Dean was 15 years old when he decided to hang up the spurred boots in favour of karate, which he says meant more to him. Dean explains it was karate's potential for longevity that helped him make his final decision. "Karate is a genuine lifestyle that takes you down different paths. With Rugby League your playing time is limited; you get to a certain age and it becomes time to retire. With karate you can go on a lot longer, to a relatively old age."
While Dean admits he still absolutely loves Rugby League, he remains happy with the decision he made all of those years ago. "I really get a huge kick out of being in a position whereby I can hand down all the knowledge I have received from my senseis to my own students." Dean especially enjoys sharing his knowledge and skills with the youngsters who train at his dojo. "(It's important that) they can learn to defend themselves if need be. Karate also allows them to build their own self-confidence, self-esteem and character. I get great pleasure knowing in some small way I help guide their future," he says.
While guiding the younger members of his club, Dean and his senseis Alex Pereda, Anthony Ryan and David North of Go-Kan-Ryu Karate in Sydney have been working for many years towards his own future and his own success. As a result of their cumulative efforts, Dean defeated Delio Senatore of Seishin Ryu Karate-do Qld in the NAS Champion of Champions event held in December last year. Dean admits it was no mean feat. "(Delio had) very quick hands and feet, and was also a very aggressive walk-up type of fighter — very talented," he says.
This is a compliment not to be scoffed at, as over the years Dean has sparred his fair share of the NAS field's top competitors. "I have competed on the NAS circuit from the time I was 12 years of age. So over that time I've competed in around 72 tournaments," he says.
As a member of Go-Kan-Ryu's State Team, competition karate is a significant focus for Dean, as well as for the other members of the team. "The sole reason our club is so successful is because you are encouraged to compete and have a real good go at it! Winning is not the focus but to just turn up and compete with your team-mates and support each other — that's what our club is about," he says.
Sensei Alex Pereda explains why he encourages his students to compete in karate: "Besides developing great sportsmanship, I believe that competitive karate gives us a great opportunity to overcome the biggest obstacle: ourselves. The competitive environment stimulates us to set benchmarks and targets, but it is our own inner demons that we have to face. It is different for everyone... It is a real challenge to know yourself well enough before you can conquer any bigger milestones."
Indeed, Dean agrees that there is more than simply a trophy to be taken away from any given tournament. "First and foremost, you get to meet a lot of different people from all walks of life," he says. "You also get to test yourself and the style of karate that you practise against all different forms of martial arts, and you keep learning all the time, which for me is the most enjoyable [aspect of competition]."
Being such a frequent competitor, Dean follows a rigorous and comprehensive training regime. "Sunday to Tuesday is all karate, sparring and kata," Dean explains. "Wednesday to Saturday involves lots of gym work such as weights and cardio for strength and conditioning." With such a training regime in place, there was little need for Dean to undertake any additional training before the recent NAS tournament. "Training for me is a way of life. I train regardless of whether there is a tournament coming up or not; I find by doing that you are always ready," he says.
As prepared as he was physically, this Champion of Champions had to make sure his mind was as strong as his body during the recent tournament. "The biggest challenge for me was just to keep calm and focus on the job at hand. I was just focusing on what I could control within myself, as everything else was out of my control," he explains. With that simple goal in mind, Dean Gould stepped onto the mat in front of the many eager spectators determined to, first of all, respect his opponent, and second, to treat every fight like it was the Champion of Champions final. This is the attitude that got him through six bouts to the final.
The match between Dean and Delio was a close one, neither competitor letting the other gain an inch. It was finished by Dean's fighting spirit, and a few back-kicks thrown in for good measure. As Dean's sensei, Alex Pereda can identify some of the qualities that helped take his student to the top. "From day one, Dean was open to feedback. He had great natural talent, but his determination to keep moving up to the next level meant that he had to rely on more than just talent. His competitive nature pushed him to excel and to keep trying to get better. He has had a great support network around him and has learned to use that very well."
Of course, any great support network starts with the teachers, in this case Senseis Pereda, Ryan, and North. "All of these people are champions in their own right. I could not go wrong in confiding in them," Dean says.
When asked to share some of his senseis' success stories, Dean says there are simply too many to mention. "I guess you could say I'm one of their success stories, but in saying that, I'm just one of many students who have found success. You would only have to go back through NAS records to see how many 'Champions of Champions' GKR has had, both male and female."
As well as seeking tips and training from his senseis, Dean turns to his peers for their knowledge and experience. "I have to mention Lachlan Carr. If there is a person within our club that keeps me on my toes, it is Lachlan. He is so talented and in every way a complete martial artist. I consider myself very lucky to have him in our club!"
While there is a healthy competitive culture at Go-Kan-Ryu Karate, Dean finds plenty of inspiration at home as well. Although he is the only one in his family who practises karate, Dean's parents both have strong sporting interests. "Dad is a real footy-head; he just lives and breathes Rugby League. Mum loves to play ten-pin bowling and she's had some success over the years too," Dean says.
