This week SCAN talks to former European Champion and England Senior Squad member for Karate, Imogen Skipper. As well as running through her outstanding achievements, we also discuss the various trials and tribulations of the incredibly high standards expected at that level of competition.
Firstly, it’s best to demonstrate the kind of high-level competitor that Imogen is. Truly her record speaks for itself: competed for the AMA National Squad at Junior, Cadet and Senior level, was crowned National champion at the last tournament she competed in (in 2015) and finally, finishing runner-up at her last World Championships. She is a multi-time both regional and national champion and has fought in three international championships. Her, often unfortunate, opponents include fighters from Romania, a 35-year-old Italian (who she beat in the semi-final of a major tournament) and finally, a woman who fought on behalf of the British Army, Sgt. Hayley Just, who has been awarded ‘Combined Services Sportswoman of the year’.
It would seem that Imogen was born to fight. Martial arts is in her blood, spanning generations of athletes in her family; for instance, her Grandfather was a former professional boxer later turned coach. However, Imogen has stated that her greatest influence came from her father, Martyn Skipper. Her father is a huge impact not only to Imogen, but also in the world of Karate in general. Martyn is a European Championship winner, a multiple-time National Karate Champion and now works as a coach for the North-West England Squad. This strong lineage coupled with her own desire to be the best has led to an amazing amount of success in such a short time and this interview allowed SCAN to gain a greater insight into her fantastic career.
SCAN: What was it like training at that level, in such a high-intensity environment?
Imogen: ‘Not as bad as you’d think! I trained around 4 times a week, while doing GCSE’s. The national squad training was very intense; there is a certain expectation that everyone is able to fight everyone. I once fought the Men’s National, European and World champion (Sam Ernst) who was 4 years older than me at the time during training. At the club run by my Dad there was only one other woman so I was constantly up against male competitors who were often both taller and stronger. I often came up against regional rugby players who were remorseless in their punches and I’d say this is what helped me become as strong of a competitor as I was’
SCAN: What was your first memories of competing at a high level?
Imogen: ‘It was the AMA International, which my Dad insisted I compete in. I was about 13 at the time and was absolutely wiped the floor with! My first memory of making the squad was on 5th May 2013 when I became an official member of the national squad. It wasn’t necessarily a trial; you had to frequently turn up to squad training, both regionally and nationwide. You would go in, be put into a mini, unofficial tournament and compete against others of your own age. I ended up fighting the National Champion at the time, a girl called Pippa Ernst, and winning. I remember being in the car back from training with my Dad and getting the call that I had made the squad and I was absolutely over the moon!’
SCAN: Any funny stories from your time competing?
Imogen: ‘At the International Championships in Malta, we ended up flying back with the England Junior Netball team. As both our teams had won their respective tournaments the coaches from each team began talking about their own squad’s performance. One of the Netball coaches remarked on how the team would looking forward to finally having a sweet treat now that the competition was over; meanwhile, the Karate team had eaten McDonalds the day before we were due to compete! Also, at Poland for the World Championships in 2014 we hired out a strip club to celebrate, which happened to include a free bar so that was absolute carnage, as expected’
SCAN: What’s your proudest moment when competing?
Imogen: ‘Probably the North-West open which I won in 2013. I remember winning and coming off the mat to see my Dad going ballistic on the side-lines and it really just hit home what a great relationship me and my Dad have, so that was a really lovely moment. Also, watching my Dad win the European Championships in 2013 live and seeing him score that final point to claim victory was just an absolutely amazing feeling’