“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

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

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.

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.

“KARMA: Some People Just Don’t Get It” By John Johnston


It’s a typical Friday night in Coventry. Friday is lad’s night out and I’m working. I’m a bouncer at a large city nightclub. The club is very busy and the mood is good. I’m in the DJ box chatting to the DJ who is an old mate of mine. The DJ box overlooks the dance floor and is enclosed at the back with a waist high wall, the punters have access between the back of the DJ box and the bar so it is a good place to keep an eye on things only at the moment I’m chatting and not looking. I’m standing with my back to the low wall watching the dance floor talent, ‘as you do’!
All of a sudden my sixth sense kicks in, you know it’s that moment when you know that something is not right or is about to happen. Sure enough as I turn around I spot a guy holding a girl with his left hand around her throat. The girl looks terrified and no wonder because he is lifting a pint pot glass in his right hand.  It seems fairly obvious that he is just about to hit her with it.
I will say this about myself in those days I could react in a flash. I just managed to reach across the wall and grab the guys shoulder and give him a sharp yank. As he was in mid swing about to crack the glass over the poor girls head, my sharp action saved the young lady from possible serious injury. Lucky girl. Unlucky me because as I pulled him backwards, he swung around and hit me with the pint pot just above my left eye opening up a large gash.
Because of the low wall I was able to over balance the twat and pull him into a bear hug and flip him over the wall. This stopped him using the glass again and gave me a breathing space. I had blood in my eye as well as being a bit stunned. I knew that I only had to keep him neutralised for a short while before help arrived.
Sure enough within moments a couple of the other lads were there and quickly had hold of him and he was on his way out. At moments like this there are a lot of different things occurring. Girls are screaming and panicking or being nosey; boys are excited and want to get involved. Emotions are running high especially with any of the parties involved.
As for me, many things were going on in my head. There’s blood in my eyes and I can’t see properly. Adrenalin’s on full revs. People are making stupid comments and asking daft questions. Someone has enough sense to try to get me to go to the toilet to get my eye cleaned up. All I want is to get to the bastard before he’s thrown out so that I can punish him for what he intended and what he did. It wasn’t going to be a happy end for him, but he was lucky, by the time that I had gotten to the front doors he was gone. I had no choice but to let them clean my wound.
After washing the blood away I was able to see clearly and the gash was bad but not serious. However I was told to go to A & E for stitches.
A lift was arranged and I presented myself at Hospital. As usual late on Friday night or in my case early Saturday morning, A & E  was very busy, so before I registered at the triage I thought I would get some fresh air and calm down.
Whilst standing to the side of the main doors in a dark corner, a sort of beach buggy pulled up with three blokes inside. At first I thought nothing of the buggies arrival until the engine was switched off. I could then hear the conversation clearly. I stayed concealed where I was and listened. The guys in the car were arguing about whether to go into the Hospital to find me or wait till I came out. It seemed like they wanted to try and put things right with me so as not to have to face any later repercussions. Myself and my co workers on the door had quite a reputation and these guys were afraid that retribution would be coming their way.
Concealed where I was and listening in on their chatter, the guy that had just glassed me whilst attempting to glass a girl (who I later found out was an ex girlfriend who he had been stalking) thought that he would be able to get away with an apology – “WRONG”
the three lads got out of the car, I stepped out of the darkness and slapped one of them knocking him off his feet. I told him and the other guy to keep out of it saying that it was to be between me and the main protagonist, only my language was a bit more colourful. They chose to be prudent and backed off. That left the glass wielding bully to face me alone. He immediately started pleading with me that it was all a mistake and he didn’t want any trouble. I wasn’t listening or talking, I was just calculating my opening shot. I fired a right foot reverse round house kick which just caught the side of his jaw so as I stepped in I was in prime position for a takedown. BANG he hit the floor right at my feet, need I say more.
I thought it would be best that I left the Hospital. The twat stayed. I heard that it took him 5 hours before he came round.

I’m not proud of what happened; it just was what it was. Do I think what happened to him was justified? YES. Could I have done things differently? YES in retrospect spectacular head kicks are for films and competitions.

Sometimes in life you are forced to make instant decisions. Choices can be limited but may have a bearing on the rest of yours and others lives.

This happened some 35 years ago. I was very fortunate on many counts. In doing my job I saved a young lady from serious injury. I was lucky I didn’t lose my sight, although I still have a scar above my eye. I was lucky that the Police didn’t get involved with the incident at the Hospital, and I was fortunate that he made a full recovery.

A great kick for competitions and film sets but no good for self defence

A great kick for competitions and film sets but no good for self defence

 

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.