Branco Bratich did not start studying karate to learn self-defence or become tougher. His introduction to martial arts was by accident. At 22 years of age a friend of Branco’s wanted to study martial arts.
Branco’s interest was casual. Only he did not realise at the time how completely it would dominate his life.
His introduction to karate started in 1973 at Jujutsu Kan, Perth. It was more of a social interest than any serious commitment to the martial arts. His initial interest was karate closely followed by jujutsu. He found the training enjoyable but not physically demanding. In later years Branco realised that the jujutsu training made it easier for him to understand and appreciate the “bunkai” of kata.
After two years training, Jan de Jong, founder of Jujutsu Kan, approached Branco about teaching karate and Branco accepted, becoming increasingly aware of his great enjoyment of teaching karate even though he felt his knowledge was limited.
In 1974 Jan de Jong invited Sensei Yoshiaki Unno to Perth from the Yoseikan-Budo Hombu dojo in Japan.
Thirty Jujutsu Kan instructors and senior students were invited to his first karate training session. At the end of six weeks only five participants were left. Branco was one of them. He easily adapted to the repetitious hard training.
Many students quit finding that they were unable to meet the training demands of
Sensei Unno. In particular he stated that none of them could punch properly. Sensei Unno insisted that his students punch until they got it right. A simple solution.
Sensei Unno taught six days a week for Jan de Jong. Wherever Sensei Unno taught, Branco was there to assist and learn. It was under Unno Sensei that Branco first studied kobudo and aikido and dabbled in judo.
Branco passed his 1st Dan in karate March 1976. Sensei Unno felt that to gain credibility for the newly introduced style he had to make sure that his first two black belts proved beyond any doubt that they were worthy. In his mind the only way to do that was to make his first Australian black belts better than the others.
With this in mind, Sensei Unno graded Branco and Steven Weir over a full week. It required superb kata, perfect basics and too many fights to remember. Injury was not considered an excuse to stop fighting. Branco remembered getting his finger dislocated twice in the same fight. The fight was stopped just long enough to stick it back in the socket.
Sensei Unno had also promised all the students that he would present his personal black belt to the most deserving student. This goal more than any other drove Branco to train hard. It was not uncommon for Branco to do 1500 kicks in a single training session. Looking back we all realise that quality rather than quantity is the key training issue.
The hard training was more about mental strength. Branco constantly drove himself to the limit of his endurance, determined to prove to Unno Sensei that he deserved the coveted black belt. He must have impressed Unno Sensei because he was presented with his black belt after his successful 1st Dan grading.
It was in the latter part of 1976 that Sensei Unno opened his own Yoseikan Budo dojo in William St Perth. It was a small dojo. The training was still rigorous. It was surprising that any student would let them self be subjected to the brutal kumite training that was done in those days. However they did! Tony Smith survived the tough training and is currently a 5th Dan with Yoseikan-Ryu Karate. Perhaps Yoseikan students were not technically the best in those days. They did have courage and perseverance.
Branco taught and trained at the new dojo six days a week from 1975 to 1978. He also held a full time job. On reflection it is amazing that Branco’s wife, Nives, stayed with him.
It was also in 1975 when he went as a spectator to his first Australian Karate Federation National Championship. There was only one division, the open division. In those days the coaches could dispute every decision the referee made and they often did. It was a spectator’s nightmare. It was surprising that this did not put Branco off tournaments for life.
In 1977 when he was twenty- eight years old Branco entered his first tournament at the invitation of Sensei Kyoshin Kayo, Chief Instructor of Shobukan. To this day Branco rates this as the most violent tournament he has ever entered. Competitors were not safety conscious in those days. Generally mouth guards were considered a sign of weakness. Losing teeth was not uncommon. Competitors lost teeth, were knocked unconscious or ended up needing stitches. It was also in 1977 that Branco was graded to 2nd Dan.