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:-
In my Newsletters I always do a “Featured Martial Artist” each month. In the June Newsletter, it was Shotokan Karate international instructor, John Johnston.
The people that Sensei Johnston has trained with reads like a who’s who on the early Shotokan Karate scene in the UK. He has also trained at many seminars with other leading martial artists outside of the Shotokan world. This is all backed up by years of experience at the sharp end doing door work at the toughest nightclubs in Coventry, as well doing personal protection for some high profile businessmen and celebrities. Unfortunately, John can’t really talk about his personal protection work for reasons of confidentiality.
Many people these days talk about “reality based martial arts”, but John was poineer these methods long before it entered in the mainstream of martial arts. In fact Geoff Thompson, who’s name is synonymous with reality based martial arts received his early training and many of his early ideas from John. In Geoff’s own words:
“John was and still remains probably the greatest influence to my development in martial arts, taking me through all those vital fundamental lessons, offering me (free) private lessons when he saw my potential; he even brought my suit and belt for me when I didn’t have enough money. He is a great influence and great friend and a powerful presence in British martial arts. Without John I would not in any way be doing what I am doing today and I am very grateful to him for that, and I highly recommend him and his instruction to anyone looking to fast track their martial arts”.
John is a humble man and not a one to push himself forward. As such he is not as well known in the wider martial arts world as he deserves to be. I have been very lucky and honoured to have secured this interview with him. Later this month, I will be having a private lesson with him, which I shall report back on later.
In the meantime, here’s that interview.
CW: Please tell us about your early training in martial arts and who your main teachers and influences were when you started?
JJ: My first teacher was Richard Jackson. I started training with him shortly after his return from Japan. Having trained out there and taken his 2nd Dan. The reason I started with him was after having looked at some other Karate styles and Kung Fu, the immediate impact of the Shotokan style and his method of teaching. Seeing that made me realise that it was exactly what I was looking for. By the time I got to around 4th Kyu (2nd purple belt) Kawazoe Sensei had arrived in Britain and started to spend allot of time with myself and other colleagues from the Coventry Dojo. Someone else that also had a profound influence on my Karate was Neil Thomas from Wolverhampton, whom we had regular mixed sessions with. We were also very lucky and privileged that the Coventry Long Ford Dojo was used for the National and International squad sessions, which were taken by Enoeda Sensei and Andy Sherry. We were allowed to train alongside such names as: Steve Cattle, Billy Higgins, Bob Rhodes, Bob Poynton, Terry O’Neil, Mick Dewey, Dave Hazard, Mick Ragg and countless others from that era. I say we were allowed to train alongside them it felt more like we were being used for cannon fodder. I could tell you countless stories about those times, suffice to say training was very hard on many levels, retaining students for financial purposes was not a criteria, you could either put up with the harshness or pack up.
CW: You competed quite a bit in your younger days. Competitions and training could be much tougher and harsher back then, can you tell us about some of your experiences from those days?
JJ: My first experience of competition free style came when I used to visit one of the local Wado Ryu clubs at 8th Kyu stage. I remember my basics although stronger seemed slow and ponderous in comparison and finding it strange when Randori was called, watching everybody pad up and starting to dance about. On reflection I look back at those times and think about my frustration at not being able to score points the way they were initially. Visiting the Wado Ryu club periodically over an 18 month period I started to find it very easy to overwhelm and score points on people of a higher grade than myself. In the first competition that Coventry Shotokan Karate club attained, we were nearly all disqualified in the team event and the individuals because of our strong technique, lack of experience and understanding. Although other styles were allowed to use protective equipment, it was frowned upon for us to use, we neither wanted to or were allowed any type of protection for many years. Only after at least 10 years of training was it that groin protection and gum shield became mandatory. Any other form of protection required a doctor’s consent and would meet with disapproval from your team mates. I think because of this we all myself included gained far more control, precision and was better able to apply our techniques. Initially myself and likeminded colleagues would enter the open competitions with which we had some minor success and also gained allot of experience. Later I became a member of the KUGB Central Region Squad which was coached by Frank Brennan. I was with the squad for many years as its Captain and as a full competing member. The experience gained from being on the squad was phenomenal. We had many senior and junior champions on the squad of international and national level, people like: Ronnie Christopher, Dean Hodgekiss, Ronnie Cannings, Donald Campbell, Glen Davidson and Bruce Thomas, these all won either national, European and world championships. Along with the fact that whilst being coached by Frank Brennan who that over this period of time was at the top of his game. I was very lucky and privileged to have been a major part of the squad for 12 years or more. Any new members that were selected to the squad would quite often be initiated with a line up. I can’t describe how devastating that could be on a young lad who’d never encountered such action before.
CW: How do you feel that Shotokan Karate has developed and how have training methods changed from those early days to what it is today?
