Category: Martial Arts

I was once a part of a Martial Arts school that sold itself as the ‘Original and True Way’.
When I started with this system I had already spent four years within the arena of Traditional Karate under the tutelage of Sensei Nick Moller of Shoto Ryu. Eventually within Shoto Ryu, I had learned enough to realise that it didn’t suit me and I needed to look elsewhere. (It is worth saying at this point, that I don’t feel that there was anything wrong with Sensei Moller or his methods; simply that I was looking for something a little different.)

Leaving Shoto Ryu I recalled a flyer I had picked up and held onto from somewhere years earlier. It said that they practiced Karate, Street Defence, Japanese Sword, Oriental Weapons, and intriguingly, something they called Zen Philosophy.

Throughout the following seven years, I learned a lot about the world of Martial Arts and their weapons; an unorthodox version of eastern philosophy… and in the last week, then 12 months after leaving, I learned a lot about me!
The main part of the school that had me hooked, was the philosophy. It was an introduction to another way of looking at life and its myriad events, and in many ways is what spawned my book, then this blog.
However, in working hard trying to understand the lessons given, and the constant changes that were made (it was said once ‘The only certainties here, are the uncertainties!) I was unaware of the undercurrent of change that was breaking down what used to be a fantastic ethos that had for two decades been the engine that powered the school and its teachings.
When I suddenly became aware of this, it was like the rug being pulled out from under me. And it hurt. For four months. And continued to play on my mind daily for another eight months after that. It was two years before I could laugh about it…

As a lower grade you tend to look up at the Black Belts hoping that one day you will be able to lift yourself to their level and stand amongst them; it becomes a dream and a goal to become one of the ‘elite’ of the club or system.
With years of hard work and focus, one day your Sensei says that you are ready for your Black Belt grading… and perhaps you feel ready, although many never do!
The day comes and you stand before those in the association, in front of those not as far along the path as yourself, and alongside those who have mirrored your efforts, and you theirs, and will attempt their toughest test with you.
Most importantly, you stand in front of your Sensei desperate to do them proud, and your self [sic]. The self can be the harshest critic of all. Even in passing the grading, it will still stand aside and say ‘… you forgot this, you didn’t do that, you messed up there, you could have done better…

With any Martial Arts system worth its salt, you will be pushed for hours far beyond any previous perception you may have had of your limits of physical and mental endurance. No matter what training you’ve put in, you will reach the stage of ‘I can’t do this! How the hell am I supposed to keep going…?!’ …but you will find that you can… and you will keep going.

Now that you have ‘arrived’, and you stand proudly within the ranks of the Black Belts of a system, you give silent approval to those who stand behind you, of the methods, ethos, and philosophies of the school and the Sensei.
If the school you are in teaches you total obedience to the whims of its Master, then you are in fact in danger of losing your own identity, and I would suggest that you in turn, when reaching Black Belt, are also now guilty of perpetuating the damage to those below you.

The responsibility of being a Black Belt within the arena of Martial Arts, where there is a high proportion of groups that can be accurately described as ‘cults’ is not something that should be taken lightly.
I know.
I’ve been there. When I realised what I was doing, I had to leave.

The responsibility is on doing the right thing, no matter how much it hurts.
And that responsibility is on your shoulders the day you put on your black belt.
The status awarded is something to be treated with the greatest of respect.

It is now four years on, and I now stand with a new group of Black Belts, and with the lessons learned in my past, I can proudly say that I’ve done it right this time… that they do it right.



The strongest bonds of friendship; of kinship,
are created in the shared fires of passion.

In the places where blood, sweat and tears flow,
and a person’s true nature shines through.

Those bonds are finally cemented for a lifetime,
through shared celebration of music, laughter and …er, beer.

I thank you all for giving me this,
for each playing a part in the creation of something great,
and I can only hope that I did enough by you too.


A long time ago (at least a decade) I learned of the idea of listening to your intuition in order to let it guide you in times of stress.
Ever since then I have tried; first to find this ‘voice’, then to learn how to hear it when it is so much quieter than the voice of the mind, then to learn how to trust it.
This is the stage that I am currently at… and I think the next, and possibly last stage, is to follow it as a primary source of internal guidence.

