You cannot win them all

There is no such thing as failure only feed back

Like all good stories this has a beginning, in this case the back streets of Nottingham where I, aged ten and desperate to impress an older woman (aged twelve), took up karate. Thus at the tender age of ten, I was introduced to the strange world of martial arts. The earliest part of my journey involved attending a beginners course held at a local college – the local sensei (teacher) only accepted me as he required me so that the minimum quota could be met, and he would receive his fees. Shortly after beginning the course I heard the teacher discussing a plan as to how he’d persuade me to leave the class. In the subsequent lessons that followed he harassed and bullied me. Kicking my arms and giving me extra press ups and sit ups, to encourage me to leave. Through sheer determination and stupidity I stayed. I was not going to be driven out. When the course finished I moved on.

My next centre of learning was the local YMCA. No harassment as such but the training was tough. On the first night I returned home with a wisdom tooth missing – hit by some strange oriental sounding kick!!! But I loved it. I had a place to look forward to. Every Tuesday and Thursday from 7-10 pm the training room became my second home. My early days at the YMCA were educational and very exciting. I remember watching in pure awe as a Japanese karate master performed a kata (pre arranged movements) at a public demonstration at the Derby Co-op. I just could not believe that a human being could move so fast – wow!!!

However there were downs. I was definitely not a natural; I failed white belt several times, and stayed at the white belt “pig’s-ear” stage for over two years much to the continual laughter if my class mates who taunted me with their new erect belts after each graduation ceremony. One “motivational incident” occurred when at one particular grading the examining officer called me forward to announce in front of the room full of people that I had once again failed to meet the required standard for the lowest grade. He had heard that I was half decent at football and that I should concentrate my efforts into that area. He was confident that I would never ever be any good at karate. I left the room through a corridor of laughter. I went home and wept alone. My parents never knew where I was. My mother worked nights as a nurse whilst my father was often shattered after cycling 20 miles every day to work. He worked as a labourer at an ordinance factory. The event of failing again, spurred me on. I brought a sandbag and filled it with sawdust, erected a gantry made from two scaffold poles. I began to hit and kick the bag. I did not have a clue what to do or how to do it, but I knew I had to train myself. I was to learn an important lesson; great success is often found in a pile of failure (or in my case sawdust!).

My self motivation eventually bore fruit. I started to win competitions, and regularly appeared in the local Nottingham Evening Post. Several years later I won the karate European Championships in Brussels. As I stood on the platform to receive my medal the guest of honour, a familiar face from the past, placed the medal around my neck. To him I was a worthy champion but he saw me as a young man, not remembering how I had looked as a child. I however remembered him. He was the grading examiner who had reduced me to tears. That event proved to be a catalyst, motivating me in me to succeed by telling me I was a failure. I entered the European Karate Championships for ten years winning; 6 gold, 3 silver and 1 bronze. When I won the bronze I retired. I am not a bronze medal kind of guy! As a young man I dreamed of visiting Japan. On one of the occasions I was accompanying Phillip Coles, who was a senior black belt at the local YMCA. We had many bruising encounters with Japanese black belts. It was not uncommon for us to face thirty or more black belts, one after the other. I remember one particular incident when Phil Coles dropped the Japanese club captain on his head. I met the unfortunate recipient a few years later. He said that the blow was so severe that it changed the course of his life. And he decided to become a Shinto priest!

In my career there have been several key turning points. One of them occurred on one of my many trips to Japan. I was accompanying my then karate teacher to his old university and I had the opportunity to witness the old boys training. Prior to this I had sparred with and beaten the local Japanese black belts. My confidence was running high. The old boys training were a different kettle of fish. I instantly recognised that the training that they did was vastly different from my sporting competitive approach. Even though I had won the Japanese Open Championships (in Japan) I knew that these old men were superior in skill. Witnessing the old boys training left an impression on me and I began a search to find the theory behind “old style karate”.

During the course of my search I analysed many different styles and systems, and although they worked for some they did not work for all. I continued to look for someone who could explain the overall theory upon which all the warrior schools rests, in terms that I could understand. Experience it, and eventually express it outwardly.

Many people contributed but eventually I decided to rely on myself. The sport science degree that I obtained from Trent Polytechnic, in Nottingham proved invaluable in validating and providing scientific proof of my own theories; that at that stage bordered on the esoteric. Whilst experimenting, my coaching abilities improved; and I was instrumental in coaching world champions. The aspect of motivation, coaching and working with people is challenging and rewarding. I have gained a valuable experience from teaching individuals of varying abilities. My passion for spreading knowledge knows few boundaries. I introduced karate to many countries; Denmark, Slovenia, Russia, Cyprus, South Africa, Botswana and Australia to name but a few.