JJ: I see many changes in Shotokan over a long period of time. Quite a lot of it I feel is detrimental to the ethos, attributes and benefits of Shotokan. It has been diluted and lessened either because of financial considerations, fear of prosecution on health and safety grounds and or lack of understanding and knowledge of instructors that were badly taught themselves and do not have enough courage to step outside their small comfort zone and seek further knowledge and experience in a larger arena. They inherited inadequate and poor technique from their instructors and seem blind to the fact that they are passing on their bad technique to their students. I could write pages and pages on this topic but it needs to be said that it’s not all gloom and doom, there are allot of really good instructors on many levels, club, seminar and courses who are doing great work. I think that Kata especially has developed and improved from my early days. This has happened on both the competition and Dojo level. This seems to be a greater understanding of biomechanics, breathing and psychological focus combined with greater athleticism, speed, analysis and understanding of movement. It is a pity that this only happens in the more progressive Dojo’s. I know that in my case when I gave greater focus to my Kata training over long periods of time I became so much more successful with my Kumite. I think that there is quite allot of instructors who’ll teach only certain aspects of Karate which they may favour themselves. I feel that we should be teaching what the students need rather than what they want or we as instructors favour.
CW: As you progressed and became more knowledgeable, did anybody else especially influence your martial arts development, and have you tried other styles of martial art?
JJ: As I have explained in previous questions I have had many influences and I have experienced one or two other styles of martial art but I only train for Shotokan and in Shotokan. I have enjoyed some experiences of dabbling in Judo, I taught Karate at Neil Adam’s (who was the Judo World Gold Medalist and Olympic Silver Medalist) Dojo in Coventry for 11 years and for the fitness aspect I did boxing training for a two year period. Occasionally I get the opportunity to train outside Shotokan with various people i.e.: Steve Morris, Master A, Dev Barrett, Ian Abernathy. These have been within the last two years, previous to that there have been countless others in different styles of Karate, Kung Fu, Taekwondo, Aikido and Jujitsu. Although having enjoyed these as one off sessions it is Shotokan which I find suits me physically and psychologically.
CW: You spent a lot time working on the doors in Coventry, which was noted for being a tough city at the time. Can you tell us about some of your experiences and what effect these experiences had on your approach to your Karate?
JJ: First I started working part time as a doorman alongside some ex boxers and local hard men. Later working full time until there was a major incident at which point the police came back with the condition that to keep the licence for the club which was one of the largest in Britain, the club could no longer employ anybody with a criminal record. I would say that this was a precursor that helped to establish today’s criteria for door staff. It also helped to elevate me to head doorman. As you can imagine there were numerous incidents every night, unlike Geoff Thompson I never kept a diary otherwise I would have written a book long before now. I would say working on the doors gave me allot of experience in understanding the psychology of confrontation and was a good testing ground for various Karate techniques and it taught me that your basic technique needed to be adapted and refined depending on your intent. Not only physical adaptation but mental adaptation is required to be effective as a doorman. Charlie I would love to tell you about numerous colourful incidents but 1) I cannot just pick one out and 2) I would have to kill you so as not to incriminate myself.
CW: Karate these days has become very diverse with some people adapting or adding in things to make their teaching more realistic. However, do you feel that despite individual initiatives, most mainstream Karate is still lacking elements of realism which would make a difference in a real life confrontation?
JJ: The simple answer to this question is yes. The majority of my senior students have never had a serious or violent confrontation in their adult life and I think the same applies to the majority of society. Karate can be used for self defence/ protection and I believe that to teach this should come from experience and requires a certain mind set for it to be of benefit to a student. Most Karate is done or practiced for recreation, some for self development and improvement and some to fulfil a spiritual need.
CW: You have taught for many years that traditional Karate (as passed to us by the Japanese) needs to be modified to make it work in real live confrontation. Can you explain what you mean by this and what elements need modifying?
JJ: I would say as a way of explanation that training needs to be done in a very robust fashion with correct intention from all participants and with an intensive competitive mindset. That is to say that you could have really good Karate technique but when put under pressure or in a stressful situation you lose the ability to apply it. Conditioning mentally and physically needs to be part of a comprehensive training regime for you to be effective with Karate in a real life confrontation.
CW: Does this only apply to Shotokan, or do you feel that it applies to most traditional Oriental martial arts?
JJ: I would say yes in the greater majority
CW: You call your teaching method, “Adaptive Karate”. Can you please tell us exactly what that means and how it relates to making Karate more effective in real confrontations?
JJ: I don’t call my teaching method Adaptive Karate. The majority of my teaching is in Shotokan Karate. However, I do Adaptive Karate courses and seminars in which I try to teach people how to apply techniques. I take people through drills to increase their skill level and give them a greater understanding of disruption, destabilization and distraction against an opponent and how to use the body as a unit.
CW: With other instructors making a name for themselves with practical applied bunkai, do you feel that your approach is different to the way most other instructors apply Karate for self defence?
