In The Eye Of The Beholder


I often feel that people misinterpret Kata’s such as Tekki/Niahanchi and perform them in a fast and flicky fashion with hand techniques that start from the elbow rather than from the floor and with leg techniques from the knee not from the supporting foot and through the hips.

It seems to me that there is a disconnect from upper and lower body instead of a unification. My feeling is the Kata should be very robust in nature and the techniques are for short range power generation and close quarter delivery.

The Kata has the potential to be able to use grappling and manipulation, so if you think you could control and move someone’s body weight with just the use of arms you must have forearms like Popeye’s. There is a common principle in MA that if you wish to move someone’s body you must move your own body.  I fail to see that principle being applied with some of the static performances of Tekki/Niahanchi.

You would be in for a shock if you think that the technique you have just applied to a compliant opponent in the Dojo would work in a real situation. Remembering when you practice Kata as a solo exercise you have no real feedback, you must use intention along with genuine belief and understanding of your ability to apply your technique. Practise a technique that wouldn’t work is practicing to fail.

For me I prefer function over form. It boils down to two questions

1 Does your Kata look good (you don’t need to answer that)

2 would you care to be on the receiving end or hit by one of your techniques (you needn’t answer that either)

Very often you see Instructors making minor adjustments to a student’s stance or arm position, this is after they have finished moving. More importantly is how they transitioned to that position. Kata is about movement, not a series of still photographs. No point telling a student that something is very important and not showing or explaining the how or the why.

Your Kata should always have intention. Just making shapes is for shadow puppeteers.

 

If Beauty is only skin deep, some people must be living their lives inside out!

“Life the Universe & Everything” by John & Elaine Johnston


Many years ago me and a friend and student of mine used to have quite heated arguments about the purpose of Karate. His view was that it was purely for self defence but for me it was more about self development. I won’t go into the details of the various rows that we had but we do look back on those days in retrospect and laugh. He kindly acknowledges that he thinks I was right and wishes that he had listened to me more often and understood me better ..I have never publicly acknowledged that he was also right but his perspective was only part of the equation. Just to put things into context my friend is none other than Geoff Thompson, writer and self defence guru. Geoff and I are still good friends to this day. Although our martial arts have taken us in other directions. We are all aware in which direction Geoff’s took. I however have stayed true to what I believed the essence of karate to be. I use this article to illustrate my belief that karate is multi-faceted and for me it has mostly been about self development. 40 + years on, I ask myself the question, has it been successful? The true answer is, it is work in progress. I have had an eventful and colourful past to say the least and I won’t share the details with you as what happens in the past should stay in the past. However disregarding my many ups and downs, karate has remained a constant in my life. It’s been there for me during my various relationships. It was there for me whilst working on the doors and other security jobs. I competed at a relatively high level in Kata and Kumite and for over 40 years I have continued to run my own Karate Clubs. I even earn a living from Karate (just). It’s my motivation for getting up in the mornings. I get up at 6am so that I can go and do my Kata practice in the park. It helps to keep my mind sharp and my body strong, or should that be the other way round.

So let’s try and pin down in exactly what way Karate has helped me to develop and make me a better person. To me Karate is a reflection of life. You start as a beginner, stumbling along, trying to learn a whole new set of body movements. You learn to apply different mental attitudes to aid you in finding and developing coping strategies for yourself and in relationship to your fellow students and teachers. As you progress, you build on all these elements and allow them to change as you also change. Then with true endeavour in your training, your values develop and your goals and priorities change keeping you in balance with the flow and evolution of life. Honesty in your training should help you to understand yourself and others better. It should allow you to become more considerate and caring when you learn to be patient with yourself, you also learn how to be patient with others and when you open your mind to others, you are then able to help them to see things in a different light. I think that all of us Instructors know that the best way to teach our students is often by being a good example and hoping that you can inspire your students to learn the true nature of themselves, be expressive and become better human beings and if we are honest with ourselves, we could all do with being a better person in some way, shape or form.
if you would like to be treated with courtesy and respect you will need to be genuinely humble and show true courtesy and respect at all times but with human nature being the way that it is, to maintain this aspect of life is very hard, which is why for me it will always be a work in progress.

