Yvonne Bignall coaches and trains women to live healthier authentic lives, designs and delivers effective workshops in everyday interpersonal skills, engages with global training organisations offering interpersonal skills facilitation, is a personal fitness trainer, bestselling author and, oh yes; she runs a radio show. That show is the Women’s Power Hour for which this interview was conducted. The Women’s Power Hour is designed to inspire confidence and unlock the potential of women (and I would recommend it to any ladies reading this).
The subject of my particular interview was of course, women’s self defence.
Please bear in mind that this interview was geared to the general public not to martial artists, so it won’t be in the same depth and detail as many other articles and interviews on this website. Yvonne has never practised martial arts herself, but she is a former bodybuilder and Miss Universe contender, so she knows what it is to train as an international level athlete. However, it’s included here for your general interest and I hope you enjoy it!
I first met and befriended Daren Sims, 5th Dan Aikido and 1st Dan Combat Ju Jutsu in 2010, when I was organising a multi-style martial arts festival. It was to raise funds for 2 charities that had helped my and my family through some particularly difficult times. I selected 12 different martial art schools who had about 15 minutes each to demonstrate their system. Daren was the contact point and organiser of the Aikido section. During the build up to the event, I visited most of the participating schools to have see how their preparations were going. Daren’s Aikido team where so well organised, dynamic and impressive; that I put them on first. I wanted to start on a high note and get the audience excited from the beginning. He was also very supportive of the whole event from start to finish.
I’ve had the privilege of doing this interview with Master Colin Wee, 6th Dan, who has his own unique and practical approach to Taekwondo. He first come to my attention as a fellow blogger and has organised some blogging carnivals that I’ve taken part in. As well as being a great martial artist, he’s a natural leader and communicator; co-ordinating projects and organisations around the world.
He’s also opened minded to other styles and like the best martial artists is happy to learn from anybody who has something to teach, not just ring-fencing his style and shutting the others out. He’s equally happy to share his knowledge in an open and friendly manner without any ego. So I was very happy when he accepted my invitation to do an interview with me. His answers are quite detailed as Colin typically likes to give his best to whoever he is dealing with, be it a reader or student and it makes very interesting reading.
I first got to know Mark Winkler back in 2010 when I was organising a charity martial arts festival. I had 12 styles have about 15 minutes each to demonstrate their style and we raised about £2000 for charity. Along with the usual well known martial arts, Karate, Kung Fu, Taekwondo etc; I wanted some arts that were less well known and not necessarily from Eastern Asia! My search lead me to Mark Winkler and the Russian martial art of Systema, which up to that point I’d never heard of before.
I found Mark to be a very knowledgeable martial artist. Before turning to Systema, he was a 6th Dan Karate. Very few people get to that high level, then change styles. Take up a second style maybe, but seldom do they change altogether. So I was intrigued about this Systema and what a man such as Mark had seen in it; especially as he has over 40 years training and has worked in the security field so has real life experience. In short, he knows Continue reading “Interview With Mark Winkler, Systema Teacher & Self Protection Expert” »
Andi Kidd is one of the most practical minded Karateka that I know. He runs the Genjitsu Karate Kai, is an author and runs seminars all over the country. Like many of us in traditional martial arts, he had many doubts about the practicality of what he was being taught, so he sought out teachers to fill the gaps. He has trained with some of the top names in the Karate World as well as some of the top experts in reality based martial arts and the psychology of violence outside of Karate. He has re-structured his own training and the syllabus that he teaches, gearing it real life self protection rather than sport or simply to preserve tradition that he did not feel serve any practical purpose (from a self protection point of view).
Iain Abernethy who is world renowned Bunkai expert and author of numerous books and DVD’s, said of Andi: “Andi Kidd is one of the most impressive bunkai teachers I have worked with. His ceaseless exploration of the pragmatic aspects of our tradition have seen him develop a way of approaching kata that is very holistic. Andi is not one to be trapped by dogma, but instead he questions deeply and it is this approach that ensures what he teaches is always focused on the core traditional values of functionality and practicality. It’s not just Andi’s material that sets him apart, it’s also the way in which he delivers that material. Andi is a warm and humorous guy who is able to effectively communicate his thinking. I highly recommend Andi to anyone who wants to practise karate in an logical and open-minded way”.
Andi has recently had his first book published, From Shotokan To The Street. Don’t let the title put you of if you’re not a Shotokan practitioner as it is aimed at helping like minded martial artists of any style who may be interested in making their training more practical.
I asked Andi if he’d do an interview with me and he accepted. The interview, like his book and the rest of his teachings are thought provoking, humorous and honest. So here we go:-
CW: Andi, you have over 25 years experience in the martial arts, was Shotokan Karate your first style? Or did you dabble with other styles first (before you saw the light)?
AK: I first started martial arts training with a friend of a friend who did Lau Gar. We trained in my mum and dad’s front room and had to move the furniture for sparring. We did stupid things like hit the focus mitts till our knuckles bled, you know stupid stuff that young people do that makes them think they are training hard! Then at college my friend said we should start a club and we did, he found a local instructor who would come in, I had no idea what the style was or anything, it just happened to be Shotokan. People generally fall into their martial arts style by luck, beginners don’t know enough about the subject to make an informed choice and that is why instructors need to be honest about what they are teaching.
CW: Since you’ve started Shotokan Karate, what other traditional martial arts have you practiced and how have they influenced your approach to training and teaching Karate?
AK: Practiced or dabbled? There is a huge difference. I have had a few lessons or seminars with a whole host of other arts. The only two that I have played with for more than a year, other than karate of course, are judo and kobujutsu. Judo is obvious, it gave me a much better appreciation of throwing and groundwork. The biggest lesson on the floor was to relax, this really helped! Kobujutsu was fun and helped with my hips, which was interesting after so many years of karate.
Everything I have done has aided my appreciation of karate, you see the same things through a different lens and some things that karate-ka feel are advanced are much more basic in other styles. Having seen some other styles punch, they may well feel the same way. Most of all, training in other styles can be fun and training needs to be fun!
CW: I agree, I’ve trained a few other styles as well and I always feel that I learn more about my Karate from doing so.
From talking to you and from your book, you obviously had serious doubts about the way mainstream Karate was being taught with regard to real world self protection. However, something made you stick with Karate and not give up or change style as so many others have done in order to find “the truth” elsewhere. So what is it about Shotokan that made you stay and stick with it for all those earlier years despite the lingering doubts?
AK: Good question. The early years I figured I didn’t know enough to make a decision so I plugged away assuming that the secrets would come to me eventually. Plus I knew and knew of a lot of karate people who could fight, so it had to work, right? I am also stubborn. Maybe I should have given up and moved on, but I thought there had to be something in it. When I came close I had my own club and I felt guilty about bailing out on them, so I stuck it out. This went on through a couple of cycles!
CW: Can you tell us more specifically what your doubts were about the mainstream approach? I know you could write a whole book on this subject (and you have), but could you give us a summary?
AK: Firstly was ‘could I fight’? Was my training helping? I assumed it was as I traded blows on a regular basis during kumite. I was further encouraged as one guy in the club would only spar with six people as the others he thought were pointless (he was big and a few belts ahead of me) and I was one of the six, so that bolstered my confidence. I couldn’t see the links between the three K’s. Kata and Kihon (basics), yes, kihon and kumite even to a degree but kumite and kata, what was that all about. We never did kata stuff in kumite yet everyone said kata was the key to karate. I was confused!
Kumite also didn’t look like a real fight, not at all. So would it work in a real fight? I wasn’t sure.
Also shouldn’t we be trying to avoid fights, didn’t Funakoshi say that? Was there any training for this?
It seemed to be a bit like a jigsaw with half the pieces missing and some others from another picture thrown in for good measure.
I wanted to piece it all together and I wanted it to make sense, so I kept digging.
CW: I know what you mean, I used to have similar questions too. Having sought out the teachers to fill the gaps in your knowledge, you’ve adapted your own training and teaching in ways which overcomes these doubts whilst still sticking to a Shotokan framework and syllabus (unlike many who go off and create their own style)! Who were the main influences leading to these changes and what were the main lessons learnt from each of these people respectively?
AK: Wow, how long have we got?
Firstly some people say that I don’t do Shotokan. In my opinion they are right and wrong. My syllabus differs from the majority of Shotokan practitioners but I use the Shotokan kata and use the principles I learnt from my Shotokan days. So I usually say we are a Shotokan base. Does this mean I do Shotokan? Does it really matter? Funakoshi said he didn’t want the style named after him anyway!
As I said above, you can learn stuff from everyone but a few people who put me on the right road are listed below and I am sure I have missed lots so apologies to anyone who I leave out.
Peter Manning of the TSKA helped me sort my basic Shotokan technique, it was also where I first saw bunkai not being taught as an aside every month or so, you could see he’d actually thought about it. He was also totally open in letting me bring in guest instructors to teach for the association.
Vince Morris was one of those teachers. As we know Vince drastically changed the way he taught karate and what he was doing made a lot of sense. I saw that I didn’t have to be trapped in what I was doing and that kata had a meaning. He really helped kick start the transition.
I met Iain Abernethy at Andy Daly’s dojo in Bridgewater and he seemed to have done a great job at working out a plan of how to train bunkai in a logical and progressive manner. I invited him to come and teach at my dojo and he has visited every year since. I went on his instructor’s course and picked his brain, I owe a lot to Iain.
I read Rory Miller’s ‘Meditations on Violence’ not too long after it came out. I can’t remember who recommended it to me, but whoever you were, thank you! As soon as I had finished it I recommended it to my fellow instructors and students. This was a whole new perspective and it made so much sense. I started looking into bringing Rory over to teach when I got an email from someone else looking to do the same thing. Rory has visited every year since. Rory has an amazing ability in explaining real violence and putting your training into context.
CW: Yes, I’ve trained with Peter Manning and Iain Abernethy too and was there the last time you had Rory Miller over. All great instructors.
You relate the oriental concept of Zanshin to what modern reality based martial arts refer to as Soft Skills! For those not familiar with this term, could you elaborate for us please?
AK: Zanshin is awareness, avoidance, de-escalation; it’s everything that is not the actual fight. A lot of time there is talk of zanshin but little explanation of what it is and how to train it. Sparing in a crowded dojo is not zanshin training, there is so much more to it. Estimates vary but the fighting part of self-protection is often quoted at being only five percent of the total. Five percent! If that is the case then surely we should be paying more attention to it. Everything needs to be put into context. Legal and ethical implications, types of violence, the freeze. There is so much to look at apart from just the actual act of violence and I think sometimes karate, or indeed any martial art, people miss that.
CW: You said that some people suggest that what you teach “is no longer real Karate”. I personally would say that your approach to teaching Karate is going back more to the Okinawan way of doing things as it has long been established that the Karate taught to the Japanese by the first Okinawan masters was dumbed down for social and political reasons. However, how would you answer this accusation?