JJ: Yes. I will take moves from Kata and make them as straight forward and effective as possible. I do not believe that we have to call this Bunkai and directly relate it to a given Kata. I do not wish to go on a crusade or preach to other people about what they believe to be their version of correct Bunkai. However honesty has to play a major part in what you say and do in reference to your Karate. If you have not robustly pressure tested your technique as it applies to Bunkai. In reality, it is only your theory. If you can prove that the techniques that you are teaching are realistic and valid then your Bunkai will stand up to scrutiny, in other words if it don’t work then don’t teach it.
CW: On your Adaptive Karate website, it says that “Traditional Shotokan Karate has an underlying spiritual essence that builds character and inner strength which empowers the mind and so empowers the body”. How important is spiritual and character development to you?
JJ: My personal development is of paramount importance to myself and to be able to give my students the advice, information, instruction and tools so that they can develop into considerate, humble, courteous, respectful, strong minded and determined members of society.
CW: As somebody who puts a lot of emphasis on real world no nonsense self defence, do you see spiritual development and realistic self defence as being intrinsically linked, or are they separate elements where the student can focus on one more than the other?
JJ: The answer to that question I would say is down to the individual; on a personal level for me they are linked but other people will have different perspectives and priorities at various times throughout their lives. Their needs and ambitions will fluctuate, vary and change depending on what their immediate influence in life is. That makes it a very difficult question to give any sort of definitive answer to.
CW: Modern trends in martial arts tend to go either towards sport (primarily MMA) or “reality based”; both of which tend to move away from the emphasis that traditional Oriental arts placed on etiquette and pure form (such as kata). What do you feel traditional Oriental martial arts have to offer in the modern world which can’t be found in the more modern approaches?
JJ: I feel that in today’s fast moving and instant gratification society, that something such as Traditional Shotokan Karate taught correctly and progressively with the correct emphasis on courtesy, humility, self discipline and respect; has an enormous amount to offer to both children and adults. The benefits to children are obvious, but to adults there is the added bonus of a certain amount of spiritual fulfilment which can fill the void if you have no religious commitment or as an add on if you do have a religious conviction. It is so much more than a young person’s sport. It is a lifetime endeavour and commitment if you so want it to be.
CW: You have at least 2 testimonials on your website which mention that you have given free lessons to students who had financial difficulties at the time (including the now famous Geoff Thompson) and that you even went so far as to buy them their Karate uniforms and other training equipment. In a world where many people are just looking to make money, that was very generous. Do you have any criteria for the people you help like this?
JJ: The criteria which I have is that people are honest, and want to train and advance in their Karate. I don’t want to open the floodgates but I feel and have always said that if somebody can’t afford to train, I would rather they came training for free up until such time as their circumstances change.
CW: I understand that your wife, Elaine, does talks at local schools about peer pressure and bullying. Do you help her with this and how important do you think this work is?
JJ: Yes, everything that we do is some form of collaboration and we do almost everything together, and yes this type of work is important because not only as a Karate Instructor but as a member of the community, you have a civil and moral duty to help out wherever possible.
CW: Although you’ve trained in other martial arts, you still teach primarily pure Shotokan. Have you ever been tempted to add elements of other martial arts, or do you feel that Shotokan is complete enough without any other influences?
JJ: Anything positive from other Martial Arts are always worth integrating into your training. Pad and bag work should be an essential part of any Martial Arts training regime. Strengthening and fitness exercises of the right nature are always valuable. Nothing should be set in stone, that is to say that we should look at other Martial Arts and use and incorporate anything that is beneficial and effective. On my Adaptive Karate courses I have incorporated techniques from Judo, Aikido, Taekwondo, Jujitsu, Boxing, Thai Boxing and other forms of Martial Arts and styles that I believe have any validity and effectiveness and the people that train with me in the Adaptive Karate are not expected to do things exactly the way that I demonstrate but to find their own way of executing the basic principle of the drill that it suits themselves.
CW: What are your future plans for your own personal Karate development and for teaching?
JJ: For the future I hope to be able to expand my teaching base so that I can instruct on more courses and seminars as well as developing my clubs. As for myself, I train every morning, mostly on my own, in which I will go through drills that I have devised for myself as well as Kata. I know that this year I am booked to train on several courses with people such as Sensei Dave Hazard, Sensei Aiden Trimble, Sensei Ian Abernethy and hopefully will attend other courses with other Senior Instructors. I still sometimes train at some other local clubs occasionally.
CW: Are you available for courses and seminars outside of your own Karate Association, and if so, how should people contact you?
JJ: I am more than happy to teach outside the association to any Karate style or Martial Arts discipline. I can be contacted several ways. My website is: www.adaptivekarate.com. Any telephone enquiries can be taken by my wife and Secretary Elaine Johnston on: 07791 635958 or drop me an Email:j.johnston@adaptivekara
CW: Sensei, it has been a privilege to have done this interview with you and I look forward to training with later this month. Thank you very much for your time and your interesting and informative insights.
