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.

“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.

FROM LITTLE ACORNS


Many years ago I had a female student, she was quiet and unassuming.  She trained hard and was great at Kata. I thought she had the potential to compete internationally, only she was too shy to go out in front of a crowd of people.

After several years she gained her Shodan, it required a lot of pushing and coercion from me, but she did it and he did it well. Sadly she moved away from the area for a short time and never came back to training. Later she married and had children. One of her sons came and trained with me recently before he moved away to University.

Why am I telling you this you may be asking yourself? Well I will tell you. All this happened some thirty years ago but about fifteen years ago out of the blue I received a letter from this young lady. In the letter she explained how Karate had changed her life. How because of the hard lessons it had given her the courage to do things she thought she would never be able to face up to. She thanked me for the gift that I had given her and apologised for leaving it so long to thank me.

I was very humbled by this letter and wrote back to say thank you and to tell her that she made the major contribution. The point that we as Instructors should take from a story like this is we sometimes don’t realise how much we can affect people’s lives. It is a big responsibility. Our teaching must always be honest and positive. If you cannot do good, you should never do harm.

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.

How We Teach/ Why We Teach (continued) by John Johnston


From time to time my wife Elaine and I take the opportunity to observe other Martial Arts clubs training. There are several reasons for this:

1)      Because we enjoy Martial Arts

2)      We learn a lot from observing

3)      It helps us to understand other styles and systems

4)      On a commercial basis we can see what the opposition is about

5)      As Martial Artists, it is good to be able to have a positive interaction with other instructors and their students.

Having said that we have often seen some atrocious training sessions.  We find it hard to get our heads around the Instructors motivations. We understand the commercial reasons but some of these sessions don’t have enough students to make the session pay, so is it ego? Because it can’t be the love of the art or to the benefit of their students. One club we observed on two seperate occasions at different venues about 18 months apart, the Instructor conducted the whole of both sessions sitting down. The whole session lacked any dynamics, energy or structure. The students looked incompetent, lacklustre and undisciplined. In contrast to the previous, we watched a session where the Instructor ( we nick named him Rat Boy) drilled his few students, 5 in total, 2 young boys, 1 girl, 1 teenage boy and 1 older man all of various grades. They, regardless of grade or age, were given combinations to perform at full speed from the outset. Rat Boy shouted at them to perform stronger, there was no correcting or coaching, just dictorial bulling. They then went on to do Kumite which was poorly demonstrated and would be totally ineffective with no explanation as to objectives. Kata came next but at this point we had had enough and left.

Recently we visited a local McDojo. The session had just started. There were 40 plus students on the floor, 5 or 6 adults the rest were children. The session was being ‘overlooked’ by a senior Instructor with about 8 junior Instructors of an estimated average age of 16. It looked like playtime at the park. I will not describe the training but it wasn’t what I would call Martial.

These are only 3 examples, there have been many more but I feel these are three extremes. In the first example we can only surmise that the Instructor believes that he is providing a service. The second example (Rat Boy) was exercising his ego and satisfying his bullying nature. The third was purely commercial. It certainly was not for the benefit of the students.

We fail to see why in this age of the internet & available good Martial Arts Clubs as to why parents and adult students would wish to pay for this type of tuition.

Buddha say’s “speak well of others, not of their faults” Buddha’s not paying or having to sit quietly by and watch the harm done to others.

Children need correct guidance and support in their Karate

 

DON’T JUST BELIEVE WHAT YOUR INSTRUCTOR TELLS YOU. QUESTION IT AND PROVE TO YOURSELF IT’S TRUTH AND VALUE.

WHY WE TEACH / HOW WE TEACH By John Johnston


How many of us as Instructors really think about what and why we are teaching our students? Whether that is session to session or the overall program. I know many Karate Instructors who expect students to do as they are told because they are told but not told why or what the benefits are of what they are doing. I once had a very knowledgeable and senior Instructor tell me that I gave my students too much information about how and why they should be practicing a practical technique or drill. He said “you should just make them get on with it the same as we had to. They should be worked to failure” there is something to be said about that type of training both negative and positive. However I prefer to see quality in training rather than a cardiovascular exercise. I see myself as a Karate teacher not a fitness Instructor. Having said that it is also necessary to help a student to develop a strong spirit and attitude. You have to get the balance right not only for the class but for the individual as well. That is very difficult and takes a lot of consideration and working out. This is why a lot of instructors take a blanket approach or revert to easy options. You see so many classes now a days with lines of students being told to hit the pad with a kick or punch and being given praise whether it was a good or bad technique. I really hate that meaningless Americanism “Good Job” there is no meaning, basis or structure to this type of action. I won’t qualify it by calling it training. I have seen and been in sessions where you go over Kata time and time again without being corrected thereby building in the same mistakes and bad habits. It is OK to make money teaching Karate or any other Martial Art but not at the sake of your students but because of your students. You owe it to them to give them the relevant information and understanding of Karate. Their development should be paramount.

Both I and my wife Elaine Johnston have been around the country visiting and also to training in some of the Dojo’s primarily for our own development and knowledge. We have trained with some great and inspiring teachers but we have also witnessed some very appalling practices. In the future I will give some examples of bad Instruction.

Tylan & Sensei Johnston

Being corrected and perfected

 

“YOUR GREATEST OBLIGATION IN LIFE IS TO YOURSELF. IF YOU CAN’T LOOK AFTER YOURSELF HOW CAN YOU LOOK AFTER ANYONE ELSE” By John Johnston