Flower of Scotland - IOGKF International remembers Sensei John Lambert


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1956 – 2010





On June 28th, 2010 the IOGKF lost one of its most beloved members. Sensei John Lambert was an IOGKF founding member and chief instructor, but above all he was an incredible source of inspiration, known for his generosity, kindness and welcoming spirit. IOGKF International pays its respects to a man who has stood strong since our beginnings...

Watch the tribute video and photo slide show to Sensei John Lambert below:

Profile on Sensei John Lambert

Sensei John Lambert began his Karate training in 1973 at the Fife institute in Scotland, the same hall his Dojo is still based in today.

He started his training under James Johnstone, along with Sensei Jim Flannigan. The two underwent brutal training; often coming away a bit worse for wear, but over time their abilities grew to the point where they became stronger and more advanced than their own instructor.

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In 1979 the Sensei John travelled to Poole in England to train with World renowned Karate Master, Sensei Morio Higaonna. At this event, the first ever IOGKF International Gasshuku, Higaonna Sensei founded the IOGKF. During this time, Sensei John Lambert was made the chief instructor of IOGKF Scotland and he formed the Scottish Goju-ryu Karate-do Association (SGKA) with Sensei Flannigan.

Sensei John Lambert is one of only a few persons who is an IOGKF founding chief instructor. He has been with the IOGKF since its humble beginnings and has supported Higaonna Sensei for over 31 years.

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In 1991 his brother, Sensei David Lambert snr, was promoted to chief instructor of IOGKF Australia. This is the only time in the IOGKF two members of the same family have both been chief instructors of countries in both the Northern and Southern hemisphere.

When his brother passed in 2000, he travelled to Australia with Higaonna Sensei and also attended the 2000 World Chief instructors Gasshuku in Cairns. In 2002 he attended and taught an Australian National Gasshuku.

Over his 31+ years in the IOGKF Sensei John Lambert travelled to England, Spain, Portugal, Sweden, Belgium, Italy, New Zealand, Australia, America, Japan, Okinawa and South Africa - just to name a few.

He is well known for his lively personality and cheeky wit, along with being the IOGKF’s favourite singer.

Hear Sensei John’s wonderful singing highlights from many Sayonara parties below:

Sensei John also committed much of his time to the Olympiad program, where he would often travel abroad with local sportsmen & women as a mentor and coach, when they competed against opponents from other countries.

He was an avid family man being married to Sandra for over 30 years and fathering two beautiful children, Pauline and Iain – who are now both grown up.

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Along with being Chief instructor of IOGKF Scotland and president of the SGKA, he became quite a support to many instructors of IOGKF Australia. To this day he still remains chief advisor to his brother’s Dojo in Goulburn, NSW, where his nephew still continues to teach as its head instructor.

He has many IOGKF friends around the World who all acknowledge him as a great person and a good Karate-ka.

IOGKF Scotland Promotional Video – featuring Sensei John Lambert


This is a fantastic eulogy that captures the spirit of Sensei John Lambert perfectly. Included are some of the classic stories which made Sensei Lambert so popular amongst IOGKF members around the world…

As read by Sensei Jim Flannigan, SGKA Co-founder

Good afternoon Ladies and Gentlemen. Welcome to the celebration of the life of John Lambert.

John was born in Kirkcaldy on 15th March 1956, to Molly and John, the eldest of four children, brother to Elizabeth, David and James. The family grew up in Hill Street Lochgelly, an area affectionately known as ‘The Happy Lands’. In common with many Fifers during the 60’s and 70’s, the family endured a ‘basic’ upbringing with few home comforts. John often spoke of the many occasions when bread and dripping was the only thing on the menu, and wellies were worn all year round.

He also joked about the times the family had to switch the light off and keep quiet when the ‘Provy’ man called.

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Sensei David Lambert (Left) and Sensei John Lambert (Right)

I would like to mention at this point that John instructed that his Eulogy should not be too dour and should leave everyone with a wee smile on their faces. He also said he would be listening! With that in mind...

The local Primary school was St. Patricks, and being educated by Nuns was ‘strict’ to say the least, minor misdemeanours were met with swift and painful retribution at the hand of the Sisters of Mercy, the infamous Lochgelly Tawse, or a ruler across the knuckles being the weapons of choice. He reckoned it was probably best not to mess with the sisters and managed to progress from milk monitor to become P.A. to Sister Apolinus who had taken a bit of a shine to him. Like a trustee in jail, he was allowed access to the stationery store. It was there that he discovered where the good Sister kept her secret stash of Embassy coupons and he would liberate a few now and then to trade in for sweets ‘doon the toon’ at the weekend. Sister Apolinus eventually cottoned on, and didn’t believe John’s story that mice had eaten them.

