Peter Manning, 6th Dan is the founder of the Traditional Shotokan Karate Association, one of the UK’s most traditional and freethinking associations. The TSKA were recently at Haven Holiday’s Devon Cliffs campsite in Exmouth, Devon and Traditional Karate took the opportunity to sit down with Peter and have a truly in-depth and interesting interview.
Why did you start martial arts?
I was bullied as a kid. I was bullied up to the age of 15 actually. I was only about 9 or 10 years of age and basically what happened was that one night I got upset about going to school the next morning. My Dad, who was a haulage contractor at the time, and was watching TV, it turned out to be the old David Carridine ‘Kung Fu’ Series. I spotted it and asked him what it was and Dad said that he thought it was a kind of Judo.
Nobody really knew about the martial arts then. He tried to get me into a local Judo club that was in a school in Dorset but they weren’t taking any students unless they were going to that school.
Ironically, the father of Steve Rusbridge who is now one of our senior instructors, told my dad a club had started in Frome, Somerset. It was due to this that me and a cousin went along and joined with Steven.
My original instructor was Peter Bull under the KUGB who was an excellent karateka. I was with the KUGB for many years.
What’s your lasting memory of your first lesson?
Bloody hard! I think that children were definitely treated like adults. Children weren’t really wanted in training and I think that Steve will agree with me. It was common place to be doing push-ups on the knuckles and getting whipped with a belt at the same time if you weren’t doing enough. Even when it got down to the free-sparring it was really a lesson in being bullied more. How I stuck at it I don’t know because in those days I was timid through the bullying I was already experiencing at school.
I frequently tell people that I have experienced this, and it always surprises me how many people that I teach are people that have gone through some form of bullying. It doesn’t just happen in children’s lives, you find it also happens in some adult lives either at home or in the work place. My story gives people confidence that the system works.
Coming up to 16 I remember one day being on a school trip. Someone kept going on at me about the Karate, which I tried to keep secret, and I turned round and basically did an un-technical reverse punch. I smacked this guy on the bus, knocked him straight off his seat and my own confidence rose, as did the respect for me amongst the other kids. For a little while when I was older I went off the rails.
I’ve also, in my adult life, been unfortunately involved in a lot of real-life situations partly due to being employed in the security industry i.e. Door Supervisor and also just being one of those people that tends to be a target for people to have a go at. Generally speaking as well, if you’re doing Door Work you’re working with people that are bald-headed, tattooed and look the part. Generally it was me that was getting the problems because I didn’t match the look at all!
I suppose I could write a book on that because some of the instances were worrying at the time but turned out to be quite funny when my colleagues and I looked back on it.
Why did you start working the door?
Two reasons. One was definitely the money because the jobs that I was doing were well-paid. We did and still do a lot of private work. If the work’s there and it’s private you can earn a good lot of money.
It was also good to get a slant on realism, which is what it’s all about. We do traditional Shotokan, very traditional Shotokan Karate, me and all the senior instructors previously belonged to JKA associations.
Although we teach absolutely traditional, genuine Karate, we’ve evolved enough to know, or hope to know what can actually help people in a realistic situation. One of the things we try to do is what I call ‘Cross Over Training’. We show them the basic movement, the technical side of it, then we show you how you can hopefully use it street-wise. The problem is so many people dismiss other styles as not being as good as their own. I think that all styles of martial arts are excellent, but I think it’s down to two essential aspects. The first is who’s teaching you and the second is the heart you put into it. Actually there are three things - if shit comes to bust it’s whether you’ve got the bottle to do the job.
You have to control that adrenalin, control the fear and go for it.
I’m allowed to be outspoken in this interview I hope? There are many people that I’ve trained with such as Terry O’Neill (Shotokan Karate), Joe Ellis (TsuYoi Karate, a derivative of Kyukoshinkai) and Gerry Bryan (TsuYoi Karate) who have all had a good influence on my fighting ability and who I’ve learnt a great deal from. Also, two people I respect a great deal are KUGB Senior Instructors Andy Sherry and Bob Poynton, who I’ve met on many occasions and meetings. I’ve had the time to spend with them discussing techniques which was always interesting and informative.
