The Unequal Equalizer. By John Johnston


The unequal equalizer was a phrase I first hear over 40 years ago. It was used by my old Sensei, Richard Jackson to illustrate how within a well structured Karate class, everybody has the same opportunity to perform at their highest level.
It is still true today, especially in regard to people with disabilities.
Having recently attended two championships for people with disabilities, The British Open at StokeMandeville and The European Championships in San Sebastian, Spain. More than ever I think I begin to understand that phrase.

The style of the championships isn’t that of the usual Karate / martial arts competition, far from it in fact. It differs in so many ways and for me it is like a breath of fresh air. The athletes are not pitted against one and other in an arena to see who is the strongest, fastest and most skilled. Their challenge is to demonstrate their ability. There are so many categories for people with disabilities that you could not hold a standard tournament, nor do I think you would want to. It would be unfair to all involved, participants, officials and spectators.

Let me try to give you a flavour of the events.
You may see Kata being performed by wheelchair users. This ranges from novice to higher grades, or you may see self defence demonstrated form a wheelchair.
At the Spanish event there was a young lady who gave a brilliant self defence display in her motorised wheelchair, mainly using her fully functioning good leg. She had no actual arms, only hands;I think she may have been a victim of the thalidomide drug.
You also have people with learning disabilities, down syndrome, visibility and hearing impairments or autism also performing Kata or sometimes just Kihon (basics). This may be done individually or in a group and it may or may not have been with a coach along side. There would also be other self defence displays and people performing weapons Kata but most of all, the other things you are likely to see is how everybody supports each other. Their courage, their endeavours and their great camaraderie really register with you.

What you don’t see is bad behaviour, big egos and prima donnas. You just get people trying to explore their potential with great commitment. There aren’t any losers, there can only be winners.

kevin Spain Trophy 2015

It needs mentioning that there is no charge for competitors or spectators, the costs were covered through funding and sponsorship. Also a lot of the training schemes are funded and free for participants within Britain.

 

At the European Championships, there was a slight hiccup. This came in the form of the WKF (World Karate Federation) trying to interfere with the event through reasons of their own. They gave ultimatums to the event organisers and some of the Karate-Ka that were affiliated to them. However, they were totally ignored and the event went ahead anyway. From my perspective they had no moral or ethical right to have tried to interfere with the event.
I feel that these sort of events should be celebrated, encouraged and given whole hearted support. It was not specifically a Karate event; it was a martial art event. It leaves a bad taste in your mouth and puts shame on such an organisation.

John & Kevin Spain

Busman’s Holiday part 2 by Elaine Johnston


Let me first begin by saying how much I enjoy visiting other martial arts classes just to observe their teaching and training practices. It’s lovely to see good Instructors engaging with their students and I love to see the etiquette and good manners that fellow Karate-Ka emit amongst themselves. Of course these are the things that you expect when visiting other clubs. The saying “always expect the unexpected” comes to mind here because it isn’t always like that.
John gave a very accurate depiction of the events that went down in the South of England but what he couldn’t translate to you was what was happening to me whilst he was otherwise engaged with one of the Instructors. I had gone and sat down because I had also had a large meal and a couple of beers plus I was wearing rings that I could not take off without soapy water. I was told that wearing rings and having had alcohol didn’t matter but it did matter to me and although I had got up to join in happily to begin with, I soon began to feel my hackles rising like they would in any other bad situation. I wasn’t allowed to sit. The main Instructor insisted that I get up and allow him to show me something else which happened to be a wrist lock. One that I have experienced many, many times in my 17 years training in the art of Karate and one that he persistently pertained to use on my wrist for the demo. I am quite certain that the reason he made so many attempts at the lock with each one getting more severe was because I would not show any pain but let me tell you I was a cats whisker away from taking his eye out with my free hand!. I could reach his testicles with my foot from where I stood as well. I had extreme difficulty preserving my manners because my main concern at the end of the day was my own behaviour whilst in this situation and in the presence of my own Instructor. I could not possibly do anything that would disrespect my Sensei. I was told to relax so that he could feel my pain threshold. Mmm ! In a real situation you would not be relaxed and I seriously don’t think that the lock would work for a women like me on a man who was wanting to do me harm. The Chinese hands would not work for me and the lock would not work for me. This man was very pushy in wanting to teach these things to me and I was extremely offended by the fact that he wanted to teach me something that could in fact put my life in danger. I value my life and my own self protection is always analysed and meticulously thought out. I know what will not work for me. I’m OK learning stuff from any Instructor but not under the banner of self-defence techniques for a situation of assault in a way that is ineffective and unrealistic. My own Sensei understands my needs in training and allows me to adapt my techniques to better suit me. I have also trained with wonderful big tough Instructors who have taught me some fantastic methods of defence who have been very realistic with my needs, very well-mannered and courteous so there was no excuse for this man’s behaviour. He said that traditional Karate practices were invalid and not practical which also offended me because he did not have the intelligence to see the value and purpose behind them. He had obviously not learnt the proper codes of conduct that come with hard and correct training. I am grateful to him though because he rated very high on my list of bad instructors. I have written about them before and I know they’re out there and that they exist but I had never met one myself. Not at this level anyway. It was almost as if he was trying to justify himself with his hyper and over the top actions. He ignored his own students to focus on us which was very weird. So a big thank you to him for allowing me to be able to say yes they’re definatly out there amongst us, so beware. I also thank him for that extreme in the wrong direction because I met a fantastic Instructor the other evening who was very spiritual, very powerful, and very dynamic in his Karate movement and a very nice person who I look forward to training with next march. Maybe I would not have appreciated this wonderful mans good aspects if I had not met the lesser man.
The fantastic news is we are always learning and able to learn (well most of us anyway) He only had 4 students. It was a very small town. Out of all the things I could have done I chose not to do any of them out of respect and self-preservation and I feel good about that because my dignity remains intact. My conscience is clear and I overheard my Sensei speaking to someone and he said that I would have been OK to respond any way that I had seen fit. 🙂 There is always a next time!!

