As with many lifelong passions, Chris Rowan’s sporting career started in childhood when he tried karate as a four-year-old in Aldershot. A few years later his family moved to Hereford where Chris discovered Tom Beardsley, and never looked back.
Fifteen years of training under Tom Beardsley’s guidance brought Chris Rowan right to the top and in October last year he won Gold at the United World Karate Championships in Koper, Slovenia. The event also saw him compete as part of the England Karate Team that took home the World title.
I met the 25-year-old World Champion at Beardsley’s Martial Arts gym at that time in January when many mere mortals have long forgotten their new year resolutions. Not this young man. He looks fresh and bouncy even though he has just finished a gruelling three-hour-long training session, and it’s only lunch- time.
“If you came two minutes earlier, I was sat on the floor,” he admits. So he is human after all.
When I ask him what it felt like winning Gold, his face brightens up.
“It took a while to sink in,” he says modestly. “People started congratulating me but it still took me a while to get my head round it.”
We talk about being a role model to the martial artists of all ranks and Chris tells me about the sense of duty that comes with the title.
“I feel a lot of responsibility to keep training, to push myself to stay at the top.”
Levelheaded and conscientious, Chris has left the medals in the past (or rather in his parents’ house) and he is already focusing on his future goals. 25 of them, to be precise – that is the number of events he is entering this year.
In March Chris will be competing at the International Open in Malta, then it is the Polish Open in April, the World Championships in June and the European Championships in the autumn. The rest are smaller but important tournaments all over the country.
“You learn a lot in two minutes in a competition,’ he tells me. “It’s all about gaining experience.”
That attitude, to never stop learning, is behind many success stories, sporting or otherwise, so I am keen to find out more about what else it takes to become a World Champion.
Hard work and dedication is just the start of it – Chris trains six days a week, two to three hours at a time, clocking up 16 hours per week, the equivalent of a part time job. So what does he do during all those hours?
Plyometrics training to build explosive power, but also lifting weights, and of course, a lot of karate training and sparring. Chris singles out sparring sessions with Sam Beardsley, Tom’s youngest son who teaches at Beardsley’s Martial Arts – his speciality is Krav Maga, the authentic military self-defence.
“Sam is training for a boxing match and he is very motivated,” Chris reveals. “We push each other so the sparring sessions are intense but great for developing hand speed.”
I picture the Krav Maga expert trained in boxing versus World Champion in karate and nearly ask Chris if their sparring includes black eyes but his face looks intact and Sam is his usual bright and cheery self.
Apart from the flying fists, what other challenges did Chris face on his road to success? What sacrifices does it take to get to the top in his sport?
“I had to let go of some aspects of my social life,” he replies. “No going out drinking every weekend.”
Although Chris makes time for friends, his family comes first. It helps that his fiancee and children are supportive of his career. In fact, his little girl is already training in karate and spends time at the gym with her dad.
Combining family life with so many hours of training, competing and the travelling that goes with it, I am curious to know what the day in the life of this champion looks like.
Up at 7.00am, Chris gets the kids ready for school, then hits the gym from 9.30 till 12.30. Every day. He also picks up the children from school, deals with homework, housework and making dinner, then it’s back to the gym for another hour or two once the children are in bed. Sounds exhausting?
There is more… Chris is in the Parachute Regiment. Fortunately, the Armed Forces
take sport very seriously and Chris has his regiment’s full support to pursue his sporting goals. This brings about another interesting topic: what qualities, crucial to his success, are transferable between sport and the army career?
Without any hesitation, Chris lists the discipline of martial arts training, the ability to take criticism and the importance of keeping up physical fitness. And mind over matter.
So is there time in his life for lazy days? I ask, expecting a ‘no’ in reply.
“It’s very hard to keep up the intense training all the time,” Chris explains. “I get my down-time walking the dog, chilling out. It gives me space to look forward to the next workout.”
On the subject of those gruelling workouts, I prod him on the food he eats to fuel them. If you expect to hear a sophisticated diet written by a well-known nutritionist, you’d be wrong. Chris eats a simple diet of healthy, nutritious, home-made meals. It’s fruit for breakfast, slow-cooked chicken and vegetables for lunch, and what he calls a ‘normal’ meal for dinner.
He has a bigger meal following a heavy training session, that’s all. No fancy meal plans. With this covered, I have to ask: Does he have a weakness?
“Fizzy drinks,” the champion confesses and instantly pre-empts my next question, how he deals with temptation. “I’ll have sparkling water with sugar-free squash.”
Just like that, dieters everywhere, take notice. Iron willpower needed if you want to achieve those goals. With that said, I invite Chris to share his message for FitNet readers.
“Karate is a sport for all levels, there is no need to be fit or slim to get started. The team spirit is very rewarding for everyone and there is no need to compete, you can attend classes just to enjoy learning new moves and socialise.”
Lastly, it’s time to ask about the man who brought karate to Hereford. What is Tom Beardsley like as a coach? I ask Chris.
“Firm but fair,” comes the reply. “He pushes me hard, he wants my full commitment and he is very critical… To be the best I can be, I need that feedback from someone on the other side. But Tom is also very approachable.”
Most of those who know coach Beardsley are familiar with his warm, beaming smile and a friendly manner – no doubt the reasons why his dojo is always full of eager children wanting to be like their famous coach. Tom brings out the best in his students, he has a reputation for creating champions and a trail of successful instructors across the country. Chris Rowan’s success is testament to Tom Beardsley’s mastery.\
Chris Rowan’s typical diet:
Instead of fizzy drinks, Chris drinks sparkling water with sugar-free squash. Alternatively, try a few drops of lemon or lime.
Breakfast of the champion: A healthy portion of fruit.
Slow-cooked chicken and vegetables for lunch – a meal such as this offers a great mix of protein and healthy carbohydrates, lots of vitamins and minerals, and if you use skinless chicken breast, it is also low in fat.
Chris eats ordinary, home-made meals for dinner, with portions depending on the intensity of his workouts.
Special thanks from Chris Rowan to coaches Tom Beardsley and Brian Hall, and to CN Sport, Mamma Jammas Hereford, Forces Money and CG Tiling for their sponsorship.
Karate classes with Tom Beardsley are available for all levels, from children aged 4+ to adults. Boxing Training and Krav Maga Military Self-defence with Sam Beardsley.
Beardsley’s Martial Arts
Unit 7 Premier Business Park, Faraday Road, Hereford HR49NS.
Tel: 01432 344 667
Tom: 07798 841 023
Sam: 07557 735 756
Fitness enthusiast and blogger, creator of Slender Sayce and blogger at FitNet Magazine.