AK: It’s pretty simple really, each to their own. You need to look at karate, or whatever you do, and ask a simple question, why am I doing this? If you are doing it for sport, follow that path, read about it, talk to experts in the field, experiment, play. If you are doing it for fitness or spiritual reasons, read about it, talk to experts in the field, experiment, play. My main focus for my karate is self-protection, so guess what I try to do. Yep, I read about it. I talk to experts in the field. I experiment. I play. When I say experts in the field I don’t just mean karate, I also mean violence.
The problem is that when you start a martial art you may know what you want but in most cases clubs promise everything. Self-defence, fitness, inner peace, trophies and to be honest that would be great, all in one package, you can have it all. So you go to your nearest club, you don’t know enough to be able to judge. Some years later you may, or may not, find that your club is not teaching what you want, then you have a decision, do you stay or do you go?
Of course there are overlaps and quite large ones but the main failing I see is context. Karate works for self-protection, or can work, it just needs the right context and in my opinion that is what a lot of practitioners lack. I know I did.
So being accused of not doing real karate doesn’t bother me, it is my path and for me it is right. I keep learning, researching and if needs be altering what I am doing. It is not the path for others and that is fine, there is room in karate for many approaches.
CW: Moving on to your new book, From Shotokan to the Street, who is your main target audience and does it include non-Shotokan people?
AK: My main target audience is anyone who has been training for some while and wants to look at their karate from a self-protection point of view. I say karate but it could really be any art. I know the title may limit it but it is indeed for anyone who wants to follow that path.
I have feedback from several non-karate-ka who tell me it is applicable for any art. It is not meant to be a ‘how to’ book but one to make sure you are on the path you want to be on!
CW: Now we’re not just talking another Bunkai book are we, with a lot of kata moves and their applications. Nothing wrong with those books, they’re great; but you’re coming at this from a very different angle and I think you’ve created something quite unique. Please tell us what the reader can expect to gain from your book?
AK: Firstly can I say that bunkai is starting to get some backlash from certain quarters at the moment. We have seen it on the letters page and in articles and you know what, some of that criticism is valid. I don’t want to be labelled in a ‘bunkai’ camp. One of my test readers for my book is a good friend and follows a different karate path to me. He said that he thought that bunkai was a distraction from self-protection and I thought about this for a while and you know what, he could be right. It could be as much a distraction as line work, competition work or anything else really. Bunkai is a tool, a means to an end, part of a process. I think karate people should really be careful about labelling themselves; different approaches bring different things to the party. Know what you want, question, analyse and importantly, be prepared to be wrong and then take your new knowledge and move on. Karate guys shouldn’t be fighting with each other, we can disagree but as my friend says ‘truth before tribalism’.
Sorry for the aside, let’s get back to your question. All I have tried to do in this book is give some direction to people who are at the same stage I was maybe 15 years ago. They have done the line work, know some kata and can spar but find something missing. Again we come back to context. The book isn’t a how to, it’s more a look at your training from your own perspective and asking yourself if you are doing the stuff you need to be to make that training effective.
I want this book to save some people time, it took me a long time to bring all this together from varying sources and I don’t think anyone has written it from a karate perspective before. So if you train karate and are interested in self-protection this may help, I hope!
CW: I see. But despite these changes you’ve introduced to your own teaching/training, I think it is fair to say that you still have a love of traditional Shotokan, its basics and kata etc. Can you comment on this?
AK: People see some of the stuff I do and think that it is divorced from basic club training. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Basics are the fundamental building blocks of how you fight, they include the principles of your style and how to use it. All styles, all martial arts have kihon (basics) in one form or another and getting good at them is essential. Although I must stress that kihon is not always line work. It can be hitting pads, performing locks or throws or ground positions. You cannot be good at karate without solid kihon.
To me karate is kata. You can learn to fight without kata, you can be a great competition fighter, you can be a street brawler, all of this can and has been done without kata. If you drop kata from karate then you aren’t doing karate, you are doing a fighting art, but it isn’t karate. Kata defines karate in my opinion. Everything is based on kata and the lessons it contains.
CW: You’ve been quite open that this book has been a few years in the writing and you’ve been pushed a bit by some of your friends to complete it. Why has it taken you so long and who have been the main influences pushing you to complete it?
AK: The simple answer is that I keep learning new stuff. I got to a stage a few years back when I thought it was nearly done and I was quite happy, then I read ‘Meditations on Violence’ by Rory Miller and I realised I didn’t have the context quite right. So I hosted Rory and read his stuff, which led me to other stuff and then integrating it and making sense of it has taken a few years. My fellow instructors at Genjitsu Karate Kai, Steve and James kept hassling me to finish it as did Rory. In fact if you ask James I think you will find he may have had a wager that it would never come out! I already think that there are bits missing and expansions I could make but that will happen forever so at some point you have to stop. So thanks to all the aforementioned, without you I’d be on draft 782!
CW: I do know that you’re one for continual learning and development as I’ve met you a few times now on seminars with Kris Wilder and Rory Miller. Are there any other particular teachers that you are yearning to train with that you haven’t done so yet? And what would you specifically like to learn from them?
AK: That is a tough one. There are a lot of people who are really good and I’d like to train with loads of them. I am much pickier now than I once was for seminars as time is precious. I have trained with a lot of the people who I admired over the years so this list may be missing notable names!
I’d love to train with Kanazawa as he is a living legend but I’d like a small session as being in a group of hundreds staring out isn’t the way I’d want to do it. Dave Hazard would be awesome, I just keep missing his seminars! Patrick McCarthy is another karate pick as he just has so much knowledge.
Outside of karate I’d like to train with Jamie O’Keefe, he offered me some great advice when I was thinking of bouncing and spent ages on the phone with me when he didn’t know me from Adam. I still haven’t trained with Marc MacYoung and I’ve read loads of his books, so that would be fun. I have wanted to train with Nick Hughes since reading his column in FAI many years ago.
So many people with so much to offer, I have so many more, I could go on forever.
CW: I’ve trained with Dave Hazard and Marc MacYoung, so I can tell you, you will enjoy it! I’ve only trained under you at the Bunkai Bash (sadly I could only make the last day). However, your style of teaching is very relaxed and informal with a lot of humour. I haven’t seen you teach at a club level, but do you feel that the formality with which much of Karate is taught is no longer necessary?
AK: The early clubs I trained with were quite strict. In one of them the instructor wouldn’t even talk to you outside of the dojo, not in the changing area, nothing! I believe that there is a place for humour in the dojo, why not, you learn better when you are enjoying yourself. Adults react to this well I find, although some seem to be seeking either a really militaristic style of teaching or some sort of oriental mystical wise man to teach them. Generally they have been watching too many movies! I like the relaxed style, especially for adults, it doesn’t mean that the training is weak which seems to be a common misconception.
With kids, I like to have fun as well but they need more structure. You can still have fun and laugh but sometimes they need reigning in, although I do have some adults like that!
When I visited Japan I only attended one club for karate and that seemed less disciplined than many I have seen in this country but they had some great karate-ka. I think a lot of people want to be more like the Japanese but don’t know how the Japanese act. Are the Japanese right anyway, as far as I am aware they changed the teaching model from the one in Okinawa.
CW: You’ve answered more of less how I thought you would, your approach is quite similar to my own. You now teach at seminars throughout the country and in particular you organise the very successful annual Bunkai Bash. Can you tell the readers how long you’ve been running this event, what your aims were in creating it and how you select your teachers (as they’re not all Karate-ka are they)?
AK: The Bunkai Bash has now run three times and from feedback this was the best one yet! I planned to do a gasshuku some years back with a couple of friends of mine and it got postponed due to mad cow disease! Some years later I was toying with the idea and so decided to combine it with one of Iain Abernethy’s visits and so the Bunkai Bash was born! The only real aim was to bring together like minded people, train and chill together. So far I have been lucky as everyone seems to get it and the atmosphere is really quite special.
As for teachers, there is, of course, me as well as the other Genjitsu instructors. Year one we had Iain and just other random people I know. I try to change the instructors each year and try to have at least one non karate session, so year one we had Matt Sylvester from TKD, year two we had a problem as the Kung Fu guy coming to teach was injured just before hand. This year we had Garry Smith from Ju-Jitsu.
As long as they have some bearing on reality training I am happy to have a go at anything!
15. Although being known for his book, Practical Taekwondo, I believe Matt Sylvester is also a 3rd Dan at Karate. Do you intend to keep this event going indefinitely each year? And if so, how do you plan to improve the Bunkai Bash next year?
As long as it keeps working well then I’ll keep doing it. It is a lot of work but I get lots of great feedback with some people saying that is one of the highlights of their year! How could I stop doing that!
There is a feedback session going on now and I am gathering ideas for next year. One of the problems with organising any outdoor event in this country is the weather. I’ll be writing to potential Instructors soon and possibly a new venue. Watch this space!
CW: I look forward to attending next year. Separate to teaching Karate, you also teach Self Protection both to individuals and groups, as well as running scenario training. Can you tell us about these seminars, how they differ from mainstream traditional martial arts and how mainstream martial artists can benefit from this training?
AK: That is a lot of questions in one go! So self-protection is, as I talked about earlier, more about soft skills than your fighting ability. When I teach we spend more time on awareness, avoidance, de-escalation and strategies to avoid problems. We talk about the nature and causes of violence and where all of this fits into their world. Of course we have some basic physical techniques but the first course is mostly non-physical. If we can only get people who are physically gifted to look after themselves, then we are doing it wrong.
Scenario training is something I have been planning for a long time but we have only recently got off the ground. This is generally for martial artists who want to put their training to the test as close to reality as we can get. This doesn’t mean it always ends up in a fight, a lot of people seem to think that is what scenario training is, but all your skills are tested, including your zanshin, articulation and judgement. We try to tailor it to the student’s needs so that they get the most out of it, it’s a good day and something that practical martial artists should do more of.
CW: I agree totally, having done a few similar courses myself. It really brings martial arts alive. What are your future plans in terms of building your own school, writing more books and teaching seminars nationally and internationally?
AK: My club is relatively small. That is Ok but who wouldn’t want a couple more students? I had plans for my next book but after a chat with Kris Wilder, I am now possibly thinking of doing something else first. I have plans for a couple of DVD’s and other writing. I’ve done a few seminars and I really enjoy them, you get different people with different perspectives and different questions, I am hoping that I get to do a lot more as they are great fun!
So just need to keep plodding on, writing, working and training, the next year looks as though it is going to be busy!
CW: For anybody who is interested in your book, how can they acquire a copy?
The easiest way is from LULU publishing, just search my name and you will find it. I’d rather that than Amazon as, to be frank, I get more of the money that way, although I have now found out why authors are poor! Personally I like signed books so if someone else likes to do that they can contact me direct and I’ll get one off to them!
