Tributes to Michael Randall MBE (1944-2020)
Michael began his karate training in 1963 under Britain’s first karate black belt Vernon Bell, who was head of the first karate association in Britain (British Karate Federation). Training was in a room above the Horseshoe pub in Clerkenwell.
In 1964, he featured in the first colour film of karate in Britain, which was shown in cinemas across the country and later took part in the first demonstrations given by the JKA in Britain.
In the mid-1960s, Michael helped found the KUGB, which helped greatly in getting top Japanese instructors to come to Britain to spread karate. He trained with Senseis Murakami and Mochizuki in his early years, and with Senseis Nagai, Takahashi, Kase, Enoeda, Tanaka, Yahara, Shirai, Asano and of course, Sensei Kanazawa, with whom he became very close. Indeed, he was one of Sensei Kanazawa’s “Seven Samurai”, training almost daily with him.
In 1970 he was chosen to be part of the British team to take on the Japanese all styles team.
Michael and many other UK instructors stayed with Kanazawa when he broke from the JKA to form the SKI. Kanazawa and other senior Japanese instructors regularly appeared at the Winchmore Hill dojo, and conducted frequent gradings.
Michael’s grading history is as follows: 1st Dan in 1967, 2nd Dan 1970, 3rd Dan 1973 and 4th Dan in 1978. He once said that he “never even contemplated getting a black belt when I started karate and when I got it, it was nice but the happiest grading experience was getting third dan because in Kanazawa ‘s eyes that was when you became a junior instructor. So that was a truly significant, satisfying and memorable day for me”.
In the late 1970s it was time for Michael and others to form their own organisation, the English Shotokan Karate Organisation (ESKA). In 1994 he set up and was Chief Instructor of the Shotokan Traditional Karate Organisation (SHOTO).
He was dedicated to the three Ks of karate – kumite, kata and kihon and has never given way to the trends of the day. His superb technical ability and attention to detail can be gleaned from the set of four instructional videos he produced or the video recordings from the Winchmore Hill training sessions in the 1980s. He was a truly inspirational instructor.
As befitting such a pioneer of karate in Great Britain and a stalwart practitioner, he was awarded an MBE in 2003 for services to karate by Her Majesty the Queen. He was presented with his 9th Dan in 2011, at the time making him one of the highest non-Japanese instructors in Europe.
In response to an interview question: “What has karate given you over all these years?” he replied, “A simple answer is everything. You will only get out of karate what you put into it and that is the most important lesson. There are no secrets in karate, you have to live it and experience it to discover all it has to offer. After all these years, health for a start, I was a very sickly child, a chronic asthmatic. It has given me my physical strength and also an inner strength of character through my years of training. It has given me my friends and the reason to travel. It has given me all I have and made me what I am. I am not materialistic and money doesn’t bother me. However, I consider myself to be rich, not wealthy, I feel rich inside. I have a wealth of friends and experiences given to me by karate”.
A perfect summary for one of Kanazawa’s closest friends and one of his finest students.
Sensei Randall MBE was my teacher and friend for 35 years. Through his commitment and dedication to karate, he taught with the complete desire to pass on his knowledge, taking great pleasure in seeing students progress.
He was “King of Kata” and I was privileged to have trained next to him in the dojo, studying his every move and copying as best I could. Well respected and known within the karate world for his very high standards and precision, assisting him on the Dan gradings gave me an insight into his deep knowledge of karate-do for which I am grateful.
For myself, I tried to be the best student I could so that he could be proud of me. We did not see eye to eye on many subjects, but our love of karate overcame our differences and now he is gone I can only strive to pass on the knowledge he so generously gave to me.
So sorry to hear the sad news of Sensei Randall’s passing. He was a great karateka and a founder member of Shotokan karate in the UK.
Even though I haven’t trained for some years (I’m in my 80s), I’ve been in touch with him many times by telephone and I’ll miss him.
My deepest condolences to his family.
In my 35 years in Karate I always felt a bias towards Kata, and I can say with certainty that being taught by Sensei Randall infused this bias. His technique and accuracy in performing Kata and the detailed explanations he provided were instrumental in unlocking the door to this incredible discipline
In my years of being a senior instructor, Sensei Randall and I would often discuss certain aspects of a Kata. These discussions were never long or drawn-out but were often short and always thought provoking.
My years as a senior instructor were heavily influenced not only by the support and the skills Sensei Randall instilled in me, but also by the freedom he gave me to develop my own character teaching Karate: a rare quality in leadership.
It was a privilege to be taught by him and to be part of the Sensei Randall era.
