Psyche of a Warrior: John Johnston by Jamie Clubb

My attention was recently drawn to a post on Sensei John Johnston’s Adaptive Karate Blog.  This post has been written by Jamie Clubb and was about John Johnston himself.  It also quotes Geoff Thompson a number of times talking about his training and experiences with John Johnston.   Having interviewed Sensei Johnston myself some time ago and also had the privilege to train with him, I was of course interested as this is a man that I hold in very high regard.

Also, during an age where traditional martial arts come are criticised so much, it is good to see a classical traditional martial artist getting so much respect from some of the leaders in the world of Reality Based Martial Arts.

Anyway, I don’t often do this, but I thought I’d reproduce the post share it with you here.  The original posting can be found at:  http://adaptivekarateblog.wordpress.com/2013/03/14/psyche-of-a-warrior-john-johnston-by-jamie-clubb/

So, over to Jamie:-

 

“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 bought a suit and belt for me when I didn’t have enough money. He is a great influence and a 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” – Geoff Thompson (BAFTA award winner, best-selling author and world authority on martial arts and self defence)

It is too easy for my generation to be dismissive of traditional martial arts. Most of us began our training when the most popular systems had become commercialized and branded. We witnessed the dawn of the McDojo. The mystique of the 1970s’ Kung Fu Boom and the 1980s’ Ninja-mania was over when we began. The 1990s spawned some huge changes in the martial arts world; a fair amount was instigated by criticism of the old guard. This led the birth of the mainstream “Reality-Based Self Defence” movement and the emergence of “Mixed Martial Arts” as a limited rules combat sport. The McDojos didn’t decrease; in fact, they continued to grow along with the mystical schools. More martial arts were discovered and created. Along the way revisionists took the traditional martial arts back to their functional roots and created another subculture. However, there is still yet another area of training from the pre-cynicism and scepticism of the early ‘90s that is still healthy today and is also being “re-discovered”. These were tough instructors who believed in teaching the hard basics of their art, who were more concerned with developing the original intentions of the “do” way of early 20th century Japan than anything else. They came from an era when karate was still a minority quantity in the west, when the training was tough and when the rank of black belt was rarely seen in the UK. John Johnston comes from that era and today he embodies the strength of his times.

John ran a Shotokan karate dojo in Coventry. Among his students would be the man who would spearhead much of the martial arts controversy in the 1990s, Geoff Thompson. This article varies from many others I have written on individual martial artists in that I have stepped aside from giving my personal reflections and sought those of Geoff’s. Geoff had a profound influence over my development in the martial arts during the early ‘90s and he continues to do so today. Therefore, I thought it would be interesting and perhaps more revealing to co-interview Geoff about his experiences with John rather to give any surface impressions the man made on me. To begin with I asked Geoff to sum John up to me:

“I first started training with John in the early ‘80s, before my door period, way before leaving my real job to train full time; in fact I got my black belt with Enoida sensei in karate under John’s tuition. He had a big class and he had a strong reputation as a former fighter and city doorman, and as a class karateka. His karate was and still is very dynamic, he is a big man and when he moves the whole room crackles. For a big man he is very fast.  He was also as a man that spoke his mind and not everyone liked that (I did), so he did not suffer fools. It is what really drew me to him”.

To John mindset, attitude and the psyche of the individual is the foundation of the good karateka. He had a tough upbringing, which inspired him first to fight and later to seek discipline through fighting:

“I was a mixed race kid growing up in Coventry just after the war had finished. I mentioned the war because if people understand their history, they will understand that colour prejudice was a propaganda tool that the American administration used to keep their coloured GIs segregated from the British public, mainly the women.  Therefore it was very strong in the minds of a lot of adults and was consequently passed onto their children. I was brought up by my English Grandparents who were very loving, but lacked the understanding to be able to equip me to deal with the overt prejudice that I found, other than to tell me that if I was picked on I was to fight back. Consequently I was in a lot of fights at school and at play. I had to fight from infant school through to my second year at comprehensive school. I was not bullied after that because I had dealt with most of it by then. At that time, there were only five coloured kids at my senior school, which made me a target.”