People have said that I have mellowed? I haven’t! I have matured and learnt from mine and others mistakes. Through Karate I have learnt to talk myself out of taking wrong actions and hopefully taking better ones. Perhaps not every time but a lot less than when I was younger. I believe that is what Karate should teach you, or should that be just life’s lessons.

Does Karate reflect life?

We have all seen the usual lists of attributes on martial arts posters and advertisements.

  • Get into shape
  • Gain confidence
  • Learn to defend yourself
  • A fun and friendly environment
  • Increased flexibility
  • Teaches respect and discipline
  • Relieves tension and stress

I would personally term them differently.

  • Hone your instincts
  • Sharpen reflexes and reactions
  • Speed up thought processes
  • Tone muscle and strengthen bone
  • Enhance flexibility and agility
  • Correct actions and power generation
  • Controlled emotions
  • Body and Mind Conditioning

“Karate aims to build character, improve human endeavour and cultivate modesty. However, it does not guarantee it” Yasuhiro Konishi.

*

John Johnston has been my teacher for over 10 years now and I have a great respect and admiration for his teaching methods, martial ability and philosophy. But also his desire to aid his student’s progression by encouraging them to train outside his club with other instructors. I am not being biased just because he is my husband. He always shows patience, kindness and commitment towards his students and I am one of his students. He has helped me to write many published articles by being the contrast that I have needed to differentiate and evaluate all the good the bad and the ugly in the world of Karate!
Karate can be a good and honest teacher for anyone who can embrace it’s teachings. I believe that life can sometimes be rather deceptive and we live in a culture where by people’s beliefs can and often do shape the evolution of humanity. If enough people believe something then that something becomes the norm and becomes accepted as a truth even if it is not. Things do not always have to be good to be accepted as the norm either. So you can see where I’m going with this. Life cannot always be relied upon to be a good and honest teacher, nor can our parents! as not all of us have had ideal upbringings and not all influential people are good people!. Our lives bustle with people and life becomes much more pleasant and easier if we can learn how to be integrated into society in a positive and meaningful way. Good social skills and correct behavioural concepts need to be adopted to make this happen but what are good social skills?. My correct social skills and manners never came from my upbringing; they came from my Karate training. Not all Instructors are equipped to be able to set a moral compass within a student with a bad or weak attitude because they themselves are lacking but what exactly is the right kind of courtesy to hone in your students?. Being courteous is paramount when teaching someone a martial art. Is courtesy being kind and thinking about treating the other person well and respectfully? We usually associate being courteous with politeness and compassion, a manner of behaving that allows groups of people to cope with societal attitudes, maybe. The structure of a Karate class is different and the epistemology of human courtesy changes into something quite different. When I met John and started training with him I got a shock indeed. I was taught about being courteous to my training partners by not expecting them to lower their standards for me and I was taught to be courteous to them by having the courage to hit towards the target with full intention and controlled aggression so that they could protect themselves and block realistically and effectively so aiding them in learning about what is going to work and what isn’t going to work in a real situation, after all what is it we are training for if part of it is not for the preparation in dealing with a real confrontational or life threatening situation. I had to learn to attack with the intention that allowed them to be realistic. I was also not being courteous to my partner by allowing them to believe that a technique was working if it wasn’t, so no falling over to easily or allowing them to take me down to easily, or being to slow with a secondary attack to allow them time to block and defend again. To have this kind of courtesy for your training partner is very difficult because there is nowhere to hide your inexperience or your weaknesses. To be able to be courteous you have to become a better martial artist and because of the nature of the exercise you undoubtedly become a better person as it is very risky and difficult to attack full on with a bad attitude which is why John and I call it the art of self development. When I say a better person, I mean an honest person. I believe that you learn from honest students because they will reflect upon you the things that you need to improve or change. Honesty is the key to progress when it comes to being courteous for your partner’s development. This is the kind of training that taught me that pride and arrogance was a hindrance to one’s self development, I had to be humble, honest and strong enough to be able to look at the reflection of myself that it gave me without the rose tinted glasses or the self delusion and I realised that in order to be able to become a better Karate – Ka, I needed to become a better person. I think it is critical when you are training especially in partner work that you are under no illusions about your ability and you must certainly never expect your partner to lower their standards just so that you can handle them, so appreciating my inabilities was the hardest thing at first. Pride is not a good trait for a martial artist as it can cause emotional outbursts and hinder progress. I had to know how good I wasn’t if that makes sense. John has never been lenient with me in that respect (for my own development of course) with his realistic no nonsense approach to Karate which was exactly what I needed at that time. After falling off my high horse a few times and taking myself off the list of people I thought had good Karate, I began to analyse what was wrong with my art and find strategies to compensate me in the Dojo whilst I was developing new skills, courage and learning how to be humble. That was over 10 years ago and do you know what? Because my training in the Dojo is progressive and is always advancing, this is a never ending task for me. I am still in the process of developing new skills, courage and learning how to be humble..With all of the new skills I have learnt, I have become a better person, a better wife, a better mother and a better friend and the best friend I have made on this journey is myself. If you can live with yourself then others can too. These are life’s lessons but it took one good man and his Karate to teach them to me.

