No true champion likes losing. We’re in the job of winning.Geoff Thompson
Standing at an imposing 6ft 6in, Geoff Thompson is a multiple heavyweight kumite World Champion. Alongside Vic Charles and Jerome Atkinson, he took competitive Karate to the next level with his power and athletic ability. During the 1980s he was the face of Sport Karate and captained the British team through one of its most successful periods. Although controversial at times, he has always striven to be a role a model.
Geoffrey Llewellyn Thompson was born in Wolverhampton in the February of 1958. His family were originally from Barbados. His father who had fought in World War Two ran a haulage firm. The family moved to Hackney, East London when Thompson was aged 7, following the death of his father from a liver abscess.
Things were a little tough for Thompson at school. Due to him having a Wolverhampton accent, he was sometimes bullied. He had a quick temper and often got in fights. This encouraged him to take Karate lessons. He began Karate lessons in 1974, studying Wado-ryu under the United Kingdom-Do Wadokai (UKKW). Due to his size and natural athletic ability, Thompson soon began to excel in his chosen discipline. He had found his niche. In 1976 he was awarded the rank of 1st Dan. Two years later he was awarded the rank of 2nd Dan and in 1981 he was awarded his 3rd Dan.
Thompson’s international career began in 1975 when he was selected to join the England Karate squad. In his first competition, he was runner-up, winning a silver medal. The following year he was selected to join the British squad.
At the 1982 World Championships held in Taipei, Taiwan, he helped Great Britain win the team kumite title. This was followed by a win over France’s Patrice Ruggiero in the +80-kg final. Earlier teammate and friend, Pat McKay, had won the –80-kg kumite title. Both Thompson and McKay were the first men to win WKF individual kumite world titles for Britain.
The following year at the European Championships, held in Madrid, Spain, Thompson led the British team to the kumite title. He made the individual open weight kumite final but lost out to the great Jose Manuel Egea of Spain.
In 1984 even though he was the defending World Champion, Thompson had to fight for a spot on the squad that would represent Britain at the World Championships, held in Maastricht, Netherlands. In a very strong squad, his position was not guaranteed and he had to fight Pat McKay to earn a place on the team. The squad had a very successful championship. In the –70-kg kumite category Jim Collins won the title, with Cecil Hackett finishing third. Pat McKay retained his title, winning the –80-kg category. Jerome Atkinson won the +80-kg title. Vic Charles won a bronze in the open weight class category. Other successes included Beverly Morris winning a bronze in the –60-kg category and Yvette Bryan winning a silver in the +60-kg category. Finally, the men’s team, including Thompson retained the team kumite title, defeating Sweden in the final.
The following year at the French Championships, Thompson won two bronze medals in the heavyweight and super heavyweight categories. At the European Championships held in Oslo, he and the British team became kumite champions. At the World Games held in London, he won the individual kumite title. During the year he was awarded his 4th Dan for his international achievements.
Thompson had always had a difficult relationship with British Karate officials. He was often quite outspoken, especially about how he and his fellow British competitors were treated. One of his main complaints was the lack of proper medical care for the team. This was brought to a head at the 1986 European Championships, held in Madrid, Spain. Thompson had picked up a virus, which caused him to collapse during his second-round match against the Spaniard Egea. During the incident, he was unhappy at his alleged treatment by the British officials, some who appeared to be smiling at his misfortune. He claims one official asked if he had Aids, saying he should get a blood test as soon as possible. It was his teammates who were protecting him from the photographers trying to get his picture, rather than the British officials. When he returned to the UK he was admitted to St Bartholomew’s Hospital in London for two months.
Thompson was selected to represent Great Britain at the 1986 World Champions held in Sydney Australia. Following his earlier collapse at the European Championships doctors had advised him not to compete. However, he helped Britain to Team kumite gold. This was Great Britain’s third straight team kumite World Title. In the +80-kg kumite final he faced teammate and big rival, Vic Charles, in the final. In a classic final the match went to sudden death. Charles threw a low kick which was blocked by Thompson. However, the technique was controversially scored by the officials, with Charles becoming World Champion. This was not the first bit of controversial officiating at the tournament. Earlier Pat McKay had lost his –80-kg final to some bad officiating. It should be noted that although Thompson and Charles had a competitive rivalry they never bore any animosity to each other.