Being naturally athletic, John was not your obvious victim of bullying. This only goes to show how bad racial tensions were at the time and how deep the propaganda was in the collective psychology of those growing up during the era of John’s childhood. Born in 1951, he would have experienced the nationalist racism of the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s that was inspired over fears regarding mass-immigration. John did not seek martial arts to solve his bullying problem – he would be 20 years old before he took up karate. He learnt how to fight well through hard experience and understanding how to utilize his natural attributes. He was an able rugby player at school, becoming a member of the Warwickshire Colts and then later the Coventry Welsh. He boxed for a little while and dabbled a bit in judo, but it was karate that eventually captured his heart.

“I was influenced by such films as ‘Our Man Flint’, starring James Coburn, ‘The Manchurian Candidate’, starring Frank Sinatra, and later the Bruce Lee films. Having looked at several kung fu and karate clubs in the area I was fortunate to watch a class taken by Rick Jackson shortly after he had returned from training in Japan. I instinctively knew that Shotokan suited my physiology.”

Rick Jackson had recently been training in Japan. A much revered instructor, Rick taught John for two years. John’s dedication to the art was evident and it wasn’t long before he was entrusted with his own class to teach at Henley College. The scarcity of British born karate black belts in the early ‘70s was probably comparable to the number of British Brazilian jiu jitsu black belts in the 2000s. John was just a green belt when he first taught. Always the avid sportsman he took to karate kumite with predictable enthusiasm and vigour. In fact, it would seem he was a little too enthusiastic in his first competition when, as a purple belt, he was disqualified for excessive contact at the Larcano Ballroom in 1973.

However, he would soon become a regular on the competition circuit, fighting successfully at regional and national level competitions. This helped prove himself to the higher echelons of the British karate scene. He and his fellow club members began training with the British squad at the notorious Longford Dojo. Here he would trade blows with some of the best in the sport, and as time went on he became far more than a plucky sparring partner. John rose through the Shotokan ranks, taking instruction from some of the luminaries of his day such as Enoeda Sensei, Kawazoe Sensei and Andy Sherry. Despite learning some control from his early days on the tournament circuit, John was still feared for his devastating sweeps. By the time he was running his own clubs as a professional instructor he had caught the attention of the best in the sport and was selected for the Central Region Squad coached the British and European Champion, Frank Brennan.

The esteem that John was to be held in by his peers was explained to me by Geoff Thompson, who is one of today’s most respected martial arts instructors:

“He was a senior with the KUGB (Karate Union of Great Britain) and everyone knew at the time that they were the elite, it was an amazing association manned by some very serious players, Terry O’Neil, Frank Brennan, Andy Sherry, Bob Poynton, Ronnie Christopher to mention just a few. Just getting a brown belt with these folk was seen as top end, so getting my black belt with them was a life time ambition”.

And yet despite this awe he was held in and his reputation for not “suffering fools”, John, according to Geoff, was a man that was generous with his time and cared about people. Long time readers of Geoff Thompson’s work will be only too aware of the author’s dark days of regularly jumping from job to job. During some of these transient periods of Geoff’s life in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, John ran a building company and gave Geoff work:

“I even worked for him for a time, again there was always the sense with John that even if he didn’t have any work for me, he’d find work for me, he was that kind of person”.

However, John was always a realist when it came to self defence side of martial arts training. His initial karate training can be seen as a type of buffer period that helped turn the street fighter who was born in order to cope with childhood violence into a warrior that could turn his skills to a profession. Three years after his first lesson he began work as a doorman. He worked in Coventry during a time when the city had a fearsome reputation for violence. This was just prior to the era that Geoff made famous in his autobiography “Watch my Back”. John ended up becoming head doorman of a top Coventry nightclub and explained to me what a career in door security was like in those days:

“Initially the majority [of doormen] were boxers and a couple were rugby players. A lot of the guys that I worked with had criminal records for violence and it was after a particularly bad incident at a club that the police made it a condition that no one with a criminal record could work on the doors. It was at this point that I was promoted to head doorman and had to find replacement staff which I recruited from the karate club I was training at and a kung fu club”.