CW: Should anybody be interested in having a signed copy of your book or hosting you to teach a seminar, how should they contact you?
AK: They can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or contact me through my website www.andikidd.com it would be great to hear from them! We can discuss what they want and come up with something that will fit their needs!
CW: Thank you very much Andi for an interesting and informative interview. I wish you well with your plans and look forward to training with you again sometime.
I would also like to recommend Andi’s book From Shotokan To The Street, to any martial artist who is serious about real world self protection. Sometime soon, I’ll post a review on it.
Andi Kidd is one of the most practical minded Karateka that I know. He runs the Genjitsu Karate Kai, is an author and runs seminars all over the country. Like many of us in traditional martial arts, he had many doubts about the practicality of what he was being taught, so he sought out teachers to fill the gaps. He has trained with some of the top names in the Karate World as well as some of the top experts in reality based martial arts and the psychology of violence outside of Karate. He has re-structured his own training and the syllabus that he teaches, gearing it real life self protection rather than sport or simply to preserve tradition that he did not feel serve any practical purpose (from a self protection point of view). Continue reading “Interview With Andi Kidd, 4th Dan Karate & Author” »
As well as achieving great success in the sporting side of his art, he also has a very strong leaning towards the spiritual and self development side of martial arts as a whole. This was one of the main reasons for my interest in interviewing him. I have several friends within PUMA and it is clear from talking to them (and from their Facebook conversations) that PUMA has a very strong “family feel” to it. Although there is an obvious hierarchy (as in any martial arts organisation), it is more relaxed and open than most others. If you follow Master Gayle’s writings for a while, you’ll soon notice that he takes his training and teaching seriously, but does not take himself too seriously, which I always think is a good thing. There is always a sense of humour present which you’ll see as you read on.
I was told by one of his instructors some years ago, that at a meeting of senior Taekwondo masters from different organisations within Britain, most of them had very posh expensive cars, big houses and holiday homes overseas. Yet they were surprised that Master Gayle, despite leading a very large organisation, did not have all the wealthy trimmings that they had. This (as was explained to me by his instructor) was because Master Gayle is more focused on what he puts IN to his organisation rather than what he can get OUT of it! That in itself deserves respect in this day and age.
OK, so over the interview:-
CW: Master Gayle, please tell us how you first got involved in martial arts. Was Taekwondo your first style, or did you dabble with others before that?
RG: No, Taekwon-Do was not my first style. I first started with Karate in the mid 70’s. The style that I did was Higashi-Ryu, the head of that group at that time was Mr Peter Spanton. I trained there for a short time and it was great. The School in Bristol that I attended had some really good Karate students and I enjoyed every session. It wasn’t until a couple of years after that I saw a poster with two men jumping in the air kicking each other and at the top it had the name Taekwon-Do. I’d never heard of it before and decided to go along and see what it was about. I really enjoyed watching the class and it seemed to stir something inside of me that I didn’t feel with my Karate class. I don’t think it was a style thing, just the whole feel of the class. It was also better located to where I was living, as a youngster with no form of transport that was a big plus.
CW: What did you especially like about Taekwondo for it to captivate you for so many years (or should I say decades)?
RG: It was the dynamic side of TKD, which instantly appealed to me. Anyone that knows me will know that I love the dynamic side of TKD, the jumping spinning etc, although these days I’m not so dynamic, I have to keep my jumping and spinning for special occasions now. I noticed that there seemed to be a lot of smaller guys doing it too. I don’t know if that was just coincidence, but being a little vertically challenged myself, I seemed to fit in fairly well. I love movement of all kind, dancing, tumbling etc, so on a subconscious level it was certainly something that drew me in. I was also taken by the sheer variety of the class, there seemed to be more elements to it than the Karate class that I attended, I’m not sure if that was just an illusion but that’s how I saw it. I feel that style has very little to do with what martial art you end up doing. In my opinion, the class location, the style of teaching and the initial warmth of the instructor and students are more important.
CW: You have had a very successful tournament career in your younger days, can you tell us about that please. Which victories stand out most for you and how did they affect your personal growth within Taekwondo?
RG: I really enjoyed my tournament career; it was never what I was solely about though. I loved to do TKD not just for tournaments, but also for the whole package. I consider myself to be very competitive, I would always try and do my best with all the physical activities that I took part in, so tournaments
just fuelled my competitive personality. I was actually a keen footballer and played at a very high level as a defender. Many times attacking players would look at me and I’m sure in their mind they must have thought, “I’m in for an easy afternoon.” How wrong they were, and what a shock they got. Even though I was a very small player, I did surprise lots of players who thought I was a push over; they soon learned that the fight in the man was much bigger than the man in the fight.
This will sound strange but I have no stand out fights, I loved them all. I wasn’t really a scalp and name collector; I just enjoyed the buzz of competition and always tried to compete for the fun of it and with a smile. I didn’t mind losing as long as I knew that I had performed my best. However, competitions did help with my personal growth. Growing up as a black boy in the 70’s could be tough at times. TKD competition gave me a strong self-belief that has certainly helped me not just in competition but also in other areas of my life.
CW: As a Karateka myself, I know that Karate competitions have changed quite a lot over the years with more health and safety regulations (early competitions were a little bit “Wild West”). Do you feel that Taekwondo competitions have changed much over the years and if so, are the changes for the better or for the worse? Do you also feel (generally speaking) that standards and attitudes of the competitors have changed?
RG: Good old ‘health and safety’ has got a lot to answer for. It’s certainly had an impact on martial arts and a huge impact on competition. I think in many cases to the detriment of the art. In the earlier days of competition you had to be committed, because you knew if you weren’t, the chances of getting hurt was much higher. When I started competing, safety equipment was not compulsory and there were no weight categories, that does seems bazaar now, but I feel it did make you into a better martial artist. You knew that if a kick was travelling towards you, there was no option but to block it, there wasn’t a nice comfy foam pad on the end of it taking away the impact of it. If you didn’t block, there was a very high probability you were going to get hurt. Somehow that did seem to improve the quality of the techniques thrown; there were not so many throwaway kicks or punches. Nowadays, on the plus side for TKD, the average student has much better flexibility, and the training methods for competition are a lot more scientific, I think this has also resulted in a lot less injuries.
CW: Some people are critical of Taekwondo becoming an Olympic sport, saying that it over emphasises the sport side of the art and detracts from the original values of the martial art. How do you feel about this? I know that you personally put a lot of emphasis on personal development and taking part rather than just winning; do you feel that the sport side is good for personal development or does it just develop a big ego?
RG: I have to say, I am one of those people who is very critical. Olympic TKD only shows the fighting side of the art and there is so much more to TKD than fighting. It would be lovely to have a balance and have pattern competition too, or perhaps some special technique destruction.
I think the jury is out on the ego part of the question. I believe a lot depends on how the student is developed and the role models they have around them within their own organisation and their class. I strongly believe in the power and the association of others. If the people around you are behaving in a certain way, chances are very high you will start behaving that way too. I always tell my students to try and treat winning and defeat in the same way. If you do win, the most important thing to remember is to respect your competitor and to win with humility. Unfortunately we don’t live in a perfect world and no matter what you say or do, there will be students whose ego will run away with them and they’ll begin to show the ugly side of competition.
CW: I believe that you were actually graded for your 6th Dan by General Choi Hong Hi (the founder of Taekwondo) himself. That must have been a fantastic moment for you. Please tell us about that and what this iconic man is like to actually meet in person?
RG: Yes, I took my 6th degree under General Choi in September 2000. It was a very humbling, frightening and exciting experience all at the same time. I have to say that I had a really awful grading that day. I graded at the end of a three-day seminar where he had just introduced the ‘sine wave’ style of patterns to all the P.U.M.A. members, me included. I had also just left my previous organisation so there was a lot happening around that time and a lot of mixed emotions. It was such a great experience to meet him and he was a real gentleman. There were many stories doing the rounds about how he was difficult to get on with and how he had torn strips of individuals for no reason. I didn’t find this was the case at all, I found him very easy to get on with and his passion for Taekwon-Do and his enjoyment in teaching his beloved martial art was very evident for everyone in attendance to see. He even invited a few of us out for dinner.
We had a great time chatting to him about Taekwon-Do and some of his experiences he had encountered over his many years he had been spreading the word. I guess that’s what you do when you dine with the founder of Taekwon-Do, you talk about Taekwon-Do. As mentioned, my grading was a bit of a disaster; I think he took pity on me because he could see I was giving it my best shot but obviously struggling to get it right. He knew that I was one of the senior members of the newly formed P.U.M.A. organisation, so during the questioning part of my grading, he gave me some guidance as to how I should lead the group. He said that I should read and study Confucius and try and follow some of the teachings to enable me to be a better leader. I can honestly say that the weekend seminar and taking my grading under the General changed my life. It also changed the way I approached my Taekwon-Do and how I would teach it from then on. I was honoured that I got to chat with him privately on a one-on one basis, I was overwhelmed by his passion for Taekwon-Do, he must have talked for two hours about his thoughts on how Taekwon-Do should be taught and the difference that it could make in the lives of so many students.
When I found out I was successful in passing my 6th degree, I did vow to myself that when the time came to grade for my 7th degree, I would do everything in my power to take it in front of him, just so I could show him the progress I had made since my 6th degree. Unfortunately, I never got that chance to grade in front of him again as he passed away in June 2002. However, I did attend a Master’s seminar with him in January 2002 in Vienna. I couldn’t wait for the seminar to start so I could show him how much I’d learnt in 18 months since I graded. He did give me a few nods of approval and that made me feel really good.
CW: You’ve recently been awarded your 8th Dan, a dizzy height that not many Westerners reach. Congratulations Sir! Not knowing much about the Taekwondo world, was that expected, how did it come about and what does it mean to you personally?
RG: I was awarded my 8th degree on the weekend we held our second World Open competition. I had it sprung on me during a brief break for a medal ceremony, It was extremely unexpected. I knew nothing about it whatsoever, if I had known it was going to happen I would certainly have objected and perhaps not even turned up that weekend. It was something that I wasn’t looking for and would have been very happy to remain a 7th degree for many more years. When I started Taekwon-Do it was always said that to achieve the higher degree grades it wasn’t what you could do physically that counted, but it was what you did for the art of Taekwon-Do and other people that would determine if you were awarded those higher degrees. I’ve never forgotten that, although the things that I’ve done were because they needed doing not with a higher degree grade in mind. Perhaps the thing I’m most proud of which many state as one of the reasons I was considered for that promotion, is my continual involvement and development of Martial arts in West Africa, specifically Ghana.
CW: Having been an instructor for many years, you’ll have seen an awful lot of people, many of whom would have started as little children, growing physically and mentally as they achieve success in championships and reaching black belt (and beyond). How important is it to you personally to see this growth in other people and do you have any favourite stories/examples of people overcoming many obstacles to achieve success through their training?
