Uechi Ryu Karate


Nigel Mansell visits Okinawa, 1994

From "Irish Fighter" karate magazine

By Alan Dollar


Where does a world champion racing driver go to test for his first dan, black belt? The source of karate, of course - Okinawa! Formula One and Indy car world champion Nigel Mansell faced his most trying challenge outside the race track by passing the rigorous Shodan examination in the diminutive Okinawa dojo of Sensei Ken Nakamatsu. Mansell's success in achieving his black belt became only one aspect of a wonderful Okinawan adventure, an adventure that resulted in the crowning of another world champion. When American Uechi-Ryu sensei Ric Martin decided it was time for his famous student to test for black belt, there was no question that it should be conducted in Okinawa. Martin was also set to go for Rokudan (6th degree) and decided that the two should travel and test together. Their visit placed them in Okinawa during the World 17th Annual All-Okinawan Championships. This rekindled a fire inside Martin.

Martin, president of the Florida Uechi-Ryu Karate Association, had previously competed in the prestigious tournament seven times in a 12-year period. He placed third once and twice took second place behind seven-time winner Nobohiro Higa. With short notice of the departure date, the competitive Martin intensified his already demanding training regime to compete an eighth time, ending a four-year retirement from world competition.Mansell graciously extended an invitation, and indeed a challenge, to his sensei to assemble a Uechi-Ryu USA team of senior black belt test candidates and tournament competitors to accompany them on the adventure.


Mansell and the members of
the USA Goodwill Uechi Ryu team


The USA Goodwill nine-man team boarded Mansell's private Gulf Stream IV jet in St. Petersburg, Florida anticipating the challenge that lay ahead on the "Island of Karate". Anchoring the squad were Martin's longtime friends Rick Potrekus, a Uechi-Ryu teacher and probation officer from west Palm Beach - who would test for 6th dan - and Sensei Alan Dollar, 6th dan from California, a former Okinawa resident and tournament veteran who was charged with daily security for the group.

In addition to his black belt test, Mansell struggled daily to avoid inundation from his legion of adoring Japanese racing fans. With Mansell's popularity, daily outings proved to be something of a logistical and security nightmare. Word of Mansell's arrival leaked out and brought numerous fans from Japan.




Remaining incognito proved difficult while being followed everywhere by an English film crew there to document Nigel Mansell's every experience in Okinawa.

Daily and nightly karate and kobudo workouts in the dojos were intense and exhausting while diplomatic gatherings and guided tours to the island's most scenic locations proved equally as demanding.


The dojo of Master Ken Nakamatsu


The examinations took place three days prior to the championships. The level of seriousness attached to the event was displayed by an assembly of the most esteemed masters of Uechi-Ryu, headed by Master Tsutomu Nakahodo, 10th dan. The extremely formal test proved to be a blending of Asian and American karate spirit. A person's inner karate soul is drawn out and presented for display when performing before legendary masters of this caliber. The high standard expected was met and indeed exceeded by the test candidates.

A sense of brotherhood and deeper understanding of cultures filled the banquet which followed. Speeches explained how deeply members of the local karate community appreciated Mansell for his devotion to their art.


Mansell receives his Shodan certificate
from Master Tsutomo Nakahodo.

The excitement and emotions of test day were indeed exhilarating and not quickly forgotten or put aside. However, our next challenge was also important so we refocused our attention accordingly.

Go to Page 2 of Nigel Mansell's Visit

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