His work in door security was very successful. Geoff Thompson told me that John was once probably “the top doorman in the city”. This reputation led John onto other security work including “overt and covert operations protecting high profile business men, TV personalities and recording artists”. The “Adaptive” karate he teaches today doesn’t fall into the category of either literal interpretation, as portrayed by the pre-arranged sparring drills promoted in the 20th century, or the bunkai promoted today by the likes of Iain Abernethy and Gavin Mulholland. It is a more principle-based approach than a dissection or testing of bunkai. John told me,

“I feel that my karate is more instinctual than conceptual, so it isn’t easy to translate it to the written page. I try to encourage students to develop a very positive attitude when training, as well as being honest and realistic about real combat. I try to get them to understand that it’s not just physical; there is a psychological aspect which is also affected by the chemical reactions within the body. I believe that if you have these precepts in mind when you engage in training, and the training is hard and focused, you can help prepare them for the eventuality of conflict, and also give them the tools to be able to deal with conflict with the possibility of resolving it without resorting to violence, but worse case scenario, to be able to manage the situation with a favourable outcome”

“I stayed with Karate because its philosophy and its rigorous training methods have helped me to shape my life and has steered me in a direction which has been good for my wellbeing.

“I still teach and train in traditional Shotokan karate but I believe that to make it viable, the mind set in conjunction with the techniques require adaptation to be able to apply them in a way which would be effective. You can take competition techniques, Kata sequences and adapt them for street level protection. It’s not only the physical delivery of techniques that require adaptation but also you have to adapt your psyche”.

The mindset, attitude and psyche seem to mean everything to John and his approach to martial arts. It is something that I have noticed most experienced martial artists with a strong background in handling violence outside of their training came back to when they teach. When I pushed John on this subject he explained,

“I would say that attitude is not only a key part for the foundation of martial arts and self defence training, but is paramount and fundamental to a successful outcome, more so than the physical. If you train for competition you are preparing to attempt to win competition, however, if you prepare for war, you are attempting to avoid war. The attitude and mindset for these two concepts, albeit related are completely different”.

Today the martial arts world is very open to cross-training and hosting other martial arts and it is hard to remember a time when the norm was for most clubs to forbid training at another school. Knowing that much of the controversy surrounding Geoff’s early work came from his experiences in traditional martial arts, I wondered how he correlated this with his time training under John:

“It is hard to find other good teachers after working for so long with John because he was so charismatic; many of the people I went to afterwards, in my search for more martial arts information, were diluted by comparison. But he did also encourage me to explore, he was not one of these ‘jealous husband’ teachers that were afraid of you training with anyone else. Through John’s inspiration I later took my skills to the nightclubs and pubs of the Coventry to further forge and develop myself, and later when I wrote my first book, ‘Watch my Back’, he was very encouraging”.

Geoff Thompson often talks about stepping outside of comfort zones. Indeed, much of his philosophy is steep in metaphors about putting yourself into the forge as often as possible and moving toward discomfort in order to achieve the targets you desire. I can’t help but wonder whether John Johnston’s hard earned lessons didn’t have some degree of influence over him. John stepped from an outside world that had shown him cruel violent and irrational persecution and into another focused and disciplined type of discomfort. I asked John what the karate was like when he began and the changes he has seen during his lifetime.

“The Karate that was being taught at that time was very basic and very strong physically and mentally and often brutal, with a lot of misguided honesty to it”.

I queried what he meant by “misguided honesty”

“Misguided honesty or naivety: Various training methods which our instructors honestly thought were good for us. Sports science has recently shown us that many of these concepts were not only bad for us but also dangerous. I would say, however, that that kind of regime built a strong mental attitude. Unfortunately it also wheedled out the weaker students very quickly. They wouldn’t come back, which made it elitist. The students that really needed it should have been coaxed and encouraged instead of being put off. Here are a few examples.

“We used to block against an unpadded length of 3 by 2 hardwood that was being rammed at our abdomens with considerable force. This was supposed to toughen our arms up, which it did. However, if you didn’t block it you would have a rib taken out.

