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”
Taekwondo Master Ray Gayle, 8th Dan is a former British and European champion, Chairman of the Professional Unification of Martial Arts (PUMA), inspiration to many and general all round nice guy 🙂
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. Continue reading “Interview With Master Ray Gayle, 8th Dan Tae Kwon Do”
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. Continue reading “Interview With Lori O’Connell, 5th Dan Jiu Jitsu And Author”
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: Continue reading “Interview With John Kelly 4th Dan Shotokan Karate”
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 the practice 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 the staff 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.
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 are technology 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 more relevant 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?
GB: They can reach me via my website http://www.iceandfire.org or email me on firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 0771 358 5954.
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:-
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.
I have written previously about Shihan Kousaku Yokota, 8th Dan Shotokan Karate, and his book Shotokan Myths.
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
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.
Louis Thompson is the son of martial arts pioneer, author and modern day legend, Geoff Thompson. As such he has had the unique opportunity to grow up practicing reality based martial arts with the very best instructors in the world from a very early age. As an adult, Louis has often assisted his father teaching at many seminars.
Now Louis is set to branch out and teach independently. Although still quite young, he has a wealth of knowledge and experience beyond his years as he has had a start in martial arts that most of us could only dream about.
I’ve been lucky enough to secure an interview with Louis and I believe that I am among the first to do so. Without any more ado, here is that interview below and I hope you find it as interesting as I have:
CW: Hi Louis and thank you for agreeing to do this interview with me. Obviously you have grown up with martial arts in your blood. Your father would have been a big influence (as he has influenced the whole martial arts world). However, apart from your father, who else were the main influences on your martial arts development and in which ways did they influence you?
LT: I try to take my influences from everywhere, not just martial arts. If I see someone who is highly successful in their field then I will take the same method that they used and apply it to my training. That is how my immersion training idea came about. I noticed that if people wanted to learn a language or skill quickly, if they completely immersed themselves then the gains were massive. I just make whatever I am doing a massive part of my life and that is how I get ahead of the game.
As for people who have influenced me there are many. Obviously my dad has had a huge effect on the way I view the world especially in martial arts. I feel like he has sifted through a lot of things arts and techniques and taken the essence and passed that onto me. Now it’s for me to go and find out of those things what works for me. I have been around Peter Consterdine since I was a child and I have massive respect for him. He has such a wealth of experience in so many different areas and he is someone I really would like to be around more. Obviously all of my dads students (Lea and Matty Evans, Tony Somers, Al Peasland, Justin Grey) have all played a massive part in my MA education. My first and probably favourite art is Judo. For me it is the missing link in this new MMA culture we have and I find that it is dismissed far too quickly. Within Judo people like Neil Adams and Katsuhiko Kashiwazaki are such amazing players and it would be an honor if I could ever get on the mat with them.
CW: Reality based training obviously involves a lot shouting and swearing at each other to de-sensitise yourself to that kind of raw aggression. When growing up, did it seem strange acting out these aggressive scenarios with your own father?
LT: I have been around the shouting and swearing so much that it is a very normal part of my training. I try to treat it like a drill. It is such a great tool that you have to include it in your training. In essence what you are doing is acting. You access the base energy in you and project that as pure aggression. For me doing this with my dad is no different to hitting the pads or practicing throws. It’s just a part of what we do.
CW: Do you practice traditional martial arts alongside your reality based training? If so, which ones?
LT: As I said Judo was probably my first real ‘art’. I love it and think it is massively underrated. I have also trained in western boxing as well as various forms of wrestling. My main focus is reality based self defence and taking from the arts the techniques I can apply to that. I am constantly looking for new things to learn and new techniques to drill.
CW: Having a famous father has some obvious advantages in getting started in the martial arts field, but do you sometimes feel that it is a double edged sword? Do you feel that you have a lot to live up to and that people will always judge you as “Geoff Thompson’s son” rather than as your own person?
LT: My dad has set the bar high but for me that is great. It gives me something to work towards. Hopefully I can prove myself in my own right and people will respect what I do as an individual. Ultimately I am teaching what my dad has taught and it means a massive amount to me what he thinks of what I am doing. I think the only person I have to prove anything to is him. As long as he is happy with how I am teaching then what the rest of the world says is irrelevant. There will be lots of people out there who have and will continue to criticize what my dad has done and I have seen small pockets of that. People who feel that way will no doubt always view me as Geoff Thompson’s son but it is a label I am grateful to have.
CW: What do you feel are your own unique strengths and talents to offer which are specific to you as a martial artist?
LT: I can only really offer people my experiences. I can’t claim to have been in hundreds of fights or worked the door for 10 years but I can certainly say I have had world class instruction for my whole life. When people go to train with anyone they go to get their experiences. I am the only person in the world that can offer my experience and deliver it in my style. When it comes to the Real Combat System or The fence and pre-emption I have lived and breathed that for 20 years. I know how it should be taught and I know the theory behind it and if I am ever unsure I have the creator at the end of the phone. I am in a unique position and I am very excited about teaching people everything I can and learning lots in the process.