I also had the great pleasure to meet the formidable Gary Spiers and had the opportunity to learn some of his tried and tested favourite street techniques. Gary with 6 of his students had arranged to produce a DVD with myself but sadly Gary passed away 2 months prior to the start of this project.
I have a great deal of respect for those people but there are others who I’ve met in the Karate or martial arts game that I don’t think personally would last thirty seconds in a serious situation. Some of those people I’ve met have been the ones with the biggest mouths and the biggest egos.
In fact I’ve met people that haven’t looked the part and been quite unassuming but by God when they’re in a realistic situation they deal with it very efficiently. Talking about the realism side of things I’m good friends with one guy from Bristol, Shane Redmonds, who’s an excellent boxer and an excellent Head Doorman and Bodyguard. He runs a chain of clubs and I’ve done a lot of work with him and I have a great deal of respect for him as I also do for Shaun Tanner who is an ex-police officer and now runs a company that I am involved in – Sensitive Security.
I’ve also met and worked with a lot of people who have nothing at all to do with the martial arts. A very good friend of mine, Chris Dyer is a scrap yard owner and is well-known for his bare-knuckle ability from his Gypsy fighting days and as a Head Doorman for several years. People like that are what I call HARD MEN and this may upset some people, but there are a lot of martial artists who wouldn’t know what hit them if they were up against this sort of person.
It’s all very well being in a dojo or in your club hall with someone in front shouting commands and everybody jumping up and down and doing what they’re told. I realise that’s part and parcel of the training. But sometimes I think it’s good if you’re training with someone and you know it’s not bull shit coming out of their mouth. But when you sometimes train with people and you’re a bit long in the tooth and you know that what they’re talking about is so far away from realism that you then start to wonder why people follow their way. Again that’s just my personal outlook.
Do you think that there should be a distinction between arts that offer ‘art’ and those that offer ‘practical martial arts’?
Nowadays, magazines are full of MMA and grappling and the view that traditional arts don’t work. I’m proof to myself, as are the guys sat next to me, that traditional Karate does work well as long as your training is mentally reality based. You need to train for a street situation rather than just a trophy, ask people like Terry O’Neill, Joe and Gerry and I think you will find the same answer.
On that note what are your feelings about competitions?
I think competition karate is excellent and I am not knocking competition at all as we hold our own competitions and a National Championship every year but there is a big difference between a tournament and a real situation, a big difference. When you’re dealing with someone that’s fuelled on drugs or drink the scenario or situation is so different to anything that you’ll experience in a club that that’s when the training comes out.
Traditional Karate works brilliantly providing you train hard for it. I’m a great believer in using pad work, I don’t think you should just be punching or kicking thin air. To develop full-impact punches and kicks or to feel what it’s like to hit something I think it’s vitally important that you use pads when doing striking arts.
As for grappling I think that grappling’s a fantastic thing but the last place I would want to be, especially with my build, is on the ground. A lot of the things I’ve seen with grappling when I’ve gone to watch it as well is that it’s very good to know grappling, it’s excellent because most fights start in close, but if you get a guy on the ground and he’s got three mates that want to play the FA Cup with your head, that grappling scenario of one-on-one can very easily become fatal.
It’s the same old scenario as well, when you’re dealing with a night club or a pub situation where it’s full. If you’re a grappler there’s certain things you’re going to be restricted on doing. My own belief, because it works for me, is to be pre-emptive, fast, deceiving and there’s a fair amount of luck involved. Touch wood to this day I’ve been very lucky.
Have you actually done any grappling?
I have done before. I’ve done various courses, one of the instructors that I’ve been on a number of courses with was Vince Morris, who’s also a Kyusho-Jitsu expert. On that note, I’ve also trained with Rick Clark. Over the years I’ve trained with Harry Cook. I believe that all of it is good and that you shouldn’t be blinkered.