Me and my Sensei, but I am under no illusions

Me and my Sensei, but I am under no illusions

TOUGH LOVE by Elaine Johnston


It is very difficult to get good honest Karate training these days and even more difficult to get good honest Karate training that provides ongoing advancement and inspiration.
Karate isn’t just a physical endeavour, it has a deep underlying spiritual element that facilitates and underpins the physical aspect. It is a tool for developing the psyche (soul).
Without the correct mindset one will not have the inner fortitude to develop the strong physical mechanisms that give Karate its speed, power and dynamics which are the necessary requisites for the one hit kill. It is not within normal conditioning to already have these built in; these physical mechanisms have to be developed. They are paramount to ones healthy and progressive Karate development. One needs courage and bravery to develop a strong mind as real genuine Karate is not for the faint hearted.
The psychological aspect of Karate has its roots in the Zen philosophy. Zen was the religion of the Samurai Warrior class in Japan. I suppose one could say the Samurai turned death into an art form. The Samurai could strike without regret and die without fear, a necessity as a single doubt or fear could cause a lack in concentration that could prove fatal, also having to live with the thought of impending death every day needed a spiritually philosophical strategy.
We do not need to be like the Samurai today. We do not need to prepare our minds for death. What we do need however is to prepare our minds to “live”. We need to bring our consciousness out of atrophy and train our minds to fight against our own self doubts and self imposed limitations and become stronger more able individuals. Whilst it is not every student’s ambition to learn the one hit kill, it should be every student’s requirement to develop the skills that will lead onto developing a better standard of living.
easy training will not accomplish this and nether will an instructor that’s only interested in student fees because to start building strength into the character means one has to be pushed, challenged and tested and this method of training is not popular amongst the meek and the mild, although it seems these days everybody wants to wear the label of the warrior!!!
The commercialisation and profit market for Karate today has misled the majority of its practitioners into believing that what they are practicing is of a genuine nature when in fact it is not. How can it be? With the amount of martial arts schools and instructors out in the world and the amount of people that are training or have trained at some point in their lives, one would think that the majority of nations would be full of strong minded, well balanced, dignified people who are quietly assertive, follow impeccable codes of moral conduct, never give up in the face of adversity and who never compromise their high standards and integrity for the benefit of others, but are willing to pass on and teach others how to attain these standards for themselves (the way of a true Karate-Ka). Imagine a world full of people with these high codes of conduct, wouldn’t that be wonderful? And wouldn’t the world be a wonderful place to live in? The fact that this is not so is evidence that it is all work in progress.
It is a day and age whereby Karate and Martial Arts in general has absorbed itself into society creating a wide and diverse spectrum of extremes across the board. The level, ability and knowledge of instructors ranges from below average to exceptional and yes it seems that everybody is “kung -fu fighting”. I was once told by a very inspiring colleague “when the student is ready the Master will come”. If the spectrum and range of Instructors is so extreme in both directions then maybe that is because there is demand for them in these extremes. After all not everyone will have the mental capacity or the fortitude to be trained on a regular basis by a top Instructor because not everyone has that mentality or that certain type of aggression that enables a student to flourish in a martial environment. I like to use physics when I translate my Karate to my ideas and theories. One of the basic laws in physics is “like attracts like” so there is definitely an Instructor out there for every level of human capability from the below average to the exceptional. This inspires a very positive outlook if one is able to view the situation from a slightly different perspective. If almost all people are training in Karate or other Martial Art, those that have been well trained will know that within the training is “The Code” the code that teaches us about ourselves and how to behave correctly. All students/ people have got to start somewhere, even if it is on the bottom rung of the ladder. It is really up to each and every individual student to learn how to step up to the mark and progress forward and upwards and when the student is ready the master will come.
