Women of Shotokan: Holly Rye

By Dr. Christian Tribowski

Today, we are going to portrait Holly Rye in the Women of Shotokan section. Holly Rye is 33 years old and lives currently in Glasgow, Scotland. Originally from Kent, England, she has been doing Karate since 1994 and holds a 5th Dan. Let yourself become inspired by Holly´s incredible Karate biography.

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Portrait of Holly Rye

Holly Rye during kata
Holly Rye doing kata

Dojo: Hokushin Martial Arts Academy

Additional information:
Assistant Chief Instructor of JSKA Scotland
Chairperson of JSKA Scotland
Instructor at Hokushin Martial Arts Academy
JSKA Scotland Team Member
JSKA World Champion 2014 (kata), 2016 (kata & kumite), 2018 (kata)
JSKA European Champion 2015 (kata), 2017 (kumite

What was the reason that you started Shotokan Karate?

I started karate with a friend in primary school. Her brother was already training so I went along with them. I don’t remember why I wanted to start karate, I just know that I wanted to try it.

What do you like about Shotokan Karate?

I like the fact that one simple technique can be so difficult to perfect. Knowing that maybe only 1 technique out of 100 will be how you want it allows for the constant pursuit of perfection.

I love the complexity of Shotokan kata; the smooth transitions from one technique to another, the variations in speed, the sheer power created by fighting an invisible opponent.

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Learning the Japanese language and terminology alongside the techniques is challenging but I actually really enjoy it.

It doesn’t matter how old you are or what limitations you may have, Shotokan karate can be adapted and is therefore an activity that everyone can enjoy.

Is there something you do not like? What is it?

I dislike how I have been treated in the past because I am female. It doesn’t help that I look quite young and therefore I am often not taken seriously by those who do not know me.
I’ve had parents and students unwilling to speak to me, refusal to take instruction and I’ve been treated disrespectfully on courses by male partners. I know of many other female karateka who have had similar experiences. I hope that this attitude can be changed.

What has been your greatest and your worst experience so far related to Shotokan Karate?

My greatest experience to date was winning my first individual world title. It was in kata at the JSKA World Championships in Italy, 2014 and the moment will forever be etched into my memories. It was a long path to get there and the outcome was worth every drop of sweat, every sore muscle and every repetition.

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I have had many bad experiences in my past. One however that stands out happened maybe 10 years ago. A Japanese instructor came to teach a seminar. He encouraged everyone to ask questions. When I put my hand up and asked a question be loudly and rudely dismissed me in front of the whole group. I haven’t asked a question on a seminar since.

It is important to remember that karate is a journey so you cannot have the good without the bad.


What do you do when the training becomes challenging? Where do you get motivation from?

When the training becomes physically challenging, I just try to push through. I’m very stubborn so I don’t like to give up. But also as the highest grade on the floor, as well as one of the instructors, I feel it is my duty to lead by example.

I must admit I love a mentally challenging class. I find these classes interesting and informative. I particularly enjoying seeing new techniques in different ways and having to reassess my own ideas about them.

How has Shotokan Karate changed you as a person?

Karate has definitely improved my confidence. It is my job to teach large classes of students each day and speak to prospective students and parents on a regular basis. If I am not confident then it would all fall apart.
Teaching karate has also taught me patience and to understand that some people take longer to learn and to execute instructions than others do.

Holly Rye in action
Holly Rye with a strong oi-tsuki

How has Shotokan Karate influenced your life? Has it helped you overcome or deal with difficult situations in your life? Is it helping you on a daily basis with the challenges of life?

I suffer from a condition called Ulcerative Colitis, a form of inflammatory bowel disease. One of the many side effects is fatigue. I have always refused to let it get the better of me, particularly when training for a competition. Because of this I have often forced myself to keep going, not wanting to ever use it as an excuse if I lost. I have actually won most of my titles during bouts of being quite unwell so it proves, at least to me, that if you want something badly enough you have to persevere and push through the barriers.


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How has your Shotokan Karate changed over time?

As a child I was only ever interested in the physical side of karate. As I got older, I became more interested in the how and the why.
I am now really interested in the mechanical side of karate, breaking a movement down to look at it piece by piece. I believe that you can only perform a technique properly if you fully understand what it is you are doing. My goal is to understand each karate technique in this way.

What are your personal Shotokan Karate short- and long-term goals?

Short term I plan to continue with my competition career and hope that it remains a successful one. I intend to continue as long as my body is able to take the pressure of the training. A

Long term I plan to continue my training and one day grade to 6th dan. When the time comes to hang up the competition gi I will probably progress to refereeing.

How should Shotokan Karate evolve in the future?

In my experience it seems many Shotokan instructors believe that if you have a large student base then you’re not teaching ‘real’ karate. Or that if you’re having a laugh or a joke you’re not working hard enough. I would love to see dojos lighten up a bit. Accept that you can have fun whilst still working hard. Understand that large numbers don’t equate to poor instruction, just good advertising. Traditional Shotokan karate should not be boring or frightening. Students should look forward to coming to class!
I’d also like to see the continued inclusion of students with different abilities and limitations. In our dojo we have students with varying needs (including Autism, ADHD, Downs Syndrome to name but a few). They train alongside, and are treated the same as, everyone else. 

Would you recommend Shotokan Karate to your female friends? Why?

Having seen so many women start karate and absolutely exceed their own expectations I’d encourage everyone to give at least one class a try.
The basic techniques of Shotokan karate are not too difficult to pick up, so even after your first class you will have learnt something useful.
 I know one woman who desperately wanted to give karate a go but didn’t even have the confidence to take off her coat. After a little encouragement she took her first class and a couple of years later she’s now a brown belt.
 Karate really is for everyone, just try and you’ll see!


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