If you look at the Kata and study them, you can see that there are a lot of basic grappling techniques. I know that everybody you read about today writes about grappling or Kata bunkai but it’s something that we’ve been involved with for many years. We’ve always let people know why they’re doing a technique. In the old days if you asked your instructor you were scared you’d get press-ups or bunny hops.
No disrespect to the Japanese but I think you’ve got to remember that when it was introduced to Japan, it was watered down for all the school kids and I think that if you need to look into the realistic side you need to look back before Japan and at Okinawa.
I don’t think that’s any devaluation of the style just because we do Shotokan which is Japanese, the original Japanese instructor Funakoshi was from Okinawa originally. Even though the style was watered down at that time, there were many people who do Shotokan, people like Terry O’Neill who were very much able to look after themselves doing a basic style of Karate.
I think that what you put into it is what you get out of it.
The Japanese took Okinawan Karate and used Japanese terms, why don’t the English take Japanese Karate and use English terms?
I’ll explain that one straight away. I think that the main reason is when we have a course or competition with any nationality, whether they’re Japanese, European etc, everybody knows a Mae Geri is a front kick, Hajime is go, Yame is stop, therefore it breaks down the language barrier as these are the traditional instructions that everyone have always trained by.
Do you think you should keep gis?
Yes, I like the gis. I think the reason that it’s important we wear a white Gi is because it’s our uniform. I think that if we were to lose too much of the tradition in our style, it would become very watered down. I think that part of the tradition and the discipline is really good, especially for the children.
Shotokan, being a traditional style is identified as wearing the Gi, having a traditional badge and all the basics, the Kihon of Shotokan Karate should be the same around the world and as such so is our uniform in the form of the standard white Gi.
Turning to John: What do you think about dropping the Gi John?
Well you can’t drop the Gi, it’s part of Shotokan and that’s it. It’s a practical training outfit.
Pete: One of the main things that I think is important to remember is that it was originally a form of peasant clothing and originates from humble beginnings. It’s also a great leveller, you can have a doctor, a solicitor, a bin man and they’re all in the same class wearing the same clothing. There’s nobody thinking ‘I’m better than him, or she’s better than her’. Everybody wearing a white Gi is the same.
Why do you think that dropping the Gi would lose all the tradition and the discipline?
Once a person enter the dojo their mindset should be as such to train in a realistic situation. This is from what you wear, to bowing when entering the dojo. Let’s say you go and train in your Karate class and your instructor says ‘get down and give me five push-ups’ and you say ‘no’ and you’re just getting away with it. In a street situation you have a win or lose scenario. The way I look at training the mind is if you tell the student to do 10 push-ups and they only get to 5, you make them get to 10. You’re basically training their mind to overcome the problem. Everything you’re doing, even though it might not seem like it, is gearing the mind to overcome a problem.
I think that if you’ve just got a club where people can drift in and out, have a drink without asking, wearing what they want and where there’s no etiquette, I think there’s a great deal lost. Etiquette and discipline are paramount.
People ask why we have basics and in realistic terms, the most basic techniques are the ones that work the most. They’re the ones that you do the most of in order to perfect technique and build muscle memory, they’re the ones that become your automatic responses. 2 or 3 really good accurate techniques are more their worth than someone giving you a complex routine to do, and we all do that when we teach at times. However, when you’re under stress and duress your brain can’t take a complex routine. It can only deal with something simple and in Karate that’s the basics – those 2-3 really good moves.
I think that basics done properly work well and easily cross-over to the street.
Do you agree with the belt system?
Yes. I don’t personally agree with children going for a high dan grade before the age of 18 because I think that if you look at it from a reality-based point, there’s more to training than just how good your techniques are. It doesn’t matter what style you do, whether it’s Kung Fu or JuJitsu, you can teach a monkey movements. Having the in-depth knowledge to be able to use the movements and having knowledge of life in general comes with time. Having maturity comes with time.