RG: Yes, I’ve seen real transformations in many children over the years. I have seen children with absolutely no confidence at all grow into confident adults with a real positive outlook and a strong self-esteem. However, I don’t think martial arts is unique in the way it can build these qualities, I think that Taekwon-Do and martial arts in general is just one of many vehicles that can have such an effect. I strongly believe its more about the teacher and the environment in which the teaching and learning is taking place, than about the vehicle. After all, the qualities that are taught in most traditional martial arts are the same qualities that would be taught to anyone practicing any organised religion. Also a child who learns to master a musical instrument would certainly have their self-esteem and self-confidence boosted and would feel so much better about themselves. It would give them the ability to do other things that they might not have attempted before. I wouldn’t say that I have one special example over another, but needless to say, I think a large proportion my students who started at a young age and have achieved higher levels have benefited from their training. In recent years I’ve had students contact me many times over to thank me for helping them build their self-confidence. They have said that the personal growth that they achieved through training, allowed them to pursue and follow their dreams.
CW: What do you consider the most important benefits of training for martial artists of any style?
RG: I think the most important benefit of training a martial art, depends on what the students is looking for in the first place. There are so many reasons why people decide to start a martial art, I think that question is best served by asking the individual. There are the obvious benefits that include, fitness, self-defence, confidence, mental and physical development etc, but also the not so obvious which might include, escapism, social interaction, an alternative to the usual physical pursuits that people might choose to keep fit. The list is as long as the different types and personalities of the students that begin a martial arts lifestyle.
CW: Although I’ve never actually met you before, I’ve noted that you have a very philosophical and spiritual approach to life. Have you always been like this, or is it a side of you that has developed as you’ve matured? To what extent have your years of Taekwondo influenced you on your spiritual path?
RG: I haven’t always been like this and yes, it’s certainly something that seems to have developed as I’ve matured in Taekwon-Do. When I was a younger martial artist, my main focus was on being the best physical martial artist I could be. I was focused on kicking and jumping higher, doing more press-ups, being stronger and faster than I was the week before. Once you grow out of that and realise that there is a lot more to life, you start to look at the big picture, and in my opinion you start to find the real meaning of martial arts. I’m not saying that you should just ignore all those other things, its important to still stay physically strong and active, but I feel its a natural process to take a much more philosophical approach to life and training as you mature. I still get a good buzz from doing the physical stuff that was one of the things that I enjoyed about training in the early days. Leaving the dojang knowing that I’d done two more press-ups than the week before was, and still is, a great feeling. I realise now though that training and teaching a martial art without some emphasis on the spiritual side and philosophy behind it, just makes it the same as any physical pursuit. If at some point in your training that side is not recognized, you may as well just go and do a zumba class.
CW: Do you have many influences outside of Taekwondo that have supplemented this spiritual development and are there any books, DVD’s or any other source material that you would recommend to those interested in learning more?
RG: I have the usual collection of books that perhaps most are familiar with. Book of Five Rings, The Samurai Code, I have some great books by HRH Dalai Lama. I also have a whole host of self-development books by many different motivational speakers. My favourite motivational speak is, Zig Ziglar. Probably my favourite book on the spiritual side of martial arts is; Kodo Ancient Ways, lessons in the spiritual life of the warrior/martial artist, by Kensho Furuya. This is a great book that I stumbled across a few years ago. It is written by an Aikido Master, however, it contains lessons and teachings that are relevant to all martial art disciplines. There are some fantastic philosophies and some great paragraphs that make you examine your training, your thinking and yourself.
This is a particular favourite passage of mine from the book;
“If you think strength is the most important factor in martial arts, you will never be strong.” “A common person may become a master,” a true master never becomes a master.” Because learning and mastery is endless.
Of course my biggest influence outside of martial arts for spiritual development, has been my mother. What a warrior she’s been. What a great leader and philosopher of life she has been to me. She taught me how to live and how to fight without even entering a dojang. When I started my martial arts training I already had a head start because of the lessons I’d learnt at home from my mother, a true champion.
CW: When you and life long friend, Master Ogborne (former World champion) set up the Professional Unification of Martial Arts, what were your main objectives and to what extent do you feel that you’ve achieved them?
RG: To be completely honest, when we left our previous association, it wasn’t our intention to set up the Professional Unification of Martial Arts (P.U.M.A.) It certainly wasn’t by design that it happened as it did. Master Ogborne and I have been life long friends, so our only intention at that time was to leave and be independent with just the few Schools we were teaching at that time. Soon after leaving we had many people contact us asking if they could join us, it was as simple as that. I’d like to tell you there was a lot more to it and how we sat down with a large pad and paper and planned it all out, but we certainly didn’t.
CW: P.U.M.A. now covers Taekwondo, Tang Soo Do, Kickboxing & FAST Defence. Do you have any plans to expand the range of arts covered and what are the requirements for other styles/arts joining P.U.M.A?
RG: We’ve never had any plans to expand, we’re very happy with how P.U.M.A. is right now. As far as I’m concerned, if there is any expansion of P.U.M.A, I’d like it to be from within the organisation rather than from outside. I feel that the students who have grown up with us know what we’re about and are familiar with the P.U.M.A. ethos. Whether it’s stated or not, I believe that every martial arts group or association has an underlying ethos, it runs through their day to day interaction with students and underpins everything that happens. The ethos within the group has to come from the senior degree grades and filter down to the junior students. That’s why I’m very wary of trying to expand from outside, if the ethos is not understood, then the result will be disharmony and the union of Schools and minds won’t work.
CW: Having attended a FAST (Fear, Adrenalin, Stress Training) Defence course myself with P.U.M.A.’s very own Dik Chance, I can honestly say that I find this type of Reality Based training very useful. Many traditional martial arts associations don’t like to include this kind of thing as I guess they don’t want to admit their training might conceivably be lacking in any areas at all, so I applaud your foresight in this area. Has the inclusion of FAST Defence within P.U.M.A changed your outlook at all on the basic self defence value of traditional martial arts?
RG: I can’t say it has changed my personal outlook, more reinforced what I thought for a long time. I first saw the FAST defence system while at a martial arts convention in America. I was with other senior members of P.U.M.A. as soon as we saw the system and how it worked, it was obvious to us that it could be of great benefit to us and to the members of our group. Personally for me, it was the children’s FAST defence system that really stirred my imagination.
I’ve always thought that self-defence in its basic form is very simple, also being small of stature, a lot of the release moves and locks and holds which different systems teach, never really excited me. The thought of me at 11 stone and 5’6″ trying to release, after being grabbed by a 16 stone 6’4″ male with some of those techniques were a little far fetched. I’m not saying they don’t work for some people, just that for me, it would present a huge challenge. The verbal techniques and simplified counters of F.A.S.T. defence made perfect sense, and when I first saw it, my impression was that it could be employed by anyone regardless of size or strength. The FAST system has enabled P.U.M.A. members and others to experience the psychology of self-defence in a controlled environment, surely that can only be a good thing.
CW: Obviously I’m not part of P.U.M.A. myself, but I have a number of friends within P.U.M.A. One of the things I’ve noticed (especially from the Facebook banter) is that P.U.M.A. seems to have the feel of a big happy family with a lot of friendship and links between the different Schools (rather than rivalry). How do you foster this atmosphere and feeling within your association?
RG: In all martial arts associations there is a hierarchy. At the top you have the more senior grades who have generally been around for the longest time, right down to some of the young children just starting their own journey. I try to acknowledge all of our members and to be approachable at all times, I believe that this approach fosters a real family atmosphere rather than the fearful environment that I’ve seen in some groups. For an art that has courtesy as its’ first tenet, there are many organisations that don’t have the courtesy to give their members the time of day or even talk to them in a civil manner. Just the act of smiling can make a huge difference to someone’s day. It’s a cliché, but saying hello with a smile doesn’t cost anything, but it does mean so much to the person receiving it.
CW: I note that P.U.M.A has got very involved in supporting a project in Ghana (which you mentioned earlier). Can you tell us how you got involved with this, what you plan to achieve, what your future commitment will be and why it is important to you personally?
RG: The Ghana project is very close to my heart and I’m happy to say it’s also close to the heart of a fair few P.U.M.A. students too. About six years ago, I was asked to accompany Master Trevor Nicholls to Ghana to assist with helping a group transfer from WTF to ITF Taekwon-Do, ever since then I’ve been involved with helping them develop their martial arts and their organisation. My first visit was a real eye opener and laid the seeds for what was to come. While there, I saw some very passionate people who needed a hand to develop their Taekwon-Do, they had asked for help from many people and each time it seems they were let down. I think the main reason they were let down by others is because there’s no money to be made in helping them. Sad, but I believe true. A very likeable young man, Mohammed Mahadi 4th degree, leads the Ghana group. As a young lad he studied Karate and then moved to WTF Taekwon-Do. He eventually became disillusioned with the help he was getting from the WTF and decided to change to the ITF to see if they were willing to do more for the West Africa region. As soon as I went to Ghana I fell in love with the people and the country, so my passion for seeing them progress was born and has continued with many visits since. At present we are helping them to build a dojang to enable them to spread the martial arts word to as many people as possible.
Fast forward a few years and in Ghana I have been involved with taking a team of youngsters there to demonstrate at local orphanages, I’ve met and had an audience with some of the most important tribal chiefs to ask them for their help and support to establish martial arts in West Africa. I’ve taken a team of fighters there to compete and promote TKD. While there, I’ve visited companies to try and rally support as well as finance for the local students. I’ve met the Ghanaian chief of Police and managed to help with the promotion of teaching martial arts to all the Ghanaian Police recruits.
CW: Amongst the fundraising events for the Ghana project you led a team of the P.U.M.A. faithful on a sponsored cycle ride from John O’Groats to Lands End. This is no minor achievement, please tell us all about it?
RG: The reason for the ride was to raise money for 3 charities in which we have a personal interest. The first was the P.U.M.A Ghana project that I’ve already mentioned. The second was for a group called ‘Pilgrim Bandits,’ that is run by an old Taekwon-Do friend from the past. Pilgrim Bandits look after and support servicemen and women who have been injured while on active service. The third was for a charity called Friends of Valence. They are a School in Kent who support and help children and adults with additional needs. One of our instructors has a son who has attended and been helped by the School. So all the charities were very worthwhile and in some way or another we had a personal interest in them. I’m happy to say that the ride was my idea. What a great time we had, 12 days of pain made easier by the great company of some of my fellow PUMA martial artists. Of course being the elder statesman of the ride, they made sure that I was in front leading the team at all times, well that’s not quite how it went. Needless to say when we got on our bikes degree grades didn’t matter and it was every man for himself. In truth, we all helped each other out during the tough times that we all experienced at some point during the twelve days. I think that we all learnt a great deal about each other and it brought us all closer together as people. There’s something about experiencing pain as a group that brings that group closer. With the portion of the Ghanaian proceeds, along with an offer of land from one of the chiefs, we have nearly completed the building of a training centre for the students of West Africa where they can come and train for free to expand their knowledge of their art. It has been a tough few years but the fruits of our labour are now being seen and hopefully the Ghanaian students will be able to have some of the benefits that we enjoy and take for granted.