On one course held just before Christmas, a senior British instructor told us after three hours that he was now about to give us our Christmas present. We were told to kneel down, arranging ourselves round the Dojo, which was a converted Ice Skating rink. The last man in line was told to start bunny hopping around the room and over the students that were kneeling down. All the rest of the students followed round in succession. We all did three laps, no body was allowed to give up or be excused before we were allowed to finish. I and my fellow students spent three days virtually unable to walk. Thanks for my Christmas present!

“One last but not least of the so called body-conditioning exercises: We were regularly encouraged, advised to go on barefoot runs at least three miles long, around streets and parks. So when I say misguided honesty, I refer to instructors that genuinely thought that this type of body conditioning would have immediate and long term positive effects”.

It is not surprising that among the good things that John believes has happened in martial arts is the adoption of modern sports science. This has helped influence many schools to drop outmoded, counter-productive and potentially damaging training practices. However, he concurs with Geoff’s sentiments regarding the dilution that has happened within many traditional martial arts. This is not just in terms of the pragmatism, but also the morality. John told me “There are a lot of people that have no concept of the real values, ethics and aims of true martial arts” This side of John was echoed with some of Geoff’s points about the man I mentioned earlier such as providing Geoff with a suit and belt so he could train or giving him some paid work. Geoff sees John as one of his inspirations to compete in martial arts tournaments and then to work the doors. The era that Geoff trained in was a time when the unheated dojos and hard training that had made karate and other martial arts minority activities were beginning to give way to the commercialism that would jade my generation’s early experiences. On that note I would like to leave you with Geoff’s memories on the balance of values and pragmatism that John taught him during his karate days:

“I can remember being a purple belt (and feeling as though I was almost at the top of the world) and telling John my belief that karate was all about self defence, that was its real essence, and even then, way, way back then he pulled me to one side and explained that

self defence was only really a by-product of karate, and that good karate was about self development, about development of the virtues, ultimately it was about taking your skills to the level where you become of service to your community, to the world at large. I had no idea what he was talking about, and yet, here I am nearly 40 years on teaching just that.

“He was always like that though, John, so far ahead of the curve. He once told me that when you were good at your art, even painting a fence became an extension of your karate. Painting a fence, who ever heard of such a thing? The man was clearly mad (I thought). And yet…and yet here I am (again) painting fences and writing books/plays/film/articles all as an extension of my karate. As you can see I owe him a lot.

“I also remember a time when he gave me a real bollocking. We had a couple of black belts in the class that I didn’t think represented Shotokan, certainly not Shotokan as I saw it. They were haughty and arrogant. Good technicians I thought but not good men. I told John this; I said, accusingly, that he had let them slip through the net. He told me (with raised voice) that his job was not just to teach the people that were palatable, but also to teach those that had lost their way, teaching pleasant people he said was easy, any instructor could do it, but his job as he saw it was to help everyone, especially those that had drifted from the path. That has always stuck with me. It was a very profound thing to say, and I have quoted it many times since. In the Toa it says that a good man is a bad man’s teacher, a bad man is a good man’s job. He knew that all those years ago when I was still arrogant enough to think I had any idea what I was doing.

“John’s emphasis in training was always on good basics. He drilled them again and again. Obsessive basics made me so strong that it literally saved my life. One time in a club in Coventry I was attacked by a gang en masse. They were literally trying to kill me, but my basics were so strong that they could not keep me down, and everyone I hit fell over. Afterwards I said to a friend proudly (I was battered and bruised, but still standing), ‘that was Shotokan!’ I knew why the basics were so important. John taught me that”.

 

 

I have to say that I enjoyed Jamie’s account and found it very interesting.  For anybody interested in training with John Johnston, he is teaching a course with Iain Abernethy on the 4th May which I highly recommend.  The details are on the poster below.

Alternatively, you can find out more, contact or book your own seminar with Sensei Johnston from his main website at: http://www.adaptivekarate.com.

 

Johnston - Abernethy seminar

John Johnston Is Awarded His 7th Dan

Pictured above is John Johnston being awarded his 7th Dan Shotokan Karate by Geoff Thompson and Dev Barrett at Dev Barrett’s Dojo in Coventry which is the hometown and birthplace of these 3 great men.