The kyu/ dan system works for us, put it that way.
I think that over the years, especially the black belt, has become devalued. You can have a child coming to a class, grading every 3 or 6 months depending on their ability, however, you can have another school just down the road teaching a different system that only teaches half the syllabus, doesn’t do kata and have children that are getting belts perhaps every month and a half. Then you get parents coming to you and saying ‘why is my boy only an 8th Kyu in Shotokan when he’s going to school with another boy who is two grades above him in the same time frame?’
Then they look at you as an instructor and think that you’re not doing your job right. What they don’t understand is that the belt is there to represent an attainment of ability but it depends on what kind of syllabus and what kind of style as well as how genuine the instructor is in teaching the style.
Do you think that too much emphasis is placed on black belt?
I think with a black belt it’s devalued to what it used to be simply because it seems that every man and his dog has one. I also think that you get a lot of people, adults, aiming to get their black belt and then leaving. That belt then is genuinely only good for holding their Gi together when they come back.
Shodan (1st Dan) means ‘master of the basics’ and that at the time they’re leaving they’re only just starting to learn.
If someone was to train five days a week, five hours a day, should they be able to get their black belt in a year?
I don’t think that there’s any quick fix to training in Karate. Admittedly if they’re training in the JKA instructor’s class and doing so for several hours a day there has to be a quicker way of getting to the belt. I’d agree with that. As to whether this could happen in a year I would definitely say not in our system.
Do you think that instructors constantly undersell themselves at £3.50 an hour?
Yes. In my area £3.50 is what you would be looking at for a child, that’s because of the area that we live in. Maybe £4.50 for an adult. Hall hire keeps going up, you have all your club insurances that you have to pay for, there’s a lot going on in the background that the average student doesn’t realise or understand.
How do you cater for instructing children in the TSKA?
If you are teaching children it’s very important that all instructors and assistants are CRB checked, and you have in place a Welfare Officer and a Child Protection Policy.
I think that Child Protection is very important in the martial arts. When I started at the age of 10 they didn’t really want the children to train. It’s different now. With the TSKA one thing we did do was develop a junior syllabus. What others things do you do in life where children are expected to do the same as adults? It wouldn’t happen so we developed the Junior and Adult syllabus. We find it works well.
Do you think the American model of professional instruction is good?
I think that it’s a shame that the money isn’t in martial arts as it is in other sporting activities – it just doesn’t seem to be there. There are a lot of people who tend to feel that as an instructor you shouldn’t earn money. They tend to forget that for every lesson you did you paid money and we still pay for courses now. If you think you’re a plumber or a carpenter and you’ve done 35 years training, you’d be on a lot more money that most martial arts instructors!
Our own groups do their best to promote good, technical Karate, Karate that works but which is also financially viable for people to be able to come along and train. The main aim is to try to genuinely teach decent Karate and to try to get people on a personal level so that different people’s builds are taken into consideration. Rather than just taking their money and not giving them a product at the end, we’re doing our best to give them what they’re paying for.
Why did you form the Traditional Shotokan Karate Association (TSKA)?
For many years I was a member of the KUGB. Prior to 1993 I was a senior instructor with another Shotokan Association at the time. The group still exists but has changed its name six or so times since then. I think they must like having new Gi badges!
I was very badly stabbed in the back. I had the majority of members in the association at the time. The senior instructor moved over here from Saudi Arabia and I went down hoping to train with him. However, upon getting to his club I found that he’d forgotten most of the Heian Katas and I ended up teaching them to him.
He tried to get himself back on form and get the group rolling and there was another instructor from the KUGB who also brought over a number of students. Him and the head instructor of the association at the time walked into one of our gradings, took the session over, started failing people on katas that they’d passed them on only 3 months before and it was blatantly obviously politically based. To be quite blunt it nearly resulted in a punch-up.