I’d like to publicly thank the following people for helping us all to realise the PUMA Lands End to John O Groats dream. The cyclists: Mr Dan Lammin 5th degree, Mr Ian Bedborough 5th degree, Mr Chris Walker, 4th degree, Mr Tony Goodwin 3rd degree. P.U.M.A. support vehicle: Mrs Tracey Bedborough 3rd degree, Mrs Tamzin Goodwin 3rd Degree. I haven’t told them yet but I do plan to do it again. Shh!
CW: OK, I won’t tell anybody 🙂 You have taken number of your senior instructors to Ghana to personally get involved in teaching a range of Ghanians from different backgrounds. This has on occasion involved considerable personal discomfort for those involved. On a personal level, what have you and your senior instructors gotten out this unusual experience?
RG: As mentioned previously, the Ghana project is still ongoing and every year I give P.U.M.A. instructors the opportunity to travel with me to experience teaching and training in Ghana and also to meet the wonderful Ghanaian people. You’d really have to ask the people that have come with me what they feel they’ve gained from their experience, but I’m sure they would also say that it has changed their life. The Ghanaian people are the friendliest people you could ever meet and although considerable poverty exists within the country, their hospitality is second to none. The smiling faces that you see throughout the country are testament to their incredible will and determination to live a contented life. I think what you get as someone who has grown up with certain luxuries, is a sense that we would certainly all be happier with less. When I get home after each visit some of the things I thought were important seem very trivial indeed.
CW: Since founding P.U.M.A. you’ve continued to evolve your Taekwondo with inclusion of things like the sine-wave movement for example. What are your plans for the future direction and development of P.U.M.A. in terms of how you teach/apply Taekwondo and expand as an association?
RG: I think for me, my main focus for the future is to continue producing good students who are technically competent but also have a social conscious too. I believe that our main focus shouldn’t just be about producing champions who can kick and punch, but also developing people who are passionate about upholding the Taekwon-Do oath and who are constantly trying to get closer to the tenets of our art. Regarding expansion, if students come through our system and want to be instructors, then I’m happy to help and assist them reach their goals. I have no immediate plans to change our direction, as a group we’re very happy with our current position within the world of Taekwon-Do
CW: Many people feel that Taekwondo is not necessarily good for the body as we get older due to the emphasis on high kicking. Do you agree/disagree? Do you believe that people should adapt their training as they get older, or should they just try to keep up? Have you personally had to adapt your training very much as you’ve matured?
RG: That’s a question that could take many pages to answer, I’ll try and take the short route though and make it quick. There are so many answers to this question but first I must say that I do believe you can train in TKD as you get older but just like any physical discipline small adaptations are probably needed to keep your body safe as you age.
How safe it is will depend on the individual and how they approach their regime. I also think that as you get older its not enough to just change the physical aspect of your training, other aspects like diet and general lifestyle need to be adjusted too. If the student has a good level of flexibility then I see nothing wrong in trying to retain it. If flexibility is a challenge for them then they might have to approach flexibility training with some caution. I’m not sure that kicking high should be the goal, kicking correctly should be the first goal and if they can kick high that’s a bonus. I’ve had to adapt my training for a more sensible scientific approach because of a hip operation I had approximately six years ago, so I’m very well aware of trying to keep my body safe and in good health.
CW: You are married with 4 kids. Do they all do Taekwondo? How does Taekwondo affect your family life and how does your family life affect your Taekwondo?
RG: Two of my four children currently train in TKD. I have a 26-year old son who trained from the age of 8 until he was 18. When he went to university I think he lost the habit and decided to stop, he achieved his 2nd degree, you never know though he may return to it one day. My second son who is 21 still trains regularly and is now a 3rd degree. I’m very proud of him as he still helps in my class teaching the youngsters. He trains hard and is much liked throughout the organization. I also have two girls one 6 and the other is 3. My 6 year old has started training and loves every minute of it. I’m hoping that my 3 year old will start when she reaches the age of 4. My Partner Is a 5th degree and has been training in TKD for 24 years, so she is aware of my passion for Taekwon-Do and what it means to me.
To answer your question, Taekwon-Do is a huge part of my family life, and vice versa. I don’t think doing what I do it can be any other way. There are some challenges but I know I have the full support of my family. Whenever possible my family come to the events within our organization and they also accompany me to our training camps etc. My partner has found it difficult to train consistently over the past 6 years because she has done most of the childcare during that period. She is currently trying to begin a regular training routine again; she’s really looking forward to getting back to it.
Taekwon-Do does have a big impact on my family but I see that as a huge positive.
CW: Master Funakoshi who taught General Choi used to recommend that his students do something artistic to balance their martial training. He wrote poetry. I believe that you’re a bit of a musician. How big a part of your life is music and do you find that it helps to balance you with your Taekwondo training?
RG: I think the advice from Funakoshi was great advice. Life is all about balance and no matter how much we love doing something, getting away from it for a short time and doing something completely different can have a positive effect when we get back to our pursuit. I sing and play harmonica in a local band and it’s certainly the yang to my regular TKD routine. I love to get away and play. The people who I usually play with or in front of know what I do, they just know me as Ray who sings and plays harmonica in the band. As well as doing my regular TKD practice, I always try and fit in some daily harmonica practice too. It keeps me balanced and has a real meditative effect on my life.
CW: What do you think is likely to happen in the future of Taekwondo as a whole? Obviously there are many different associations and versions of Taekwondo now, do you see more cooperation for the common good, more fragmentation, or simply people just doing their own thing?
RG: The day that General Choi died was the day that TKD changed forever. After the initial fragmentation when he passed away, I think the last few years has seen a steady tide of cooperation between groups. If there are enough people willing to work together, then I think that’s a good thing and there is certainly some hope for the future of our art. I’d like to think that however it goes I’ll still remain as I am and continue to teach Taekwon-Do using the General’s teaching and philosophies to underpin my own teaching. The great thing about teaching any martial art, is that you can bring your own personality into the training hall. For me it doesn’t matter what the others do, I’m going to continue doing exactly as I’m doing now, loving and teaching the art in the way I know best.
CW: Master Gayle, thank you for a very interesting and insightful interview. I know that you’ve had a lot of personal challenges lately, so thank you for taking the time to answer all my questions. I wish you, your family and all your students every success on your future journeys. Take care.
Note: It is planned to reproduce this interview in the on-line magazine, Totally Taekwondo. This is a non-political Taekwondo magazine for TKD practitioners of all associations and I thoroughly recommend it to anybody interested in TKD.
Lori O’Connell is a 5th Dan Jiu Jitsu expert and respected author with her second book on the way. Having studied a wide range of martial arts she has a deep and broad knowledge of all areas of self defence. Unlike many other teachers, she has the experience to know what will work in the street as opposed to what works in the ring with a referee in control.
Being quite petite, she is the first to admit that she does not have size or strength on her side, but she makes up for this with technique and tenacity. I have been very lucky and honoured to secure an interview with this busy lady and I will be reviewing her new book when it comes out next month.
So, over to the interview:
CW: Lori; martial arts are different things to different people, (sport, self defence, self development, fitness, etc). What are the most important aspects of martial arts to you and which aspects do you emphasis most in your teaching?
LO’C: Self-defense, self-development, and fitness.
CW: Please tell us how you first got into martial arts and what style(s) did you originally started with?
LO’C: I started with Can-ryu Jiu-jitsu, the style I continue to teach today, but I have trained in a number of other arts over the years. I first got into it at the age of 16 partly for self-defense, but also because I wanted to be a “strong woman” like so many movie heroines that were in movies in the 90s that had made an impression on me.
CW: You’ve practiced a number of other different styles along the way, apart from Can Ryu Jiu Jitsu. I’ve always found that when I practice other styles, I usually end up learning more about my own core style (Shotokan Karate). Do you find that you learn more about your core style of Jiu Jitsu, or do you find some of them completely different?
LO’C: I’m like you. I’ve found takeaways in all the different other arts I’ve studied that helped me improve in my own style. There is so much to learn from all the arts. Why limit yourself only to what is taught in your own style?
CW: Please list the other styles that you’ve practiced and tell us which of them have had the most influence on you? Have you taken aspects of some of those other styles back into your Can Ryu Jiu Jitsu teaching?
LO’C: Shotokan Karate, boxing, MMA, Aikido, Taichi, Taekwondo/Hapkido, Wushu, several other styles of Jiu-jitsu. These are only the ones that I studies for 6 months or longer, most of them I trained in for at least 1 or more years.
CW: Having practiced so many different styles, what is it about Can Ryu Jiu Jitsu that particularly appealed to you to keep it as your primary style for many years?
LO’C: I like Can-ryu’s self-defense emphasis. We don’t do competition and emphasize using self-defense in accord with Canadian laws. I also like that it continues to evolve as common self-defense scenarios change and evolve.
CW: You say “using self-defense in accord with Canadian laws”; how does this impact the style on a practical level?
LO’C: We emphasize using “only as much force as is necessary to nullify the situation.” We teach a wide range of techniques, from hand strikes, kicks, takedowns/throws, improvised weapons etc, but do so in context. We tend to emphasize techniques that are effective at creating opportunities to escape that aren’t likely to be lethal. We do teach some things that have that potential, but when we do, we explain that they should only be used when that level of force can be justified (i.e. when you can explain why you perceived a situation to be potentially lethal to you).
CW: As part of your involvement with Professor Georges Sylvain’s (founder of the Can-Ryu Jiu Jitsu), I understand that you were one of the main demonstration models in several of his training videos including The Persuader Key Holder Self-Defense System, Police Pressure Point Techniques and The Use & Application of Pepper Spray Against Dogs. Can you tell us how this came about and what the experience meant to you?
LO’C: When Professor Sylvain came out of retirement in the martial arts world, he did so through my Sensei’s dojo. When he first started teaching black belt classes at our dojo, he took a special shine to me, telling me on a number of occasions that I was talented. He even once told me that he thought I had the potential to be a master. That had a profound effect on me. When he started producing his videos, he asked me to be one of the main demonstration models, which was a great honour for me. It was an awesome experience to learn directly from him and I remember the experiences fondly.
CW: You also lived in Japan for 3 years where you started your own club teaching both Japanese and other foreigners. That must have been a great experience going to the homeland of Jiu Jitsu and actually teaching it to the Japanese themselves. Please tell us about this experience, how it came about and what it meant to you personally?
