In my previous blog post I mentioned as an afterthought that I had written a chunky type of memoir (to exercise my brain over lock-down). This project grew and ended up being over 60000 words in length. And I joked that nobody would be interested in my obscure ramblings, but it seems I was wrong.
The document I wrote came in two flavours; one part was personal remembrance of what happened between the years 1974 to about 1982; the other part was a reflection on my experiences of how Wado evolved; at least, from my perspective. This sample is of the former flavour.
Here is a taster.
To set the scene; my training began at Sensei David Allsop’s Mansfield Dojo, in 1974, in the years just prior to the Kung-Fu boom .
What was training actually like in the early 1970’s?
It took me quite some time to get hold of a Gi, so I trained in jeans and a favoured yellow Adidas t-shirt. Nobody had ‘jogging bottoms’ and nobody wore shorts. Shorts were for football, and that was it!
A karate Gi in 1974 was a rare commodity, the Tokaido Japanese brand was the one to aim for, but they were so expensive. Cheaper Gis could be bought from Milom Company, I think they came from Manchester, but they were remarkably hard wearing. My first Gi was from a nameless company and was very light and badly made, but that was standard for the time.
In the sessions, generally, the warm-up was very callisthenic, low on stretching, high on boot-camp style sit-ups and press-ups, which were nearly always on the knuckles, no exceptions, this was an important part of your training. It made sense to us; it was explained as essential, as it forced you to align your wrist properly in a punch, and it had to be predominantly on the first two larger knuckles; instructors would sometimes check the indents left on your hands and it was very much frowned upon if the indents were in the wrong place.
Different instructors slightly customised their warm-ups.
Dave Nichols was heavily into muscle culture and as such there was a lot of arms and shoulders and heavy repetitions on squatting.
Robert ‘Sam’ Salmon was a lighter build and gave a good general warm-up that really did just prepare you for movement.
Whereas, one brown belt instructor in particular had it in his head that exercise was punishment; he enjoyed the reputation he gained from these ‘warm-ups’. He was often a stand-in instructor and when he appeared in front of the class, he must have seen how people’s faces fell in anticipation of what they were about to go through. It wasn’t rewarding, it wasn’t fulfilling, it wasn’t fun, it was just pain; you ended up standing in a puddle of your own sweat even before training began! This particular brown belt instructor operated a kind of gleeful cruelty. We had our own theories about him; we thought his sadism was a product of him getting too many knock-backs in his attempts to get Dan grade under Suzuki Sensei; incidentally, he never managed it. He eventually left – we didn’t miss him.
The bulk of the class was the basics; straight out of the little blue syllabus book with no variation. The book became the source of aspiration; you wanted to get onto the next page, to climb the ladder.
I studied it inside and out, wrote notes and memory aids on each page. I used mnemonics to remember sequences and the order of the pairs work.
Creativity and Japanese Sensei.
What is noticeable in retrospect is that any kind of ‘creativity’ in training was purely the domain of the Japanese instructors. I first experienced this on the early big residential courses. For me, this sealed the reputation of each of the Japanese Sensei, I marvelled at their freedom to create drills and combinations and they were incredibly devious in their exercise routines. The younger Japanese Sensei, fresh from the universities, delighted in showing us how physically inadequate we were – well that’s how it felt anyway. After each major course our instructors came back inspired by new warm-up exercises, not all of them healthy, or even safe.
But for us, everything was done from the book and by the book. There was a level of correction and guidance going on but it was always about the ‘end position’, how you stood, the positions of your arms and much emphasis on making the correct stance. Nobody ever commented on how you moved. The mantra of ‘more speed, more power’ became a standing joke. In later years when an unsuccessful Dan grade candidate plucked up the courage to get feedback from Suzuki Sensei, the remedy was always the same, “More speed, more power”. And we took it to heart; the measure of our ability was on how fast and powerful we were.
In an early martial arts magazine there was even a cartoon drawn of Suzuki Sensei chiding Sakagami Sensei to execute “More speed, more power”!
If there was any creativity in our own training it was towards nurturing these two qualities and totally self-initiated.
For Dave Nichols it was the set of loose weights kept in the corner of the Dojo that supplemented his training. As for me – I went through a crazy period of drinking raw eggs with milk, sweetened with Horlicks powder. If I had access or the money for raw steak, I would have been chewing on that!
I had a chin-ups bar made out of an old TV aerial stretched between two trees. I also had an ex-army kit bag for a punch bag, really heavy, I would do squats with it across my shoulders; I procured a leather belt, from an old threshing machine, I wrapped it around a post and used it for striking. How much success I had is questionable.
The triad of; correct exercise; correct diet and sufficient rest and recovery was all misbalanced. Some of the exercises we were doing were just plain stupid; for example, harsh ballistic stretching, bunny-hopping and duck walking.
With diet; it was protein, protein and more protein; carbs never got a look in. And as for ‘sufficient rest and recovery’, nah, wasn’t going to happen.
It should go without saying, but our information sources were so limited; there was no Internet or YouTube tutorials. The martial arts magazines of the 1970’s were really sparse in their subject matter.
Ramping it up.
By about 1977 I had gradually I upped my training nights and doubled my classes.
In the evening there was an early class starting at 6 and then an overlapping late class which started at 7:30, and then there was time after the late class finished for some of us to get together for some more sparring.
One of the more senior grades; a total fanatic about his own training, used myself and another student as his personal sparring partners. His stamina was seemingly endless and the two of us would just tag team on him; when one of us was burnt out the other one jumped in, allowing recovery time, then rinse and repeat. It seemed to go on for hours, but I’m sure it didn’t.
As time went on, I took on more responsibilities. As a green belt I was sometimes asked to start off the late class, and then I seemed to take on more teaching. I was a little annoyed at first, because I was losing some of my training time, but I soon realised there were advantages; I could direct the training and train alongside – I was in control. I also learned so much by actually having to demonstrate and explain what we were doing, but crucially, once my role was established, I was given a key to the Dojo. This one privilege gave me space and freedom, as well as teaching me so much about personal motivation and self-directed training.
But I am getting ahead of myself.
 The Mansfield Dojo is still there. It is probably England’s oldest established bricks and mortar Dojo, founded in 1969. David Allsop Sensei still teaches regularly at the Dojo. English Heritage or the National Trust should really slap a preservation order on the building!
Featured image: Myself, indulging in some ugly and ungainly scrapping as a green belt in 1975.