Yesterday morning I was doing some circuit training with my fellow Karate nutters, and whilst my body was getting tired, but there was still hard work to do, and my body-mind was shouting loudly at me to STOP, I became aware that in the background this little voice that I’ve learned to trust, but am still learning to hear, was saying ‘You can still do more. You can ignore that other voice. It’ll be alright.
What I realised yesterday morning, is that the voice of intuition cannot lie!
It cannot tell you something that is not true, as it relays information from the body-mind to the conscious mind that is a true indication of your reality. It is only your conscious mind that screws things up by putting some wierd perception or spin on the facts presented.
In other words, if it says that you can do more, then you can! Obviously, this also means that if it says ‘It’s time to stop!’, then you should especially listen then! (How many of us have continued working hard and got injured when we know in hindsight that we should have stopped…? I have… too often…)
It doesn’t matter what anything else says, whether that be your own internal dialogue, or another person saying ‘You’ve done enough, you can stop now.

Your reality can ONLY be experienced by you. But your reality can be SO MUCH MORE if you learn to trust in your voice of intuition.

I was lucky enough on Saturday to take part in a Karate course that actually formed the final part of our most senior student, Sempei Goran Powell’s, 5th Dan grading… so he’s already pretty good…!
The course was entitled ‘Yin’… i.e. the complementary part of ‘Yang’ in the Yin Yang duality that most have heard of.
For those who are not familiar with it, or perhaps with what it means; the idea of Yin Yang is to describe the interrelationship of dualities that can be found in nature; where one only exists because of the existence of the other (this is not the same as opposites).
Examples are:
Light and Dark, Hot and Cold, Male and Female, Up and Down, Hard and Soft, Pull and Push…etc.

From this weekend’s course I gained a new perspective on the practical applications of Yin Yang, or dualities.
The emphasis of the course was to draw attention to the other side of training, i.e. within our Karate system we work hard on the tough physical side of things, but what many individuals are missing is the softer, gentler side that includes the aspects between training sessions.
In order to train hard often (the Yang), one must also pay attention to the soft, less obvious side of training (the Yin) such as rest and recovery, diet, technique (incidentally, I just read on Twitter today “Good technique fatigues you before you could cause an injury or a breakdown.” @ChrisRowat… but I guess that also means that you need to learn when it’s time to stop!).
In terms of Karate training in Kata, one should look to training the parts of the movements in-between the strikes, block, kicks, holds, etc. The transitions between one technique and another are just as important as the end result of the technique itself!

Similarly, the aspects of movement where the opposing parts of say, a punch, where the non-striking arm is pulling back, adds to the rotational power driven down the striking arm and into the punch. We all know this, but how many of us practice these opposing aspects of the same movement…?

To extend this idea further, all aspects of life have an end point. If a person is focussed towards a particular goal, then they must undergo the journey to that goal.
However, if only the goal is in focus, then the method of reaching it may not be all that it could be, and in reaching the goal, it may be found to be less fulfilling than it might otherwise have been.

Life’s a journey, not a destination.” – Aerosmith

If you’re interested, the course was given by Goran Powell, now 5th Dan of Goju Ryu within Daigaku Karate Kai that practices in the UK in London, Bristol, Torquay and Braunton – Devon.
He is also the author of the books Waking Dragons, A Sudden Dawn, and Chojun that can each be found on

I was out running tonight and the following realisation came to me:

When in training for a grading,
each training session IS the grading.
The grading can only be passed if the training was carried out at a suitable intensity.
If you don’t train hard you won’t pass the grading,
so each training session becomes a building block of the eventual result.
Crap building blocks… crap results!

There is a school of thought that says that we should ‘live for the moment’ or ‘live for now’.
I come from such a place myself, spent over seven years there, but some time after leaving I realised that living in this way, in today’s world, is not the be-all and end-all… and perhaps is actually no longer the right way for today.
The school of thought I used to be such an advocate of was a Martial Art system that would sell itself as a Warrior school. In this, it would not only teach the physical movements of self-defence, but also taught Eastern style philosophical lessons that changed the way a person views the world.
As it was a Japanese based system, it had all the hallmarks, intentionally, of following the Samurai Way – Bushido.

