SWEET CHIN MUSIC Swinford native Aaron McLoughlin (right) in action during a kumite bout. McLoughlin is a multiple national champion in the discipline.
Name: Aaron McLoughlin
Club: IKKU Glasnevin
Grade: 2nd Dan Black Belt (Shotokan)
Did you know? Among Aaron’s many achievements are National Senior (x3), Junior (x2) and Cadet (x2) championship wins.
HOW I got into karate is a bit of a funny story. My Dad would have always collected Bruce Lee’s martial arts books and videos. From that, I was day-in day-out watching Bruce Lee videos with my Dad asking: ‘Where can I do this?’ and my parents looked into it and found there was a karate club in Swinford. I initially thought Bruce Lee was going to be teaching me but Dad had to break the news to me that he had long since passed! I was trying to copy the different movements in his karate books while trying to imitate Bruce Lee in front of the mirror. Since the day I started karate in Swinford at the age of six, there’s hardly been a day that I’ve missed a training or competition.
Within karate there are a lot of different styles, organisations and associations. The style that I practice is Shotokan. It’s one of the most popular styles, not just in Ireland, but globally as well. It’s split into two sections. The first is ‘kata’ where you perform a set amount of moves and you pass your grading based on how you perform those moves.
The other part is ‘kumite’, which is basically sparring against an opponent. That’s where you transition from your traditional techniques in kata into kumite. I would be primarily known for kumite and have competed within kumite nationally and internationally since I was seven or eight years old. Kumite is a three-minute long, points-scoring fight. It’s about trying to demonstrate your co-ordination, speed and technique against an opponent.
There are four judges and a main referee. They’re assessing your technique, your agility and how well your able to take points off your opponent. The referee awards points for kicks or punches, and then when the time is up it’s who have the most points that wins.
I just love winning and being able to compete and represent my country.
You hear people on about wearing a Mayo jersey in Croke Park. I’ve that same passion about wearing the Irish flag on my karate suit in the UK, Azerbaijan or Morocco. I really take it to heart if I don’t perform to my best in training or in a competition. I feel that I’m here not only to represent myself but also my parents and coach who’ve given me a lot of encouragement. Over the past couple of years I’ve been trying to show that Ireland is equally as competitive, if not better, than these bigger countries that have massive amounts of funding and a big pool of people.
A huge part of my training is about speed and agility. We do an awful lot of plyometric work, ladder drills and reaction and timing drills. With me, I try and mix up my style every day so that when I go out my opponent won’t be able to anticipate what I’m going to do.
All my training takes place in Santry. I’m training with the national team coach four or five times a week. It consists of all technique-based training where we look at different tactics and strategies. I would attend a gym two to three times a week as well to work on strength and conditioning. With karate you need to be able to endure a three-minute fight, but you also need to be flexible and agile enough to perform different techniques on your opponent.
My club in Santry closed with immediate effect during the pandemic which put me out of a regular training pattern. I took that as an opportunity to use my time wisely to work on other aspects such as endurance, strength and conditioning and technique.
I was working as a physio in Cappagh hospital where my schedule was changing on a week-to-week basis. The club started introducing online training three times a week where they would put you through your paces with different drills and practice different techniques, a bit like shadow boxing
I was actually doing online classes myself which was fantastic, because not only was I helping Irish students here at home but I was building connections with national or international coaches. All of a sudden I was having 20, 30 or 40 people training online from America, India, France, New Zealand and Canada.
I still train with them on Saturday mornings. I’ve some people logging in at 4am or 5am or 11 o’clock at night. I’m also learning from other students as well and what tactics they had that I can adapt to my fighting style.
I’ve only recently returned to training back in Santry. We have to fill out health screening forms before we go training; there are approximately 15-20 athletes in one area that are allowed train. We wear face masks and turn up on time in your training gear ready to go. We’re performing contact drills but there’s a reduced amount of athletes in the facility at one time. We’d normally have sparring rounds where you get used to training with people who are lighter, heavier, taller or smaller than you. However, our guidance says that you work with the one partner all the time. It’s a bit of a waiting game to see when competitions are going to take place.
In conversation with Oisin McGovern