Bill Carne recently met up with Ben Whiting, who at 16 is already a Black Belt at the Pembroke Dock Karate Club, and showing real promise as a sprinter with the Pembrokeshire Harriers . . .

At 16 years of age Ben Whiting has already achieved Black Belt First Dan status at Pembroke Dock Wada Ryu Karate Club and is now beginning to make a name for himself as a more than useful sprinter at Pembrokeshire Harriers, where he has been training hard this winter and is now looking forward to a summer season of competition.

Ben started out in karate at the age of seven under the watchful eye of Graham Thomas, who is now a Sixth Dan and as such is entitled to be addressed as 'shihan' whilst sensei Tony Darcy was another big influence when Ben began.

"My parents first took me to the club because I wanted to find a sport I'd like and wasn't really fussed on traditional sports like rugby or football," said Ben, "although to be honest it wasn’t an immediate success because all I can remember of that first visit was that I shed a few tears once my parents left.

"But I was well looked after by Graham, Tony D'Arcy, Martin Morgan and Keith Roberts so that before long I was enjoying the emphasis on fun and games alongside developing self-discipline that I couldn't wait for the training evenings to come around.

"We all started out with the basic white belt and I can remember how proud I was when I overcame my initial nerves to attend grading sessions where I was awarded my white belt with red stripes and then my white belt with a black stripe by the end of my first year.

"As I have developed my skills and moved through the grades I have kept the different coloured belts carefully and I have them displayed in my bedroom as mementoes of lots of hard work and commitment."

All the gradings follow a set pattern where the candidates have to show all that they have learned since the previous grading, including the basic skills and examples of kata - set moves to show their co-ordination and ability to remember the different ones like the five initial 'Pi Nan' ones that include 'pi-nan-ni-Dan' and 'pi-nan-sho-Dan'.

In the higher gradings there is also the chance to demonstrate 'Kumite', which is a form of fighting whilst the judges deliberate on the success or failure of the candidates - and then at the end of all this the parents are allowed in to the room to join their offspring in discovering the outcome.

"What is nice is that after Graham, who is a brilliant coach/instructor, has said a few words then each candidate in turn is called up and handed his licence, with the result written inside, which means that no-one needs to share their result if they don't wish to."

From obtaining his white belts Ben then moved on to pass his grading for yellow and orange belts, each setting a new challenge to be overcome - and then made the big jumps to green and purple in 2011.

He knew that the next steps to brown belt, then a brown belt with two white stripes, and finally a brown belt with one white stripe moved the work up a notch but he showed such terrific commitment that all three were undertaken and passed whilst he was 13 years old.

It is recommended that students of karate take two years to achieve black belt First Dan and Ben would be the first to admit that it meant a flat-out approach for all that time.

"I was lucky that I had the total support of my parents Nina and Sean, who were brilliant in all that they did, including a willingness to drive wherever I needed to go - whilst Graham (Thomas) was amazing in his ability to inspire me.

"He always aimed to encourage me but if I needed a kick up the backside then he gave it to me - but I knew it was always with the best of intentions," admitted Ben with a chuckle!

"As the big day dawned on the 12th July 2015 I was even more nervous than usual after sleeping badly but mum sorted out some energy food before I set off early for the clubhouse in Pembroke Dock.

"All the Black Belt candidates had to go on a run up Ferry Lane and when we got to the top we were told to trot back down and then repeat the tough exercise before going back to the gym nicely warmed up!

"I had spent hours studying the syllabus so knew all the katas and other basic stuff but I had to battle to keep my energy levels up at the half-way mark.

"It certainly wasn't easy and the wait at the end seemed never-ending before I was called up by Graham - and as well as handing me my licence back he also presented me with the special certificate that Black Belts get so I knew I had done it!

"I rushed over to my parents, who were as thrilled as I was, and I must admit there were a few tears spilled!"

There is no doubt that Ben hasn't finished his karate involvement but in recent times he has also discovered an interest in athletics after Mr Andrew Davies spotted his sprinting skills at Pembroke School and he did well in the 100m and 200m races on sports day - and also did well in the county sports.

"He suggested I joined Pembrokeshire Harriers and I received a fantastic welcome from sprint coach Richard Thomas and all the other athletes who made me feel I belonged from the outset.

“I’m really looking forward to the spring and summer so that we can train in day light and with warmer weather – I really enjoy the sessions with Richard that includes things like stretching to start, shuttle runs and sprint starts, where I’m aiming to build my skills.

“I also want to raise my personal best levels, like I did last season when I started with a time of 12.60 seconds in the 100 metres and reduced it to 12.02, whilst in my stronger event, the 200 metres; it’s dropped from 28.00 seconds to 24.86 seconds.”

There is no doubt that Ben Whiting is a very committed young sportsman and Graham Thomas told us: “Ben has been a tremendous asset to our club and is a great role model for other youngsters – and a pleasure to have coached to Black Belt status.”

We could pay this young sportsman no greater compliment and we wish him continued enjoyment and success in his chosen sports!