I didn’t know which way to turn and spoke to Joe Ellis who helped me immensely in setting up the group and also Terry O’Neill and Gerry Bryan. At that time I was a 3rd Dan and didn’t want to run my own association, I didn’t feel ready to do it. It’s a great shame that people make their own way in the martial arts by stabbing people in the back.
At the time we were told that £1.00 of every Kyu grading had to go to the EKGB, which I later on found was just another way of making money for that association. Basically the TSKA was formed in May 1993. We’ve not got the largest group in the world but we’ve got a group that has been very successful, is very, very friendly and there are no big egos between the head instructors. I would genuinely say that it’s one of the friendliest groups you could come across.
The training is traditional, it’s hard, we have resident courses with visiting instructors and we steer well clear of this ‘Sensei in the street’ lark that’s going on. These people such as the previous association I was talking about, expect you to call your instructor Sensei in the supermarket. To me that’s absolutely ridiculous. You have a working man or woman bowing to their Sensei whilst in a public place. To me that s just ridiculous!
We make sure that doesn’t happen. When you have a Gi on you’re there for Karate, when you come out we’re more than happy to go to the pub and have a drink and a laugh together and just get on with life, which I’m sure is what it’s all about.
What were your aims and goals when you set the group up?
Terry O’Neill always said to me to maintain my own standards which I’ve tried to do. I also wanted a group that was technically proficient, had Karate that was progressive in the way it was taught and would work if you needed to use it and finally to have a friendly group with a sensible grading structure.
The Kyu system that we have has the same belt colours as the KUGB which is the largest Karate organisation in the country. As a result we have had a lot of respect from people within the world of Shotokan. I don’t think that any of us have been boastful of what we’ve done, we just want to put on a Gi and train, not just be in blazers and say what we can do. I’ve met a lot of people that can tell you how brilliant they are at what they do and would only last 30 seconds in a real situation.
I think that the group has run well. John Euden is a 5th Dan from Kent. He was with the JKA for many years, as was Steve Rusbridge. He’s a 4th Dan from Frome in Somerset and it was his dad that got me started. It was the best thing that my Dad ever did after dragging me to that first session and he ended up taking me all over the country with it.
We’ve all trained and graded with the top Japanese instructors and the TSKA at the moment is going great guns, especially considering that we don’t advertise a great deal. We have a good core of black belts ranging from Shodan to Godan.
When you broke away, how many students did you have?
When we left, every single one of my students left with me. They all backed me to the hilt. It was so obvious that when this other instructor from the KUGB got involved, that there was a black mark being put on my clubs. It was a takeover bid if you like. They wanted to take over the students.
My ex-partner and I had done all the work. The students and parents were just disgusted with it. When you talk about etiquette and discipline, to have three senior Karateka walk into the resident club with the most students and try to take over the clubs was a pretty arrogant thing to do. What they didn’t bargain on was the fact that I won’t have the piss taken and students that would back me up such as Ian, one of my black belt instructors who also does a lot of door work. It very nearly came to blows that day. I have the video to prove it.
I think that it’s sad when you get stabbed in the back by certain people, especially those you had trust and respect in. You get disillusioned badly by that and when you see these people back in the magazines suddenly promoting themselves as the hierarchy of Shotokan in this country with their pictures being taken with some famous Japanese practitioners I think it undermines the ethics of our style – a very sad affair.
John was part of the same group as I mentioned earlier but we had lost touch. Several years after the above incident I met John again at a UKTKF course in Windsor and we instantly recognised each other. As it transpired they had also left shortly afterwards due to similar problems in their own area and of what was going on politically. After a short discussion he joined me the next day.
It went from a core group of clubs in the Mere area to having a big stronghold in Kent, Somerset, Bristol, London, Cornwall and until a year ago we had a large contingency of clubs in Scotland. However, a certain Japanese instructor who I promoted in that area as an external instructor went behind my back and poached the clubs! Which was really nice of him.
