Japan not just about business

Tony Clarke (right) takes mentor and karate master Terauchi Sensei out on his Closeburn Station...
Tony Clarke (right) takes mentor and karate master Terauchi Sensei out on his Closeburn Station farm in 2017. Photo: Supplied
Gimmerburn farmer Tony Clarke has developed strong ties to Japan as both a merino supplier and a karate instructor. Adam Burns spoke to the proud Maniototo breeder about how both business and pleasure go together. 

For Maniototo farmer Tony Clarke, having deep-rooted ties to the area is a point of pride.

The Closeburn station in Gimmerburn, which he helms, has been in his family for 97 years.

His farm has been a point of supply for a "life-changing" business relationship abroad.

And it has enabled the 57-year-old to share one of his longtime passions with the local community.

Outside of his toil on the farm, Mr Clarke has been training in karate for nearly 40 years.

It initially served as a pastime during the rugby off-season.

"That's where it started," he said.

Following a morning shift on the Gimmerburn farm Tony Clarke (left) and Matt Larson don the...
Following a morning shift on the Gimmerburn farm Tony Clarke (left) and Matt Larson don the karategi at Mr Clarke's home. Photo: Adam Burns
After nearly four decades, Mr Clarke says the passion has not waned.

"Still training, still loving it, still training with the varsity boys," he said.

Last month, he led an engaging demonstration with a small group of local students at the Maniototo Arts Centre open day in Ranfurly. The exhibition covered exercise, basic form and application.

Mr Clarke runs club nights at Ranfurly's Maniototo Arts Centre every Monday.

A range of children take part in the classes, from "energetic and boisterous kids" who need an outlet to youngsters who are "naturals".

For the Maniototo area, it is just another string to the bow, Mr Clarke says.

"It's a small but vibrant community. It's very important to keep going.

"If we can give these kids the opportunity, they can go anywhere, they can do what they want."

The global reach of the Goju Ryu karate style is something that gives karate enthusiasts ample potential, says Mr Clarke, who is a godan (5th dan).

"That's the cool thing about this, is that it's an international style. Any of these [students] can travel the world and train in any dojo."

Over the years, Mr Clarke has globe-trotted through numerous spots, including attending the gasshuku in South Africa in 1985.

Three years later he spent six months training with long-time friend and mentor Terauchi Sensei in Japan.

Further training expeditions extended to the United States in 1989, further training with Terauchi Sensei in 1989 and 1992, and attending the 2003 Budosai in Okinawa.

Dunedin's Denis Flockton was Mr Clarke's first instructor when he established the Ranfurly karate club in 1979. Mr Clarke would take it over six years later.

Japan plays an important part in Mr Clarke's life - in more ways than one.

He and his wife Rebecca have supplied ultra-fine merino wool to Japanese clothing manufacturer Konaka since 2012.

Konaka produce more than 1.2 million suits a year and has more than 600 stores throughout Asia.

"We supply for their elite line. They take everything we have."

He says his love of karate has informed his business relationships and have become more intertwined over time.

"People have a different form of respect in Japan when you do a martial art. Sometimes you sweat and sometimes you bleed.

"A son of one of my Japanese importers has been out training with me twice and he will train with me whenever I go to Japan."

With such a close tie between business and pastime, he has developed a strong kinship with Japanese culture.

"And that's important for me. I wanted something in which I deal with the Japanese through my business. I love Japan."

During his annual business trips, he "calls in" for a visit with Terauchi Sensei.

"I'm in a lucky situation. Doing business with them and I can still call them friends. You got to like the people you're doing business with."

And the cycle of rugby, karate and business continues for Mr Clarke for the remainder of the year.

He will return to Okinawa, Japan for the International Budosai event in July.

His clients at Konaka have also organised tickets for the business end of the Rugby World Cup as Mr Clarke's home away from home will host the tournament for the first time.

"I'll be going to the semis and final."

His father Gerald Clarke was an Otago rugby selector during the 1960s and '70s and he said "he would be looking down, smiling".

"Not bad for a wee farm boy."

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