Dev Barrett is a former world champion kickboxer from the old school era when there was only was one world championship, unlike today were we numerous champions.

Geoff Thompson 7th Dan is the co-founder of the British Combat Association, author of 40 books (published in 20 languages), five multi-award-winning films, three stage plays, hundreds of articles (many published in national magazines and broadsheets) and a BAFTA award winner.

 

Dev Barrett 7th Dan said “Congratulations to John, a great Karate-ka who’s time has been more than served for this award.  John is genuine, experienced and knowledgeable and it was an honour to be involved in his presentation”.

Geoff and Dev are lifelong Friends of John’s.  Geoff Thompson said, “John Johnston is one of the few remaining giants of Traditional Karate.  He is a power house.  All of my formative training was under the auspice of this great teacher.  I owe him the world.  If you can get to train with him, you won’t regret it. I highly recommend him”.

If you are interested in taking up Geoff’s recommendation, then Sensei John Johnston is putting on a course at Dev Barrett’s Dojo on 1st December 2012.  Part of Sensei Johnston’s teaching style is to encourage people to find what suits them best rather than being prescriptive.  As such, this course is open to all grades of any style (not just Karateka).   The only restriction is that it is for adults only due to the content.  For full details see the poster below.

See you there!

 

Adaptive Karate Blog: With John & Elaine Johnston

John and Elaine Johnston have started up their own blog which will be well worth checking out.  Sensei John Johnston is a 6th Dan Shotokan Karate and the people who he has trained with reads like a “who’s who” of early UK Shotokan Karate.  He has competed at high level when it was much rougher than today’s competitions and has also done a lot of door work.

John & Elaine Johnston

His wife, Elaine is a 2nd Dan and has an interest in psychology and Yoga, so she also bring her own unique insights into the mix as well.  This will make it a very well rounded martial arts blog.

Sensei Johnston was also Geoff Thompsons first martial arts instructor and was one of the main influence of Geoff, teaching him that Karate needs to be adapted to make it work on the streets.  Geoff Thompson said of Sensei Johnston:

“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”.

The blog is called Adaptive Karate Blog and already has a few postings on it.  Please take the time to check it out from time to time.

Interview With John Kelly 4th Dan Shotokan Karate

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.

John Kelly in Moksu

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.

Kata And Its Bunkai Is Like A Sword

The following is para-phrased from part of a lesson given by Sensei Pete Manning 6th Dan Shotokan Karate, during the recent residential course hosted by the Traditional Shotokan Karate Association:-

“Kata is like a sword.  If you strive only for technical excellence, then it is like putting the sword in a glass case and hanging it on a wall for display.

However, if you learn how to use and apply the kata bunkai, then it is like taking down the sword from the glass case on the wall and actually using it”.

I liked the analogy, so I thought it was worth sharing.

 

Kata And Its Bunkai Is Like A Sword

The following is para-phrased from part of a lesson given by Sensei Pete Manning 6th Dan Shotokan Karate, during the recent residential course hosted by the Traditional Shotokan Karate Association:-

“Kata is like a sword.  If you strive only for technical excellence, then it is like putting the sword in a glass case and hanging it on a wall for display.

However, if you learn how to use and apply the kata bunkai, then it is like taking down the sword from the glass case on the wall and actually using it”.

I liked the analogy, so I thought it was worth sharing.

 

Adaptive Karate Bunkai With Sensei John Johnston 6th Dan

I have featured Sensei John Johnston, 6th Dan Shotokan Karate a few times before.  I’ve published an interview with him, done a write up of a private class that I’ve been privileged to have with him and he’s been my “Featured Martial Artist” in one of my newsletters.

However, it occurred to me that I’ve never included any videos of him teaching his own Adaptive Karate.  So below are some videos from Sensei John Johnston’s own Youtube channel demonstrating kata bunkai.

 

Congratulations To Paul Mitchell On Attaining His 5th Dan

I would like to say a huge congratulations to my friend and Sensei, Paul Mitchell, on attaining his 5th Dan.  Those who know and train with him will not be surprised as Paul has an enormous depth of knowledge and ability.  Although I have trained for a number of years, only 3 of which have been with Paul, he has had a huge influence on my outlook and direction in Karate.

