Bulgarian karate star finds new home in Østerbro to fight for

International black belt is one of three challengers from Den Danske Karateskole heading off to the European Championships in May

No rest for the best. A young Bulgarian karate fighter is busy training at the Danske Karateskole (DDK) in Østerbro harbouring dreams of success at the forthcoming European Championships in May and possibly even the Worlds in November.

Zhivko Nedelchev moved to Copenhagen at the beginning of 2010. He soon joined DDK, which teaches ‘kyokushin’ karate, which he also trained with in Bulgaria. Being asked to participate in the European Championships has made an impression on the modest Bulgarian black belt. “It is a very big honour for me,” he said. “I already feel part of the kyokushin family in Denmark. I’m looking forward to it.”

If things go as planned, DDK will also be sending fighters to Japan for the World Championships in November. Having all the tournaments spread out from May until November means that the fighters have a long year ahead of them.

“It’s a hard slog – that’s why I train every day,” continued Nedelchev. “But it’s very exciting for me. I’ve wanted to do this for many years, but it was impossible in Bulgaria. I really enjoy the training and I feel that I have found my second family here in Denmark through kyokushin.”

There is no doubt that the competition will be fierce. Top tournament fighters train twice a day, six days a week. “They only take a rest on Sunday,” said Nedelchev. “When they only train once.It is the kyokushin way.”  

The European Championships kick off on May 26 and DDK expects to ship Nedelchev and two other fighters off to Italy to challenge for the European title.

In the meantime, the school is preparing for the annual Beker der Kempen, which takes place in May in the sleepy Belgian town of Beerse. The preparations are already underway in the ‘dojo’ in Østerbro, where the smell of hard work invades the nostrils, if you find yourself entering the dojo too soon after a steamy training session.  

“We’re doing what we can to prepare the fighters physically and mentally for the tournament,” explained Sensei Christina Nielsen, who is in charge of training the tournament fighters. “It’s important as an international tournament can be quite chaotic. The mental aspect shouldn’t be underestimated. It’s rarely the fitness level that lets people down”.

And she knows what she’s talking about. As well as having a European Championship under her belt, she has also fought competitively in countries such as Russia, Japan and the United States.  

DDK expects to send eight fighters to the tournament in Belgium. Half of these fighters will be youngsters making their baptism of fire in the junior category. While among the adults, the school is confident of winning at least one category, although its main goal is simply gaining the international experience such a tournament provides.

“It’s important that they learn something about themselves,” said Nielsen. “The experience can be very rewarding, both physically and mentally. Not just the tournament, but also the training leading up to it. An international tournament is an emotional rollercoaster ride. I want the fighters to be able to use the experience positively in their life when the tournament is over. Then they can bring home the medals next year.”  

DDK will be optimistic after a successful 2011, which culminated with a historic black-belt graduation where 17 of its students were successful. The event ended with an unprecedented spectacle of 390 fights fought by the graduating students on the final day of the test, impressing the many spectators as well as several Japanese representatives, who had flown over from Japan to oversee the graduation.

The karate school has vowed not to rest on its laurels, and the goals for this year have been set: both the European and World Championships are in sight. But for the time being, the sweat-dripping training continues at the dojo in Østerbro.

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