Training the psyche (soul) can face one with emotionally painful difficulties. Self doubt and self imposed limitations are inherent in all humans at varying degrees, it is these traits that actually hinder and restrain natural creativity. It is natural inner creativity that gives us our individuality and unique expression. The human disposition is to avoid any kind of pain physical or psychological, so it is very necessary to have a trusted teacher who is capable of pushing a student to the limits. It cannot be stressed enough how important these lesson’s are and how beneficial they are to an individual in the long term. A genuine and knowledgeable Karate Instructor knows this because he himself has had to learn them from his teacher, but many students unfortunately are too shy to be able to make it through to the beneficial stages, which can only materialise inside the mind of the student after they have faced and conquered many of their inner fears, self imposed limitations and doubts, giving them a sense of real well being, strength of character and inner calm. This can be very difficult to attain, though it should be every students ultimate goal to work towards attaining “Self Enlightenment” after all what are we all here for if it isn’t to ultimately realise our full potential and true nature. It is much easier to be tempted into going down the road to the brightly coloured and well promoted local McDojo or go to an unethical Instructor whose ego has not been humbled. Such Instructors are not able to push their students because they themselves haven’t developed the right kind of character to be able to do this correctly. Pushing a student to test the boundaries of their emotional limits can only really be done if the student has complete and utter trust in his/her Instructor. This kind of trust cannot really be achieved from an Instructor whose motives are distorted and/or ill guided because on a subconscious level this underlying negative influence impedes the students trust and their growth. How can the above two types of Instructor possibly provide the correct type of training coming at it from such distorted perspectives. A lesser trained and less experienced Instructor can still be of a great benefit so by all means go somewhere where the training is easier if that suits but make sure that the Instructor has your interest at heart and not his own. A good Instructor is one who has integrity not necessarily one who has superior knowledge.
The most knowledgeable Instructors are undoubtedly the most challenging to train under because their knowledge involves so much dynamic content in each individual technique and so many complex mechanisms for a student to get their head and body around. A good and seasoned Sensei will gradually add the content and complexity into the students Karate so as not to over complicate things. It should be the student’s goal to be able to learn how to hold thought and technique in all its complexity without having any autonomous body parts!! I call this “autonomous karate tourettes” whereby you are practicing a technique, Kata or combination and a stray body part is off doing something completely on its own accord and you have no knowledge of its wild adventure until your instructor pulls you up on it which usually comes as a surprise!!. Students should have the feeling of holding all states of awareness together in a controlled but fluid manner through each transition of movement, giving the techniques mindfulness, intention and accuracy. This brings Karate to life and trains the body and the soul.
There has to be love in your art. Love is infinitely detailed and extraordinarily complex in its nature. A student who is putting love into his/her art is able to connect to it on a much deeper level and on those levels learn how to control and hold a complex myriad of thought processes and dynamic physical mechanisms together thus being able to translate this into Karate technique developing power, beauty and expression. Love in the art will help a student through those tough times when it’s hard to carry on. Thoughtful Karate training builds spirit because it is building the psyche (another word for Soul) this is the kind of spirit training that I prefer because building a greater spirit teaches me how to act without conscience and this gives me my peace of mind. Some Instructors perceive hard training as a physical endeavour requiring lots of stamina and body strength which can also be said to build spirit, although I think that this type of training is building a different sense of spirit. Lots of stamina building drills are OK and necessary for sport Karate but if it’s the one hit kill that is being trained for, which I believe to be the fundamental aspect of Shotokan Karate, then it is paramount to have the mindset and the physical power inbuilt, which I believe is attained from training the psyche. My Instructor once told me that conflict was 90% mental and 10% physical so in training the psyche I also have my conflict resolution. Maybe this method of training the psyche suits me because I’m a woman in a male dominated arena and this is how I’ve fashioned my art to be of most benefit to me.