CW: I see that you are running special courses. Can you tell us a bit about those courses? Is this the only way that you teach or do you run a club as well?
LT: My 6 week course focuses on all aspects of self defence right from becoming more aware to being able to hit very hard. My favourite way to teach is through immersion training. 4 hours of intense tuition focusing on whatever area the student wants. I have been doing a lot of this recently and the gains people get are tremendous. I don’t have a class as yet but it is something I am organising very soon.
CW: What kind of response have you had? Have your courses been filled up?
LT: I have had a great response so far and people seem to be getting lots from it. I tend to keep the groups small so I can make sure that the progress is good and identify and address specific needs with people.
CW: On your website you mention that you strive to improve your skills in all areas, both physically and spiritually. Can you tell us what your spiritual beliefs are and how they affect both your training and you daily life?
LT: I am a great believer in the fact that I create my own reality. I have created amazing things and also watched them crash down all because of the way I think. Meditation is something I am trying to do more and more. For me it is far more difficult than any physical training. My mind is incredibly active and I find it really difficult to keep it centred. Ultimately I am looking to be congruent which is really difficult at times.
CW: Do you believe (as I do) that developing some kind of spirituality is important to all developing martial artists?
LT: I think developing some kind of spirituality is important to all aspects of life although I am not sure that spirituality is the right word. It seems to scare people. The masses hear spirituality and assume religion but it’s not really the case. At a basic level they are all the same thing. I think it’s important to develop integrity and congruence because if you don’t have that then things will come crashing down at some point.
CW: Having learnt directly from some of the Worlds very best martial arts instructors, do you feel that their message is properly understood by the wider martial arts community, or does that message get a bit diluted and confused along the way?
LT: If you are looking at what my dad has developed then I would say it is massively distorted by the wider MA community. You only have to type the fence in to YouTube to see people doing it wrong. I think people take it away and try to make it work within the realms of their own art and that really isn’t possible. I have seen people using the fence and then teaching blocks and counters of trapping from the fence but when you start doing that you destroy the main message which is pre-emption. People misunderstand and then pass that on to their students and the wrong message starts to spread.
CW: What advice would you give to traditional martial artists who realise that their training has become either sport orientated or stylized, to make their training more effective for the street?
LT: I would say look at what is available to you in a real situation and when I say that I mean what is very easily available. What will guarantee you results. Look at the range you have. It’s is real difficult to let go of your art and see that all you really need is one really good punch and the ability to strike first and you will be leagues ahead of anyone. The key to effective self defence is always pre-emption. The only way to really remove a true threat is by KO. Use the fence to maintain the distance. If they try to close the distance and you feel there is a genuine threat then strike the jaw which will cause a KO.
CW: Sometimes traditional martial artist feel that they only want to train in their own system and don’t want to “confuse” themselves training outside their style. I personally find that training outside my style often helps me to understand elements of my main style better. However, as most of the readers of my website are traditional martial artists (mainly Karate, Teakwondo, Kung Fu); what do you feel your courses have to offer to a die-hard traditional martial artist?
LT: I think people who feel that training outside their art will confuse them don’t really understand their art. When you look at all the different arts they all have very similar elements that are styled in different ways. All I can offer people is the opportunity to get excited about educating themselves with new and interesting techniques and show them that by making all the techniques from all the arts interchangeable you can make something that is overall stringer and more durable.
CW: On your website shop you recommend/sell a number of DVD’s and books. Do you plan to produce any such products yourself in the future?
LT: I am building up slowly but surely and although I have no plans to create my own products yet I am sure it is something that will come up at some point. When you want to get your message out to a wider audience it is a necessity.
CW: What are your plans to for the future and how do you plan to continue developing as a martial artist?
LT: I am taking each day as it comes. I have achieved a lot of goals in a short space of time so I think this is a great time to make sure that they can all sustain themselves. I want to keep growing Louis Thompson SD as a brand and a company and try to get my message on a global level. I have my own SD/MA studio which is a lovely space and I am getting more and more students as time goes on. To develop as a martial artist I just look at training privately with as many great people as possible. I will continue to train and teach with my dad and just continue to push myself as an individual and hopefully that will translate in what I teach.
CW: Louis, thank you for doing this interview for BunkaiJutsu.com. On behalf of myself and the readers, I would like to wish you every success in your career and we hope that we’ll all be hearing more from you in the future.
Russell Stutely is recognised as Europe’s number one expert in pressure points and famous throughout the world for his innovative teachings, which have moved the boundaries of the martial arts and added new dimensions for all of us. His system can be applied to any martial art, so you don’t need to change style to incorporate his teachings. He has studied very deeply how to use pressure point fighting in high pressure scenarios, so that they will work when we really need them.
Russell has kindly agreed to do an interview with me which you’ll find below. But before you go on to the interview, I would like to Continue reading “The Russell Stutely Interview”