Nine years of intense training and immense dedication lead to 14 year old Leeanne Royle’s euphoric moment of triumph when she became the United Shotokan Karate Federation (USKFI) Karate Junior World Champion on 29 September.
“I have been doing karate all my life, when I was small I used to watch my dad go off to tournaments and I remember just wanting to go with him.”
Leeanne’s father, David Royle, is an accomplished USKFI Karate expert who has represented Ireland at a European and World level.
He is has been practising Karate for 25 years and he teaches at the Corduff club where he trains his daughter Leeanne.
“Karate is a huge part of my family, as a toddler I would watch my dad train my older brother and sister, Mark and Kim, with my mother Tina.
“At home my siblings would teach me the basics, punches and kicks, and I started training at the club when I was five. You are supposed to wait till you are six, but I just kept asking and eventually I was allowed.”
Leeanne was determined to excel at karate and trained with great passion and enthusiasm that paid off quickly.
I got my first black belt when I was nine. I was the youngest in my federation to get one. My brother and sister got theirs when they were about 16, so it was a big achievement for me. I remember thinking I was the bee’s knees.”
In Karate, belts are earned by learning a Cata, which is a sequence of movements. A Cata can have anything from 30 to 50 techniques and to earn a black belt you must learn a number of Catas.
There is a long list of belts to get before reaching the black belt. It starts with white and then moves through orange, red, yellow, green, purple, purple stripes, three brown belts and then black.
“I had to wait two years for my second black belt and I can’t get my third one until I turn 21 due to regulations,” Leeanne says.
Training with Dad
“I train with my dad David at Corduff club. My dad is a great trainer, he knows me inside out and he is a great comfort to me. It is a bit weird though, at home I call him dad but when we are training, he is my Sensai, which is the Japanese word for instructor, it is like two separate people.”
Leeanne endured a number of tough sacrifices to get to the level of skill she now holds. “Up until last year we lived in Cavan and I had to travel an hour to and from training after school.
“I would eat my dinner in the car, which was difficult on bumpy roads, and I used to do my homework in the car as well.
“Sometimes I would have to stay up late to finish homework, which would make me tired for school.
Training also affected Leeanne’s social life.
“My friends would ask me to forget training and just hang out with them, but I had my heart set on being skilled in Karate.
“I also wasn’t able to join any of the school sports teams because I wouldn’t have time to train with them.
Leeanne says, despite everything, it is all worth it to become the Karate USFKI World Champion.
“Karate is all I want and when I want something I will work hard for it. That’s the type of personality I have.
“I push myself; I won’t let myself give up. I keep going through tiredness or sickness. I just want to succeed.”
Last year the Royle family moved to Dublin meaning Leeanne’s Karate club was a lot closer and she went from training four days a week to six or seven.
“On a Saturday I train from 9-11am and 2-4pm. By 4pm, I am wreaked. I go home and just relax. I drink loads of water and I go to bed early.”
Leeanne’s unwavering focus and ambition has been likened in the media to the mind-set of gold medal Olympian boxer Katie Taylor; a comparison she is happy with.
“Katie Taylor is a real inspiration to me; I would love to meet her.
“I remember seeing the Olympics last year. I had just come out of training with my dad and we watched it together.
“She’s amazing, the way she moves in the ring, how she controls the area, it is very similar to karate.
“I think she is such a role model to young people and I just want to be like that
“I don’t want to emulate her, I am my own person, but I admire her voraciousness. When she wants something, she gets it and that is it.”
At the moment Karate is not an Olympic sport, but Leeanne is hopeful that in the future she may be able to compete at an Olympic level.
“The problem is there are so many variations of Karate so it is not unified. I don’t know why there are so many styles but I think mine is the best!”
Leeanne said when she was younger her friends used to give her a slagging about karate, but since winning the World Championships, that has all changed.
“They used to say things like ‘Hi-Yah’ and people always ask me can I chop through bricks or wood. I don’t do that, I think it is a bit mad.
“They just thought it was a bit of a laugh, I don’t think they realised how serious I was about it.”
Looking to the future, Leeanne’s appetite for success has not been quenched by her recent achievements and if anything the taste of triumph has awakened a desire for further conquests.
“I defiantly want to be World Champion again, I like that feeling. When I am older I want to own my own Do-Jo (Karate Club) and pass on my experiences and produce more World Champions.
Leeanne says she wants to promote Karate in Ireland and she would love to see more people taking up the skilled sport.
“There are so many benefits from practising Karate. It is great for discipline and control. It keeps you focused and I always feel better after a session.
“If I was feeling stressed, I would always be more relaxed after training.”
The 14 year old Karate champion also says she is quite a shy person and karate gives her a lot of confidence.
Leeanne says she hopes to regain the title in two years at the next World Championships but right now her focus is on the USFKI Shotokan Cup in Blanchardstown on 19 October.
“It is the biggest competition in Ireland so I am training hard. My teachers and school friends are all coming to watch me.
“It’s great to see people taking an interest in the sport, I just hope I win!”