Recently I came across something I wrote when I was 21. I’d only been training for a couple of years, but I seemed to have something to say. I thought that my students may be interested to see how my mind was working 24 years ago. This was originally written on 1st March 1984. I hope you enjoy it.
After only 2 ½ years of practice in martial arts I have discovered that there is a great difference in a martial artist and somebody who practices a martial art.
Training at my first club I discovered that there were only two people who believed in taking what was good from different styles and taking them to suit yourself: “Absorb what is useful”. On the other side were the ‘traditionalists’; “Shotokan is best, there is nothing else to learn”. I find that most people whom I have come into contact with that practice this style have the same narrow-minded opinion. A strange (although maybe not so strange if it is to be examined) conclusion that I see from this is that of the four people – two on each side – the traditionalists reached their Dan grades whilst the others haven’t yet advanced beyond 1st kyu (Brown belt).
Also the difference in technique was only slightly better, but the fighting parts were worlds apart. The non-classical person moved about a lot, used various techniques, had great fluidity and had confidence when fighting (sparring). The Dan grades, by comparison, were static and relatively ‘tight’ and had a much sterner air about them. I know that now the 1st Dan never takes part in sparring now that he is in charge of his own club, simply because he has no confidence in his fighting skill.
My own realization at how static I had become by training the Shotokan way was at my first Jutsu-Kempo lesson. When the class did sparring (there were three of us from Shotokan) we all got a good hammering. Not in a painful way, but we realized that whilst we were standing in our nice stances our opponents danced around us picking us off as they chose. My involvement in Shotokan, already on the wane, decreased from that day, although I still go back there every now and then.
Now, up to this point in my martial arts life, I had only been training for 9 months; I had been to Judo (3 months), Ju-jitsu (1 lesson) and now I was doing Kempo, in addition to the other clubs that I trained at (in Shotokan – Rushden, Kettering and Milton Keynes). As a result, for someone who had only just received his 7th kyu grade (Red belt equivalent), my mind – as a martial artist – was advancing at a considerable rate. As well as the physical side of my training, I was also running and doing some weight-training. I was reading about my subject and doing a First Aid course, which I passed, and beginning to enter all aspects of the martial way. One final thing which was making my development as a martial artist were the people that I was meeting.
To begin with there were Bob Hamilton, Vic Miles, Roy Humphreys and Dougie Jeffreys. From each of these my body and mind received instruction. Although Bob and I fell out for a while I received a lot of extra training, especially the fighting areas of the arts; in turn, although most people at the club didn’t know it I received a lot of punishment as well. Countless bruises, aches, blood and being knocked out as well as being made to fight to the point of exhaustion leave a mark on you (if you excuse the pun). I realise now that a lot of the time I was being bullied, but I also learnt a lot of valuable lessons.
Vic taught me many of the same lessons: the first time I ever sparred him, after 6 weeks of training, Vic kicked me in the mouth drawing blood (probably scaring the life out of the rest of the students). Anyhow I went and washed my mouth and immediately I was back on the floor; the next thing I knew I was caught by a spinning back kick which made my ribs feel like they were somewhere else. Luckily they weren’t broken, but they were bruised for several weeks. That was my introduction to the sparring world of martial arts. No wonder for a time they used to call me ‘Hitman’. They could beat me up, but no-one ever broke my spirit. The only time I really got scared of sparring was just after I had passed my first grading, but that fear soon dispelled itself.
From Roy I started to learn that there was a lot more to Karate than push-ups, punching, kicking and fighting. On one of my earliest visits to his house he lent me a copy of ‘Moving Zen’ and in it it described a lot of the feelings that one must go through in the search of inner peace. It’s sub-title ‘Karate As A Way To Gentleness’ seemed apt. After this I remember many conversations about the martial arts, both mental and physical aspects, and although Roy was very much a traditionalist he showed me that the mental is as important, if not more so, than the physical side of the arts.
Dougie Jeffreys was my first training partner, a black lad a little bit older than me and someone to compete against. A great help when you are a beginner as the competition of another person makes you train that bit harder. When I left Shotokan I hardly ever saw Dougie and it seem s he has almost completely given up Karate; a great shame as he had a lot of talent and a suppleness that made me sick. I saw him last week and found it disappointing in the way that I was able to beat him so easily when we sparred.
My second, and even more informative, era of development came through a relationship. I first met Debbie Scott at Shotokan when she was going out with Pete Evans, another person I have seen fall by the wayside after promising a lot. When we started going out together I was very much into Karate and training five times per week. Plenty of physical development (in the techniques), but precious little on the mental side. After a while my physical training took a decline (three times per week), but I found Deb stimulated my mind. Also, not long after our relationship began we (and Pete) left Shotokan to begin our Kempo training. After about seven months Pete decided to give up martial arts until after Christmas ‘82; as it turned out he never did return. However, at this time Deb and I had no way of getting to Wellingborough, so for a time we cooled it too. Cracking my big toe joint early in November put paid to all training until the New Year.
