March 17, 2022, by brzbs1

Scholar in Focus: James Harrison

Last weekend the University of Nottingham Karate club travelled to Sheffield to compete at their biggest competition of the year, the BUCS Karate National Championships. In a superb weekend of competition, sport scholar James Harrison had a fantastic tournament and claimed individual and team kata gold. On the success, James told us that “taking the title this weekend proved to myself that my hard work really is paying off. To take the team kata title alongside two of my good friends was also quite a special moment. And to top of a successful weekend, the UoN team were the overall winners, a real testament to all our coaches and the months of hard work we’ve all put in.”

Before the championships we spoke to James about his experiences so far at the University of Nottingham studying at the school of chemistry, as well as training on campus as a scholar.


Great to meet you James, firstly it’d be great for you to tell us a little bit more about yourself!

So I’m studying Biochemistry and Molecular Medicine here at the University of Nottingham and I’m currently in my first year. The sport that I do is karate and I’ve been doing karate since I was five or six years old. I’ve been competing for England for the last four to five years, obviously with a break due to Coronavirus, but I have been able to go out to the Senior World Championships and compete at the end of 2021.


So your karate is going pretty well at the minute by the sounds of it?

Yes it is! Like most things, it has its ups and downs but I’ve got quite a few tournaments coming up this year, including the Junior Europeans at the end of the year as well as the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham which should be really good. It’s a big year, especially when you put those tournaments alongside all of my university work! Going to international tournaments I want to be pushing for medals and at the Europeans I’ve lost in the bronze medal match twice, so I’m hoping it’ll be third time lucky! Medalling at a major championship is the goal.


It sounds like 2022 should be a great year for you! Looking back to where it began, how did you get into karate in the first place?

It was one of the many after school clubs that I did when I was at primary school and it was the one that stuck essentially, and here I am now! As a kid I loved it and became obsessed with it, practising in the kitchen and living room, and that helped to make me good at it because I was practising all the time! I started competing when I was six or seven years old, and it has just snowballed from there!


So with you doing karate around the house, did your family support you and encourage you to pursue the sport?

Sometimes it’s been a struggle but my parents have always supported me, doing what they can to watch me compete. Even now, they will come down from my home in Newcastle to visit me at the university and watch me compete, and they’re going to be supporting me at BUCS Nationals so that’ll be nice.


Was there a particular aspect to the sport that you enjoyed, or was it the sport in general that you just loved?

I feel like there’s a good answer for this, but it was probably something to do with me watching and enjoying Power Rangers or along those lines! I liked how it was different from other sports, but it’s a hard question to answer because it feels like it’s just always been a part of my life and luckily I really enjoy it!


So when it came to deciding on combining your karate with your studies, how did you decide on the University of Nottingham?

University was always something that I wanted to do as well as karate. It was always my plan to do both, and being here at the University of Nottingham makes that ten times easier. The sport side of the university was a big factor, but the course that I’m studying was also something that I was really keen on. With the university also being centrally located in the UK, that really helps with getting to other commitments such as national training and competitions. The facilities here are also obviously really good so hopefully everything that I’m doing here helps me progress in the right direction!


So it’s your first year here doing a pretty intense course by the sound of it, how has it been transitioning to university and balancing studies with sport?

I’ve found the transition to general university life challenging, but not as challenging as I first thought. I’ve settled in really well and I’m living with a great group of people which really helps. They’ve come to watch me a couple of times and are into karate which is great. The balance can be tricky, especially when I’ve got a tournament coming up where I need to focus on my karate, but once that tournament is over I have to be stricter and turn my attention to my studies more. Some days it can be a bit chaotic and tiring when I have to go from training in the dojo to a lecture and then back to training in the High Performance Zone. However, I’ve got to make the most of what I’ve got here while I can – I’m essentially training like a full-time athlete and I’m not going to have that opportunity forever.


What are your main aims and goals whilst you’re here studying and competing at the University of Nottingham?

Obviously training for BUCS has recently been my main aim! Coming up we have the European University Championships, and depending on what happens with the hosting country, the World University Championships too, and hopefully I can continue to progress as we move through those tournaments. I think with my education and degree, I obviously want to do well as well as I can and get the most out of it, so I hope I can manage to combine both aspects during my time here. We’ll see how it goes!


I’m sure both your studies and karate will continue to be a success! Looking further ahead, what are your plans and aims after you finish your degree here at the university?

In terms of continuing my education, I’m thinking about doing a Masters and I’ve got a rough idea of the nature of that, but that’s still a slight way off. As for my karate, I’ve got a few ideas of where I want to be, but a lot of it depends on how the next few years go! Karate is one of those sports that can be a sport for life because it doesn’t always have to be competitive in nature, but I’d love to be able to continue to compete and train at a high level. I suppose it all depends what opportunities arise over the next few years too.


So when you’re on the mat karate can be fairly individual, but at the university you’re a part of the karate and sport scholar community. What’s it been like to be a part of those groups?

For me, when I’ve been back home I’ve done a lot of training on my own, so to come here and have such a good group of people both in the dojo as well as out as friends, that support has been really helpful. That aspect is something that others have had previously, but I haven’t, so to have that support from other athlete and coaches has been really good.


What advice would you give to people who are in the position you were a couple of years ago thinking about combining sport and education at university?

From a course perspective, personally I really like the content and we now have in-person delivery again which is great. Alongside that with the sport, obviously the facilities are great but you aren’t just placed in the gym on your own, the support is there with the facilities. There’s people in the gym and dojo to help you and there are so many people here to support you, and in sport that can sometimes be rare. My tutor has been really helpful when I’ve got things on with my karate and it’s nice to have people behind you and there to help you.


In terms of getting involved with the karate club at the university, what would you say to students who are thinking about trying the sport?

Simply, just give it a go and try it! It’s not for everyone, but there’s loads of people on our BUCS squad who when they first started university had never done karate before, and now they are obviously competing at BUCS. It’s also a sport where even if you don’t want to compete, there’s something for you as it can be a tool for many things – stress relief for example. For many it’s a way of life which is quite intense, but it’s a different sport that provides many different skills.


We thank James for his time and congratulate him and the club on their success at their showcase tournament of the year. We also wish James the best of luck in his future endeavours both here at the University of Nottingham, and in all of his future aspirations.


As well as a reputation for academic excellence, we have a history of sporting success and are passionate about supporting promising athletes during their time at the University of Nottingham. To find out more about our Sports Scholarships, please click here.

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