Our capital isn’t the world’s hub for karate expertise however this may all be about to change as Leeanne Royle has risen to become one of the country’s most exciting prospects in martials art with a trophy cabinet filled with gold.
The minority sport of karate has always played a major part in Leeanne Royle’s life. Her whole family is engrossed in the sport; from infancy she was eager to follow in the footsteps of her brother, sisters and father. They couldn’t hold her back.
“I joined at the age of five and my Dad started training me,” recalls the protégé. “You are suppose to wait till you are six but I kept asking. I started entering competitions shortly after that when I was six or seven, and I got my first black belt when I was nine. I was the youngest in my federation to get one so it was a massive achievement,” said Leeanne.
In karate, belts are earned by learning a cata, which is a sequence of movements. Each cata can have anything from 30 to 50 techniques and, to earn a black belt, you must learn a number of catas.
There is a long list of belts to attain before you reach black. Lowest on the karate totem pole is white and then moves through orange, red, yellow, green, purple, purple stripes, three brown belts and then black.
“I am now on my second black belt, which I got when I was 11, however I have to wait until I’m 21 for my next belt. In karate the highest level is eight black belts, so I still have a good bit to go.
“I’ve done big competitions at home and internationally, but my first big competition was in 2011 [aged just 12], when I competed in Birmingham. I competed against people a lot older than me as the category was 10-16 years old. As well as wining the competition at under 16 level I received the stand out prize as well,” Leeanne told the City.
However all this success comes at price. Competing at this level requires a level of training and commitment you would not expect from a 15-year-old.
“I train a serious amount of hours, five or six days a week non-stop. It leaves very little time for anything else like social activities, although over Christmas I’ve taken a step back, only training two days a week. It means I have more time for friends and school work. It is tough to balance throughout the year but karate is all I want and when I want something, I will work hard for it; I push myself and I won’t let myself give up.”
Since the move to Dublin from her native Cavan, Leeanne has gone from training four days a week, to five or six. The extra training has reflected in her recent success in Switzerland when she won the Youth Ladies Individual Kumite. Leeanne is also the reigning WSKA World Champion 2013 where she became the first Irish person to take gold in the junior female individual competition.
“About 30 different countries entered the competition and it was my first time entering that big of a competition. In the junior female category I competed against two Americans, a Spanish and a Welsh girl. It was brilliant. I am the first Irish person to ever win, which was exceptional. It’s always been my goal to stand on top of the podium and listen to my national anthem be played,” Leeanne said.
Unfortunately though as Karate is not an Olympic sport, Leeanne still only dreams of representing her country at that level.
“I am hoping that someday I can represent Ireland at Olympic level, however that is not going to be in 2016 as karate is still not an Olympic sport. It’s because karate is not very unified and has a variety of different organisations. I don’t know why there are so many styles but I think mine is the best.”
Leeanne’s focus and determination has been likened in the media to that of Ireland’s Olympic gold medalist boxer Katie Taylor who, unsurprisingly, is Leeanne’s sporting role model.
“I’m happy with that comparison. I feel that although boxing is a different sport, the strategies needed in boxing are similar to karate. The way she fights is admirable. Although my other sporting role model is my dad.”
Leeanne’s father, David Royle is an accomplished United Shotokan Karate Federation of Ireland (USKFI) expert who has represented Ireland at a European and world level. He has been practising the sport for over 25 years and trains students at the Corduff club. David has clearly inspired ambitious Leeanne.
“He has trained me over the years. He is my karate role model and my teacher. When I leave school I still want to continue the way I am but I hope to open a club myself when I turn 18. I am already helping out as it is, with the little white belts in the club, so I feel that I have experience, but I want to own my own club and start teaching young students,” she enthused.
For that ambition to become a reality, Leeanne knows what it will take.