His career as teacher’s pet lay in tatters, pleas for clemency as a first offender fell on deaf ears, as he was reduced to the ranks, spending the next month picking up litter at playtimes. Poor Sister Apolinus never did manage to save enough coupons for the fondue set she had always dreamed of.

The mandatory three years at St. Columbus High followed, with John leaving at 15 to begin work as an apprentice plumber at Rosyth Naval Dockyard. His claim to fame being that he fixed Prince Charles’s wash hand basin when HRH was stationed there during his Navy days. Charles walked in to find John under the sink and being taken aback, John forgot royal protocol and only managed to blurt out “Ya aw righ”, Charles replied “have you fixed one’s leak?”

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An opportunity, too good to miss, arose when he was given the chance to attend a trial commercial diving course. John reckoned this would be exciting and had to be better than clearing drains. Looking like an extra from Jules Verne’s 20,000 leagues under the sea, complete with brass diving helmet and lead boots, he was dropped into the murky depths of Rosyth harbour, the mission being to assemble a large mechanical valve. In near zero visibility after negotiating his way round several MOT failures, he stepped into a huge hole several meters deep. As he plummeted downwards, John discovered that adrenaline was brown and within the confines of a diving suit a most unpleasant experience. His short career as Fife’s answer to Jacques Costeau was over.

John met Sandra at the Karate class when Sandra, a keen Badminton player, decided to try something different, best move she ever made…so John often told her. They married on 29th October 1977, setting up home in Tantallon Court, Pitteuchar.  John left the Dockyard in 1979 to join the Water board as an inspector. The marriage was blessed with the arrival of Pauline in 1980 and Iain in 1984. A 29 year career with the water authority saw John rise to the position of Network Analyst, taking early retirement in 2006. The family set up home in a splendid new house in Woods Drive, Glenrothes. As we all know he wasn’t one for sitting around and held two consultancy posts with several companies. He even managed a working trip to the Isle of Skye a few short months ago.

We all know that this man was always there for everyone, more than willing to help those in need, and I am aware that there were indeed many occasions where John came to the rescue of people who found themselves in predicaments due to the vagaries of water regulations. One example being a young family who were the victims of a bogus workman; resulting in sewage back-flowing beneath their house. By carefully wording the report John ensured that the water authority footed the repair bill, thereby saving a young family from taking a severe financial hit. This was typical of the man.

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Sensei John Lambert, first row, second from right.

As I said earlier, John wants you all to raise a smile and so I would like to reflect upon some of the lighter moments during his training career. My earliest memory of John is when he walked into the Glenrothes Sports Centre in 1973 en-route to the Karate class, resplendent in the garb of young fashionistas at the time; Crombie coat, Levi Stay-Press trousers rolled up to half mast to display ox blood red Dock Marten boots, with immaculately bulled toe caps. We had style in those days!

John’s nickname was ‘Bally High’ bestowed upon him by our instructor due to the fact that he had top billing in the Lochgelly Amateur Musical Society’s production of South Pacific.

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Sensei John Lambert, first from left.

Training was tough in the early 70’s with lack of technical ability being replaced with sheer brutality. Joining the class was akin to joining an elite army regiment; you had to prove you were tough, but had probably to be a bit daft at the same time. In those pre health and safety days, we enjoyed such delights as diving over an upright piano headfirst onto a floor without crash mats. A good break-fall technique was essential. 

Any perceived act of insubordination resulted in the offender receiving the ‘treatment’ at the hands (and feet) of our instructor. Taking the blows eventually endeared me and Bally High to the sadist running the class and we earned the dubious honour of being official stooges to our master. We became adept at flipping, spinning and break-falling our way through many demonstrations, enhancing the instructors reputation. Unfortunately when he tried the same moves on older, non compliant students, the result was less than eloquent with some poor bloke screaming and crashing to the floor in a heap.

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By 1980 we had become tired of being human punch bags and decided to set off on our own, founding the Scottish Goju-Ryu Karate Association (SGKA). John had attended the inaugural training course of the International Okinawan Goju-Ryu Karate-do Federation in Poole, Dorset the year before. It was there that he became friends with a certain Mr. Kato, who was ‘Sempai’, or number one student of Sensei Higaonna, the world’s chief instructor. Kato enjoyed the occasional smoke - a secret he had to keep from Sensei Higaonna.

Whilst on a bus, Kato indicated that he would like a puff and began reaching for his cigarettes, John, always quick to spot a potential laugh, stopped him saying “No Kato San, in this country you must ask permission first, press that button on the roof”! “Ah, Hai!” replied Kato, ding ding! A bemused clippie arrived to be greeted with a Japanese bloke grinning from ear to ear cigarette in one hand and lighter in the other saying “smokey smokey, yes?” Karate exponent or not, the clippie tore a strip of Kato, walking off muttering “Bloody tourists”.