How many students do you have now?
We’re looking at around 1,500 students.
John Euden, why did you join the TSKA?
I’d just left my own club after many years of training. I’d got to 3rd Dan level and felt like it was the time to spread my own wings a little bit if I wanted to achieve any more. I went out on my own and a few of my black belts came with me.
I started running my own dojo and we started to look for a Japanese senior instructor to head up our little group. We got invited to train with Kawasoe on a couple of black belt courses in London. We went to those and were well impressed because he’s a fantastic Karateka.
We then went to Windsor where we trained with some of the senior Japanese in Europe at the time and we were all set to join them. However the thing we’d been waiting for and which never came was the paper work, the licence application forms, the dojo registration forms, none of it ever turned up. This had been going on for three or four months so bumping into Pete was kind of fate and after talking we joined the TSKA. We’d never fallen out because when the association split I was at one end of the country and he was at the other. We completely lost touch.
We had the same sort of problems that he had in our area. When we met a period of about 10 years had passed and we got talking. He said that he had founded the TSKA and I had a little chat with him, spoke to my black belts who all knew of Pete and his technical ability more importantly. It wasn’t the fact that Pete’s Pete, it was the fact that it was good karate. That was more important to us than anything else at the time. We gave Kawasoe a miss and joined this group and my clubs have thrived ever since.
It’s the best decision I’ve made in karate without a doubt.
What’s kept you with him?
Because we’re all on board for the same thing; keeping Shotokan traditional. We’re both Traditionalists. We do believe in the white Gi and the belt system otherwise we wouldn’t be doing it. The technical standard is more important than anything else which other groups and associations don’t worry about. I’ve seen black belts who claim to be 1st Dans and above in Shotokan and really they’ve got no technical standard or fighting ability whatsoever. I think that at least we’re flying that flag, we’re doing that bit and I think it’s important to me, after this long because I’ve been training for 26 years now. Not as long as these two but it’s still going where I want to go and where I want my students to go. I’ve stayed loyal and my dojos are thriving. I wouldn’t want to be part of any other group to be honest.
Steve Rusbridge – Why did you join?
I was with an association and at the end of 15 years of being with them, I just thought that they were money orientated, very political, you had to do ‘this’, you had to do ‘that’, bread and butter rules and everything.
I’ve known Peter since he was a lad. Our dads used to work together. Pete had been trying for years to get me to join his association. I’m one of these people who is very loyal but it got to a point where I said ‘enough is enough’ and went over to the TSKA and I haven’t looked back since.
What is it that is so different to your previous association?
I would say it’s a lot friendlier. Peter lets me get on and run my own club. He hasn’t got a say in it but I know that he’s at the end of the phone. I just have to ring and say I’ve got a problem and he’s there.
Within a week I have my licences through the door.
How many Senior Instructors are there within the TSKA?
We have many senior grades within the association but the TSKA Committee consists of myself and three other instructors, both Steve and John and also Gary Roberts from Cornwall. The reason that these guys are involved isn’t because of the length of time I’ve known them, but this is absolutely from the heart, they’re also excellent karateka. They are very technical, have reality-based experience with Steve having done door work and John having been on the other side of the door in his past (there’s nothing wrong with that, people live their lives and grow up).
They are capable and technical karateka, excellent instructors and they have got a lot to offer Shotokan. That’s why they’re in the position they are. I’ve got other people that are members of the group who are equally as close as friends but (and I don’t mean to upset anyone reading the magazine because they’ll know who they are) at the same time we needed to have a committee of what I would call senior instructors that could do the job, promote the group, promote the style of Shotokan around the country and these guys are 100% behind me and loyal to the TSKA.
We’ve also got several senior instructors that help a great deal, they are Mick Foster 4th Dan in Kent a founder member of the TSKA, Paul Mitchell 4th Dan in Wells, Somerset who is an excellent supporter and very good karateka and Paul Edwards 3rd Dan in Oxford our Competition Co-ordinator. The reason that I’ve mentioned these people is because they’re high grades and they do an awful amount of work for the group.
