BEARDSLEY’S KARATE SCHOOL: Interview With The Karate Power Couple Champions Chris Rowan and Danielle Dunn

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Tom Beardsley’s Karate School first opened in Hereford in 1974, and it was first named Hereford Shukokai Karate Club, after the style practised. After moving around the city’s different venues, in 2001 the school settled in its first full time centre, Central Dojo in West Street, not far from the training centre’s current location in Berrington Street, above Badd Dawg’s Gym. Thanks to the co-operation between Tom and gym owner Nick Hunter the school is thriving. 

The Shukokai karate style, practised at the school to this day, means ‘way for all’. The style was founded by the late Master Chojiro Tani, and during the late ’80s and early ’90s Tom travelled to Japan to learn from the great Master himself. 

Over the years Tom has taught thousands of local youngsters and adults not only the techniques of karate but the philosophy, discipline and values behind karate-do, important in any day and age. Since its founding, the school has produced scores of national, international and world champions, and has taken local youngsters to many international events – Switzerland, Finland, Australia, Germany, France, USA, Portugal and Japan, giving them a great opportunity to experience culture and tradition around the globe.

The latest champion from the school is paratrooper Chris Rowan, 28, who first came to the school aged seven. To date Chris gained world, European and national titles and helps teaching the future champions at Beardsley’s Karate School.  A new addition to the stable of talent is Danielle Dunn, 22, another World Karate Champion and Chris’s partner, who has moved to the area a year ago and also trains and helps at the school. 

Chris Rowan’s passion for karate started at the age of four. “I was just obsessed with the Power Rangers, and my dad told me that if I did karate, I could become one. I’m still waiting for the job offer,” recalls Chris, who began competing under Sensei Tom Beardsley’s guidance. At 18 he joined the Parachute Regiment and after multiple tours of Afghanistan he joined the British Army Karate Team and went on to win numerous international titles including British, European and World Championships.

Since his win at the World Championships in Scotland last year, Chris has been on a huge high. As well as doing his own training, he has been teaching seminars up and down the country, then earlier this year won bronze at the World Championships in Bratislava. “It was bitter sweet, but it’s tough at the top and one mistake can be the difference between gold and nothing. It was an amazing event though and I’m always happy with any medal at that level. I can’t wait for the next one!” 

Danielle Dunn’s career took a different path. In addition to karate, she was also a national level swimmer from a young age. Danielle said: “I was always an active child so when my cousin started karate and kept telling me how good it was, I pestered my dad until he took me. Although my cousin stopped training after a few years, I absolutely loved it.” 

From her hometown of Middlesbrough, Danielle travelled to Manchester weekly to train. Last year she moved to Hereford and has been training at Beardsley’s Karate School alongside Chris ever since. Swimming is still part of Danielle’s training and she swims at the occasional gala if she has the weekend free. 

Last summer Danielle graduated from Teesside University after a degree in sports science and decided to focus one hundred per cent on karate and her performance has gone from strength to strength. So what is her experience of competing in martial arts? “Karate is for all, I’ve never felt like I’ve been treated any differently by anyone within the sport. I train alongside the men and they don’t take it easy with me. In the same way I definitely don’t take it easy on them.” And outside of the sport? “I do get the occasional ‘you don’t look like you do karate’ comment,” she admits. “I don’t know what women in karate should look like, but in this sport we have all kinds of people and they can all fight as well as each other.”

Chris and Danielle are very loyal and committed to their home club in Hereford and to Tom Beardsley, and when asked about their medals and accolades, the reply is a modest, “We have both been very lucky and have been given a lot of opportunities within the sport.” So how do they do it, juggling all their training and competing with family and other commitments? 

How do you juggle your sport and family commitments?

Chris: It can be difficult at times but we always know a year in advance what we are going to be doing regarding competitions. It can be a bit strange to plan things that far ahead but it means we can always make time for family and friends.

What does your training contain? 

Chris: We train every day. It’s either gym sessions, or Danielle will thrash me in the pool, or specific karate training at Beardsley’s Karate.

Do you always wake up wanting to train or do you have ‘down’ days ?

Chris: We live together so it’s rare that we are both having a down day. 

Danielle: We motivate each other. 

How do you rest and recuperate after training? 

Chris: Our rest days consist of doing nothing, rest is really important. We don’t want to go into a training session hurting so when we get a rest day, we hardly move. 

Your rise to the top took commitment and sacrifice. What were the biggest obstacles you had to overcome? 

Chris: I’d say the financial side. Karate isn’t a funded sport and to travel to competitions can become expensive so there are a lot of sacrifices, but it’s always worth it in the end.

Danielle: I agree with Chris on the financial side and also the time management. It’s a lot of travelling and weekends away from home. While doing my degree, to make sure my work was done for Monday morning, I would often be on my laptop right up until I had to warm up to fight.

You are both coaches at Tom Beardsley’s Karate School. What aspect of training others do you like most? 

Danielle: I like teaching small groups, one or two students, and really focusing on the finer points and tactics.

Chris: My own children do karate so obviously I love seeing them just enjoying karate. I also like coaching Danielle – we both have our strengths and weaknesses. I can’t help but feel proud when someone as slight as Danielle double-leg-sweeps her opponent using a technique we were drilling a week before.

What is your proudest moment? 

Chris: WUKF World Champion titles for both of us, the title is  the pinnacle of our sport. It’s such an amazing moment to be standing on the podium as your national anthem plays.

After such an achievement, what are you aiming for next? 

Chris: Continue to train hard and win! There are also plans to further Tom Beardsley’s knowledge and expertise by opening a sister club in Gloucester or Worcester.

A massive thank you to Tom Beardsley for all of his hard work and continued support of both of us. We’d also like to thank our sponsors CNSport and Dead Mammoth Coffee Company, and to Danielle’s parents Brian and Elle who have been a huge support and always make an effort to keep Danielle motivated and on the right path with her aspirations. 

Follow Chris and Danielle on Instagram: ‘ChrisRowan001’ and  ‘Danielledunn97’


Classes are available for children and adults

38-40 Berrington Street, Hereford HR4 0BJ, above Badd Dawgg’s Gym. Book your FREE TRIAL at  

Facebook: @TomBeardsleysSamuraiKarateSchools

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