Note: For non-Japanese stylists, Shihan means a master level instructor, (above an ordinary Sensei).
This is one master that I particularly hold in very high respect for 2 main reasons. Firstly is that through his book Shotokan Myths, he seeks to give us (mainly in the West) the real truths behind much of the mysticism and mis-information that has built up over the years for social, political and even commercial reasons. The honesty and directness is very refreshing.
Secondly is that he truly understands the difference between Western and Eastern thinking and applies it (rather than expecting others to meld to his way).
I hope I don’t offend anybody here, but most of my previous experience of Japanese Karate masters was that some of them would even pretend that they could not speak English properly when you know full well they can. This was so that they did not have to teach you very much.
When I took my early gradings in the late 70’s early 80’s under the late and charismatic Ray Fuller, we would all come out from his classes thinking “wow, isn’t Karate great” and being really inspired to learn it all. When I moved to Scotland and gradings were conducted by 2 senior Japanese masters, my class mates come out saying “isn’t the wee man great”. I was thinking to myself, yes he is technically brilliant, but I’ve learnt very little. There’s a stark difference.
This is why after several emails between Shihan Kokota and myself, I was blown away when this Japanese 8th Dan suggested that we have a chat on Skype and that I don’t need to be so formal with him.
I don’t think Shihan Yokata will mind me sharing this with you, but in one of his emails to me on the subject of being a master, he said “I am only 64 so I am still too young to hold that title. I will wait till I am 70 or even 80 and see if I feel old enough to be a master”. For a man who’s trained in martial arts for over 50 years, compare that to the many much younger martial artists who readily use the title Grand-Master!
Anyway, on to the interview. I thoroughly enjoyed reading Shihan Yokota’s answers and I hope you do to.
CW: Please tell us how old you were when you first started your martial arts training, how you started and what led you to focusing on Shotokan Karate in particular?
KY: My father was a Kodokan judo practitioner so I wanted to practice judo as soon as I was in junior high school. I joined a club at the local police station where the policemen taught the classes and I was 13 at that time. I was an energetic child so I loved the rigorous training of judo and practiced it very diligently. After a year or two later a new student joined. He was a short and small guy so I threw him easily. He liked to be thrown but he was different. If you are familiar with judo, a person who gets thrown would do ukemi (breaking the fall with slapping an arm on to the floor) and stays down for a short moment. That was what I expected from the new student but he jumped up like a bouncing ball every time I threw him. As he was a small boy and was light it looked very natural. I did not think too much about it. As he was a cheerful fellow I got to like him and we became sort of friends after several months of training. One day after the training, we walked to the bus station together. I asked this boy (maybe he was 16 or 17) why he would jump up after a throw. He surprised me with his answer. He said he is a karate practitioner and he wanted to learn judo to improve his karate. I knew the word of karate and have seen a demonstration or two but I had no idea about karate. I still believed judo was the most lethal method of martial arts so I asked him if he would switch to judo. He said no way as karate was the meanest system of fighting. I could not believe his words. I told him that I could throw him on the hard road and hurt him. He told me that he could disable me before I had a chance to throw him. I thought he could not punch me if I grabbed his arms very quickly. So, the next day, I asked him to show me how he would disable me as I grabbed both of his arms so he could not move them at will. He smiled and without moving his arms he kicked me in groin. I know he only tapped me but I had to let the arms go as I crumbled to the ground for a few seconds. I saw the sparkles in the eyes and I knew he could kill me. He apologized and helped me up. After this event, he stayed with us for a few more months but he went back to his karate training. During that time I asked him to teach me karate but he said he was not an instructor and he could not teach. So, I waited till I get my shodan in judo before I made my switch. I had to do this to show to my father that I was serious in training in judo.
I was 16 when I switched to karate. I did not know that there are many different styles in karate so I did not ask that boy which style he was. I thought karate was only karate. I wanted to dive in karate in full so I decided to train every day. I joined a karate club at a local YMCA (Kobe is my home town) but they practiced only on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. So, I went to another YMCA in Osaka (a big city about 50km from Kobe) as they trained on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. One thing I did not know or realize was Kobe YMCA club was Shotokan (JKA) and Osaka club was Gojuryu (with Gogen “Cat” Yamaguchi). I trained at those two clubs for one year before I quit Gojuryu. It is a long story how this happened but I will keep this story to another occasion. I stayed at Kobe YMCA club for 3 years and practiced Shotokan under Kashimoto sensei. Sugano sensei was his teacher and he came to see the training once in a while. I remember this clearly as I was scared of him. When I rejoined his dojo about 15 years later he was not as scary as I thought but for a high school boy Sugano surely had a scary face. Many new students quit but I stayed and I got my shodan when I was 18 (1965).
CW: Sounds like a painful introduction to Karate! What kind of a man was Master Jun Sugano and what was his main strengths in Karate?
