In the 1980s Britain was a dominant force in European and World Karate. In the +80 kg (heavyweight) division they have been blessed with some great fighters, such as Geoff Thompson, Vic Charles and Jerome Atkinson. It could be argued that the prototype for all of these fighters was Eugene Codrington.
Codrington was one of the great competitors of the 1970s, who would go on to captain the British team. He was a member of the British team that won its first WUKO World Championships in 1975. Nicknamed the ‘Cat’, he was a superb athlete noted for his evasiveness and his smooth gliding movement. He had a devastating round kick that caught out many opponents.
Eugene Alexander Codrington was born in October of 1953 in Birmingham, England. He began his Karate journey at the Temple Karate Club, where he studied Wado-ryu.
The Temple Karate club was one of the most successful clubs of the 1970s. The club was founded in 1964, initially as a bodybuilding gym by Mike Haig. Haig was at a Judo event when he saw a Karate demonstration by Wado-ryu master, Tatsuo Suzuki. He was so impressed that he invited Suzuki to teach Wado-ryu Karate at the Temple club. Toru Takamizawa would eventually become the resident instructor. In addition, Haig established a Karate team, personally coached by him, whose sole purpose was to compete. He picked a crop of talented young karate-ka and moulded them into one of the best competitive Karate teams of the 1970s. Codrington was an integral member of the team.
As part of the Temple Karate Club, Codrington entered his first Karate tournament in 1971. The tournament was the KUGB North of England Championships, held in Liverpool. The Temple Club was the only non-Shotokan team in the tournament. Although the Temple team consisted mainly of orange and yellow belts, they made it through to the semi-finals where they faced the strong Liverpool Red Triangle Club. The Red Triangle Club was one of the top Shotokan clubs in Britain. Coached by Keinosuke Enodea, members of the team represented both England and Great Britain in KUGB and All-star teams. In his match teenager, Codrington faced Bob Poynton who was in his early twenties and one of the top fighters in the country. Codrington impressed many and his performance was a sign of things to come.
In 1973 Codrington became the AKA National Champion. The following year he made his mark on the tournament scene at the British Karate Association (BKA) Championships. In the final of the team kumite, his Temple team defeated the strong Ishinryu team led by Ticky Donovan. He also won the individual kumite title at the event.
Aged only twenty-one Codrington began to hit his stride as a tournament fighter. In 1975 at the British Karate Control Commission (BKCC) Championships he lost in the individual kumite final to Ticky Donovan. That same year he was selected to represent England at the European Wado-ryu Championships. This was his first international tournament, which he won.
Codrington’s success led to a call-up to represent England at the 1975 European Championships held in Ostend, Belgium. On his way to the individual kumite final, Dominique Valera was among those he defeated. In the final, he defeated Dutchman John Roel Reeberg in the final to become European Champion, alongside teammate Billy Higgins. He was also selected to represent the All Styles British Karate team at the 1975 WUKO World Karate Championships held in Long Beach, California. The team managed by Steve Arneil made history by becoming the first non-Japanese team to win the world title.
In 1976 Codrington headed the list of “Top 10 European Karatemen” published in Black Belt Magazine. The following year he was named in the list again, this time finishing behind Dominique Valera who held the top spot. Codrington would have headed the list, but he lost to Tick Donovan in the final of the BKCC Championships.
The closest Codrington came to winning an individual world title was the 1977 World Championships held in Tokyo. He had the chance to become Britain’s first individual world champion but lost to Dutchman Otti Roethof in the final. His silver medal was Britain’s only medal of the championships. He did however become European Champion the following year in Geneva.
A born competitor, Codrington entered many of the tournaments open to him, winning the majority of them. His major titles include:
- World Championships – Team kumite – 1st place (1975)
- World Championships – Team kumite – 3rd place (1980)
- World Championships -Individual kumite – 2nd place (1977)
- European Championships – Individual kumite – 1st place (1975, 1978)
- European Championships – Team kumite – 1st place (1976, 1977, 1978)
- European Wado-ryu Championships – Individual kumite – 1st place (1975)
- BKCC Championships – Individual kumite – 2nd place (1975, 1976)
- BKA Championships – Individual kumite – 1st place (1974)
- BKA Championships – Team kumite – 1st place (1974)
On retiring from his competitive career Codrington established his own club, Codrington Budokan, located in his home city of Birmingham. Codrington Budokan is a purpose-built martial arts dojo that houses not only Karate but also Aikido, Judo, Boxing and Kendo.
Codrington ushered in a new breed of heavyweight fighter that was powerful, yet very athletic. These new fighters would go on to form the bedrock of future British tournament success at European and World level.