Nigel Mansell visits Okinawa,
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
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
Mansell receives his Shodan
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
Page 2 of Nigel Mansell's Visit