“I won’t accept the loss of lives on our streets.” | Geoff Thompson
Thompson’s discovery of karate was a result of what he described as an “emotional implosion”, having lost his father at a very young age, and suddenly relocating to East London. Attempting to fit in to the city as a former country boy, Thompson’s identity as a black man felt a little more in question. He even lost his accent in his adaptation, he tells The AMG. The move was not entirely negative though, as Thompson began to engage with school activities and youth clubs, fully immersing himself in the new community. He soon discovered a local leisure centre where he saw Professor Tatsuo Suzuki disposing of individuals much larger than himself.
Fast forward to the 1980s, Geoff became a household name on the karate scene, winning gold at the 1982 World Karate Championships, silver at the 1983 European Karate Championships, gold at the 1985 World Games, and silver at the 1986 World Karate Championships. He accredits his mental and physical discipline to his success, as well as “a greater respect and understanding of myself and a great respect and understanding of others”.
Although the 80s was a decorated decade for Thompson, he was highly aware of his position as an ethnic minority in a minority sport, and “labels were always going to be associated”. Thompson knew that he was representing the black British population and saw it as his duty to show the power of sport: “at a time of riots, social, racial and civil unrest and political polarisation, it was very much a case of being mindful that when I took to the competition square, I was winning for more than just myself and that very much reflected the times of which I represented Britain. And there is no greater honour than leading a Great Britain team.”
Thompson’s fight, however, was not only on the mat. Following his success Thompson found himself profoundly affected by the death of Benji Stanley in 1993, who was shot aged 14 in Moss Side, Manchester. He understood that there was a fundamental need for young men who experience unfavourable circumstances to have an outlet in the arts and sports. Thompson consequently set up the Youth Charter, and alongside his wife Janice, they have made it their life’s work to see charity help the younger generation who are in need. “Everybody’s advocating for some form of sport for development in lives of young people” Thompson explains, “we should be able to do better and if we could truly come collectively together with the origins of the journey, I think we can meet the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.”
The combination of sport and helping disadvantaged young people is now what is spurring Thompson on. After over 35 years of absence from karate, Thompson planned to win £10k for the Youth Charter in a televised karate ‘clash’ to raise awareness. The charity needed ‘social coaches’ or youth workers who could guide the younger generation and re-establish their trust. But like many people’s plans in 2020, Thompson’s bid for a big cash prize was put on hold due to COVID-19.
In his training for the event Thompson realised he “wasn’t too far off the current generation”, and though age may slow many in terms of speed and endurance, Thompson was certain his combative skills lay dormant, and were ready for a re-awakening. It was in fact his wife who floated the idea of aiming for Tokyo 2021. “I was tested enough to establish the confidence that it was possible” Thompson says, and his campaign for helping the youth of today “became a greater campaign of intent purpose.”
With the help of his trainer and fellow karateka, Janice, and his children who train and spar with him, Thompson’s fitness is at an “elite” level. Not only does Thompson want to raise awareness for the Youth Charter, but he hopes to inspire more senior athletes to chase their dreams, regardless of their age.
There are some barriers in Thompson’s bid due to his sudden re-emergence on the scene, yet he remains unfazed for his “skill, suppleness, speed, strength, and spirit are all applied now” – he just needs to be given a chance to show what he has got. Thompson’s competitive and life journeys have given him ultimate clarity: “it has completely informed me with the confidence, not arrogance, but confidence of what I’m able to do.”
“I’m of the belief that you never fail” Thompson says sagely, “and you only learn by losing. So, whatever I won’t accept in the loss of lives on our streets, I’m more than prepared to accept in what this journey represents going forward.”