LO’C: Honestly, I started teaching there because I missed my own style. I hadn’t planned to start a club. I started out training in a local Aikido club. It wasn’t the greatest experience. I wasn’t treated the greatest being a foreigner with previous experience and a woman to boot. They didn’t really take me seriously. Though later, after I started my own class, they started watching from the sidelines appreciatively. They even came over before classes and offered to lend me books. Weird how they changed their tune after I left them. Oh well. I didn’t have many Japanese students, only a couple, but they were both martial artists who had trained in other styles. One of them held a 3rd degree black belt in Judo and seemed to like how we applied our training in a more self-defense context. He was a great student. He barely spoke any English and was really shy, but always worked really hard and trained seriously. There were lots of ups and downs when I taught in Japan, but I’m glad I did it. It kept me developing in my style and I got to give back to my local community through my teaching.
CW: Having reached a very high grade, passed on your knowledge and skill to so many others and authored 2 books, what would you regard as your greatest achievement within martial arts?
LO’C: Wow, that’s a tough one to answer. I would say my greatest achievement was creating and maintaining a community through my dojo in which people of all ages and backgrounds feel comfortable coming together for their own self-development. I also liked that I have been able to extend that community through involvement in social media and my writing. Giving back to the world in a positive way has always been important to me.
CW: Most senior grade martial artists are men. Have you had any resistance to your teachings or writings based on gender, or has it been a mainly positive response?
LO’C: For the most part, my experiences have been mainly positive. I’ve never had anyone resist my teachings directly to me because I’m a woman. That being said, I’ve sometimes felt like senior martial arts instructors have a tendency to be a bit of a “boys club” at times. They aren’t trying to make me feel unwelcome or anything, they just don’t always know exactly how to treat me in social situations. I think they tend to be a bit more formal around me than with other men of the same rank and experience. I try not to take it personally because I know they don’t mean me any offense. It’s a by-product of being in the minority, gender-wise.
CW: Generally speaking, women sometimes face different threats to men. Do you feel that women should train differently to men? If so please explain how?
LO’C: Not really. They just need to understand how best to use their body to achieve the same results as men. They often have to have better technique in order to apply moves on bigger/stronger individuals. For the most part, martial arts techniques are most effective when you use your energy efficiently by emphasizing universal principles such as body mechanics, balance breaking, distance & timing, etc. Everyone should be aiming to use these, regardless of size or strength because everyone wants to know that their moves will work when the chips are down and they are dealing with an attacker that has the size/strength advantage.
CW: Apart from the practical side of realistic self defence, you also seem to be interested in spiritual development as well. What are your main influences here and what part have martial arts played in your spiritual journey?
LO’C: The martial arts have taught me to aim to be fully present in whatever I do, to accept situations as they are, but also to try and make the most of them, however I can. I wouldn’t say that I subscribe to any formal spiritual philosophy, but I’ve always appreciated Zen and Taoist philosophy. I believe that everyone should develop their own sense of spirituality (by spirituality, I mean how one views their connection with the world around them)..
CW: The spiritual side can be difficult for many to understand, especially beginners (who usually just look to the physical self defence skills). Do you try to teach the spiritual side to your students (if so, how)? Or do you mainly focus on the practical side and wait them to work it out for themselves?
LO’C: I mainly focus on the practical side and let students get whatever they want to out of their own training. I don’t believe in trying to press my spiritual beliefs on anyone else, but I am happy to share if asked. I also provide a library at my dojo that contains many spiritual and philosophical books as well as martial arts books. If people want to explore spirituality within the context of the martial arts, they have every opportunity to do so, but it’s something they must initiate on their own.
CW: You don’t seem to have much interest in sport martial arts (which I personally can fully relate to). Have you ever taken part in competitions? Do you feel that sport adds or detracts from martial arts training?
LO’C: I have dabbled a little, having done a few competitions to see what it was like. At one point, I was training to be an MMA fighter with every intention of going into the ring. I had started doing MMA because I wanted to learn what they learned so I can teach my students how to handle that sort of attacker. I trained really hard for a number of months, but my trainer/promoter weren’t honest with me and kept telling me he had fights arranged (for which I trained up), then telling me it fell through at the last minute. I found out later that he had never actually gotten those fights for me and I was really put off. I lost interest after that.
I don’t think sport necessarily detracts from training. It depends on how you do it. If you only practice with sport in mind, never considering how your techniques might need to be adapted in self-defense situations, then yes, it would certainly detract from one’s martial arts training IF your purpose is to learn self-defense. If sport is your reason for training, then obviously it wouldn’t detract.
CW: I’m also very interested in your own personal blog www.Giver365.com. Can you tell us what that is about and what inspired you to start it up?
LO’C: Giv’er 365 is my way of exploring how I serve the world around me. I was inspired to start it up because I was doing a lot of thinking about my connection to the world around me and wanted to find more ways I could give back and perhaps inspire others to do the same.
CW: Are you a full time professional martial arts teacher/writer or do you just do it part time?
LO’C: I would say I do it half-time. I do work in the movies for the other half, mostly doing work as a movie extra, with the odd bit of stunt work here and there.
CW: In what ways does your martial art training impact on other areas of your life outside of the Dojo?
LO’C: The dojo has given me a community that I value greatly. Most of my friends have come out of my dojo, so my social life often revolves around my students. I also feel that my martial arts training has helped me develop my sense of connection with the world, and has even been a primary influence on my personal values.
CW: Looking at your first book, Weapons Of Opportunity, please tell about this, what motivated you to write this book and how well has it been received?
LO’C: I wrote that book because I was working in a full-time marketing job at the time that didn’t have enough work for me to actually work full time. Since I had to be there at my computer all day, I preferred to find something productive to do rather than sit there surfing the Internet. I hadn’t even started my dojo yet either, but I was missing my connection with Can-ryu. So I started writing that book as a series of short stories and anecdotes from my early years of martial arts training. I self-published the book, having not had any luck finding a publisher to back the work of an unknown author’s personal memoirs. Those who bought it and read it though, seemed to enjoy it. I got a lot of positive feedback from it. I’ve sold out of the printed copies, but a new digital version will be available soon.
CW: Your second book, When The Fight Goes To The Ground: Jiu Jitsu Strategies And Tactics For Self Defenseis coming out soon. When is the release date and what inspired you to write about this specific subject? Although it is early days yet, have you had any response or feedback about it?
LO’C: The official release date is Feb. 12, 2013. I was actually approached directly by Tuttle Publishing. Their martial arts acquisitions representative read my blog and liked my writing, asking me if I would be interested in submitting a proposal for a technical book/DVD format they were looking to develop. I had wanted to write a book about practical ground defense that got away from the whole submission grappling arena, focusing more on using techniques to get off the ground as quickly and efficiently as possible. I never pursued it though because I was told by a martial arts instructor/author mentor of mine that without being a well-known MMA fighter or something, I was unlikely to ever get a publisher to back it. Goes to show you that you shouldn’t always believe what you’re told. I haven’t really had any feedback about the book yet since it’s not out, but I have taught many of the techniques at seminars and at my own dojo and the techniques have always been well received.
CW: Many styles (like my own Karate) emphasis striking and do not always do much groundwork. Will this book to be of much value to martial artists of other styles to help them fill a possible gap in their own training?
LO’C: With the popularity of BJJ and MMA, many people are learning ground related skills, whether it’s formally through schools, or just from watching UFC and YouTube. With this knowledge becoming so widespread, it is well worth it to learn a base of ground defense if one’s purpose is to learn martial arts for self-defense. Traditional martial artists from stand-up striking styles don’t necessarily want to give up their style just to learn that specific an element of self-defense. And even if they did resort to training in BJJ or MMA, these styles are usually taught in a competitive context, leaving out many strategies and tactics that better serve one’s goals in street self-defense.
My book addresses the significant differences in approach between competition ground fighting and street defense ground fighting. It would teach competitive grapplers skills, concepts and techniques they can combine with their training for application in self-defense scenarios. It also offers traditional stand-up martial artists a simple, effective system of ground defense they can combine with their stand-up defensive skills.
CW: Outside of your own dojo, do you teach many seminars? If so, is it usually just within the Can Ryu Jiu Jitsu association, or do you teach martial artists of other styles? And how far afield have you journeyed to teach?
LO’C: Yes, I teach seminars outside my own dojo. I teach at the Canadian Jiu-jitsu Union Winter and Summer Camps every year. I also teach as a guest at other dojos for students of different martial arts styles. I have even taught self-defense/Jiu-jitsu seminars for corporate clients and private groups. So far, the farthest I’ve travelled to teach has been to Ontario, but this year I have plans to teach in the US, in addition to seminar plans in various locations throughout Canada.
CW: What are your future plans with your martial arts career? If anybody would like to book you for a seminar, how should they contact you and how far are you prepared to travel?
LO’C: My plan is to continue teaching and training (I still train at other dojos as well as my own dojo) to keep learning and improving on what I do in the martial arts. I also intend to write another martial arts book, one that addresses personal development in the martial arts.
If people are interested in booking me for a seminar, they can contact me through my dojo’s website, Pacific Wave Jiu-jitsu. I am willing to travel pretty much anywhere as long as we can come to an arrangement that makes it worthwhile for both me and the host.
CW: Lori, I’d like to wish you success with both your teaching and writing careers. I look forward to reading your new book When The Fight Goes To The Ground and would like to thank you for taking the time out to do this interview with me. Thank you very much.
Anybody interested in pre-ordering Lori’s new book or purchsing the old one, can do so from Amazon (see below).
I have been very fortunate and honoured to have been asked to publish the following interview with John Kelly. Both interviewer and interviewee are high grade and distinguished Shotokan Karateka.
The interviewer is John Johnston, 6th Dan, who has previously given a fascinating interview with myself on this website. This time though, he has interviewed his friend, Sensei John Kelly, who is a truly amazing man. Having survived a near death crash that would have killed most men, or at least made them lose the will to live; John Kelly has come back fighting. He is now a 4th Dan, runs his own association (the Munster Shotokan Karate Association) and even does door work. Some people just can’t be kept down!
So I’ll pass you over to John Johnston and John Kelly for an insight into a truly inspirational Karateka:
JJ: I know you started Karate when you were quite young, when and where was that?
JK: I went to a Karate demonstration in my home village (Kilmacthomas, County Waterford, Ireland) in 1982; I was blown away with the movements, power, speed and power breaking.
The Instructor was Dermot Carew, Chief Instructor to the R.I.K.A. (Republic of Ireland Karate Association). I joined immediately with my twin sister.
There were 95 members originally, so classes had to be separated by age and so on. Training was tough but I loved every minute.
Out of the 95 members only 5 stayed to Shodan and only 2 for Nidan myself and my twin sister. I am the only one from the original bunch still training.
Although now I have 4 clubs of my own (Munster Shotokan Karate Association).
JJ: At what age did you start to compete and how successful was you?
JK: I competed almost straight away and was very successful both home and abroad, being selected for the squad early in my kumite years. For a small guy I was well known for my flexibility and fast kicks.