In 1980 we all attended the first European training camp in Alicante, Spain. John’s brother Dave took his Shodan (black belt) examination at this time; I will speak more of Dave later.

The course was memorable, not least as the Spanish served contaminated food at the Sayonara Party, resulting in everyone being violently ill. On the return flight, sick bags quickly filled up and the cabin crew hinted that they were considering having us quarantined at Heathrow.

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John was a great impressionist; often doing passable take off’s of the senior instructors. During a training camp in Spokane Washington, hosted by Teuro Chinnen, an Okinawan resident in the USA, a group of Portuguese students had been following Chinnen around in a constant state of adoration. John decided there had to be comedy mileage in this and telephoned the room of the Portuguese contingent one evening, and, using his Mr.Chinnen voice, informed them that they had been selected for special training, and they were to come to Chinnen’s room at 5a.m. sharp the following morning. They obviously did as instructed; we know that as we saw them scrubbing the sports hall toilets every evening after training!

As part of the Scottish Cultural and diplomatic delegation (not!) we had many light hearted moments mainly at the expense of innocent people who were simply interested in all things Scottish, particularly Americans, keen to learn about kilts, haggis and pipe bands. After a few drinks at a Sayonara party in San Marcos, California, we took great delight in telling anyone who would listen that we were both direct descendents of Rob Roy MacGregor and William Wallace respectively, not being a Wallace or MacGregor didn’t seem to be a problem!

John’s Linguistic skills extended far beyond impersonations, he never had any problems communicating with anyone, no matter where we were. During a training camp in Quimper, France we were trying get some info from someone. “No problem, leave it to me” said John. “Bonjouir, je mapele John”, we were impressed.

“What time iz zee bus leeving for zee training!” I asked if was auditioning for ‘Allo Allo’.

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One of John’s favourite techniques was an ‘ashi barai’ or leg sweep, which he put to good use during the grading test in Okinawa in ’91. A loud smack was followed by a thud as John swept the feet away from a high ranking Japanese gentleman, dumping him on his back side. Losing face is never a good thing for the Japanese especially on home turf and said gentleman thereafter vented his frustration during following bouts on the rest of us.

Following the Gashuku, we toured the mainland and had an interesting experience on the Bullett train, one that John would often laugh about. We had cut it a bit fine, and were running along the platform of Kyoto train station; John as usual was leading from the front and jumped on the train. Immediately the doors shut leaving him inside and us outside. We shouted through the thick glass doors, “Press the button”, “I can’t see the button” said john, just then the trained pulled away. I’ll never forget the look on his face as he sped off on his Jack Jones. The moment of shock quickly gave way to us splitting our sides laughing, a wee Japanese porter who witnessed the event joined in. We met up a couple of hours later in Tokyo.

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John was pre-deceased by his brother David who sadly passed away in 2000. David was the Chief instructor of Australia; this was a unique situation having two brothers as country chief instructors. We met up with Dave on many Gasshuku’s over the years, including in Japan and South Africa. John also travelled to Australia and New Zealand on several occasions to teach and train with Dave.

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L-R: Sensei John Lambert, Sensei Jim Flannigan & Sensei David Lambert snr.

John’s other great passion was cookery, he regularly attended courses at T.V. Chef,  Nick Nairn’s Cook school, so many in fact that he and Nick Nairn became friends, and John became an accomplished Chef. Those of us fortunate enough to sample his culinary delights will definitely vouch for his skills in the kitchen.

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John very much played down the severity of his illness and was determined to attend Pauline’s wedding to new son in law Mr. Ian Horne. I know John very much approved of Pauline’s choice of husband and having such a fine young man to look after his daughter certainly gave John great solace. John had to spend time in hospital prior to the wedding, being discharged shortly before the big day. Medical staff had issued him with a zimmer frame as he was in great pain, which affected his mobility. However the zimmer was thrown into touch prior to the photo shoot, and John walked Pauline un-aided down the aisle, one of his proudest moments. He even managed a dance during the reception.

As we all know John was heavily involved in various community projects somehow finding time to assist with the Glenrothes Road Running Festival, being a committee member and having responsibility for course layout as well as radio communications. He also attended many Twin Towns Olympiad’s, affording young Fifer’s the opportunity to compete in a sporting environment with their European Counterparts.

Spending time with John during his final days was a bitter sweet experience, it gave us all a chance to say goodbye, for John to make his last wishes known, and to hear him still cracking jokes. It’s difficult to know what to say to someone in that position who you have known for over 37 years and shared so many experiences with. John’s outlook was philosophical, “When your number up, your numbers up” he said, telling me not to get upset and to make sure to tell a couple of funny stories during the Eulogy.