“I think we are going to need a bigger boat”.John & Me 1

Man Maketh Man by John Johnston


Following a training session a short time ago, myself and some of the senior students were chatting about my experiences of training with other Instructors. Over the years I have been lucky and privileged to have been taught by and trained with some of the best. I have a personal policy of attending a training session or seminar with s different Instructor at least once a month. I told them that I would ensure that they had the information of any of the different courses that were coming up. Two of the students had come to me from different clubs and associations. They both tentatively asked whether I minded them attending sessions with other Instructors because with their old clubs this was unheard of and strictly not allowed. I found it strange whilst looking at these two big strapping lads that these were grown men with responsible jobs. My answer to them was that as individuals they had free choice and that they have an obligation to themselves to get the best out of their Karate and that would come from various sources. I like to think that I am a responsible person and Instructor and in being so I have a duty to steer my students in a direction where they have a varied progressive and wholesome training experience. I like them to feel free to actively seek out the best Instruction and to be able to explore whatever dimension of Martial Arts they wish to pursue.
Anybody who thinks themselves as the seed of all knowledge knows nothing.
To keep students trapped, blinkered and isolated for reasons of ego, insecurity and/ or personal financial gain is not only ethically and morally wrong, it is dishonest and irresponsible. It breaks a trust and a code of honour that should be showed towards a student that has come to you and placed their wellbeing and personal development in your hands. As my Grandmother used to say “if you can’t do anybody any good then don’t do them any harm”