JJ: We all know that Shotokan is your chosen style, what made you choose it and stay with it?
JK: I guess it was from the first demonstration when I saw the power, speed and destruction with one’s bare hands and feet.
After many years competing I have always felt shotokan to be the stronger art with much more power in its kumite and kata.
It is like a book with no final page, you never stop learning. Shotokan is the ultimate and covers all areas.
JJ: We also know that you have experienced other Martial Arts. Tell us a little bit about which ones and your impressions?
JK: I tried kick boxing in the early years and Taekwondo. Mainly for more competition. I enjoyed the physical fighting in the kick boxing but in the early days of kumite it was very physical also. I remember my dad and mam saying to me after several competitions “why would you stay doing a sport that leaves you with a black eye, split lip. Or broken nose” THE GOOD OLD KUMITE DAYS.
Kumite these days is a lot tamer than then, with more and more kids joining and competing I suppose it’s for the best.
JJ: John, you are known as a man who will not compromise. How does that work out for you in today’s financial climate and people looking for instant results?
JK: Well I suppose in Karate, I will not allow students to grade unless they are competent with their relative grading syllabus, to many allow students to grade once they have paid their fee. This is all too common. But sadly the only one that suffers is the students who will find out very quickly that they cannot compete comfortably at their grade level.
As a coach it is my job to ensure a high standard and that all members when they compete have an equal opportunity and not compete above their grade level.
There is no set time for Shodan as far as I am concerned. It is better for a student to earn their grade than to buy it.
I am fair in competition if I am reffing, the student that deserves the win will get the win whether they are mine or from a different club.
I suppose in business things have changed a lot and as a Professional Painting and Decorating contractor you have to be firm, it is a cut throat business.
All in all if a student is dedicated they would rather wait a bit longer to earn their grades but if they want to progress quicker and become a black belt at 6 or 7 they may go elsewhere.
JJ: We know that you had a few personal setbacks over the years. If you don’t mind I’m sure people would love to hear about them and how you coped.
JK: Yes I had my fair share of knock backs; in the summer of 1997 I was very busy at my Painting and Decorating work. With that summer being very good, I worked long hours 7 days a week .
It caught up on me on 18th August 97 when I feel asleep while driving and hit a wall with concrete post with steel cables running through them.
There was nothing left of the car and my head.
I sustained 9 multiple skull fractures, broken neck in 2 places, right eye socket crushed, left shoulder crushed, all facial bones fractured and my right eye was hanging out.
I had to have many reconstructive operations and had a front lobe elevation as the top part of my head ended up down by my chin.
Even though it took many years to recover fully, I honestly believe Karate had a lot to do with my mental strength in my recovery as well as help from the man upstairs.
I was very lucky to survive such a horrific road accident and look at Karate a lot different now.
I try to give back to it and the members what it gave me.
One thing I will always remember was the pains in my head for so many years; sometimes I would physically cry it was so unbearable.
But life is for living, there was a poor guy in Cork hospital around that time that was in a less serious car crash but the difference was when his brain swelled it had no room as his head was not fracture, poor man ended up brain dead for life, my skull had several open fractures , the brain was visible (yuk) but when the brain swelled it had room.
I feel very lucky today, 15 years later I have a beautiful wife and son.
Still have a few more operations to go but will deal with them when they come up.
If I could give advice to anyone, no matter how bad their situation is whether it be financial, medical or personnel, there is always someone worse off and never to give up, where there is a will there is a way.
JJ: You were very lucky.
JK: Yes I was very lucky, I still have some major operations to go, you don’t come out of a smash and sustain those types of injuries without some problems down the line.
I remember not being able to do even one press up after the smash but when I went back training my Instructor had to pull me to one side, he said “slow down you are not the same man, you body needs to slowly strengthen , slow and steady and you will get there”. He was right, I guess in my head I thought I was the same and did not want to come to terms with my competition years being gone so early.
Now I try to give the members my experience and opportunities I never had.
But yes Karate gave me strength both physically and mentally and also the drive to now pass on and teach rather than compete.
I would have to say my wife has been very supportive both in Karate and during my recovery. In my competition years she was always there to cheer me on, I was not the easiest person to be around or live with at that time of the crash and recovery period.
I have a young son now and hopefully some day he will take it up. But that choice will be his when he is old enough.
JJ: You’ve stuck to Shotokan where as many people who have door experience have turned to Reality–Based Martial Arts or MMA. What are your reasons for that?
JK: Many train for door work in these martial arts as if preparing for aggro to use at the slightest hint of trouble, this is the wrong mentality, and is the cause of many conflicts.
I happen to fall into this line of work as a second income only and treat it as any other job.
Obviously you are dealing with alcohol and drug induced members of the public and have to be firm but fair.
You can deal with most situations by talking and having a good partner or team to cover you, aggression attracts aggression. If you portray a hard man image as a bouncer you will attract trouble where as if you treat people like human beings while still being firm but fair, you will gain respect and fewer enemies.
I think Shotokan has it all, how to deal with any situation.
JJ: As I look at Karate in Ireland as compared to the UK, I get the impression that it is a lot more unified. Do you share that feeling?
JK: Well as you know there is too much ego, politics and B–l S–t in Karate worldwide. In Ireland there is a high standard in the different groups and organisations.
They all seem to support each other at events/ seminars and competitions. So yes I would agree.
Sadly there is little or no funding for Karate in Ireland, I’m not sure about the UK.
JJ: Your Clubs are having allot of competition success. Tell us about that and how you see their future?
JK: Yes the members are very competitive and can’t seem to get enough. They have made it to medal position Regionally, Nationally and Internationally in most competitions over the last few years.
We are also members of ONAKAI (Official National Amateur Karate Association of Ireland) www.onakai.org. I am appointed by ONAKAI as Munster Junior Kumite Coach and take this role very serious and working with clubs and instructors develop students to represent their country at International events. European/world and hopefully the Olympics in 2020. I am also ONAKAI Munster regional secretary.
We make the training fun but at the same time disciplined, win lose or draw they are all winners once they set foot on the tatami.
I try to explain to them in order to be a good winner you first have to be a good loser, always to bow and shake hands with your opponent. There is a lot to be learnt from a lose.
I hope to have students compete and represent their country in either EKF/WKF European or world championships some day. That would be any clubs dream.
JJ: Unlike a lot of senior Instructors you like to expose your students to a variety of Instructors. I myself think that is a very healthy approach. Is that why you do it?
JK: I like to expose the students to many Instructors; some might think it is not wise as they may make you look less skilled as some are exceptional.
My job is to teach and to develop the students and myself the best way I can and not to just stand at the top of the class promoting myself. To many I think discourage there students from training or competing with other clubs or organisations, I try to give the members more opportunities than I had over the years
They can learn so much from a variety of seminars/course with guest instructors. We also open our courses/seminars and competition s to everyone regardless of affiliation or association. Strictly no politics/ego’s, our doors are open to all.
We have a good relationship with the many groups/organizations and associations in Ireland and further afield.
We are there to develop the members both physically, mentally and to teach them to have an open mind to make their own way on their journey in Karate-do and life
JJ: Are there any incidents whilst bouncing that you would like to tell us about, without incriminating yourself?
JK: There are a few serious and humorous ones but I will tell you in person as that job is separate to Karate and I would prefer to keep it that way.
JJ: Over the years you’ve done quite allot of Door Work. What transferable skills would you say come from Karate training?
JK: I would probably say confidence and control as you know yourself you get quite a lot of verbal abuse and I believe most situations can be handled if you are calm and able to diffuse a situation by talking rather that getting physical
JJ: What are your likes and dislikes about Karate today?
JK: I like most everything about Karate today, some are not happy if Karate makes it to the Olympics as they feel if kumite gets in Kata is left out and there goes traditional Karate.
Hmmmm. I don’t know. WKF is very fast and with 8 points it makes a fight out of it, giving the competitors a fighting chance.
In my opinion Kata should also be added to the Olympic’s as it is fabulous to watch and is one of the core values of a Karate, the 3 K’s Kihon, Kata and Kumite.
Karate is less funded than other martial arts for example kickboxing go figure. I think it would be good and give it the recognition it deserves and would grow clubs and members worldwide.
Dislikes, too much bull shit, egos and politics for my liking.
I would like to thank John Johnston for conducting this interview and forwarding it to me.
I would especially like to thank John Kelly for agreeing to be interviewed and for sharing his very traumatic experiences with us. To go through something like that and able to come back achieve what John Kelly has achieved is a real inspiration to all martial artist.
Stav is a very rare Norwegian Martial Art, which dates back to the Vikings. Along with numerous weapons and unarmed combat, it also has a very deep philosophical, spiritual and self development side to it, which is very different to anything that most of us would usually associate with the Vikings.
One of the World’s leading authority’s on this rare and ancient martial art is international Stav instructor and author, Graham Butcher; who has kindly agreed to do this interview.
Graham has a lot of insights to share which will be of benefit to any martial artists, regardless of style. This is despite the fact that it was developed in North Europe’s, whilst most martial arts have their origins in the Far East. In fact in some ways it gives a fresh perspective, whilst at the same time still having a lot in common.
So, on to the interview:
CW: Graham, I believe you practiced other martial arts before you found and focused on Stav. Can you tell us which other styles you trained in?
GB: As a teenager I started with Kyushindo Karate under Sensi George Mayo. I followed that with Feng Sau Wu Shu where my teacher was Graham Horwood. I also trained in Shotokan Karate in Southgate before I took up Kick boxing with Joe Holmes and the last style I trained in before I took up Stav was Nambudo which I practised for a couple of years before moving to Humberside where I met Ivar Hafskjold.
CW: Stav is a very rare martial art. How did you come across it?
GB: Sometime in October or November 1992 I was scanning the magazine stand in a Hull newsagent and I felt compelled to purchase the current edition of Fighting Arts International, a publication belonging to Terry O’Neill. I hadn’t bought a martial arts magazine in a long time so it was strange. I got it home and read it an there was an article called the Viking and the Samurai by Harry Cook. The piece was an interview with Ivar Hafskjold who had recently returned to Europe from Japan and settled in the UK. Over four pages the article covered Ivar’s experiences in Japan and Stav, the family system. It also turned out that Ivar lived only a few miles away in Beverley and he was interested in finding students to teach. At the time I was teaching a self defence class and I felt that getting in contact with Ivar Hafskjold was the right thing to do. I wrote him a letter and received a phone call in return. We met up and talked and I was shown some of the training Ivar had received in Japan. Not having done Japanese weapon arts let along seen Stav before it all seemed a bit strange but something made me think it would be a good idea to learn from Ivar. He was holding a class in Driffield at the time so I joined that and began training with him.
CW: Having practiced other martial arts, what was it about Stav as a fighting art that appealed and made you want to stay with it?
