for the last two years, as I have been competing since the age of six in the NAS tournament circuit,” says Delio.

“This year I am keen to start competing again in NAS as well as the AFK competition circuit.”

In Delio’s absence, Khai Tran has stepped up to fill the void, taking home both the 2013 and 2014 titles for himself and for Seishin-Ryu.

“Like Delio, it was also my dream to win a Champion of Champions title,” says Tran.

“Both Sensei Ettore and Delio encouraged me to compete for the title and achieve my dreams personally, and for my club.”

The four-year reign has been a proud time for Seishin-Ryu, but especially for Sensei Ettore, who has taught both men for most of their lives.

“I am so proud of Delio and Khai,” says Ettore.

“Not only for their achievement in tournament circuits, such as National All Styles, but as senior instructors for Seishin-Ryu and my close friends. You don’t have to be a big club to have quality karate and train champions.”

Ettore should feel extremely proud of both of the boys’ achievements in the sport, but especially those of Tran. In 2002 the young man was all set to give up karate but was convinced to stick it out by his sensei.

“Sensei Ettore has played a big part in my life and has made a huge impact on me,” says Tran.

“I have known him for more than half of my life — I basically grew up in his house with his beautiful family. He treats me like his son and I see him as a father figure. 

“In 2002 I was burnt out between training, competing and studying. I am so glad Sensei Ettore encouraged me to return to training. He said that it would be a waste of all the years and hard work I had put in if I were to give up karate. I believed that he was right and I started training again.” 

Sensei Ettore feels the often-political side of the sport may have also contributed to Tran’s disillusion with karate. 

“Khai was frustrated with the politics of the martial arts and decided to give it up,” says Ettore. “He needed direction and motivation, so I convinced him that he had very good talent and only a few martial artists have that talent. 

“I told him that he reminded me of my son and a time would come when we would have our own martial arts club the way we want it, with no politics.”

It was this desire to create a politic-free zone that drove Ettore to form his own style, Seishin-Ryu Karate-do, with both Delio and Tran playing important roles as well. 

“I have always had a passion for karate and a dream to one day open up my own martial arts club,” says Ettore.

“I shared this dream with my son and Khai. Those dreams soon became a reality when I realised how much politics are in clubs and that true traditional martial arts was fading away, so we decided to leave our previous style at the end of 2005. 

“We trained with many Goju and Shotokan styles after this period and attended seminars held by the world’s greatest master, gaining a deeper knowledge and understanding of the art. It was then, in June of 2007, I started my style Seishin-Ryu Karate-do Australia, with Delio and Khai as my senior instructors.”

In establishing his own school and style, Ettore wanted to get back to a more traditional style of martial arts that he felt was disappearing in Australia, a desire to do the basics well and build from there.

“My sensei’s school follows old karate tradition of hard practice, perseverance, respect, attitude and discipline,” says Delio.

“He works a lot on plyometric activities to improve speed and agility, which is a key element to having good sport karate and tournament fighting.

“Sensei Ettore teaches that hard training equals results — what you put in is what you will get out of your training,” adds Tran. 

“However, there are many elements in his hard training, and they don’t just include karate. Speaking about tournament fighting especially, these elements include developing your speed, explosiveness, power, reaction time, ring craft, agility, knowing your reach and distance. That means knowing when to attack and when you should be on your guard.” 

Physically, training is obviously an enormous part of any sport, but Ettore and Seishin-Ryu also put a lot of focus on mental preparation and it’s this element that allows his students to perform so well under pressure.

khai-tran-action2014“Many arts focus on the physical aspect of karate,” says Ettore. “Although I believe in not only physical training of the body, but also training and preparation of the mind. Motivation, confidence and self-esteem are key factors to improving oneself and achieving what they thought to be impossible.”

It’s this approach to training that benefits Ettore’s students and fellow sensei alike.

“The most powerful element that Sensei Ettore teaches is training your mind,” says Tran. “I believe that mental preparation is the most important element that you need to have. He teaches us to visualise ourselves doing our techniques perfectly over and over. To visualise ourselves scoring points over our opponent and performing a kata perfectly every time.”