In the age of the Samurai, at its peak, Japan was a seething mass of feuding clans, each led by their respective Shogun’s (leader, king, lord, etc). It was a time when the Warrior ruled, and all other lifestyles were a lesser class.
In such a world a Samurai Warrior would train their minds to understand that death could come at any moment. In fact, they would engender the internal condition of living as if their death had already occurred!
The idea behind this is that if on the battlefield a warrior is trying to perform the task expected of them to the highest ability, and is also trying to stay alive, then there would be a conflict of interests – i.e. how can they possibly best serve their lord if they are in fact thinking of themselves! It was considered the highest honour to die in battle in the name of their lord and clan.
(The book Hagakure is a wonderful reflection of the mindset of this time. Written by a Samurai around 350 years ago in a time of relative peace, it is a collection of thoughts, experiences and incidents over a seven year period.)
In a world such as this it is easy to understand how ‘living for the moment’ could be a very necessary way of dealing with such a life… there was a very real possibility that you may not be alive the next day.

Fast forwarding to the reality of today; for the very large majority of us, the way we live now, and the environment we live in, means that there is a very high chance of being around tomorrow, the next day, next week, next year, and so on right up to a ripe old age (errrmm…unless you, the reader, have already reached that ripe old age… in which case I would suggest starting to think like the Samurai – live for today!).
However, the lessons of ‘living for the moment’ are still as valid as they have always been. It’s just that we live in a more complicated world now, so its application cannot be so all-encompassing.

As a result of this change in mindset, I now say:

By all means, live for the moment, enjoy the ‘now’. But don’t forget to plan for tomorrow… you’ll probably still be here!

Last night (Wed 5th Sep ’12) I was privileged enough to be in the right place at the right time!
Partially in response to a question I asked about a deeper lesson of the Kata Sanchin earlier in the week, the Dojo was treated to a master class in body mechanics.

Sensei Dan Lewis teaches the different aspects of the Kata as ‘Float, Sink, Spit, Swallow’.
Based upon my understanding of what was taught last night, and coupled with my own understandings, I shall try to explain the key aspects with more than just a nod to the Yin Yang duality:

Float and Sink:
This is to generate power (usually sudden or explosive) in an upward / downward direction – to enable an uplift / throw, or downpull / drop.
Say you were carrying a sack of potatoes with the intention of lifting onto a shelf at say, a high head level; a reasonably difficult task for most people.
Through strength alone you already know through everyday life experience that you would be able to lift it to about chin level, but to get it higher you will need to provide a little extra impetus to throw upward for the last bit.
To generate this extra upward movement, you actually need to drop down just a little to generate a spring-like load in your legs, torso and arms.
In doing this you are actually, initially travelling in the opposite direction to where you want to go. You are sinking down in order to float up.

In Yin Yang terms, you are fuelling the seed of Yang (hard, masculine, ‘floating’)within the Yin (soft, feminine, ‘sinking’)… an analogy could be that you need to wind up a spring in order for it to kick out. Without tension, it remains’ in a condition without potential… it is actively ‘dead’.
In combat terms, it is possible to transfer this ‘energy’ to the opponent through physical contact. The method for the hard Martial Arts (Karate, Muay Thai, etc) is to make hard, sudden, physical, normally a striking contact, that the opponent has no time to react to.
The methods of the soft Martial Arts (Ju Jutsu, Aikido, etc) is to be more subtle and make small changes to the practitioners muscular tensions, and skeletal alignments to apply the force suddenly and smoothly without warning.

Spit and Swallow:
In a very similar way to the above, it is necessary to first ‘travel’ in the opposite direction to the direction in which you wish to go.
To Spit is to reject, or to force away.
To Swallow is to receive, or to absorb.
If in throwing the sack of potatoes upward it doesn’t go quite far enough, it will fall back toward you. In order to catch it you will need to ‘receive’ it; to swallow the falling force.
Then you would try again to throw it upward, but this time instead of only rising upward (floating) you might also impart a bit more of a push away than the last time… the spit.
To understand the feeling of ‘spit’, try doing a powerful sneeze (or more crudely, try spitting a long way) and observe how your body creates the movement required.
The spit of Sanchin is merely this natural method of generating sudden power, directed where we choose.

At the end of the lesson, he said that we should perform our first Kata, Gekisai Dai Ichi, but try to capture the spirit of the lesson within the performance.
It felt so much different…!

This one lesson will change my Karate practice immensely!