The years passed by and I decided I had to get to the bottom of this “martial arts thing”. During this time I worked and lived in Norway. This is where I had married (and I still am) my lovely wife, Anita. A former Norwegian, European, and World silver medallist karate champion. We first met on top of the rostrum at the European Champion. She had won the ladies event and I had won the men’s. One of my teaching posts in Norway was at the University of Oslo. This provided me with an opportunity to find out what worked and what did not. Being part of the coaching staff for the ladies downhill ski team in preparation for the 1994 Winter Olympics, in Lillehammer also contributed enormously to me becoming a better athlete and coach. This was confirmed when I took first place at the national all styles Norwegian national Championships.

That was a real challenge as Olympic athletes they were highly motivated and extremely fit. The task was to motivate them to work harder and faster. I firmly believe that it’s the mind, the psychological training, which dictates whether they can reach their full potential. Coaching them was challenging and great fun, but my real passion and interest was still in how all that affected human beings in combat. I began to compile and gather my own data and theories. Visiting many countries to learn and study. I travelled to Australia numerous times to train with various masters and to undertake intensive training. On more than one occasion this lasted for several months. During my learning period I would seek the opinion from my peers’ friends and others, or incarcerate myself (as I did on the island of Cyprus) for months at a time. It was for the sole purpose of training, and internalising my theories. Eighteen hour training days were a common occurrence.

Eventually from experiencing, studying and teaching I arrived at a central core of information that needed testing. I now entered into the world of the elite forces - the cream of the crop - the best of the best; the 2% of the society that act as true warriors for the remaining 98%. I knew that the world’s military establishments had conducted extensive studies; on the psychological effects on human performance during real combat. A chance meeting was about to send me into that world. It turned out that one of my karate students in Oslo was a member of the Norwegian Secret Service. He became a friend and soon I was teaching and learning new techniques from security personnel. My appetite had remained unsatisfied until I had contacted and studied with individuals who train and educate United States Special Forces .As a direct result of this relationship I have received more training and certification than anyone else in Europe. My journey has included training and analysing a vast amount of data and training with some of the worlds leading authorities. The United States Special Forces has a unique syllabus. All instructors are of the highest pedigree. The instructors train in classified information, consisting of a minimum of 1200 hours of training.

For my own peace of mind and so that I would be considered a subject matter expert, I completed in excess of 30,000 hours of “hands on training“. I began reading and studying the history, training and philosophy of the world’s elite forces, past and present. They confirmed what I already knew to be true from my own training and research. They also provided me with classified information and training reserved for the special operations community. I came away with functional, sustainable and adaptable information; a great deal of respect for human life. I trained extensively in hand-to-hand combat blade edge and impact weapon, gun disarmament, counter kidnapping and anti terrorist training. My mind and body contained potentially lethal capabilities, guided by a strong moral warrior code.

The ultimate aim, is to shut down the opponents central nervous system; permanently. Many cultures have studied this; including the infamous Chinese Shaolin monks. However the US military have taken fighting to a whole new scientific level. The body has been studied in minute detail to see how it reacts to strikes and blows. Through intense study many scientists have identified the different kinds of hormones that flood the body at times of stress, and how they can be used to survive. The military have devised methods to condition soldiers to remain efficient during actual combat. It is imperative to educate and train the mind/body to function in the environment of face to face aggression from human beings intent on causing you harm. With the help of some very gifted people, self study, and inspiration the European Institute of Combat Fighting was born. I have developed a civilian version of the military (Special Forces) training.

The results are crystal clear… If you are attacked you’ll walk away, your opponent will not. In the civilian world we use the minimum amount of force to end the conflict, and secure your safety. Being scientific; you are trained to recognize signs of imminent aggression and danger. Ultimately you are trained in what action to take to manage the conflict.

I do not want to scare anyone, and it is important any potential dangers are kept in perspective. But realistically violent attacks can, and do happen. The goal is to remove the fear of the situation and replace it with a true feeling of safety and security. It is better to have knowledge and not use it, than to need it and not have it. Walk silently with a big stick…..

But who are the courses designed for? Law abiding citizens who wish to live free from fear. I already count business people, police officers and senior executives amongst my clients. Many of them are women. I want mature, rational and responsible adults on my courses, if I don not think they are; they get turned down. This is not for kids or for people who want to learn how to beat someone up. It is not a sport; it is a survival technique for the modern world. Today the European Institute of Combat Fighting already have instructors, that I have taught, in several countries including Norway, Sweden, the US, Cyprus, Bermuda, Australia and the UK.

From the humble beginnings of a passing interest in karate to the small platform reserved for the world’s elite forces may seem miles apart. Maybe so, but the journey has been one of discovery and I am sure there is more to come. Let’s keep things real, I’m not only about conflict solutions. No matter how you slice it there is always two sides. I also have a burning interest in preserving life, combining western medical theory with a traditional Chinese approach. Particularly the art of Tai chi, (A system of self protection and self healing) Spending more than 20 years studying this deceptive method, I have found the health benefits alone are highly commendable. Our hands can harm or heal; both have a time and place As for the girl who started the whole thing off... “I was ten and in love she was not. By that time I was even reasonable at this stuff she was married with three children. Ahhh!

You cannot win them all.