As an instructor few could match Michael Randall’s overall technical ability and knowledge. Very much a purist who kept alive the traditional side of the art to which he had dedicated much of his life. Along with his mentor Hirokazu Kanazawa another era passes.
“When you look at life think of it in terms of karate. But remember that karate is not only karate…it is life” by Gichin Funakoshi Sensei.
An unknown author states, “To whom much is given much is expected”. My Sensei you have courageously and selflessly demonstrated this and leave us with an indelible legacy.
My journey under the tutelage of Sensei Randall covers four decades has impacted every area of my professional and personal development which is underpinned with an overwhelming sense of respect for my fellow humans, the environment around us of which we are merely custodians, and my endless pursuit as a karateka.
I think it is fair to say that the legacy of Sensei Randall will in my opinion touch the soul of many generations to come. His memory is like a pebble in a pond – the ripples are endless. One of our greatest and famous proponents of the art of karate has taken his place in the history books and the corridors of masters.
You lived the code of this unknown author “I shall past this way but once, whatever good I can do let me do it now, for I may never past this way again”
I Roy Banton 8th dan appreciate the countless hours you have entrusted to me and the honour to line up with you as one of your instructors.
Oss RIP, you are a true legend
2020 hasn’t been a good year. A year that changed the world with the coronavirus and a surreal one for definite. I as one, took the new corona surreal world with ease and used my common sense and initiative.
But once I heard Sensei Randall passed away, then that set my life back with emotions and weaknesses, as I now feel a part of my spirit has been taken away.
I started training in the 70s at Holloway’s Michael Sobell Sports centre during the Bruce Lee era. My thoughts and aims at my early stages of training were to get in Sensei’s class because of his stature and aura. And once I did, Bruce Lee was forgotten, and Sensei was one to look up to.
Sensei’s teaching was clear, precise, powerful and his etiquette was world class, and of course his karatekas who followed his style made the club the ”one to envy”. The open/ demonstration days were amazing, and our social club days were always first class.
I continued to train regularly since then, but in the latter years, due to work and family commitments, I haven’t trained as much as I would like to, but Sensei’s spirit and aura was always beside me in my everyday life and when we met in Winchmore Hill or Muswell Hill clubs.
I looked up to him as if it was my first days with him. Always an inspiration.
Sensei you will be missed as my great teacher and a great friend, but you will always remain with me on my side to the very end of my days.
I started training at Winchmore Hill in 1985 with Sensei Randall as the chief instructor – he had already been training for over 20 years and was a 5th Dan.
His methods were very traditional, just as he had been taught by Kanazawa. The discipline and etiquette were strict and wholly Japanese, with Sensei not allowing any sport or competitions – the classes were rigorous kihon, controlled and disciplined kumite, and then a major emphasis on kata. Sensei believed that the katas could teach you everything in karate and as a result half our training was in kata. Even though the lessons were very demanding, he insisted that all techniques be carried out with great control and the utmost respect for any partner.
His karate technique was superb and precise. I remember him demonstrating the dreadfully difficult jump in Unsu – he is still the only person that I have ever seen perform it so well, so technically correct and with so much venom too. I liked the notion that under his teachings, there was a direct and traditional link back to Funakoshi, via only Kanazawa and Nakayama.
He was a very modest, generous and humble man, in the true sense of a karateka. He also followed the Japanese way of making the club a family of members, with a strong emphasis on the social side after training – we would all come together almost every week, drinking and eating in a group. Strangely, this was generally at an Indian restaurant, where his ability to enjoy the hottest Phall (or hot mud) was legendary!
Even after knowing him very well for 35 years, as a friend too in the end, he was always just Sensei – I would never dream of calling him anything less formal. I will fondly remember him as my Sensei, a friend and the Head of our association, SHOTO – with the exception of Kanazawa, he was the best and most precise practitioner of Shotokan karate that I have ever seen. Oss Sensei!
As beginners, we were allowed to watch the last (freestyle) part of the seniors’ lesson before our lesson began. The image that has stayed with me since 1976 was Michael’s perfect front kick – at medium speed, the ball of his foot just touched and pushed lightly the cheek of his black belt opponent, demonstrating impeccable technique. And his spinning back-kick was something you wanted to avoid, but couldn’t, even though you knew it was coming.
He was an inspirational teacher who participated in every lesson (5 days a week without fail), who demonstrated with precision each time and shared how a technique should feel. His was the style that we wanted to emulate. In addition, attending his kata and kumite courses over the years was always a source of deep learning for me. His unique ability, instruction and guidance formed the bedrock of my karate and it is a great privilege to have been taught by him for more than 40 years.