Wigan sensei Tony Christian has been presented with a rare honour – a 9th dan.
The 69-year-old accepted the award in front of hundreds of current and former students at Robin Park last Saturday.
Sensei Christian started in karate more than 50 years ago, and is still practicing and teaching the martial art.
He was already the most senior instructor of the goju ryu style within the British Karate Association.
And now he has become their only 9th dan, an achievement hailed as “remarkable” by the organisation’s chairman.
Sensei Christian, of Winstanley, said: “It was fantastic to get recognition after more than 50 years.
I had a club in Liverpool and there were only five or six people. Then ‘Enter The Dragon’ came out, and I couldn’t get in, it was so busy!
“It was my dream as a kid to teach karate, and it became a reality. I’ve done karate all my life, every day, and I still love it.”
Sensei Christian was born and raised in Liverpool and, after starting in boxing, switched to karate as a teenager.
He fell in love with the goju ryu style as it focused on practical self-defence, rather than sports competition.
He opened his first club in Liverpool in 1970, but the explosion of interest in the martial arts saw him venture out across the north west, and he settled in Wigan.
“I had a club in Liverpool and there were only five or six people,” he recalls.
“Then ‘Enter The Dragon’ came out, and I couldn’t get in, it was so busy!
“They were lining the street. I’m thankful to Bruce Lee, he gave me a job.”
He has taught thousands of Wiganers since opening his first club in the town – at the old drill hall – in 1973, before relocating to Shevington.
In recent years he has taken a step back, but he is still teaching on Monday evenings, while many of his students also train at affiliated satellite clubs, including Garswood, Blackrod and Robin Park. Now a granddad of four, he continues to practice karate and believes it is more relevant now than ever – both as a means of self-defence and for its philosophy.
“As a Liverpool lad, I went into it to defend myself, because it was a dangerous city,” said the dad-of-three.
“And you look now, and it’s a violent world, isn’t it?
“But what I also like about martial arts is it’s a way of life.
“With sport, you reach an age when you have to get out. Look at boxing, cage-fighting – and they have some brilliant fighters – but you can’t make that a way of life.
“But true martial arts is a way of life and you can.
“We live in a world which is constantly attacking our minds, there’s not much peace with the TVs, smartphones, social media... I still go in the garden and do my katas to get away from all of that.”
Karate practitioners learn different katas and applications to progress but, after the 4th ‘dan’ grade of black belt, further awards are made after years of continued training.
A 9th dan is typically awarded nine years after an eighth dan, and so forth. Sensei Christian will be eligible for a 10th dan in 2026.
His wife, Pauline, was among family members and hundreds of martial artists – some of whom had travelled from across the country – at Robin Park last Saturday.
Brian Seabright, chairman of the British Karate Association, presented sensei Christian with his 9th dan at his annual black belt gradings.
He said: “It’s an enormous achievement, and recognition of his 51 years of training.
“He’s the highest grade in the BKA, and the fact there are so many high-ranking black belts wanting to train with him is a testament to his personality, philosophy and skill-level.
“The fact he’s still putting a gee on at this age, and still on the floor, is terrific. He is the real deal.
“And to have a club going for 46 years is truly remarkable. I’m not sure if there are any older – if there are, there won’t be many.”