Lee Costa

“When I began Karate, a black belt seemed to be a mythical target”

When Lee Costa started training in 1966, things were a lot different to what they are now. There were no registered Black Belts in Wales; Lee had to depend on learning his skills from an open book. He remembers learning the elementary Kata Pinan Nidan from a book by Mas oyama on the floor with fellow instructor Howard Collins, who was a Yellow Belt.

Lee Costa would train in one of the few dojo’s around, a disused cinema in Cardiff’s Mynachdy area which is now non-existent. The dojo was situated off-road from Eastern Ave. Kyokushinkai!

After Training for a while, the dojo unfortunately closed down, and Lee stopped his practices for around 2 years. Walking around the city centre one day, Lee bumped into Howard Collins again. The encounter rekindled Lee’s memories and interest, which led him to decide he wanted to start training again, this time he trained at the Corey Hall, with instructor Mike Watkins, who was a green belt at the time.

We progressed to black belt together, though he felt like my instructor because I learnt so much from him, and I still hold him in high respect.

Lee remembers the first time he came across a Black Belt during training, Steve Arneil, then a 3rd Dan came to Caerphilly to do a course and grading. Part of the course was running up Caerphilly Mountain barefooted in extremely cold conditions such as snow. All the students were so enthusiastic about having a black belt training them, that they didn’t think anything of what they were being asked to do. When Arneil finished his Course in Caerphilly, he thought the students were “crazy” still wanting further training as he felt he had trained them at the highest standard possible.Steve Arneil was one of the First ever instructors of any style to enter Wales, it was that course that convinced him to train students here.

At that time, there was no Welsh squad for Lee to aim for, therefore, Lee found himself on an English squad which included such people as Brian Fitkin, Ticky Donovan, Richie Noblett and others.

Soon Howard Collins left the dojo for better opportunities in Japan. Mike Watkins, a green belt at the time, from Caerphilly took over the running of the club and soon Lee Costa was making a name for himself in the competition circuit.

“Lee’s training is practical and reflects his interest in self defence. Karate must actually work and not just look good.”

He took his 1st Dan under Shigeru Oyama and Tadashi Nakamura at a summer Karate camp in Holland in June 1974 and followed it with a 2nd Dan in December 1976 under Arneil. His 3rd Dan came in February 1978 and all are validated by Kyokushinkai certificates signed by Mas Oyama.


Lee is fairly scathing of those who ignore Kata and basic training in favour of a total sport system. These, he says, are not karateka; they have concentrated karate down to a small focus and work on that to the exclusion of its other principles.



When Lee was a knockdown competitor, he came third in the Lightweight division in the first European Knockdown Championships (1978) and won the 1980 Welsh Open Knockdown Lightweight division. His successful career extends back to 1971 when we won the BWW individual Kumite. He is also skillful at Kata and won the men’s kata event in the 1972 BWW championships.

Over the years lee helped build up the second biggest association in Wales, registering the welsh governing body with nearly 600 members (15 clubs)  Lee trains in his own club twice a week, he has always tried to maintain a low profile within Karate.

Lee still trains almost every day, he always tried to go for a three mile run, and then practicing basic training and performs kata’s. On Saturday mornings at 9 am he trains in the Kymin Park in Penarth, where his students or anyone who’s interested in karate are welcome to come along for training and even advice. It’s very rare you’ll see him in Rainy weather though!!

He feels there are also some instructors who are running associations within Wales who seem to have no karate history. Some of these instructors in their own right are not really karateka. The only way they can establish recognition is through secondary means. Some of these instructors decide to go into the referee system, as it’s the only way that they can get onto the karate fighting mats. Only a few referees have actually been in a fighting arena, the rest have never fought in any form of competition. A questions to be asked is can someone judge something they’ve never experienced for themselves? And how can lower Dan grades referees be judging higher Dan grades than themselves? Lee feels that some Instructors are trying too hard to get into politics as it’s the only way they can feel power and get recognized, He believes that this is only an excuse to try and make a name for themselves. This is not Karate either.

Lee knows he never had the opportunities for karate that are available now, which is why he always tries to help his students and anyone in the Karate system to take full advantage of what’s available, if there’s anything he can do to help his students succeed, he always tries to put them on the right road.