During this time Deb and I went back to our ways before we trained; we both started smoking and drinking. Although neither to any great extent it was enough to turn our body’s to quite a shambles. It was also about this time that I first had experiences of smoking a joint. The legality of it to one side, the point is that once one has indulged a few times so that the brain gets used to the sensation, when Oriental proverbs and writings are read they don’t seem as bizarre as was at first thought. I’m not saying immediately one understands what is written (although some things are so obvious that it is only a cluttered Western mind that cannot discern them), but more the motive behind the writing. If what is written in the history books is true and that most Chinese masters were opium addicts then the reasons are slightly more obvious.
By this time (end of ‘82) I would say that my mental training had almost caught up with the physical side. 1983 was to be a good year of advancement. Even so, it was a bit of a pain, come April when my life was turned upside down when Deb and I split up. What this in turn did was leave me more time than I was used to. This left me time to get on with reading that I had neglected; including books on Zen Buddhism which I found deep, but what I read was informative. Even more satisfying though was my growing friendship with Phil and Dave Vissian and the training we did together.
Although Phil and Judy were still going out then, Dave and Karen were on the wane and Friday’s and Saturday’s we used to go out together. My first experience of ‘going out with the lads’ syndrome. The very first night we went out we were almost involved in a fight and the following week there was quite a battle outside the Ranch House (Higham Ferrers). A lot of police were called, but we came extremely close to a fight about seventy yards away. However, the problem passed and we came home. The following night Dave and I began to do some self-defence training and I was very surprised to find out what actually worked on someone who was an experienced street-fighter. The point that I have been trying to make is that up to that time although I knew that my sparring was coming along my street confidence was pretty low. Training with someone like Dave (as well as witnessing street fights) gave me confidence which might prove invaluable in the event of me ever getting involved in trouble outside.
Apart from getting Dave up the Sports Centre (now the Pemberton Centre)on a Saturday my training was now consisting of a strenuous programme of running (5 miles average 5 days a week), weight-training (3 times per week) and with the coming of a new job, swimming (¼ of a mile 4 or 5 times per week) and cycling (about 6 miles per day – to and from work).
As the year progressed and various circumstances changed our turnout on a Saturday night rose from 2 to 3 to 4 when Phil and Judy split up. The reason we have these Saturday night sessions is to try out different ideas and to practice what the individual wishes to practice. For instance, if there are a few people there Deb and I can practice our Chinese Arts (which we began about 7 months ago). (By the time this was written we were back together again – it was an on of relationship that last 3 ½ years).
It also gives a chance to practice heavier contact sparring; kata’s (forms) if anyone wishes to, but more importantly to exchange ideas on martial arts. For this reason we like to call Saturday sessions “Free Expression”; I also don’t want the night to degenerate into a club atmosphere or too many more people to train. As far as I am concerned, the main creative martial artists are Debbie, Phil and me with Dave one of the original training group. Anyone else is part of the second generation; not to say that anyone else would be inferior or not welcome, but merely not one of the originals.
As I have said before, my aim is to be a martial artist; a person who listens to somebody else’s ideas, likes to train with different people and tries to expand and improve on a person in the mental and physical sense. Although I am very open-minded I have no time for anyone who says “That is no good!”, whatever that may be. If the person says “In their opinion that is no good” I can see this. For instance, I had an experience of someone who said as much a few days ago.
Deb and I were practicing chi sao (sticky hands) which in the style of Kung Fu that we practice (Lee style) uses chi (internal power). The observer asked us what we were doing; when we tried to explain (albeit not very well) she answered that because she could not feel anything then the exercise was ‘crap’. In my view the only thing that was ‘crap’ was that she had no idea what she was talking about. She was not receptive and, therefore, had no knowledge, that she was self-opinionated and that, in 6 years of training, she seems to have completely missed out on the mental side of training. Merely as C W Nichol puts it in “Karate as a way to gentleness”, seems to have completely passed her by. Not surprisingly, she was a Shotokan Dan grade.
To me the great tragedy is that so much of the British martial arts world seems to be more in the vein of this female Dan grade. Nearly every person I have ever come into contact with in Karate, Kung Fu, Judo or whatever, is interested only in the physical side of the arts. Surely the martial way would not be called an ‘art’ if it were purely physical, instead it would be called ‘violence’. For me, the physical training is a way to spiritual enlightenment. By ‘spiritual’ I don’t mean ‘Godly’ for I have found that through my training I have learnt to believe in myself so I don’t believe in an imaginary figure in the sky. I believe that it is because so many people don’t believe in themselves that they have to believe in something else in order not to feel fear in their world. I also believe that if more people learnt to love, and respect, themselves then they would find it a lot easier to love other people. The problem exists today that people don’t know how to love themselves so all they can find in other people is hate and jealousy; two powerful emotions that, in some cases, dominate peoples lives.
Although I don’t live up to my ideals, by a long chalk, I think that I am more receptive to love than a lot of people. The principle behind this conclusion being that if I train and run and spar and sweat out my hate, fear and jealousy then I must be more receptive to love than going out, going on the piss and looking for trouble. It is my future hope that I can continue my training, in martial arts and other areas, of my mind and my body and that, with age, I can find good in all people, although I think I may well have a hard time. Finally, I hope that my growth as a martial artist continues and that I can help other people with their training and develop my philosophy from where it is today.