Paul, (who also teaches Tai Chi), holds regular applied Karate seminars and Tai Chi course which are open to none club members.  These are well worth attending for anybody who wants to gain a deeper understanding of either of these arts.

Paul is currently working on his own book, which will be a “must buy” for all Shotokan Karateka.  More about that when it gets closer to being published.

He is pictured here being presented with his 5th Dan certificate by Pete Manning, Chief Instructor of the Traditional Shotokan Karate Association.

 

Shotokan Karate Magazine: My Article & Letter From Reader

I am honoured to have recently had a second article published in Shotokan Karate Magazine.  The article entitled Using “Whip” Technique, is available on this website for those who do not subscribe to Shotokan Karate Magazine.  Although it primarily relates to Shotokan Karate, it should be relevant to other styles too.

I have recently received an email from the editor John Cheetham informing me that the article has been well received and forwarding a letter from a reader.  I thought this letter raised some interesting points.

I have therefore responded to this letter and asked John Cheetham’s permission to reproduce the letter and my response here on this website.  John has kindly agreed, so here below is the readers letter:-

Dear John, I read your magazine (issue 111) with great pleasure, as always!
Time over time you manage to find interesting aspects and trigger discussions that are of great value. I thank you for that!

In issue 111, the article by Charlie Wildish especially caught my attention!
Even though I am just a humble 1st kyu, I have often thought about this method of whipping the techniques.  I found it to be very fast, and also I felt as if it took less energy to perform.

However, I was only really able to perform this somewhat successfully with a Gyaku Zuki (Reverse Punch). I have not really been able to apply the whipping effect in other techniques. Therefore, I wonder if you could ask Charlie to go into more detail of how to apply this for other techniques, including kicks.

The other thought that comes to my mind is that of possible injury during training.

First, I am thinking about how easily I could hurt my own joints due to the fact that I am performing such extremely fast movements with less tension on my muscles. What I am trying to say is that it is probably very difficult to fully control the movements and the stopping point (moment of impact) every time.  So I fear for my elbow.

The other worry that I have is with respect to injuries due to possible blocks that are performed against my whipped technique. In order to perform the whipping effect, I have to keep my arm ( e.g. Gyaku Zuki) extremely
relaxed. I hate to imagine, what a hard block, such as Soto Uke would do to my arm and elbow at that point (i.e. before I maximize the tension at the end).

Maybe these are stupid questions, but as, I too, am getting older, I am continuously thinking of ways to train healthily. As you get older, every
injury takes longer to heal, and coming back after a pause of training due to injury gets harder.

If you don’t want to publish this, I would be very grateful to hear your thoughts on this via Email. And also, maybe you could forward my questions to Charlie?

Thank you and best regards,
Frank Kretzschmar
(Bad Soden, Germany)

And my response to Mr Kretzschmar:-

Dear Mr Kretzschmar

Thank you for the positive feedback about my article.

Starting with hand techniques, you should be able to apply the whipping feeling to techniques other than Gyaku Zuki (Reverse Punch). The main points are:

  • Focus on generating movement from the hips.
  • Keep the torso as relaxed as possible so as to allow the hips to slightly lead the shoulders, thus creating the wave effect through the body (the wave culminates in the whip). 
  • Keep the hand/arm from moving as long as possible until the “wave” reaches the shoulders, then the hand will feel like it is being thrown rather than having to thrust it forward.

One of the easiest techniques (other than punching) to feel the “wave” is Age Uke (Rising Block), so maybe focus on that for a while till you have it, then put it into other techniques.

Kicks can use the whip too, but it is a bit more difficult. As power comes from the hips, it helps to pull the foot in as close as possible to the hip before releasing it to the target, (hence the emphasis on raising the knee).

Creating the wave through the body is about sequence. You will probably have to practice this slowly if it is not coming easily; but first raise the knee and bring the foot in as tight to the hip as possible without creating too much tension. Then move the hips/foot as one unit, then release the foot when the hip nears the completion of its movement. If you’re interested, I have actually produced a DVD which might help you understand this a bit better at: http://bunkaijutsu.com/store/

This is just brief overview (which I might expand on later).