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John fought the fight with tremendous strength, courage and dignity. Medical staff commented that they had never witnessed anyone fighting for so long against this dreadful disease. I think the grim reaper had tried to collect John a couple of times, but had probably received an ashi barai thereby delaying departure.

Sandra and family would like to thank you all for attending today, the tremendous turn out speaks volumes, and reflects the high esteem in which John is held. Many thanks for your support during John’s illness, and your kind messages of condolence. Special thanks to the McMillan nurses, and Doctor John Galloway who’s service reached far above and beyond the call of duty, often attending in his own time during evenings and at weekends. Particular thanks to Kenny Morrison and Gary Adams, John’s black belt students who have taught John’s classes so professionally, ensuring his legacy and teaching ideology lives on through the practice of traditional Okinawan Goju-Ryu.

Thanks to all the Karate-Ka from around the world who have sent so many kind messages of support to Sandra and family, including world Chief Instructor, Sensei Morio Higaonna.

John’s family would like to extend an invitation to you all to attend with them at the Laurel Bank Hotel Markinch for light refreshments.

Okinawan Goju-Ryu is inextricably linked with far eastern philosophy and has eight precepts as its basis. Ultimately ‘Gokui’, perfection and eternal peace is sought. I know that John has achieved ‘Gokui’.

In closing I would simply like to say that that John Lambert 5th Dan Okinawan Goju-Ryu, was a great friend, and good, hard working, honest man, always there for anyone who needed help. Surely there can be no finer epitaph. God bless John.

Poem for Sensei John Lambert

By: David John Lambert – IOGKF International Editor

So here we are days later and things are starting to sink,

It’s made me take the time to sit down and think.

I remember all the good times and the things you said to me

The advice, the lectures and how it was all put so simply.

‘Hello, how you doing?’ over the patchy telephone you’d say,

I would give anything to hear that again, name your price, I’ll pay.

I think often of all the time we spent together,

The many memories that will linger in my heart forever.

Of Uncle John and his cheeky wit,

Who would crack a thousand jokes while we’d all sit.

Of the powerful teacher in Sensei Jock,

Who gave me more than a few punches and a wrist lock.

I remember the man who was proud and strong,

And never seemed do anything wrong.

That raised the most amazing children with the most incredible wife,

Who enriched you dearly throughout all the days of your life.

I once remember you say,

We all have to go one day.

But having to let you go,

Has really hurt us so.

But God needed you back in his kingdom this summer season,

I’m not quite sure why but I know it’s for an important reason.

So here we are days later and things are starting to sink,

And I’ve now just taken the time to sit down and think.

For all the years that will come and go never, ever will we forget,

Our Dad, brother, uncle, teacher who it was our honour to have met.

Go now blessed soul and look in on us from time to time,

My dearest mentor and friend, that Uncle John of mine.

A few words from David John Lambert

Once again I would like to thank everyone who took the time to send messages of condolence to Sensei John’s family and I in the last few months. Indeed it is tragic that a man of 54, with so much still to give, has given enough and had to leave us sooner than we’d all like.

As has been said countless times since his passing, Sensei John’s fun loving and cheeky character is something that will remain with many forever. His long involvement in the IOGKF has seen him experience so many wonderful adventures, with so many wonderful people – these will also stay with many of us forever.

I remember little things, like he and Eric Higaonna having to climb into Sensei Roy’s boot/trunk because we had full car! The funny thing is that when Sensei John suggested the idea and climbed on in, no body looked at it as strange because that was just him in a nutshell. He often said to me when I would do something that seemed strange to him, ‘ah, you can take the boy out of Australia, but you can’t take the Australia out of the boy”! I think the same definitely applied to him and Scotland, he really embodied the character of the cheery Scotsman who we have all come to love.

His technical knowledge was really, and still is to me, quite astounding and I feel many really had no idea how good he was. He was never out to push his case, wasn’t interested in achieving high grades, all he wanted was to be the best he could be. From all the time I have spent training with him in Scotland, I never wrote down one note. Everything was committed to memory and still is.

His proudest moment by far and I have to say my proudest moment of him too, would have to be his daughter, Pauline’s wedding. The last time I ever spoke to Sensei John was on the phone, 3 days before the wedding, after he had just be discharged from hospital. He sounded so weak and told me that getting to the wedding was proving to be harder than he thought. I remember sitting in shock for a good hour after that phone call and I honestly thought to myself I don’t think he is going to make that wedding.

I was stupid to underestimate him. Sensei John remained for over 10 hours at the wedding, walking his daughter down the aisle, un-aided, giving a speech that brought the house down and even squeezed in a dance at the reception. What a tribute to his daughter, but also what a tribute to his determined character.

No one can fill his shoes and there will never be another person like Sensei John Lambert in this organisation. But, I can take away with me his generosity, approachability and technical knowledge and do my best to keep them alive. I hope I can do him justice.

David John Lambert