Karate master Paul Lapsley tells sports editor David Oliver about his career, cancer and an exciting new project.
His life reads quite like a film script - except in Paul Lapsley’s case, it’s real.
And though he is taking to the silver screen and currently in the throes of filming a martial arts movie, it’s not one being made about his life. Yet.
Recently, Lapsley has been awarded his fifth Dan in karate, Falkirk sports personality of the year ... and kudos from his director that he’s good enough to “chop Jason Streatham from his action movie pedestal”.
But there’s been much more important victories in the 38-year-old’s story than a simple rise to the pinnacle in sport and a world championship.
He overcame an industrial injury that cost him half a forefinger, the tips of three others and 18 months out of training. Then, there was the cancer, only discovered after a blow to the stomach during a kumite (fighting) competition in Wishaw.
The simple Karate Kid plot-line, Lapsley’s life isn’t.
“I took a dig in the side and collapsed as soon as I came off the mat,” he told The Falkirk Herald as he recalled the incident in 1999. “The next thing I remember my mum found me throwing up on the couch.
“The hospital ran tests and found nothing. There were no broken ribs or anything. It was only a final test - the barium meal - that found out exactly what it was. I had a tumour. It was the size of a watermelon.”
Until two years ago Lapsley didn’t know the tumour had cancerous cells riddled through it. He now sports a ‘U’ curved scar from one side of his ribs to the other.
“My mum said she didn’t want to worry me! I have had no problems since, touch wood. I’ve even gone back to fighting events, though I specialise in kata (technique-based demonstrations). That’s where my world championship came.”
Coming through such an ordeal, and making a success of his karate career is testament to Lapsley’s attitude.
“I’ve had all these things in my life, but karate has stayed constant. In fact it’s getting even better with this film coming up and my students doing so well in their careers.
“And my world championship obviously.
“But the karate is something I’ve always enjoyed since I started. Even with all these things happening it has just made me more determined to keep on doing something I enjoy, and make a success of it.”
As if coming through cancer wasn’t enough, and returning to karate after more than six months out recovering from the major surgery, six years earlier, Lapsley was forced out of karate again - this time through an industrial accident.
“I was using a saw, it was faulty in some way. I ended up cutting the tips of my fingers off. The doctors did a great job saving them, but I lost half of my forefinger.
“I had skin-grafts, vein transplants and all sorts and couldn’t fight for a year and a half. I had to wear a glove and ensure the skin graft wasn’t damaged with the sun, but karate was something I wanted to carry on, because I was close to my black belt at that stage.”
Three years later in 1996 thee black belt finally came for Lapsley, who’s well known around Falkirk not just for his karate exploits.
He’s been general manager, bar manager, doorman of Rosies nightclub, after growing up in Hallglen Primary school and Falkirk High.
“When I was out with my finger injury I also did an HND at Falkirk college in sports and exercise science - that was around the time when I was beginning to take my karate seriously.
“I was still training while I was working at Rosies but the hours weren’t helping either. I decided to go out and start my own clubs with Steven Morris and I haven’t looked back since.”
His karate club has recently upgraded its’ website (www.kobeosakascotland.com) and includes many of his students’ achievements at his various classes.
“I’m getting a lot of satisfaction from seeing how successful my students are at competitions.
“That’s a success, and I’m doing alright too with the world championship and my fifth dan.”
After cancer, and severed fingers karate carried on - and that was the same for Lapsley when he got married last year. Karate was constant. Just days after the ceremony he cut his honeymoon short to fly to the world championships in Kuala Lumpur. After all he’d been through, he returned with the title.
“I plan to keep on competing too. I’ve loved karate from when I first started with Donald Fulton aged seven in the building that’s now Stenhouse school of dance. It’s been constant throughout my life and I love it - but what’s really exciting me at the moment is the film I’m making.”
On his CV Lapsley has some acting experience, back in the days when karate was less intensive.
“I’ve had extra work, and been involved in shows at the Edinburgh festival and was even a body double of a killer on Crimewatch. But this is really exciting me.”
Lapsley is exciting his director Fuinn McGregor too.
“He described me as Jet Lii and Jean Claude Van Damme rolled into one,” Paul proudly declares.
And McGregor does likewise.
“Paul is excellent - a real talent,” he says. “We are filming in Falkirk for the trailer and will take things from there.
“But Jason Statham has had a monopoly of the action and film market for a long time. Paul can chop him down off his pedestal - he’s capable of it.”
Against all the odds it seems unlikely, but after all he’s been through could you really put it past Karate Kid?