There is another lesson that can be taken from all of this and extended out into wider life.
The idea postulated here is that in order to change from one condition to another, one must first provide the impetus for change by doing the opposite.
Sir Issac Newton realised this when he wrote his 1st Law of Motion:
Every object in a state of uniform motion tends to remain in that state of motion unless an external force is applied to it.
This is easily seen when cycling. In order to turn right, one must first turn left just a little to start ‘falling’ to the right and initiate the turn.

Another example is a person throwing a tennis ball. To throw far, one must first withdraw the arm and place the feet and body backwards from the initial standing position in order to ‘load up’ the body and arm ready to throw.

From all of this it seems right to say that any person who wishes to make a change in their life, must first be prepared to do the opposite, or at least be prepared to first take a few steps back in order to procede…

Followers of my blog may not quite follow this post, but please read on as the essence applies to all of us – enjoy!

At the risk of insulting those I respect with the following words, perhaps I should first point out that I cannot find fault with anything I have been taught during my three years under the tutelage of Shihan Dan Lewis, and the occasional tutelage of Shihan Gavin Mulholland.
I have been on a journey of physical, mental and spiritual self-discovery and self-growth through Martial Arts for the last 14 years, but none so great, or so rewarding as the last three.

To prove your beliefs valid, great effort should be put forth into disproving them.

At last Monday night’s training, after performing the Bunkai to 1st Kata, Sempei Darren was picking up on some of my old technical habits that are non-Goju in their manner. He went on to say that one should be trying to become more ‘Goju’ as they progress through their development in DKK, but struggled to find the words to express what he actually meant.

I actually have a problem with this, explaining my belief that a person should be using Goju Ryu (or any other passion) to learn a way of self-expression, as an artist does through painting, or sculpture, or a musician through music; and NOT that they should be trying to fit a pre-defined mould. Trying to make yourself fit a mould will only lead to a lack of self-satisfaction as you would always be trying to be something that you are not.

Matt S. pointed out that by the time a person reaches 3rd Kyu (as I have), then really they should be trying to express their desire to become a Goju moulded practitioner anyway.

I had to think about this and thankfully the answer came quickly for once, and was succinct and profound enough that I thought it worth sharing!

1)      What Sempei Darren was trying to say (I believe) was that a Goju Ryu Karate Ka should aim to train our bodies to move in a stereotypical manner that is characteristic of our fighting system. In doing so, one should aim to learn the movements in the manner taught, rather than the manner felt until the biomechanical habits are such that the overall visual image to others is that of a Goju Ryu practitioner. To the Karate Ka, the habitual movements will have reached a level where they are instinctive – and they feel right.

2)      Whilst I cannot change what I believe to be the right way to apply oneself to any passion, I can consolidate this lesson thus: in following the essence of point 1), I feel that whilst we shouldn’t be trying to become something that we are not (by resisting the pull of self-expression), we should be training ourselves to move in the manner taught, as this is the interpretation of our Sensei’s of Chojun Miyagi’s system whom we have entrusted this part of our personal growth to. What they teach actually leads us, not pushes us, inevitably to the Goju Ryu pre-defined mould, but what has actually happened is not that we have adjusted ourselves to fit something that is not us, but that we’ve discovered, or will discover, that the mould itself is not of a rigid shape, and it allows for the differences between us; for our individual peculiarities (our style).

What I see as being the Goju Ryu ‘mould’ is the close-quarters fighting skills, the methods of power-generation, and of course the choice of Kata which provides the ‘written notes’ that we can use to seek further understanding.

I think in summary, it matters not whether a person is led, sheep-like and is ‘told’ to re-mould themselves to fit the Goju Ryu ideal, or whether they resist the feeling of being led, and prefer to take the view that they are choosing to study something of their choice and making what they learn their own.
But, to my mind, this latter method would enable the Karate Ka to become a better practitioner and obtain greater knowledge and understanding than if they only allowed themselves to be led, as the latter method forces them to constantly re-evaluate what is learned, and to constantly question what is taught, whether vocally, or internally, and to constantly find the answers on their own.
It means that they would not have to ‘believe in’, or have ‘faith in’ the answers given as they will have walked the path and learned what is right and what is wrong, what works and what doesn’t. This method (to my mind) negates the need to believe, or to have faith, as the experience will talk for itself.

This is the path to enlightenment!

Belief negates understanding. Understanding negates belief.