There’s no interference with any club that joins, the only thing we specify is that students who intend to attempt their Dan grade or are Dan grades must attend the brown and black belt courses held twice a year to maintain the TSKA technical requirements and to standardise kata. We have a syllabus that we encourage instructors to adhere to and we do try to have these courses so that people can see technically the way we’re going and that we are all pulling in the same direction. This makes sense because when we’re holding gradings, especially when we’ve had groups join us from other associations there are always going to be slight differences.
It’s good for the students when they take their grading that they know they will be doing the same techniques from the same syllabus. Students sometimes worry about what’s wrong and what’s right so if the instructors keep up with their training it means that it gets passed on to the students so when they come to grade everyone is very much alike from a technical point of view.
What do you offer groups that come in?
Aside from the brown/black belt course I mentioned above, we’ve also got high-quality certification, very reasonable prices for black belt gradings.
We let our instructors undertake their own Kyu gradings up until Dan grades. The only specifications is that any brown belts looking to grade for black belt must attend at least two brown belt sessions and one grading with a senior instructor prior to their Dan grading.
We also offer the National Competition, courses with instructors inside and outside the TSKA, coaching courses, a free TSKA annual party, a quarterly newsletter and the Annual Residential Course. Our governing body is NAKMAS and via this we are registered with CCPR (Central Council for Physical Recreation), the very best insurance cover including free professional indemnity insurance to instructors and invitations to any NAKMAS event or competition.
What’s your five-year plan?
To keep growing the TSKA without changing our values. We’ve been established now for 15 years and we’ve decided that it’s time to bring more clubs in and offer our services to people that want to join a traditional Shotokan group with high technical standards but not be so close-minded as to not take on things such as reality-based training.
We give freedom with no interference and no politics whatsoever. We’ve experienced too much of that in the past with previous groups.
When your students grade for black belt does that mean that they get a belt in the TSKA and one with NAKMAS as well?
No, they get their black belts with the TSKA but can be registered and certified by the NAKMAS Governing Body. All of our Dan grades are professionally registered, it’s not just club Dan gradings, it’s an association grading that is also ratified by a governing body.
Our gradings consist are structured with questions on history, bunkai, self-defence as well as the expected syllabus assessment. It’s a value-for-money group with an office that’s always at the end of the phone. If anyone rings up for any enquiry or support there’s no problem with that.
Another point of interest to instructors looking to join is that the only people with a direct link to me as a Chief Instructor, other than those that have had permission from their own instructor, is the instructor themselves. Let’s say for example, you get a black belt under one of my instructors and wanted to set a club up 1 mile down the road from John you couldn’t do that without stepping on your instructor’s toes. In the TSKA you can’t setup a club without speaking to the Chief Instructor and this stops a lot of infighting.
Everybody has to follow a set standard in the TSKA, we have set standards in the group that are maintained.
I believe one of the highlights of the year is your Annual Residential Course held at the Haven site in Devon?
The Residential Course we have in Devon with Haven Holidays has been a fantastic success now for many years. I must say that Haven Holidays has been very helpful and accommodating for this Annual Residential Course at Devon Cliffs and we have been using them for many years.
The course runs from Friday to Monday which means we have 4 days of all-day training both in the Exmouth Sports Centre nearby and also on the beach. We also have a session in the sea which everyone thoroughly enjoys, even regardless of the weather.
Anybody that comes on the training course over that four day period, providing they’re up to scratch and with their instructor’s permission can also take a kyu grading. They’ve had training 3-4 hours a day every day. It’s very intense but great fun.
The social aspect at Haven’s Devon Cliffs is excellent. Exmouth beach is great for training on and the numerous campsite facilities mean that there is lots for the families to do. This makes it a great family event. Those not training can go off and use the excellent facilities of the camp or go off to visit local attractions.
