Tributes and Testimonials for Shihan Noblett from the Karate World

Sensei Peter Spanton 8th Dan: Chief Instructor Higashi

Sensei Peter SpantonI believe it was early or late 1968 when I was invited to run a training course at the University Karate club in Cardiff, which was being run by my old friend David Mitchell.

As I recall I was most impressed with Ritchie, who stood out even then as a born karate natural. From them on he flew through the grades, not only because he attended every training opportunity and course available, but because he had such a remarkable ability for karate, combined with immense drive and passion. He was ‘champion material’ and proved this in the years to come.

Together with David he became a friend and it was a privilege and pleasure to have such a talented karate-ka as Ritchie in my classes. He was a gentleman and impossible to dislike. I remember thinking even then, what a future that guy had in the karate world!  He loved everything about karate and was a true perfectionist, as was obvious to all who watched Richie in a karate-gi.

I remember on one occasion after he had broken his wrist a couple of weeks earlier, Ritchie still insisted on taking part in a Kata event at a competition. The actual one though, escapes me. He won the Kata event after a beautiful display of the Shotokan Unsu. However landing from the jump broke his wrist again! Naturally Ritchie just shrugged this off as ‘one of those things’.  

Richie had a very successful karate life and produced many fine students. He had a tremendous impact on Welsh karate and was both popular and admired by all who knew him.

Welsh and indeed British karate will miss him greatly, as do I.

Peter Spanton 8th Dan Wado-ryu

Higashi Karate Kai

Dave Mitchell: Martial Artist,Author, and Ritchies’ early Wado Mentor.

Note:   How many of us Knew that as a young man our Shihan was known as ‘Ricky’ ?, and was only referred to as Ritchie once he moved to Wales.

David and Rick 1968It was an early evening sometime in September 1967 when I heard a knock at my door. This was after my University of Wales Karate Club, Cardiff, had featured in the local newspaper as being the first nationally recognised club in Wales.  I opened the door and standing there was this quietly spoken, polite young man asking if he could join the club.
The club was originally only open to university students but Rick’s attitude and demeanour immediately impressed me, so I took his case to Barney Mulrenan, the Head of the university gym, to see if Rick could be allowed to join as an affiliate member. He agreed; Rick joined, and so began a road to international respect and greatness.
Everyone liked Rick from the get-go. I wasn’t the only one.  He was always polite and quietly spoken; always the last to speak and give his opinion – yet he was the star performer from Day One. That was obvious. He went from ungraded novice to 7th kyu in the first three months of training – a pattern of grade-jumping he followed all the way to shodan.During those early days I took Rick with me on the back of my motor cycle to courses all over Britain. After that, he was a regular passenger in my old  Morris Estate.
I remember our visit to a training course in Prestatyn, North Wales. Why did we go there? Because the course was being given by my old teacher, the late Toru Takamizawa – recently then graded to 4th dan.  Toru finished off his session by beating everyone up in the class – as was his wont – until it came to Rick-the-yellow-belt.  Out of politeness Rick began in his usual restrained way but after one dig too many, he moved in fast and the next I saw, Toru was lying flat on his back.
The class stopped dead and stared open-mouthed as the ever-polite and apologetic Rick offered to help Toru back to his feet.  I well remember being ripped a new one afterwards by Toru for putting a dan grade kumite champion in front of him wearing a yellow belt.  “But he really IS only a yellow belt, sensei!” I responded but thereafter, Toru regarded me as a habitual liar at worst, and as a prankster at best.  Thanks, Rick!
Rick and I regularly visited our sensei – Peter Spanton – and stayed at his apartment in Earlham Grove, Forest Gate – just down the road from the Higashi Honbu of Durning Hall – except when we trained in the room above The Eagle, Pete’s favourite watering-hole.  We trained like mad through a series of exhausting private lessons, so we could both take our 1st kyu together. That was during early 1969 and all I remember of those private lessons – apart from the sweat and the working hard to keep up with Rick – were our brown karate suits.  Pete’s girlfriend at the time thought she’d be helpful and dry out our sweaty, disgusting karate gis in the oven. Unfortunately she became distracted and the suits were almost burned to a crisp.
Rick took his first dan under Senseis Peter Spanton and John Smith at the infamous Dale Course of September 1969. Taking shodan with him was his former teacher – moi – Robin Greenslade and Ken Elston. Also present on the course – resplendent in his black Ed Parker Kenpo suit – was Pete Whitney from Swindon Oasis.
We trained like madmen all through the week – a week that included an 8-hour training session (that stopped only because Pete was informed that the village pub was soon to close).  Rick always had to be slowed down on his morning runs for fear he would leave everyone behind, and his training left us all angry – because he made everything look so easy! Well, we weren’t really angry at all – more envious!
Rick took his black belt at the end of the week. Standing in line with him were us, the old timers. We failed – he passed with flying colours.  Were we unhappy because he passed? Well, we threw him into the dock (the tide was out) but I recall us agreeing that whereas we were sad to fail, we were glad that something we all recognised – Rick’s superiority – had been seen and rewarded by the grading panel.
I am truly glad I had the chance to help in a small way this man achieve the excellence he was capable of. I will always remember Rick as the epitome of a true black belt – calm, well-judged, polite and the hottest thing in a martial art uniform since Bruce Lee!
I just hope God doesn’t invite Rick to start a karate club up there!


Geoff Thompson M.B.E:   5 x World Heavy Weight Karate Champion

Geoff Thompson M.B.ERitchie Noblett was one of those rare and unique individuals who inspired many generations through karate from their social and cultural dissaffection to life potential.
As a pioneer of Welsh Karate, Ritchie led the Welsh contribution to European and World Karate, coaching many who would have had their hearts and minds broadened through travel and acheiving success for themselves and their communities.
As a result,the Afan Lido Karate Club and indeed Port Talbot became known internationally. The brand of karate reflected the social and cultural characteristics of hard but honest effort with skill and humour to match. His style of karate reflected his personality, fair, tolerant, but unyeilding in his truthful and accurate assessment of both an individual and a situation.
Ritchie was one of those rare breeds of karate humanitarians who gave much to so many.  He was a true karate warrior who lived his life for the benefit of others. British karate, Welsh karate and Port Talbot will sorely miss one of their favourite sons. His spirit will live on through Chris and Vicki but also so many who have benefited from his loving benevolence.
As a son, a husband, a father, a community leader,  karate competitor, champion, coach, instructor and friend, it was a privelege to have known him.
Siwrne saff my friend (Safe Journey)…..Geoff Thomson fellow karate warrior and traveller.