Elaine

Survival Of The Fittest Or Fit For Survival by John Johnston


Recently a friend and colleague Steve Lowe posted on face book how his Karate training had saved his life. He had slipped on a roof he was working on. He was in danger of falling head first through a skylight with a 30ft onto concrete below. He managed to twist mid fall and land on his back. In doing so he was able to cushion his fall and brace himself on top of the skylight. He was sore and bruised but very much alive.
I know from experience that it’s at times like this that through your training your survival instincts will kick in and that in most cases you will manage to take appropriate action. When I think back and analyse actions I have taken during conflict situations, I realise how lucky I was to come out of it with a favourable result but it’s not conflict that I want to talk about today.
I know many of us have stories from everyday situations where martial arts training have saved us from serious injury or even death. There have been quite a few occasions in my life where I can look back and know that my training has worked for me. I would like to relate to you about one of these occasions.
I used to be a keen cyclist. I enjoyed going on long cycling and camping holidays. A former girlfriend and I had been touring in Spain and had just crossed the Pyrenees into France. We had stopped over night in a campsite just the other side of Narbonne. We were a day or so ahead of our schedule so we decided to have a rest day. While my girlfriend did some washing, I decided to prepare some breakfast. We had two small camping gas stoves. I was using one for boiling some water, the other one needed the gas canister changing. This was where things started to go pear shaped. Normally there would not have been a problem switching a gas canister refill but as I was doing it the housing collapsed and the bayonet pierced the refill. Pressurised liquid gas started spraying everywhere, in the same instant I realised there was a naked flame on the other stove. I thought about that moment many times and have analysed my actions. I know that without my training and experiences I would have come off with worse injuries than I did, also others could have been in danger of being injured. My reaction and thought processes where so fast. I hurled the punctured refill one way knowing that there was nobody in that direction and at the same time I executed a backward somersault which was something I have never practised or done in my life and this was achieved from a kneeling position. Fortunately my girlfriend was at the back of the tent hanging washing on a makeshift washing line. She described to me later how she looked round as she heard me shout to see me flying backwards out of ball of flames and to land on my feet as the refill exploded about 12 feet away. The tent was completely disintegrated. As the people in the vicinity came to see what all the commotion was about. There was a lot of people speaking in French and acting panicky and confused. Now I do not say this to big myself up but throughout I remained calm and in control which considering the state I was in wasn’t easy. I was actually smouldering and my skin was beginning to blister. As it was a hot morning I was only wearing shorts and sandals. I had the sense to find the cold water tap and start to douse myself down. I then went to the campsite reception and with my broken French I managed to get them to understand that I needed medical attention. Eventually they phoned for an ambulance. A short time later paramedics arrived to find me showering myself with cold water from a hose that I had found at the back of the reception. They took one look at me and requested an air ambulance. After administering first aid they took me to a nearby landing strip where I was flown to a burns unit in Montpellier. I was treated for 2nd and 3rd degree burns to 35% of my body. The hospital experiences would be a story in itself so we come back to the point of this blog which is to illustrate just how valuable your training is to you. It isn’t only just for self defence when faced with the possibility of being physically attacked but for yourself protection and yourself development in that it enhances life skills and the thought processes. It also gives you pain tolerance and emotional control.
It is said that you need to train the way that you wish to fight. I would also add that you should train the way that you wish to live, with honesty, courtesy and a strong spirit.

