The first European to win a World Karate Title in Japan and listed in the top ten greatest fighters in Great Britain, Aidan Trimble has managed to navigate the path between a successful competition career and remaining true to the traditions of karate, all while becoming one of the best instructors in the UK. Aidan is head of the Federation of Shotokan Karate, and owns and runs ‘The Dojo’, a karate school in Beeston. We hear all about his phenomenal life…
Born in Nottingham in 1960, the youngest in an Irish family of six, Aidan is the only one of his siblings to have been born in England. “They’ve all been keen on reminding me that I was the only English of the family,” he says with a smile. Early on, his father took him and his sister to judo, starting his martial arts journey. “I don’t remember why we stopped, although I was pretty big as a child so I would be put in to spar with kids much older than me, and I would end up being thrown all over the place.” But Judo wasn’t Aidan’s thing.
On the council estate he grew up on, Aidan met Chris Hallam, who became his friend and is also a senior instructor at The Dojo. “To be honest, there wasn’t much to do when we were kids, other than hang around and get into trouble.” Aidan and Chris started boxing, trying a few clubs. “It was okay, but then Bruce Lee’s first films came out in the UK,” says Aidan, “and that was all we, and everybody else, wanted to do. Everyone went crazy for kung fu!”
There were no kung fu classes at the time, although some karate clubs labelled themselves as ‘kung fu’ as a successful strategy to cash in on the ‘kung fu craze’. And, unlike today, karate classes were adults only. At eleven or twelve years old, Aidan and Chris couldn’t attend a proper club; however, a family friend of the Hallams, Mick, started an informal class in Wollaton. “We didn’t take any gradings. Mick was just a purple belt and we weren’t part of any organisation but that was where we started. I remember practising in the garden with Chris, pretending we were in Enter the Dragon.”
I was big for my age… I was fighting with adults and I got a bit of a beating, but I soon got used to it
Aidan and Chris were eventually put in touch with Brian Collins, a black belt who had trained with Japanese instructors. “That’s when we really began to learn. He was an excellent instructor himself, and he would spar with us regularly.” After some time of proper training, the friends got the chance to attend Asano Sensei’s classes, a Nottingham-based Japanese instructor who became Aidan’s mentor. Students needed to be eighteen to begin training, but Aidan was economical with the truth. “I was big for my age… I was fighting with adults and I got a bit of a beating, but I soon got used to it.”
Aidan has failed two gradings in his life. The first one, he bought a green belt before passing the grade. “My instructor saw it in my bag, so I failed because that’s not something to do… fair enough”. Ultimately, though, this didn’t prevent Aidan from obtaining his black belt in 1977 under Sensei Asano and winning the World Individual Kumite (Fighting) title in 1983 at the Shotokan Championship in Tokyo.
His failed 4th Dan grading had more lasting consequences. This was not due to poor technique or fighting - he won all of his fights - but rather a complicated mix of misunderstanding, miscommunication and politics. Aidan has seen Asano Sensei many times since and has the utmost respect for him, but at the time, Aidan decided to leave the federation as a result of these combined events.
Aidan found himself without affiliation, and others suggested he should start his own organisation. This wasn’t his original intention. “I wasn’t that clever to plan ahead,” he laughs. But in November 1986, he set up the Federation of Shotokan Karate (FSK). Aidan has now been chairman and chief instructor of the FSK for more than 35 years. Over the past three decades, the FSK has produced many female and male international champions, and Aidan has become a globally-renowned instructor and coach, teaching worldwide and receiving numerous awards. He has also authored several books in collaboration with other practitioners like Vince Morris and Dave Hazard.
There was a spy scandal, and the guy with whom we did the deal got expelled in a tit-for-tat spy dispute, so we never got the vodka… but we have a good story!
Aidan was occasionally asked to return to fighting, the first time in 1989 in Las Vegas and subsequently in Los Angeles, Dubai and even Iran. “But it’s not always a good thing,” he asserts. “If you have had too much of a gap, you can’t keep the same level. Plus, I wasn’t always good at wearing two hats; coach and competitor.” This gave Aidan some memorable experiences. For instance, the Las Vegas competition which was suggested by a longtime friend Dirk Robertson. Robertson fully funded the trip by selling the story of Aidan’s competition comeback to magazines. He even had an arrangement with the Russian news agency Pravda. “The Russians couldn’t pay with western currency - remember, the Berlin wall was still up at that time.” Pravda promised Dirk and Aidan they would pay in vodka and caviar (a common practice for businesses at that time) but they had to collect their earnings from the Russian embassy in London. “There was a spy scandal, and the guy with whom we did the deal got expelled in a tit-for-tat spy dispute, so we never had the vodka… but we have a good story!”
Dedicated to his art, Aidan still has room for another passion - cinema. “I love film and TV. Martial arts and films have been connected forever, and of course that’s what got me into karate in the first place.” A miniseries, Jenny’s War, was being filmed locally in Nottingham. They were looking for a tall, blond actor to play a German SS officer; Aidan fitted this description and loved the idea of acting. “I was put forward and they said yes. But I eventually missed the part because I wasn’t a member of the Equity Actors’ Union, so I decided to get an Equity card.” Aidan took this seriously, even driving to evening acting classes in London. He acted alongside some well-known names such as Richard Armitage and Neil Morrissey. Aidan appeared in TV series, soaps and cult films. “I did two courses at RADA for professional actors, I approached it like karate: the more you practise it, the better and more confident you become.”
With his background, Aidan started getting teaching requests for action scenes, instructing actors like Sean Pertwee (Alfred in Gotham). He could have developed a career in cinema, but his love of karate was too strong. “I started to have a good hit rate in auditions, but I was first and foremost a karate instructor, and I was struggling to do both.”
While we’re finishing our coffee, Aidan tells me more stories, like the time a closed fence prevented him from working with John Woo. Karate enabled Aidan to travel the globe as both competitor and instructor, but it’s also what kept him in Nottingham. “Every one of my family lives abroad and I think that I would definitely have done the same at some stage. But Nottingham is where my Sensei was and then where my clubs and my students were, as well as many friends. I have no regrets.”
We have a favour to ask
LeftLion is Nottingham’s meeting point for information about what’s going on in our city, from the established organisations to the grassroots. We want to keep what we do free to all to access, but increasingly we are relying on revenue from our readers to continue. Can you spare a few quid each month to support us?