GB: Difficult to say really but I think it was two things. Firstly it was realising that Ivar could teach me stuff I didn’t already know and I wanted to learn from him. Secondly it was the emphasis on realising one’s own potential rather than having to attain an arbitrary external standard. That’s really it, I have learned stuff from Ivar which I am sure no one else could have taught me, and I anticipate that there will be new insights to gain from him when I train with him on the summer camp in July. And I continue to explore and develop my own potential using thepractice and principles of Stav as a framework and guide.
CW: Tell us a little bit about Stav as there’s a lot more to it than just a fighting system isn’t there?
GB: It is very dangerous making a comparison like this but I will risk suggesting that Stav can be compared to, say, Taoism in the sense that Tai Chi may be a Taoist art but Taoism is not Tai Chi alone. Stav may be learned, practised and expressed through martial training but there are many other aspects to it. Stav literally means “knowledge of the rune stav/e/s” . The runes have a roughly comparable place in European culture as the Iching does in China. (I know these are very imperfect comparisons but they may be helpful). The runes are symbols for learning traditional wisdom and accessing the intuition. The runes also provide the inspiration for the stances which are rather like a Chi gung form. Doing the stances daily promotes a good posture, maintains a full range of movement, develops deep and natural breathing, encourages the flow of Megin (vital energy) and induces a relaxed and focused mindset.
Stav also teaches an awareness of environment including plants, trees and animals as well as the seasons, weather and topography. Socially Stav is concerned with self-reliance and being able to take care of yourself while also understanding how society works and how human beings interact. The five principles of Stav help us with this.
Then there is learning to see the Web of Orlog which is about understanding how things are made and connected to one another. This is about seeing the underlying reality of any situation rather than just the surface impression. This applies to all aspects of life, relationships, business, health and making and creating things.
CW: With all these different facets to the art, do you practice them all equally, or is there any aspect that you specialise in?
GB: I do the stances daily and I have a particular interest in martial arts and martial training so I give time to that. I also work at making, building and fixing things in my Handyman business. I am interested in marketing, teaching and communication generally. I use these to promote my Stav teaching and the Handyman business. I sometimes work with runes directly and they are effective tools for developing self knowledge but I don’t give a huge amount of time to that aspect at the moment.
CW: Stav includes a number of weapons. Obviously knife defence is as applicable today as it was centuries ago when Stav was first created. What other weapons do you teach that are still directly applicable in today’s world?
GB: Firstly we teach basics with the staff because it is a very effective way of learning how to use the body. Techniques done with a long two handed weapon give very clear feedback on the positioning and alignment of the body. An almost imperceptible movement of the hand becomes a displacement of several inches at the end of a staff which the hand is holding. Not only can the teacher see this but the student quickly becomes aware of this for themselves and the staff in a sense becomes their teacher. When doing two person drills working with thestaff breaks down the difference in size and strength between those training. So the principle can be explored and seen more clearly than if all contact is body to body. So we would regard weapons primarily as teaching devices to build knowledge, awareness and confidence. Once these qualities are developed they will easily transfer to unarmed training.
Secondly we have to realise that human beings are tool using animals and weapons are just tools with a specific function. Unarmed self-defence is only relevant in the very artificial situation which exists in current western society. Does anyone teach tool free DIY or implement free gardening? The idea would be ridiculous and in reality so is unarmed self-defence. However present social conditions make it difficult to carry a weapon on a regular basis so we do need unarmed self-defence skills although we would do well to remember that however good we may be a weapon can confer a massive advantage to an opponent of even mediocre skills. You may obey the law in not carrying an “offensive weapon” but you can be reasonably sure that someone who is determined to hurt you for some reason may not be so deterred. The weapons which are most accessible to us (and least likely to be considered “offensive weapons” by those whose job it is to regulate, sorry, protect us are tool handles, walking sticks, walking staffs, martial arts “training” equipment etc. The humble stick in whatever form will never be obsolete as a weapon so teaching staff (broomstick) axe (pick handle, baseball bat, golf club) and cudgel (walking stick etc) will never be irrelevant.
Post interview note: Here is a video of Graham demonstrating knife defence. He also demonstrates the 5 principles of Stav, referred to above:
CW: How relevant do you feel it is to practice ancient weapons such as axe and spear in today’s world?
GB: Personally I use an axe and its smaller cousin the sax (a heavy bladed machete) on a regular basis. My work often involves clearing overgrown vegetation including trees. Cutting wood and other plant material is a great way of learning to handle an axe or sax, building strength, learning to see the web line needed for an effective cut and earning money all at the same time. Stav is a totally practical art.
Another reason for working with the axe is that to develop good defences you need a very good attack to defend against and the axe, in the hands of a competent person is a very good attacking weapon, so once again it is a teaching tool. And as stated above in extremes the axe is as good a weapon for self-defence today as it ever was for a Viking and you can have a perfectly legitimate reason for owning it.
A spear is essentially a longer staff so training with it adds some variety to practice of basics. That is the main reason. Of course if necessary a spear is very easy to improvise and in skilled hands it is the ultimate close quarter weapon.
I certainly have reservations about martial training systems which aretechnology based. By that I mean that they train with particular kinds of swords and everything is really geared to exploring the potential of the sabre, or rapier or broadsword or whatever. In Stav training we essentially with four sticks; long, staff or spear, medium, axe or two handed club, short, cudgel, walking stick or possibly one handed sword and tein, which can be a short baton or represent a knife or dagger. Each of these enables you to train for a “real weapon” but each is highly effective for self-defence in exactly the same form as you train with if you know what you are doing with it.
CW: I note that your website and other Stav websites use the title “Ice and Fire”. Clearly opposites! Is that the Viking equivalent of Yin and Yang? Does the Stav philosophy have a lot in common with the philosophies of Eastern martial arts?
GB: The Ice and Fire name comes from the Norse creation myth which describes how the world came into existence in the Gunning Gap a place between fire and ice and in the vapour that formed life developed. I suppose it is a similar concept to Ying and Yang but I think the Vikings were a bit more literal in their thinking, Ying and Yang are abstract concepts, Ice and Fire are everyday realities. All human beings have to engage with the same fundamental issues so there will be parallels in martial arts philosophies too. However it would take a long time to unpick them all.
CW: Are there any areas where Stav philosophy is significantly different to the Eastern martial arts?
GB: Another tricky one to try and unpick in a few lines. There is a major Confucian influence on Eastern martial arts hence the seniority of the teacher and submission to that seniority becomes an overriding imperative in the practice of the art. Whereas with Stav as a western system the emphasis is on the development of the individual. There is a lot more to be said than this about superficial differences but ultimately they are just different paths to the top of the same mountain.
CW: Martial arts are different things to different people; sport, combat, self development, business, combination of things. Can you sum up what is your personal philosophy on martial arts?
GB: For me it is primarily self-development, I think self-defence is important but the best way to protect oneself is stay out of trouble. I enjoy teaching martial arts and would like to do it full time, but to achieve that it will have to be a reasonably successful business.
CW: You describe Stav as your “primary activity”. How does Stav affect your day to day life and what benefits do you feel you get from your daily practice?
GB: It keeps me fit and healthy which is obviously important. It also helps me see things clearly which is very helpful for solving problems which is basically what I do in my ‘day job’.
Despite being centuries old, Stav is still being developed to make it morerelevant in today’s society.
CW: Can you tell us a little about your role in this development and what specifically you have brought into the mix?
GB: I have been working with Ivar since the beginning to make Stav into a system which could be taught as a public system rather than as a family tradition which is the way the Hafskjolds had passed it on for centuries. By learning the system myself and then seeking to teach it to as many people as possible I think we have got a little closer to having a teachable system than we had at the start. Ivar is an amazing teacher but he would admit that you have to be in the right place to start learning from him. I have focused on how to teach Stav from scratch to any one who is serious about learning.
CW: I note on your website that you have a particular interest in martial art training for older people. This is an area of interest for me too. Do you have any general advice for the more mature martial artist?
GB: Big subject, but very briefly I would recommend getting very focused in one’s training. Take an 80/20 approach where you concentrate on the few exercises and techniques which will bring the greatest benefits. Don’t over strain yourself or waste energy.
CW: You teach seminars in several UK cities as well as in Germany and the USA. Are there any other countries that you’ve taught in and how did this come about when so few people (even in the martial arts world) have even heard of Stav?
GB: I have taught a seminar in France a few years back and Ivar has taught in Australia and Scandinavia. It has been mainly people seeing the websites and getting interested enough to organise a seminar.
CW: You have written a book; Stav: The Fighting System of Northern Europe. How did this come about and is it the only book available on Stav?
GB: I wrote it when I had been doing Stav about three years. At that stage I felt I knew enough to produce a kind of manual. Quite recently I wrote a supplement to it which I provide to anyone who buys a copy. There are some booklets on other aspects of Stav available from my website. It is high time I wrote a new book but these days I feel like I don’t know enough, I just need to get over that and get on with it.
CW: You also run a blog about Stav at http://iceandfire.ca/stavblog which you post on regularly. Has this been well received and what type of issues do you focus on?
GB: I do get good feedback and I focus on any aspect of Stav and related issues, which pretty much means I can write about almost anything. I suggest readers have a look for themselves.
CW: You are currently doing Geoff Thompson’s Masterclass. How much of this do you find fits in directly with your Stav training and do you find any parts to be very different?
GB: The concept of the fence fits very well with our training in the five principles. Okay, I haven’t tested Stav in 300 fights but I do have some experience of violence. I find his teaching on fear and how to manage it very helpful and I am incorporating that into my teaching more than I used to. None of Geoff’s teaching seems alien but he certainly emphasises stuff I hadn’t always paid enough attention to.
CW: What are you future plans for your own training and for spreading Stav?
GB: I am looking more at the unarmed/self-defence aspects of Stav training, Geoff Thompson’s influence has been very helpful there. I am doing much more impact training than I have done for many years using punchbags etc and that is interesting. As far as spreading Stav generally is concerned I will be making more training dvds and writing more. I am also taking more opportunities to teach Stav at multi style events, these are always a good chance to spread the word.
CW: Do your Stav seminars have much to offer martial artists of other styles who are not looking to change style, but just want to explore the whole ethos of martial arts more deeply?
GB: Depends a bit on which one they come on. If I am focusing on five principles or working with the web training then these concepts are useful to someone doing any style. If I am teaching stances, or axe training or nine guards with staff or spear it is a bit more specifically Stav but it could still be of interest. I would suggest calling or emailing me first and saying what it is you are looking for and I can see whether or not that particular seminar is likely to be suitable for your needs.
CW: How should people contact you if they want to train with you, or to book you for seminars?
CW: Graham, thank you very much for taking the time to do this interview and for your insights. I wish you every success in your future projects and I’ll have to come and train on one of your seminars in the future.
For anybody interested in obtaining Graham’s book, you can get it from Amazon:-