THE DEMO TO END ALL DEMO’S. By John Johnston


A long, long time ago when there was orks and goblins still roaming the world, Richard Jackson Sensei asked the senior members of his club if they would like to help him put on a demo at the local school fete. Great we thought a chance to do some recruiting but better still, to be able to show off! So over the next few weeks we put together a bit of a spectacle. You older readers will understand the sort of thing that I am talking about. There was tamishiwari that is breaking techniques. There was also knife and sword defence. Kata’s performed in Hakama’s. My main contribution to the event was throwing techniques but mainly being thrown. My friend and partner was an old style semi-professional wrestler. All in all I think we put on a fairly good show. There was lots of ooohs and aaahs from the crowd with enthusiastic applause and cheering. All the kids were running around asking for our autographs and plenty of enquiries about joining up. So as things began to settle down, we thought it was time to get changed and depart. As a group we were making our way back to the gym changing rooms.
Mick Jackson, Ricks brother was following on behind. He hadn’t taken part in the Demo as he was on crutches. He had broken his leg about 6 weeks previously. It had been quite a severe injury that had occurred during a National Squad training session at the Long Ford Dojo in Coventry. It happened during a clash with Sensei Bob Rhodes.
As we were just about to go into the changing rooms, one of the lads called me back saying he thinks Mick has got some trouble and sure enough I can see that Mick is surrounded by 5 drunks. They were taunting him and trying to make fun of him. They must have thought he was an easy and vulnerable target, however they were wrong. Even though he has been on crutches Mick adapted his training and carried on throughout his injury. You have never seen anybody hop and punch oi-tsuki the way Mick could.
My friend Frank and I are running back towards Mick and the drunks. As we approach one of the lads explodes backwards and lands flat on his back and doesn’t move (he’s out cold). The other drunks are momentarily shocked; they’re not sure what to do. I think that they were so surprised that somebody on crutches was able to knock one of their friends out; it was too much for their confused little minds to handle. It was at this point that Frank and I arrived on the scene. Oh I forgot to tell you about Frank. He is a young lad of about 18 and a brick layers apprentice. He is 6 ft 2in and all testosterone. He was extremely strong and supple. His party trick was to stand next to a doorway, lift his foot up and place it on top of the door frame as if kicking yoko geri. Frank later immigrated to Australia where he went on to be south Australia’s Kata and Kumite champion.
One of the drunks turns as frank is running up. Without missing a step Frank chins him and down he goes.
Mick’s on one crutch hopping and hoping one of the others will come near enough so that he can test his one legged oi-tsuki again. I grab one of the lads and swing him round into his mate, they both stumble over backwards. As I turn I am just in time to see a wild punch coming my way. I manage to duck under it and I am now in a position to be able to grab the dickhead in a strangle hold from the rear. I have got the strangle hold locked on and he is pretty subdued. It’s at this point that Frank looms up in front of us after having chased the other 2 lads off. Frank has yet to learn about restraint. He front kicks the lad I am holding in the lower abdomen. Frank’s kicks are really powerful. It knocks us both backwards and sits us both on our backsides. Personally I think it was overkill but you can’t have much sympathy for a bully. These lads were quite prepared to pick on somebody in a vulnerable position, outnumbering him 5 to 1.
The aftermath of the whole affair was, 1 lad was taken to hospital via an ambulance, and 2 of them were arrested when the Police arrived. They spent the afternoon and the night in the cells. The Police told us to make ourselves scarce which we did. We were never asked to do a demonstration again in that area. Like with all demonstrations you always have sceptics; however the later demonstration proved how well Karate works in reality.

Some actual photo's of the demonstration

Some actual photo’s of me in the demonstration

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SCOTCH MARY by John Johnston


Yet another tale of daring do from yesteryear

Scotch Mary was a notorious alcoholic. She was barred from almost everywhere in Coventry, shops, pubs, clubs (the Police Station). Scotch Mary was the worst bad news ever. If she was on your premises you had trouble with a capital T. She has been in and out of prison countless times. She was mean, abusive, vicious and vindictive. She was completely out of control.