As well as setting examples for their son to follow, Dean says he is able to rely on his parents for support and encouragement. "Mum and Dad have always been there for me, win or lose. They never, ever pressured me to succeed, just to compete and give 100 per cent all the time!"
Having taken his fair share of advice over the years from parents, senseis and teammates, Dean is now in a position to offer some advice of his own. Following his recent success in the NAS, he has a few secrets to share with those aspiring to be future Champions of Champions. "Train very hard, keep your focus, never, ever give up and learn from each loss that you have, because there are just as many losses as wins along the way! In addition, when you become successful, that is when you have to train even harder, because I can assure you there is always a greater challenge just around the corner."
Practising what he preaches, Dean is gearing up for some more challenges ahead. First on the agenda is the GKR World Cup, for which he will be jetting off to England later this year. In addition, Dean plans to compete in a number of AKF tournaments and the upcoming Goju Ryu Nationals, and of course he intends to defend his National All Styles title. As if that workload is not heavy enough, Dean plans to step right outside of his comfort zone when he "has a crack at kickboxing" at the end of this year.
Dean is confident his karate skills will help him in his new venture; however, he realises at the same time that the ring can be a completely different animal to the dojo. "I have a lot of different training to do; it's a completely different ball game but time will tell, I guess."
Having moved from Rugby League into karate, and now trying kickboxing as well, it seems the champ is always on the lookout for a new mountain to climb. "I just want to test myself in other areas... I may get my backside kicked and I may not, but I won't die wondering," he says.
As for what lies ahead in the dojo, Sensei Pereda has a few of his own predictions for his student's future. "There is no doubt that Dean is an outstanding athlete. I believe that Dean's challenge will lie in confirming himself as a complete karateka. We are looking for Dean to carry on his drive as a competitive student, but also to allow that commitment to show the way for our juniors, whilst being an upstanding citizen and role model. His journey will be a lot more mental and somewhat spiritual from here on in."
There appears to be no doubt that Dean is up to the challenge, as his 'can do' attitude keeps him moving ever forward. Whether it's at the next AKF event, a kickboxing fight-night or the NAS Australian Championships later this year, keep your eyes peeled for this Champion of Champions.
Tips from a champion
Dean, what's the most important element in your style of fighting — speed, power, evasiveness or accuracy?
If you asked me a few years ago I would have chosen one or two specifically. Once upon a time I would have said (in terms of winning NAS) speed and timing. But over time you become well-rounded. You realise every aspect is equally important. I look at every element and want to be 10/10 at it. I don't want to fit myself into one category such as 'quick' or 'a counter-attack specialist', etc. I aim to be the most evasive person in my division, equally, the fastest, the one with the best timing, the most unpredictable, the best kicker, the best striker, the best attacker, the best defender, the best at takedowns, etc. Michael Jordan was famous for his driving to the basket but those who know basketball know he was the best in every single aspect of the game. I'm not saying that is me in martial arts. I'm just saying that is what I aim to be. And working towards that keeps me motivated. At the end of the day, however, all those things aside, Bruce Lee was correct when he said that timing and distance are the two most important elements of combat.
Consistency is the key for becoming good at anything, but can be difficult to achieve with work and other commitments intruding. What tips do you have for maintaining the necessary balance in your life and training?
Last year I started my own business. Anyone who has started their own business knows the hours needed to get it off the ground are astronomical. Funny that the same year I worked my tush off getting my business off the ground is the same year I would win NAS and make the finals in Japan at the JKF Nationals. It almost didn't make sense! It all comes down to making decisions about what you want in life. I sat down and thought about what I wanted to achieve in my career and karate. I understood the commitments involved for both and still made the decision to commit to both. Once you make the decision the rest is easy; you simplymake time! A great example is just last weekend: I wanted to attend a 10.30am-to-4.30pm seminar run by WKF Champion Wayne Otto, but I had work to do as well. The solution was that I work on someone's car at 5.30am, which would give me the few hours needed to complete my work and then get to the seminar. When you make a real decision about what you want in life, the excuses fall away. It's when people don't decide that they see a road full of obstacles.
How do you prepare mentally for a bout, especially when you don't know your opponent?
There are many possible answers to this question so I will give you a few. Firstly, it goes without saying that unless you draw an unknown fighter first round, you get the opportunity to watch your competition when they're on the mat. But ultimately, whether I know them or not, I mentally prepare the same way. In the end, it's about you. You can't control your opponent but you can control yourself — your timing, your distance, your state of mind, your strategy, etc. You can throw fakes to try to uncover their tactics but ultimately if you are on your game (mentally and physically) you should feel confident in your chances. Martial arts teaches us to be adaptable, so while you may come up against an unknown fighter, within the first 30 seconds you should be able to identify their strengths and devise a plan to take them away from those strengths, and equally, identify their weaknesses and devise a plan to exploit those weaknesses.
I generally listen to music to keep myself pumped up and visualise myself executing my strategy to perfection.