“My father believes that karate should be a journey of the complete physical and mental body. Students learn to be confident about themselves and to have a positive outlook to life,” says Delio. 

With the school taking home the past four Champion of Champions titles, it’s obvious that Ettore is getting the most out of his students. Despite Seishin-Ryu’s dominance in tournaments, however, Ettore doesn’t focus on sports karate in regular classes, instead having separate classes for those keen to compete.

“Sensei’s school does not focus on tournament karate,” says Delio.

“Although he does have a tournament team for students who would like to compete and have fun, these designated classes focus only on tournament elements such as point sparring, footwork, endurance and ring work to name a few.

“The main focus of Seishin-Ryu is traditional karate basics (kihon), step sparring, free sparring (kumite), forms (kata) and self-defence application (bunkai),” adds Ettore. 

“Our classes do not focus on sports karate; rather, we have special tournament classes held on Sunday and Wednesday evenings, which focus purely on sports karate. To attend these classes students must be a member of the tournament team and provide a full commitment to training throughout the whole year.”

Ettore also separates the tournament classes from Seishin-Ryu’s everyday classes, as he feels it’s hard to train for both sport and self-defence concurrently.

“I do not believe sports karate complements self-defence,” says Ettore. “Training for sports karate is very different than training for a real-life self-defence situation. This is because sports karate is structured around a system with a set of rules, whereas in a real-life situation there are no rules. 

“This is the main reason why we have separate classes that focus on both sport karate and true-tradition martial arts and self-defence. There is some value to sport karate training, which can be translated to self-defence, — this being speed, power, timing, reading your opponent, aerobic and anaerobic endurance. 

“One of our major focus points in Seishin-Ryu is the application and understanding of kata through bunkai. This coupled with kumite allows students to utilise their understanding of the art in a realistic self-defence situation.”

One man who knows Sensei Ettore very well and has witnessed Seishin-Ryu’s dominance first hand is NAS president and KenshinKan Karate chief instructor Kancho James Casey. He is a big supporter of Ettore and all he has done with Seishin-Ryu.

“Sensei Ettore has always conducted himself as a gentleman and is passionate about his style and his students,” says Casey. “He continues to further his knowledge of the martial arts by travelling to Japan, or having international instructors conduct seminars.”

As president of NAS, Casey has also seen both Delio and Khai grow from children into competitive multiple champions.

“I’ve had the pleasure of watching Sensei Delio grow up, competing in the eight-to-nine-year-old divisions,” says Casey.

“As he grew, he trained hard and went on to win state and national championships right up to his adult age, fulfilling his dream of being Champion of Champions — taking it out twice was something he did not expect to do.

“Sensei Khai conducts himself very honourably on and off the competition arena. However, once he gets on the mat, he is totally focused on winning and has always shown the utmost respect to all he has competed against. He has gone on to be not only Champion of Champions, but also state and national champion in kata/forms.”

With both Delio and Tran competing in the NAS circuit this year, the NAS Australian Championships and especially the Champion of Champions event will certainly be an interesting one for both men. However, Tran feels there will be no desire to outdo each other and be the first to claim a third title.

“There is certainly no competition between Delio and myself,” says Tran. “We strongly support, encourage and respect each other’s talents, with a mutual focus on helping ourselves and our students improve their karate.”

khai-tran-trophy-2014Sensei Ettore shares his student’s sentiment. While admitting that both Tran and Delio are very competitive people, he believes that the fact they will both be competing together will only push them further and tighten the connection between the young men.

“Delio and Khai both have a very competitive nature, although they have always displayed respect to one another,” says Ettore. “They continuously push each other during training, improving their skills and mastery in the arts. With future ambitions in the NAS and other tournament circuits on the horizon, I believe this bond will only strengthen.” 

Regardless of how the young fighters perform against each other, Casey is looking forward to seeing both men continue to develop, both as martial artists and as role models for the sport.

“Both these boys are still very young and are multitalented,” says Casey. “Most importantly, I feel they are both excellent role models for the future of NAS and martial arts in general — I wish them all the best.”