Name: Helen Finney
Nickname: H, Ella (my dad’s the only who calls me that though)
Grade: Shodan – 1st Dan Black belt (to be honest that’s something I never thought I’d be able to say and two and a half years on I think it’s still sinking in!)
Dojo/s: I teach at Haslingden and train at Tottington, Darwen and Haslingden now, although Chesham was where it all started as a student and as a Sempai.
Full time or Volunteer: I’m a volunteer
Why did you start: We have three sons, all of whom do or have done karate, but my middle son, Ben, was the one who started this journey off for all of us. Ben and I started training in 2013; he was just 4 years old and we were looking for an activity that his older brother didn’t already do in an attempt to dilute the sibling rivalry! I already knew Teresa as a mum at school and a conversation in the playground led to Ben trying out a class one week. I watched the first time and then joined in the following week! I guess the really crazy part about that is that youngest son was just 11 weeks old when I lined up in class for the first time. From that first lesson I was bitten by the karate bug and things escalated from there! A year or so later Joe started training (he’s a Shodan as well but has stopped training now he’s hit Year 10 – I still hope he’ll come back one day!) and then the little one, Isaac, counted down the days until he was old enough to line up too! My husband resolutely stays on the sidelines though.
Teaching came later to me – I was a first kyu before I moved to Teresa’s front row at Chesham.
What keeps you training: There are so many things that keep me training. I love that this is an activity that I’ve done with my boys – that we’ve trained together and, in some cases, competed as a team too. Karate has given each of them so much and in different ways – confidence, physical challenge, concentration and calmness.
I absolutely love being an instructor. It’s something I get a lot out of as there’s nothing quite like seeing your students achieve earning a new belt, finally getting that kata or being brave enough to step up for kumite.
The big thing for me is pushing myself to keep going and take the next step, quite often right out of my comfort zone! There’s a mental and physical side to this – sometimes it’s the trauma of being watched or the imposter syndrome that kicks in as you line up. I have a tendency to forget that I’m not 17 anymore and physically I can pay the price for that! Asthma limits me sometimes too; I was quite seriously ill a couple of years ago and was unable to train for about six months just before my Shodan grading. There are patches of time where it still limits me but learning to rest as well as knowing when to push myself has been important. There is no race in karate, no pries for coming first or being the fastest. Coming back from being ill teaches me each time that my body will recover and get stronger and that my mind and will are stronger than I ever realise. There’s been more than one occasion when I thought I’d never get back in a gi and that’s always been upsetting. I guess what has kept me training sometimes is just a sheer awkward determination not to give in! These patches of struggle have also taught me just how much support there is amongst friends and the instructor team – we look out for each other, cover classes, give support and encouragement (plus provide ice packs, dry tears and laugh!)
Job in the real world: Chartered Accountant. I’m the Finance Manager at an engineering company.
Favourite part of karate: In class I’m happy doing kihon but I love kata. It gets more difficult to learn as I get older, I’m sure! Kumite has always been a bit of a nemesis for me but since lockdown I’ve really missed it – I’m sure that must say something about me! Karate calms my mind in a way nothing else does. The physical activity and the mental challenge are a combination that clears worries from my head. I miss it if I don’t train often enough.
The loveliest part of karate for me though is the friendships that I’ve made at Red Tiger. The camaraderie and support is unlike anything I’ve found elsewhere – friends for life are made in the dojo.
Hobbies other than karate: Running, baking, a bit of yoga, crochet, going out with the family – preferably walking on a beach somewhere, oh and watching football (we’re a family of Liverpool reds)