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!

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

“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

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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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!!

“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!!!

ENOEDA SENSEI by John Johnston


“Enoeda Sensei”. You only have to hear the name and you immediately have your own visions and thoughts about a man who personifies Karate. An awesome, dominant, larger than life figure. There are a multitude of stories about Enoeda Sensei. These are just some of my own.

Back in the day, National Squad training would often be held at Long Ford Dojo in Coventry. They would often be presided with a general training session taken by Enoeda Sensei. The first two incidents occurred on the same training session. In those days Enoeda Sensei could be very hands on with students(pre P.C). A good friend of mine had the habit of sticking his tongue out whilst standing in stance during Kata. Sensei told him several times to put his tongue away. Well if you don’t listen you have to learn the hard way. Sensei must have gotten fed up with reminding him so as he was walking past, my friend had his tongue out, Sensei’s hand shot out and grabbed the offending article and gave it a brutal squeeze. My agonised friend went down on one knee whilst whimpering. Sensei shouted at him ” I tell you put tongue away” he then wiped his hand on the lads Gi and just carried on instructing. It was very hard not to laugh at something of that nature, no-body laughed. It was shortly after that incident, while still practicing Kata that Sensei stood in front of me and whilst he was making a correction to my posture, I must have averted my vision and looked down. ‘SLAM’ he hit me hard with the flat of his hand on my forehead. Next thing I know I’m siting on my backside looking up at him. He just walked away saying ” don’t look at floor”. Enoeda Sensei’s lesson’s are learnt the hard way.
A few years later when I had a club of my own, I took several students to an all grades course in Newark. Enoeda Sensei was taking the lesson. I remember it being a hard but good session. Many of my students had never trained under a Japanese Instructor before. They were awestruck. They were all discussing the training afterwards, telling me how impressed and pleased they were. One young lady was telling me that she thought it was brilliant but could not get the weasel breathing right. She asked if this was right and screwed her face up in the imitation of a rodent and started to snuffle through her wrinkled up nose. When I finally managed to contain my laughter, I told her to remember that Enoeda Sensei is Japanese. What he had actually said was ” with your breathing” not weasel breathing.

Fond memories on how the lesson we need to take away is to listen more carefully.