KY: He was independently wealthy so he did not need to earn money from Karate which I liked very much. He did not care whether you join his dojo or leave. He liked the traditional hard training and he liked to push you to your limit.
He was a large man for Japanese. He was close to 180cm tall and weighed nearly 100kg. He was strong like a bear. We were all afraid of his punch when he uses you as his opponent in a demonstration.
CW: Later you trained with Master Tetsuhiko Asai, 10th Dan and founder of the JKS. What made you change over to training with him? What kind of a man was he and what unique things did he bring into his Karate teaching?
KY: When I hit the age of 50 and Godan in JKA, I felt I reached a plateau. I felt I could not learn anything new to develop my karate and I was very discouraged with my karate. This is when I was reconnected with Asai sensei. He came to California for a seminar. Of course, I have known him from 80’s and have seen his demonstrations at All Japan National Championship in Tokyo when I participated in 1981 and 1982. I knew his karate was great and different. I saw my answer in his karate. He was in his late 60’s and he was flexible and his moves were sharp and dynamic. I said to myself this is the way I want to look in my 60’s and 70’s. I decided to follow his path in 2003 when I resigned from ISKF (JKA then).
You must experience his karate to fully appreciate Asai ryu karate. The movements are freer or less restrictive. There are more complex foot work with a lot of spins and rotations in many different ways and directions. Many combat effective techniques such as finger thrust, enpi, teisho, etc. are used and practiced. Your body is required to be flexible and that is not limited to the hip joints but all joints including back bones. The flexibility of the muscles is critical so that your moves will be fluid like a cat or a tiger. The body movements follow the nature of water (fluidity) and they are performed with the strong foundation of the legs. This is why we include the exercises like one leg squats and other squatting involved workouts. Your body needs to be like a whip when your arm and leg techniques are executed. There are too many unique things and I cannot list all of them here.
CW: He sounds a very interesting man. I understand that Master Asai also trained in White Crane Kung Fu, which had quite an influence on his Karate (which you describe above). When Funakoshi first introduced Karate to Japan, he tried to hide some of the Chinese influences on the art. How was Master’s Asai’s Chinese influences accepted by the Japanese Karate community? And how did the Twainese accept Master Asai teaching Karate in their country when they have so many of their own martial arts?
KY: This is an excellent question and I can write a book on this. Let me explain something about your statement, “When Funakoshi first introduced Karate to Japan, he tried to hide some of the Chinese influences on the art.” There were two major reasons for his action. One is he wanted to brand Karate as an Okinawa grown martial art which is true despite there was an influence from the Chinese martial arts. The second reason was the period when he introduced karate to Japan. The first public demonstration Funakoshi did in Tokyo was 1922 and that was exactly when Japan was in a war against China. It was wise for him to de-emphasize anything that may be related to China and Chinese culture.
Back to your question about Asai sensei’s karate, unfortunately, he was regarded as unique to be nice or an odd ball by some of the JKA instructors. I do not think his ability (Nakayama claimed he was the best karate-ka JKA has ever produced) was not truly appreciated or received the credit it deserved. After passing of Nakayama in 1987, Master Asai tried to change the syllabus of JKA and that caused so much up roar the organization split in 1990.
Regarding the second part of your question, how did Taiwanese accepted his karate, I cannot tell you too much as my exposure to the Taiwanese on this matter is limited. I have spoken to Mrs. Asai who was a Taiwanese origin and I also have met a few JKS members from Taiwan. They all told me that Asai karate is different from JKA and also kung fu (white crane style). I support this idea and it is true that JKS had the affiliates not only in Taiwan but also in Hong Kong and some other Chinese cities. If Asai karate is not good enough or too similar to the kung fu style then his karate would have not received this much of support by the Chinese people.
CW: What other martial arts besides Shotokan Karate have you studied along the way and how have they affected your development as a martial artist?
KY: I already mentioned that I took Judo for 3 years. With karate, I took one year of Goju ryu when I initially started karate training. The period was so short so fortunately or unfortunately, I do not have any effective influence from this experience.
In 1981, I also took Kyokushinkai training for one year. I wanted to learn the full contact karate to expand my kumite experience and ability. It definitely had some positive influence and learned several very important facts about kumite. I can write a book on this too but I will stop with only one comment. I suggest all the Shotokan practitioners who are into competitions or tournaments to experience full contact karate. Then they realize that the sports karate kumite is not a martial art activity.
I also took a Ki training for over two years at Nishino dojo in Tokyo (1998 and 1999). Even though I do not feel that my ki became stronger I can tell that ki exercise made my body more flexible and elastic.
CW: What about weapons? Which weapons have you studied and how relevant are traditional weapons to the modern Karateka?
KY: I practiced kobudo including nunchaku, tonfa, sai, three sectional stick and 9 chain whip. I find nunchaku and chain whip are the best supplement to karate training especially in developing the circular motions with your arms. The weapons are the extension of your body so it is good for all the advanced practitioners to select at least one weapon and include that to the regular training.