Any other group that wants to visit our courses or train is more than welcome to attend. We’re not a closed shop.
Do you have any courses with external instructors?
We do indeed, as I mentioned earlier some of my greater influences has been Terry O’Neill who is also a close personal friend of mine. In fact Terry is coming down later this year to give a Street Self-Defence seminar. It will be aimed at Street Survival.
We had Aidan Trimble down recently and we’ve had a lot more similarly highly-qualified instructors. We’re not blinkered and whilst we are traditional Shotokan, we do have instructors such as Joe Ellis, Gerry Bryan because they bring in techniques that Shotokan people might not know such as the thigh kick which are very useful if you’re interested in reality-based self defence. We don’t use them in our syllabus but they are fantastic techniques to take on board.
Ironically we’re going to have a course in a few month’s time with one of the NAKMAS senior instructors who is a guy called Dave Bardwell, 6th Dan, which will be a course on Judo throws and holds.
I think it’s important and good to do this. I’d also like to say that if any of my students want to go off and train with someone else we’re more than happy for them to do so, it’s a book of knowledge. Some groups don’t like their students training or seeing other instructors. We’re the other way inclined, if it’s going to help broaden their knowledge it’s good for them.
Do you think it makes your association stronger to have your students train elsewhere?
Yes, we’re very open-minded like that. If you’ve got confidence in your own association, as we have.
I’d also like to point out that we have a lot of respect for students that train in with us. Many people view it as a one-way thing and want respect as an instructor without giving it back, but when we’re doing a course there are never any personal remarks made, no nastiness, it’s like a big family.
In our Dan gradings there is never a personal vendetta against anyone. We grade people on their merit which is very traditional. For example, if you have an 18-year-old kid at one end who’s a very good competition fighter and really flexible but at the other end you have a guy who’s 65 or 70 you cannot expect them to have the same level of ability in terms of kicking or punching so you have to try to grade that person (pass or fail it’s the same, you don’t pass them just because they’re old) fairly. You tell them that if it’s kicks then they have to be technical. If they can only kick to the knee or waist but it’s technical, that’s going to get them more credit than if they try to kick to the head and do a poor technically incorrect kick. The 18 year-old is obviously going to do it higher and you have to grade people personally. Recently, Fred Solly from Kent who is in his late 60’s achieved his Shodan Grade at the Annual Residential course through keeping his techniques at levels where he was technically correct.
The older student is probably training for different reasons, has a fantastic character for karate because he’s mature and doesn’t want to get into scraps, he wants to do it for his own well-being and maybe self-defence. What works for one doesn’t work for another and this is why we try to make the karate and the gradings personal to our students.
We now do our black belt gradings and a lot of our kyu gradings behind closed doors. There are a lot of reasons that we do this. They used to be open for people to watch. Sometimes you might have a student that’s got problems that are confidential to you on the health screening form. Obviously you take their merits into consideration. Now when you’ve got parents seeing one boy that looks excellent and one that’s struggling, they don’t know what they’re looking for and they don’t know that the boy who’s struggling, has problems and trains twice a week whereas the natural only trains once a week. By closing the door we stop problems being caused for students. It’s different being inside the ring to being outside the ring.
A grading is and should be a nerve-wracking thing and if it’s not then you’re not training the brain for reality. You’re going to be nervous in a reality situation.
How do you plan to expand?
We have grown mainly from word-of-mouth. This might not be the quickest way to grow but we have attained good traditional clubs through this method. We also developed our website over a year ago which has attracted interest from other clubs both in the UK and from abroad.
We are also advertising in Combat and are hoping to attract other Shotokan karate clubs who want to explore different options.
Are you aiming to do more for the local community?
In previous years we have raised money for Cancer Research through Sparathons and other events and will continue to be more involved in fundraising in the future, as it’s something that’s close to my heart after I lost a sister to that when she was 14. I think that if you can help people it’s a good thing especially when people are having fun doing it and it’s a good cause.