It was one of those nights where there just seemed to be one incident after another. I think that it had something to do with the moon or perhaps there was something in the water.
I always believed that I ran a really tight door but that is when you find out that shit happens. I was on my way back to the door after sorting out an incident at one of the bars. A punter came to tell me the worst bad news ever – Scotch Mary’s in the club and he didn’t mean she was pregnant. It’s at moments like these that you go through the whole gambit of emotion, panic, hate, fear, revulsion, love (yes love) you’d  love to be any place but here. As I was given the worst bad news ever I had a couple of my guys with me. I send one back to the door so as to inform them that I am not best pleased, let them sweat it out a little bit, because whoever let her in will have some explaining to do. I take the other lad with me as I go and look for Mary. It’s not long before there is a disturbance in the vicinity of the ladies toilets. As we arrive girls are running out in a panic. As we cautiously enter the corridor leading to the toilets, there is a lot of banging and abusive language in a Glaswegian accent. Yes it’s Mary. She is apparently trying to kick in the doors to the cubicles. As I peep around the door I can see that she has just thrown a glass over the top of the door into a cubicle. Fortunately it smashes on the wall and not on the person who was in there. I stepped cautiously into the room. It feels like that moment in the film when Medusa turns her gaze upon some poor Greek Soldier turning him to stone. Mary has just thrown her weapon of choice which is usually a glass or bottle but she has been known to carry a knife. In those few moments when I was frozen it allowed me to assess whether she was carrying or not. As Mary transfers her attention from the cubicles to me it is at this point that she lunges at me. I step in and deliver a back hand slap to the side of her head, it sends her flying backwards. She hits the wall and slumps down in the corner. I have hit her with a really good shot (yes I have hit a woman) Mary however was nothing like any woman you would ever know. She was a Banshee. She would have attacked me full on with tooth and claw. I get a couple of the lads to get rid of Mary whilst she is still quiet and subdued. They decide that it is best to put her out of the back emergency exit out of the way of normal human beings. I remain I the toilets so as to reassure the girls cowering in the cubicles that everything is OK and it is safe to come out. A couple of the girls come out and promptly leave, however there is another girl locked in a cubicle, she is totally traumatised and terrified. I managed to get her to calm down enough to leave the cubicle and I escort her to the safety of the manager’s office. This is when I find out exactly what has happened. Apparently Mary had approached this young lady at the bar. She had tried to get her to buy her a drink. This was a favoured tactic of Mary’s as most people would just buy her a drink just to be rid of her. This poor lass didn’t know Mary or her reputation and had refused. Mary became abusive and aggressive towards her. It was at this point that  a young lad had tried to intervene. Mary just snatched a glass from the bar and smashed it into the poor fellows face. The young girl had bolted for the toilets with Mary in pursuit, leaving the poor innocent lad scarred for life. The glass has sliced a large flap of flesh from his cheek. I can’t remember how many stitches that he needed but it was a lot.
as soon as I got the whole story I sent some of the lads back out to try and find Mary so as to be able to hand her over to the Police. Mary was long gone. The whole incident was reported to the Police and Mary was picked up somewhere in the early hours of the morning. Due process took its course and Mary ended up in prison. I’ve not seen Mary from that day to this which is fortunate for both of us. She is almost certainly dead by now and I hope that her passing was anything but peaceful. I’m a great believer in Karma. I can only hope that in Mary’s case what went around came around.

STAR STRUCK SOULS by John Johnston


A few years back I had been on a holiday with my grandmother and a girlfriend. It was the last day of our holiday and we made ready for our departure. We had just taken the hire car back to the Airport. We dropped it off at an office at the far end of the Airport. This left us with quite a bit of a walk to the departure lounge. Feeling a bit macho and taking responsibility I grabbed hold of 2 large suitcases (no wheels or trolley) and set off with the ladies following. Because of the direction of the route, we entered the concourse at the far end of the Airport. We were well away from the part that we needed to be at. I think that we must have entered at the arrivals. I notice that a large crowd mainly made up of armed and uniformed military looking types. There was a large empty space between where we had entered and this crowd of people. I began walking across the empty floor space. I hadn’t gone very far when I noticed that there was something wrong at the arrivals gate. The guys in uniform seemed to be getting very agitated and there is a lot of shouting in foreign languages. I am now on full alert and I turn to my grandmother and girlfriend and tell them to stay where they are. It’s at this point that I notice that there is a big guy and he is struggling with the military. He manages to break free from them and he starts to run towards me. Things aren’t looking good. A couple of the soldiers have drawn guns and they are pointing in my direction as the big fellow is still running towards me. I decide to take action. I drop the cases and step forward. I have got the guy lined up for a right cross. My thinking is that if I knock this geezer out, they won’t have to shoot him as I am in the firing line as well. I’m also thinking that I will be the hero of the day. He is only a few metres away when a guy on a louder hailer steps forward from the crown and shouts “OK David that’s great” the big guy stops running and we are both standing looking at each other. He has got a very concerned look on his face. I must have appeared to be looking  very aggressive as well as very confused. Neither of us said anything as he turns to walk away. It is at this point that I realise who the big guy is. It was none other than David Soul of Starsky & Hutch fame. It dawns on me that I have just walked into a film set and almost decked the star.

I think we both had a narrow escape that day. Just a few more seconds and I could have gone from hero to zero and David Soul would have gone from star to struck!!

No I didn't recognise him at first either!!

No I didn’t recognise him at first either!!