CW: Karate has many elements to it. Do you have any particular favorite element? If so, what is it and why?
KY: There are five major elements in karate;
1. Stretch and exercise 2. Kihon 3. Kata 4. Kumite 5. Bunkai They are like five fingers in your hand. They have different functions but yet all of them are necessary to do the coordinated work of karate. I like them all in their own ways. What I love is the art of karate as a whole.
CW: In your younger days you had a very successful competition career, could you tell us a little about that please?
KY: I have had some years of tournament days when I was younger but I cannot say it was a very successful competition career. Maybe my highlight is the participation of All Japan Championship (JKA) in 1981 and 1982. I was lucky to be a state champion of Hyogo prefecture in those years. I was also a representative of Hyogo prefecture in National Athletic Tournament (Japan’s local Olympic game) called Okutai (short for Kokumin Taiku Taikai) in 1981 which was the WUKO event when JKA joined as one of the karate organizations for the first time. One funny story I can tell you is a little story when I checked the roster of the karate participants in Okutai. It listed all the participants from 47 prefectures of Japan and it showed the styles (Shotokan, Gojuryu, Shitoryu and Wadoryu), dan rank and age. I was 35 years old then and I knew I was one of the most senior participants as most of them are in their 20s and a few were even in their high teens. I was going from one page to another not finding anyone in their 30’s. I finally came across a guy who was either 33 or 34. So I said to myself “Yes there is another senior guy who is willing to mingle with those young guns.” I wanted to find out if he was in kumite or in kata. I flipped the pages to find him but he was not in the competitors list. So I thought “Maybe he is one of those back up guys.” But when I got to the last page where they showed the names of the coaches he was there. So I realized that I was older than this coach and I was the oldest competitor in that big event. I retired after this tournament.
CW: I have read a number of interviews and articles on how most Karate in Japan has become almost obsessed with competition results as a way of measuring a clubs success. Do you feel that this is a fair criticism?
KY: I am afraid the competitions and tournaments are very popular and play a very important role in many dojo and organizations. It is true that a karate magazine may use the competition results to measure a club’s success especially among high school and university clubs. However, many instructors know the difference between the tournament karate and martial arts karate. They do not use the competition results to measure the level of a regular dojo. At least that is what I see with the instructors in my home town, Kobe.
CW: That’s good. We’ve also previously discussed how the levels of violent crime in Japan are so low that even in Tokyo young ladies feel quite safe walking home alone late at night (something that would be considered madness in many Western cities). As such most Japanese people do not see any real need for self defense. Although this is a fantastic achievement for the Japanese people, which many in the West would like to emulate, how has it affected the Japanese perspective on making (or keeping) their martial arts practical and functional?
KY: It is true that Japan is one of the safest countries in the world. So, the people do not pick up karate or any martial art for a self-defense purpose. They choose to practice one of them for other purposes or objectives. I believe the lack of this need for self-defense was one of the reasons why bunkai was not seriously studied in Japan. I am also afraid that Samurai spirit is almost extinct in Japan.
CW: That’s quite sad to hear you say that. During World War II the rest of the world could not help but admire and respect the fierce fighting spirit and sacrifice of the Japanese servicemen. Japan has also been very influential in spreading so many fine martial arts to the rest of the world. I was therefore quite surprised the first time you told me how you feel about the Japanese fighting spirit today. Would you please elaborate on those views for the readers?
KY: When Japan lost in WWII, it was our first total defeat in any international wars. It is sad to admit but it is true that the Japanese lost both the patriotism and samurai spirit. The entire nation went to commercialism and the core value has changed dramatically from honor to money. Some good part of the old culture did survive, however. In Japan, we see more respect to the others as well as the rules and the laws. For instance, at a red traffic light a pedestrian would stop and wait until it turns to green even if it is 2am and there is no traffic in the street. This is why it is very safe not only in the small towns but also in any of the big cities in Japan. However, the general population lost some important values such as honor and principle. Along with it, we lost the fighting spirit to uphold those values. The occupation army (mostly the US military) after the WWII did a good job as they planned to change the social structure and education in Japan so that it can never be a threat to the US or other allied countries. It was a cunning strategy but the Japanese must not blame the US for its policy as they did the similar treatment to Germany but the Germans recognized the consequences if they followed blindly. The Japanese were too naive as they had never lost in a major war and the leaders were not prepared for this kind of policy and to bring the Japanese population back to the old culture with honor and self-respect.
CW: That’s a shame. You have also told me how you have found many of the bunkai explanations given to various kata movements in mainstream Shotokan to be quite unrealistic. We discussed in particular the double Uchi Uke “blocks” near the beginning of Bassai Dai which is simply not realistic when used literally as 2 blocks and could only conceivably work with a compliant attacker. When did you first start to doubt the explanations that you were being given for these bunkai and how do you think they came about?
