Gabriel Operanta

Men doing martial arts

The Welsh karate legend and inspiration to hundreds says "In karate you are always being pushed further to be physically fitter, mentally fitter and stronger and morally better."

Raise Your Game: Why Karate?

Gabriel Operanta: I was a Welsh school boy boxer and champion, then Karate came along as a new thing in the early 1970s and 1980s, the Bruce Lee phenomenon took off and I was really interested in it. There was something mystical and magical about it and it was physical so it really captured my interest.

RYG: How did you start?

GO: I went to all the local clubs to see who the best instructors were and what style of Karate would suit me the best. Shotokan Karate suited me. I have always been quite good at the fighting side because I had experience of boxing and I was used to competing one on one. The ferocity of it, the strategy, and the tactics were all very interesting to me.

I represented Wales for fifteen years. I captained the Welsh team, I have been the manager of the Welsh team Coach of the Welsh National Karate team. In excess of 60 welsh champions have trained under me in my clubs over the years. I have had about ten British champions and two Kobeosaki World Cup champions. I run an association which encompasses clubs in South and North Wales. I am currently a Seventh Dan Black Belt, I believe the highest in the world is ranked at ten.

RYG: What qualities does karate teach you?

GO: Karate teaches you how to be. School can teach children how to read and arithmetic but when they leave school they just don't know how to be. It teaches you how to take care of yourself in the world. Getting kids into support and giving kids discipline is hard and they need that more than anything else. This is where Karate comes in, it teaches discipline and respect and can give anyone who practises it a feeling of well-being.

RYG: How important is training?


Gabriel Operanta

Cardiff, Wales



  • 7th Dan black belt
  • Welsh karate team captain
  • Represented Wales in karate for 15 years

GO: My overall view is that for a child it is almost as important as going to school. They take in discipline, physical exercise and learn about philosophy. We have a philosophy in Karate which ties in with the physical side and the mental side. In karate you are always being pushed further to be physically fitter, mentally fitter and stronger and morally better.

We have a moral code in Karate that is based on respect, which is a very important aspect of Karate. The idea behind Karate, is not about winning or being good at fighting, it is about becoming a better person and having a good attitude. The founder of modern day Karate Gichin Funakoshi said "Karate begins and ends with respect". It's about non-avoidance of problems and the moral code to karate is an aid to life. Respect everybody and they will respect you.

RYG: How do you focus yourself before match?

GO: When I was competing internationally I would think about the match virtually from morning until night for the seven days approaching the match. I'd have positive thoughts all the time, relive my fights time and time again and every time I relived a fight I would win so I put myself into that positive frame of mind where I was really up for it and that is the way I approach it. In order to be focused, you must have a combination of hard physical training and a good mental approach.

RYG: When you see new students coming to be trained what do you look for?

GO: Everybody comes in for different reasons and they are all valid. Some come in to learn the sport, some to improve their fitness and shape, others for self-defence techniques. If I am thinking about someone who has the potential to be good at competitions, then I would be looking out for someone who naturally has a good posture, is athletic, has manners and good etiquette, suppleness, balance, agility, speed and power. Of course, a good attitude is paramount.

RYG: Which has given you most pleasure, competing or training new talent?

GO: It has to be training new talent! Nothing gives me more pleasure than to see someone working really hard and getting their just rewards. I have people that I have trained over the years from six/seven year olds up until their thirties and when they do well such as in the Welsh championship or British championship, it makes me feel good to see this. Even more important is to see them when they have grown up, to see they are nicely spoken and have a nice job, and they are able to look after themselves and have a nice family.

RYG: What has given you most pleasure in the work that you have done at Channel View Leisure Centre?

GO: The thing that has given me the greatest pleasure at Channel View is getting the ethnic ladies to come to the leisure centre and participate in martial arts and the general education that takes place here.

When I first started work at Channel View, there were no ethnic minorities here. In fact, I was told by the community policewoman that I wouldn't get any Muslim women here, but I went out into the community and I got to meet some important figures like Sheikh Mohammed who is a Muslim cleric from Butetown. I struck up a very good relationship with him, and he acted as a good bridge between me and the neighbouring Muslim community.

Due to this, we have a very large following of Muslim woman. They take part in a lot of gym work and aerobics too. I would say 60-70% of participants at the gym are Muslim women. It went from nothing to this figure and I think it proves there is a way to do every thing, it is just the way you go about it.

We make the women feel wanted here, we accommodate them. For instance, in the gym, they cannot be seen without their headdress on so we have to make sure the windows in the gym are covered up properly. We put curtains up in the activity room to make sure no men can look through the windows. We started a women's only karate class for this reason. The Muslim women become fitter and stronger.

RYG: What advice do you have for a young person who wants to take up karate?

GO: I would say that taking up Karate is the most important thing a person can take up in their life. A person will learn to have good etiquette, physical strength and power, a strong mental attitude and correct moral code, thus making for his or herself a well balanced life.

I would say it is not easy to do karate, it's very physical, you are always being pushed to your limit, but at the end of the day you become a stronger person for it. Determination is the only thing to get you through and from that you develop strong moral fibre.

Any youngsters should find the right club and instructor. When I started out, it didn't matter how far away the club was as long as it was the right place for me to learn. You must be starting Karate for the right reason otherwise you will never last, you have to love it to last with the sport.

Sometimes we get the bullies who want to learn how to fight but they don't last a few weeks. Karate is not about being tough or hard. The master teacher Gichin Funakoshi says in Karate there is no first attack. It is for defending yourself, not attacking people. Without the high moral code balanced with the mental/physical activity, there is no Karate.

If you finish last it doesn't matter, as long as you finish.

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