In 1986, after the World Championships, Thompson retired from competitive Karate. Even though he was still in good shape, he had become disillusioned with the sport and his treatment at the hands of British officials, especially after the incident at the European Championships. He had considered retiring before the World Championships. His controversial lost to Charles made up his mind. Due to his confidence, charisma, and success, he had attracted a lot of publicity, while still competing. He felt that this attention was to the benefit of the Sport Karate, giving it much need exposure in the public eye. He had appeared on the Krypton Factor and Wogan, two of the biggest terrestrial television shows of the 1980s. In a two-year period, he appeared in thirty TV programs. However, this brought him into conflict with British officials who did not share his opinions and felt he garnered too much individual publicity.
Thompson was one of the highest ever point scorers in Sport Karate. His major honours include:
- World Championships, Individual Kumite(+60-kg) – 1st Place (1982)
- World Championships, Individual Kumite(+60-kg) – 2nd Place (1986)
- World Championships, Team Kumite – 1st Place (1982, 1984, 1986)
- World Games, Individual Kumite(+60-kg) – 1st Place (1985)
- European Championships, Individual Kumite(+60-kg) – 2nd Place (1983)
- European Championships, Team Kumite – 1st Place (1983, 1985)
- European Championships, Team Kumite – 3rd Place (1984)
- European Wado-ryu Championships, Individual Kumite – 1st Place (1977, 1980)
- European Wado-ryu Championships, Team Kumite – 1st Place (1977, 1980)
- European Wado-ryu Championships, Team Kumite – 3rd Place (1979)
After retirement, Thompson, still filled with a competitive edge, tried his hand at athletics. He had aspirations of making the squad for the 1988 Seoul Olympics as a 400-meter hurdler. However, this dream came to an end following severe tears in both his hamstrings. In 1988 his book “Karate: The Pursuit of Excellence” was published.
In 1991 Thompson married longtime girlfriend and fellow GB team member, Janice Argyle. Argyle was a successful kumite competitor in her own right, winning the World Games in 1985 and winning silver medals at the 1982 World Championships and the 1996 European Championships. In 1993 their first son Jordan was born. Three years later second son Luke was born.
In 1993, 14-year-old Benji Stanley was shot dead in the Moss Side area of Manchester. Partly in response to this tragedy, Thompson founded the Manchester-based charity, the Youth Charter for Sport( YCS). Already a member of the GB Sports Council (now Sport England) he believed that sports could be a way to help disaffected youth and help move them away from a life of crime.
With his belief that sports could provide opportunities for young people, Thompson became an ambassador for Manchester helping in the bid to hold the 2000 Olympics and then the successful bid to hold the 2002 Commonwealth Games.
In 1995 Thompson was awarded an MBE in the Queen’s New Year Honor’s list for services to sport.
As a motivational speaker, Thompson travels the country and the world promoting his first love of providing sporting opportunities to help young people develop. In 2008 he was awarded an honorary degree from Roehampton University. He was awarded further honorary degrees from Manchester Metropolitan University and Wolverhampton University in 2013 and 2014 respectively.
In 2019, Thompson came out of retirement, aged 61, to compete in the 10K Karate Clash. His wife, Janice, helped coach him. His return was to highlight the loss of life that was occurring on Britain’s streets. He wanted this to be a call to arms to the martial arts community.
Although controversial in the eyes of some, nothing can be taken away from the sporting exploits of Geoff Thompson. One of the most talented and successful kumite competitors, he paved the way for the dominance of the British team, at European and World level. He helped bring competitive Karate to national attention. His efforts outside of Karate have also helped to promote Karate and other sports as a way of helping troubled youngsters and leading many from gang culture and a life of crime.