KY: My sensei, Master Sugano, told us at one of the casual meetings we had after training that we should not be fooled with the names of the techniques that are used in kata. He also told us that kata do not always start and end with a block as it is publicly announced by many organizations including JKA. He told us that most of those techniques are attacking techniques. He further explained that there is no one application or bunkai to any of the techniques. He said the fighting situation has millions of variations thus a technique must be any solution that works in a particular situation. He told us that our mind must not be ridged but fluid and open so we can be prepared for any situations.
First of all, bunkai is not popular or common in Japanese dojo. The main reason is, believe it or not, JKA headquarters at its foundation chose to drop bunkai from its main syllabus so that the sufficient knowledge was not handed down from Funakoshi. At JKA headquarters in 50’s and 60’s, a standard training menu was only kihon, kumite and kata. Any of the bunkai training was almost completely ignored. Along with bunaki, another major component, kobudo, was dropped from the menu. Now I am talking about the general trend. There were a few instructors and dojo like Master Asai and Master Sugano who considered bunkai and kobudo as the important aspects of karate and believed they must be studied along with other elements.
CW: It seems then that you were very fortunate in your teachers. How did you go about finding more realistic applications for yourself?
KY: Sugano sensei used to tell us, “Do not get stuck on one application. The actual applications are limitless. The techniques must be free and natural”. I could not quite understand what he meant when I heard it more than 30 years ago but now I am beginning to understand it. As you practice all the different techniques in many kata and if you keep your mind free, the applications can be “felt”. One technique can be very neutral so to speak. In other words, I can feel that a technique can be a block but at the same time it can be a strike. A good example is the very first move of Bassai Dai. In the end, any applications can be correct if it serves the purpose of the situation. So, I do not look for, or I’d better say I do not need to look for more “realistic” applications any more.
CW: A number of Westerners have made big names for themselves in the field of applied Karate and practical bunkai geared for street self defense. How do you feel about their work and do you feel that they are on the right track or not?
KY: I believe there was a huge contribution by those practitioners and exposing there are other applications and bunkai. They tried to bring karate back to an art of self-defense so I give a credit for that. However, one thing we must not forget is that the number of applications is limitless and any of them are “correct” so it is almost impossible to list all of them. What you as a martial art karate practitioner must do is to learn the concept and the principle then apply them according to the situations that can be limitless. It is almost like Mathematics. There are limitless numbers and what we need to learn is the concepts of addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, etc. We all know that we cannot remember all the combinations of numbers which is unlimited. What is interesting with karate is it is somewhat different from Mathematics. In Mathematics 1 plus 1 is always 2, in karate it can be different numbers such as zero or three, for example, and those answers are all correct if they meet the principle of karate.
CW: Point taken. For many people, Karate is mainly about self defense. To others it is more about self developments. What are your feelings on this? Do you feel that either aspect takes precedence over the other, or are they both equally important?
KY: Those two aspects of karate must compliment each other thus they are equally important. I am afraid many practitioners put emphasis only on the physical part (self-defense or tournament) of karate. In fact, karate is the most primitive and less effective weapon when compared to a stick, a knife or a gun. How good is karate if it only creates a karate expert who has no respect and honor? What would be the difference between that to a gang who has a knife or a gun?
CW: Having been based in America for many years and teaching all around the world, how would you describe the attitude to training and the fighting spirit in the West?
KY: I found the practitioners in the countries I have visited (not only Europe but also in Latin America) have an excellent attitude in general. I cannot say which country has better or worse attitude because I found very serious and less serious practitioners in all countries.
CW: That’s good. You are also noted for the work you’ve done in uncovering myths within Karate (particularly Shotokan). In a culture noted for not questioning the official line, did this get you into trouble in younger days, or did you develop strategies for getting to the truth without rocking the boat too much?
(Note: I remember you saying that you sometimes had to wait until your master had taken a few drinks)!!
KY: In my younger days I did not ask questions as I followed our culture. The questions and doubts blew in me and I always investigated on my own mainly through the publications in Japanese. When I got older I had more chances to ask questions to Master Sugano and Asai. Yes, it was much easier to ask the questions in a non-training environment in a restaurant or a bar. I held my opinions and thoughts to the masters as I did not want to offend them or their organizations. I came out of the hiding only 3 years ago after the passing of both masters.
CW: I’m sure that many of us are very grateful that you have finally come out of hiding. You have also expressed concern with me previously that Karate “will end up in a museum some day”. Would you elaborate please and explain these concerns?
KY: Let’s look at the other martial arts that have become museum pieces. One is kyudo (Japanese archery). They judge the practitioner’s skill by their posture and the body movement only. It does not matter if their arows hit a target’s center or miss it by many meters. The original archery’s biggest purpose was, needless to say, to hit an opponent with an arrow. Now kyudo forgot the original (and true) purpose of shooting an arrow. Therefore, it cannot be classified as a budo (martial art) any longer. If an art loses the true purpose as a martial art then I consider it a museum piece. I definitely consider kendo and judo are definitely in that category. I am afraid jujitsu and iai-do are on the verge of joining the museum classification. Karate with the increase of sport karate is showing the same trend. Even if some of us would try to keep the martial art aspect of karate alive, we will no longer be the mainstream and our style of karate may be classified as a forgotten karate or a museum piece.