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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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“Be afraid, be very afraid. Be careful when your spider sense is tingling”


There are times when working on the door when you can spot who is going to get thrown out later. You see punters as they come through the door and you just know that they will end up being ejected. My friend and colleague Joe and I used to have bets on the outcome of the people that we spotted. It would only count if one of the other guys ejected them. I was always pretty good at getting it right.

It’s a sense that would seem to manifest itself at tournaments. I would enter the main arena and be able to sense who I would end up fighting later that day.

I remember going to a competition in Ipswich, we arrived after an early start and a long drive. The last thing you feel like doing is having to start fighting but hey that’s what your there for. You get changed and you find yourself a space to start warming up. You greet old friends, catch up and you start looking around at the opposition making assessments. That’s when I spotted him. I turned to a team mate and said “I bet that’s the one that I get”, “rather you than me” he replies. Oh yeah why’s that? I hear you say. Well I will tell you why! The guy I have just spotted happens to be a 6ft 7inch brute of ebony muscle. He is a Frank Bruno look alike. He is warming up and his technique is very fast and strong He has an amazingly long reach with both arms and legs.

Anyway as the day progresses I manage to win through my pool and I’m due to meet the winners of the other pools. We are called to go to the area for the Semi’s. As we line up he’s on the opposite side and I’m drawn against him. Some days you just wished that you weren’t right all the time. He’s looking very formidable but what the hack I was having a good day myself. I’d had some good wins. You know some days you find that you are just in the zone. We are called up to take our bows and face off. Hajime (start)  was called and we began circling each other. We’re both being very cautious as nobody likes to get this far in a competition just to lose because of a stupid mistake. It’s about a minute into the bout and no score. He’s either just about to start an attack or just feigning. Without even thinking about it, a response is triggered. I drive forward with a really sharp Kizami (front hand jab). I must tell you that in those days of long ago competitions were Shobu Ippon, without mitts or even gum shields. I have hit him hard, right on the point of his jaw. It’s stopped him short and you could see that I had hurt him. Yame has been called and we go back to our marks. He’s looking at me with venom in his eyes and I’m thinking ‘sugar this looks bad’. The judges and the referees are conferring so either I am going to be disqualified or warned and I’m going to have to face his wrath. The referee comes back to his position and he looks very sternly at both of us, then his arm shoots straight up and I am awarded Ippon full point and I am the winner.

I can’t tell you how relieved I felt at that moment. I went on to lose in the final but my day was made up with that one result.

Just be very careful what you wish for

I attended a course and as soon as he walked through the door, I knew who my partner would be!!!

I attended a course and as soon as he walked through the door, I knew who my partner would be!!!

Bad Technique Trumps Experience by John Johnston


Don't take your eyes off your apponantOne of my first memories teaching was as a 3rd KYU. As brown belts we were given the task of taking the Sunday morning class.  There were 8 of us 3rd and 2nd KYU’s and we would take it turns to teach. On this particular Sunday it was my turn. My chosen theme for the day was GYAKU TSUKI (reverse punch). After drilling it in basics in various ways with lots of reps up and down the Dojo. This was always the order of the day, rep after rep until failure, really hard work especially after a night on the beer. Next came some partner work. I called out Joe, to demonstrate on. Joe was the same grade as me and he was a big lad of 6ft 4in, heavily built and therefore a good opponent to demonstrate with. In those days heavy body contact was the norm. So having demonstrated a simple block and counter, I turned away from Joe to talk to the class. A look on the faces of the student’s told me something wasn’t right. I turned back to Joe only to find him on his hands and knees about to keel over completely. The moral of this story is the bigger they come the faster they fall and no amount of whispering out of the corner of your mouth “Joe get up” will make up for a bad control and lack of a hard stomach.