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

img010

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!!

“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!!!

COCKTAILS IN COVENTRY by John Johnston


Those of you that have followed my blog may remember that I have mentioned about disarming people with knives. I have told you that it only ever happened to me on two occasions, one was by default as mentioned in a previous blog and on the other occasion by stealth.
Which happened like this:

I was standing at the reception of the nightclub chatting, perhaps I should mention here that anyone that has never read my blog that I was Head Doorman at a large Coventry Nightclub in the late 70s, anyway the girl on the desk receives an internal phone call, she tells me that there is trouble at the Cocktail Bar, yes that’s right, Cocktail Bar with a proper Cocktail Barman. There weren’t many of those about in Coventry in the 70s.
I leave the reception to investigate and as I am approaching the Bar I can see a guy with his back to me and two other people are backed into a corner. The geezer with his back to me is threatening the two other guys with a knife; every other person has left the area. The Barman is nowhere to be seen. I realise later that he is hiding under a shelf behind the bar, on assessing the situation I instantly hatch a cunning plan.
I approach the guy with the knife, careful to keep out of his line of vision. I grab his right wrist, that’s the hand that is holding the knife. I slammed the side of his head into the brass bar rail. This has the effect of stunning him and happily for me he drops the knife. The two cornered guys split. I’m left with the protagonist who’s having trouble standing unsupported. Without any hesitation he is on his way to the front door, by the time he’s outside he seems OK, only he’s got a large lump on the side of his head. He heads off down the road never to be seen again.
you may think that I should of taken more care of the guy as he could of had a concussion or worse, but this incident happened long before we had a health and safety culture and I feel that he was lucky that it happened in my club because if it had happened in any of the other clubs he would of gone out via the back doors and would of received (a severe talking to). As I may have said before, you have to make instant judgements and so once again this happened to be the right judgement looking back in hindsight. As we all know, hindsight and retrospect are an exact science.

A Tale of Excessive Alcohol and Bravado by John Johnston


This story I’m about to relate to you isn’t about Karate but I think you may find it of interest.

Many years ago after a Saturday morning training session. My old friend, training partner and student Glen and myself decided to go for a “drink or three”. Glen encouraged me to accompany him to a rough pub in his hometown of Bedworth near Coventry. Glen had his own reason for wanting to go to this particular pub which we will not go into.

I remember entering a scruffy run down room, smelling of stale beer and tobacco. The smell might come from the room or the clientele who were a mixture of Rockers and Skinhead types. There were a lot of tattoos and missing teeth. Glen being a local lad knew a lot of the people there. He was somewhat a local hero, being a Doorman and International fighter. We  brought drinks and sat at a table. Shortly we were joined by a couple of desperate looking characters. Glen spotted someone he wanted to see about an issue that had arisen on the door a few nights previous and left me to go and have a quiet word. The two lads sitting with me were friendly enough and were engaging me in the gentlemanly banter that establishes status and pecking order. After a few searching questions they seemed satisfied with my credentials. One of the lads was sporting strapping on his left hand. I asked what had happened. He was delighted to tell me how he had won a £50 bet. He was really proud of the fact that whilst drunk a couple of weeks previous he and his mate were making silly bets. His bet was that he wouldn’t move his hand if they nailed it to the table. He being a roofer went out to his truck, came back with a 4 inch nail and a hammer gave it to a mate laid his hand on the table.  His mate without hesitation placed the nail in the middle of the back of the hand and gave it a whack with the hammer driving the nail through his hand and into the table. He was so proud to have won the bet and thought it was the greatest achievement of his life.

I asked him how he managed to work with his hand like that, his reply was “I’m not working, haven’t been able to. I’ve been off for two weeks and will be off for at least another two weeks”. I said “so you’ve lost a month’s money for £50?” He said “Yeah but I won the bet”

There must be a moral here?

Don’t cut off your nose to spite your face!