CW: I see what you mean. What are you personally trying to do to stop this from happening? Was this one of the main reasons why you wrote your recently released book, “Shotokan Myths”?
KY: You are correct. The main reason to publish my book was to expose and shed more light to the martial art aspect of Shotokan karate. The book was translated in German now and a company in Germany will publish it in the near future. I plan to have it translated in Spanish also. In addition, I plan to write more articles around the same theme and publish them in various magazines and publications. This interview is also contributing to my effort and I am thankful for the opportunity to express my thoughts and beliefs.
CW: You’re more than welcome.
KY: I also accept invitations from any organizations or styles for a seminar so that I can share the concepts and training style that are related to the martial art aspect of karate-do. I have been testing my training menu all around the world and hoping that the participants would find the unique value of Asai ryu karate. So far I feel I have been very successful and the feedback has been very positive.
CW: I’m very glad to hear that. Can you give us a couple of simple examples of some of the myths you expose?
KY: Here are a few: · Kata do not necessarily start and end with a blocking technique as it is commonly believed. · There was no ki-ai routine (at least audible ones) in any of the original Okinawan kata before 20th century · In the original kata you were not required to return to the exact spot where you start your kata · Many techniques in kata are named with blocking techniques such as shuto uke, uchi uke, age uke, etc but the true applications are “hidden” behind those names and they are most likely attacking techniques.
CW: Interesting! Who is this book primarily aimed at and how exactly do you think it will help them?
KY: This book is primarily aimed for the advanced (dan belts) students who have been practicing karate for at least several years. However, the information in it is useful for the intermediate as well as the instructors as the subjects are very general and well known among all the Shotokan dojo.
CW: Many styles have been spawned or influenced by Shotokan. Therefore, although your book is called “Shotokan Myths”, do you think that it is relevant to people of other styles as well?
KY: I used Shotokan in the title because that is the only style I am familiar with. But this does not mean the subjects I covered are limited to Shotokan. Many subjects such as ki-ai, coming back to the same spot in kata, etc are common subjects as they stem from the same karate history regardless of the styles. I am sure Shito ryu, Goju ryu and Wado ryu practitioners can relate to the topics and learn something from this book.
CW: How well is the book doing and what kind of feedback are you getting from your readers?
KY: I only have the record of how many books were sold during the first 3 or 4 months, but we sold at least 2-3 hundred copies so I am very happy for the very positive reception of the book at the initial stage. It has been only 6 to 7 months since the initial publication so I will know how more on how well it will do as more time goes on.
The feedback I have received so far has been very positive. They agreed with my opinions and showed appreciation to bring the subjects out in public. Many have said they wondered about those points but they did not bring them out in the open as they assumed those points are not to be discussed or what they heard was the fact and not to be challenged.
CW: I’m glad to hear that it’s doing well. It should really pick up when the German and Spanish translations are completed. Have any of your Japanese peers objected to you writing this book and revealing what they would not?
KY: I knew they would object and advise me not to do this so I did not contact any of the Japanese peers about this project. I am also hoping that they do not read the books in English so they will never find out.
CW: Well we in the West are very glad that you have. What do you think the average Karateka can do to keep his/her training relevant for today’s world and to stop Shotokan from ending up “in the museum some day?
KY: Karate has many venues such as self defense, sports, health, discipline, confidence building, etc. All purposes are fine and we must not judge one purpose is better or worse than the other ones. The tournament karate seems to be becoming the main stream and majority in many countries. I wish to see more practitioners for the martial art karate and balance the scale. I wish to see the preservation of the original karate techniques by more practitioners.
CW: Understood and I hope that through your book and interviews like this, you are able to persuade more Karateka to do so. What are your future plans? Will you be writing any more books? Will you be travelling and teaching very much?
KY: I have many ideas about the next book. The only problem I have is time or lack of it. I cannot promise how soon the next one will be out or on what subject but it will be out as soon as I complete the content.
As far as the seminars are concerned, I am booked solid this year and have received many invitations for the next year. If the readers are interested in my seminars, the details can be found on the website of WJKA (www.wjka.org). All my seminars are open course, so, everyone is welcome. It does not matter from which organizations and styles you are from (as long as you pay the fees).
CW: Shihan Yokota, on behalf of myself and my readers, I would like to thank you for a very interesting and informative interview. It’s been an honour.
As mentioned by Shihan Yokota, he is interested writing more books. As such he is very interested in receiving feedback to answers above and about his first book if you’ve read it. Please leave your comments below. In particular if you would like to know more about any of the subjects that Shihan has touched on, then please tell him.