Pauline Bindra is a true pioneer in the world of Karate. She was the first woman in Britain to earn a JKA (Japan Karate Association) black belt in Karate and went on to train for over forty years, reaching the rank of 8th dan and becoming one of the highest graded female Shotokan practitioners in the world.
Born on the 8th of January 1945 in Middlesbrough, Pauline began her Martial Arts training in Judo aged 12, at the Middlesbrough Judo Club. She reached the rank of a blue belt. Pauline first came into contact with Karate through the Middlesbrough BKF (British Karate Federation). Originally Pauline’s sister paid for her lessons as her parents would not have allowed her to train. Like many people of the time, they believed Karate was a masculine fighting art not suitable for women.
Pauline began training at the BKF’s Middlesbrough dojo in 1963, under instructors Fred Kidd and Walter Seaton, both brown belts in Yoseikan Shotokan Karate. Due to her short stature, she found she was more suited to Karate rather than Judo. Later in 1963, Pauline moved to London to find work.
At the age of 19, Pauline decided to resume her Karate training in London. She attended Vernon Bell’s dojo at the Horseshoe pub. At first, Bell was reluctant to train her, only relenting due to her persistence and the fact that she was an existing member of the BKF.
1965 saw the JKA invited to the UK to tour and give a series of demonstrations, showcasing their brand of Shotokan Karate. The tour proved such a great success that Vernon Bell arranged with the JKA for Hirokazu Kanazawa to remain and teach for the BKF. The contract between Kanazawa and the BKF was for one year. In that year, Pauline graded with Kanazawa.
Like the many students who were fortunate to be taught by Kanazawa between 1965 to 1966, Pauline’s Karate flourished. Kanazawa stressed the importance of basics. Students were drilled by performing many repetitions.
When Kanazawa’s contract ended, Pauline and some of her fellow students were very disappointed. Many students had grown close to Kanazawa and enjoyed his teaching style. In what became a significant moment in British Karate history, Pauline and fellow students including Eddie Whitcher, Chris Adamou and Nick Adamou broke away from the BKF. They set up the Karate Union of Great Britain (KUGB), with chief instructors Hirokazu Kanazawa operating from London and Keinosuke Enoeda operating from Liverpool. The KUGB set up its main dojo in Blackfriars, London.
In 1967, Pauline made history becoming the first woman in Britain to be awarded the grade of 1st Dan by Hirokazu Kanazawa and the JKA.
After Kanazawa left the UK for Germany, Keinosuke Enoeda took over as the Chief Instructor of the KUGB and saw Pauline develop her Karate even further over the next few years. The Japanese didn’t recognise gender differences when it came to training. As a black belt, training was tough and no quarter was given.
Pauline developed the reputation of being a tough but fair teacher. She believed in hard training, following in the tradition of two of the best Karate masters, Kanazawa and Enoeda; who had stressed the importance of technically correct basics. During this time she also competed in tournaments, while also teaching.
In the early to mid-70s in Britain, women were not allowed to compete in Karate competitions. Pauline had to travel to a tournament held in New York to compete. Already being one of the highest female Shotokan black belts in the world, she was only allowed to compete in the male black belt Kata event. She placed second in that event.
In 1979, Pauline married Lee Bindra where, their family later moved to San Francisco. With the help of Enoeda, she was offered a student/teaching opportunity with Richard Kim (then the President of the IAKF – Hidetaka Nishiyama‘s organisation). She and her family stayed in the United States for three years.
When returning from the United States in 1983, Pauline and husband Lee formed their own association, International Shotokan Karate (ISK). The ISK was a founding member of the English Karate Federation (EKF), a body recognised by the sports council and the WUKO.
As well as running a successful Karate association, Pauline and Lee also opened a Karate Shop in Welling in 1985; which started as a hobby. They later founded us – Blitz Corporation Ltd – one of the largest suppliers of Martial Arts equipment in the UK!
On 21st July 2010, the Karate world was shocked to hear of the passing of Pauline Bindra. Apart from the personal accolades of being the first female black belt in Britain and one of the highest-ranked female Shotokan practitioners in the world, she has also taught and influenced many of the top Shotokan instructors currently teaching in the UK; having had a great influence on British Karate. She was a founding member of several major Karate governing bodies in the UK. She found her own successful association and established a successful Martial Arts equipment company where, she is dearly missed to this day.
Pauline Bindra can be rightly thought of as a Karate pioneer.