I understand your concerns about the lack of muscular tension to protect your joints, but ironically you are less likely to damage your joints this way. With this relaxed technique, the joints actually open up lightly letting more fluids in which actually keep them lubricated. This is a Tai Chi principle. When somebody uses too much kime/tension, they actually pull the 2 sides of the joint together which more likely to create wear and tear. It also makes for a less efficient punch as the fist is actually being pulled slightly back by your own muscles rather than releasing all of the energy forward into the target.

The other factor is that when you have good structure, the reaction to impact is easily absorbed by the body’s skeletal system as the bones are in the correct alignment. For a fuller explanation of this, please see my article at the back of SKM Issue 110.

As for hard blocks like Soto Uke (Outside Block), the original function of this technique was not to block straight punches. Just try sparring with a club mate for a while where one can only do straight punches and the other can only do classical blocks (Soto Uke, Uchi Uke, age Uke etc). You’ll find that the blocks simply don’t work. On top of that, in a real self defence situation, you are more likely to be attacked by swinging haymakers rather than straight punches. The creators of Karate centuries ago (who had to fight for their lives, rather than points) would not spend so much time creating “blocks” that don’t work – to defend against attacks that are not likely to used.

Therefore (coming back to your question), the only time you’re likely to be blocked with a full Soto Uke (Outside Block) is when you’re doing pre-arranged sparring when you can if you deem necessary brace yourself as you know when its coming. Having said that, even without using the whip technique, the arm should still be relaxed when moving (only tensing on impact) and the Soto Uke should intercept it before it reaches that impact (or its too late – you’ve already been hit). Therefore, with respect, you should be used to being blocked with your arm relaxed.

I do not think that you are asking stupid questions at all. Quite the opposite, as we get older we are wise to take our age into account, it would be stupid not to 🙂
I am luckily that my own Sensei, Paul Mitchell, is very aware of this subject. One of his sayings is “young people should use the full dexterity of their bodies, older people should do it properly”. An example of what he means by this is that high kicks are good for youngsters to develop their bodies, but not effective for self defence, so older people should keep their kicks to a practical height (doing it properly for self defence).

I hope this answers your questions to your satisfaction.

Best Regards

Charlie

Please leave your own feedback below if you found this useful, or if you would like to add your own knowledge to my answer.  I always welcome input from others.

Practical Shotokan Course: Karate Kata Bunkai

The following video clip is taken from the Practical Shotokan: Beginner to Black Belt Course taught by Sensei Paul Mitchell, Chief Instructor of the Wells Traditional Shotokan Karate Club earlier on today.  Sensei Mitchell is talking about stand alone karate kata bunkai which could be fight finishers by themselves.  As Shotokan Karate puts a lot of emphasis on multiple assailants, there are many techniques which can incapacitate an opponent very quickly, although they are not always obvious and have been dumbed down a lot over the years for many social and political reasons.

Kaki Waki Uke (Reverse Wedge Block) is usually seen as breaking somebody’s grip when they try to strangle you.  However, if they have both of their hands on you, why not just punch/strike them?  It is much quicker, they have nothing to defend themselves with (as they’ve committed both of their hands to your neck) and it could finish the fight then and there.  If you use Kaki Waki Uke to separate their arms and release their grip, then you can both continue the fight on an even basis.

So what is Kaki Waki Uke more useful for?  Well one of the most common street attacks of all is a swinging haymaker, which as Sensei Mitchell demonstrates here can be easily stopped with one side of the Kaki Waki Uke.  Note that when he does this, that his opponent head is jerked slightly downwards and onto the other arm with is attacking to the neck.

In this instance Sensei Mitchell quite lightly attacks a specific point on the  opponent neck causing him to almost pass out straight away.  Had the blow been delivered with any real force, the opponent would have out cold.

Now if you’re thinking multiple opponents, you want techniques which give instant results and doesn’t waste a lot of your own energy (which you’ll need for fighting the others).  Sensei Mitchell demonstrates how this can be done very simply using a common technique which most people happily overlook on a regular basis.