TC. Ged always glad to have you back in the studio instead of Peter Luger’s steak house lol. We talked about your early days in karate when Jimmy last interviewed you a couple of years ago, and as this is your 48th year of training, I thought I’d get your views on karate today, as opposed to the mid 1960’s. You had a wide experience in the KUGB training under Enoeda and Sherry, so I’m sure your opinion would be valued by many of today’s karate-ka.
GM. Well although I’d much prefer to be interviewed in Peter Luger’s I’ll have to make do with the coffee and the doughnuts! Tom, it’s always a difficult question to answer, it always sounds as if old guys like me are making out ‘how hard it was in my day’ and then saying you young guys… etc.. but as you’ve promised me dinner at Junior’s I’ll try. There are very clear and obvious differences between what was allowed in the early days in the UK in terms of contact, as well as speed, but also my pet complaint, the etiquette of fighters.
TC. Well the control issue is something that we’ve all had to come to terms with, but what is about etiquette that bothers you so much?
GM. Well I have to include the contact issue here as well, because when heavy contact was allowed, some fights were real needle matches, two guys going at it like they were fighting for their lives, but even after a fight where blood had been spilled, there was always that formal bow followed almost always by a handshake. If one of the fighters bowed then walked away, there would be a low mummer from the audience, a mummer that indicated the display of poor etiquette had been noted with displeasure. There was also a high degree of respect for your opponent, and no matter if you were the victor or the looser, you behaved with quiet dignity – now I see guys jumping up and down, even doing excellent gymnastic displays, like ‘summersaults’ when they score, and if they win they run around like football stars throwing their arms wide to the audience. If referee doesn’t award the point that the fighter believes he is entitled to… well I’ve witnessed some pretty bad attitudes that would never ever have happened under Enoeda’s watch.
TC. But Ged, don’t you believe that things move on, times change?
GM. Yes of course Tom, but your original question was karate todays as opposed to yesteryear, so I’m giving you an honest answer. I accept that times change and I know that there were lots of injuries because of the way things used to be. Look at the two serious injuries you’ve suffered during your time with the USA team, and even though I was never good enough to fight on any national team, I none the less collected my share of injuries, and that was just during training.
TC. Ged (laughing) please leave my head injuries out of this, my wife already thinks I’m crazy. I’ve also had to water down the dojo training down a little too, because I’m aware that my students have to get up for work the next day, and any bad injuries could result in very serious consequences for their families through loss of income. So how do you address that point?
GM. Fair point Tom, but when I was training with my seniors, I was also running a business, and even when I turned professional in 74 I still had to train with the KUGB seniors and suffered some pretty bad injuries, but I still managed to carry on teaching each night. Now, before you start telling me that ‘things aren’t like that anymore’ – I’ll again agree that those days are gone forever, but my position is that original Shotokan that I learned under Sherry, Poynton and Enoeda, was totally different than today’s Shotokan. However, let me also add that in many dojos that level of training can still take place, usually under special seminars. A training session with Peter Consterdine, as you know, is something that is only for the fittest and those who are prepared to ‘take a hit’. Tom, let me tell you about an experience that happened many years ago, in fact it was 1975 to be precise. I had turned professional and was training regularly at the Red Triangle each morning, and was probably at my all-time highest level of fitness, Andy Sherry’s training was as hard as anything I’ve witnessed, and that includes watching a Royal Marines physical training class, so there I was, fit as a butcher’s dog and the confidence of ten men. Well during a period spent in London, at met a friend who lived in South Wales, and she invited me to visit her home town (Merthyr Tydfil) and meet a friend of hers who was at that time a Wado Ryu 2nd dan who also ran a large club in the town. ‘Sure’ I said, and was duly introduced to Lyn Powell, who made me feel very welcome. The club was solid Wado and they trained on a regular basis under Sagagami sensei, so I assumed that their standard would be much lower than ‘my’ Shotokan – yes that was my arrogance in those days, and there was no Shotokan clubs in Merthyr at that time. Well after watching them I did alter my opinion on their ability, they certainly were tough, but as I learned over the following years, the south Wales people are by nature ‘tough’ – look at the history of the South Wales Borderers, but I’m rambling. Inevitably following the class I was invited to go for a drink with Lyn and the ‘boys’ who all seemed interested in Shotokan and its differences with Wado. Well full of my KUGB training, and having my gi with me I offered to take a class the following evening, the offer was warmly accepted. I began the class with some basics and quickly moved on to kumite, in my mind I was going to show how ‘great’ Shotokan was, especially KUGB Shotokan: Jesus what a mistake. They had never done line sparing, so I explained how it worked and they seemed fine – in my ignorance I figured this was going to be like taking candy from kids. I took the line and the first few ‘hits’ were all mine, but they quickly got the hang of it and before long I was well ‘peppered’ with good chudan shots as well as a busted lower lip. When the class finished, I managed to put on a brave face and walk upright without showing any signs of the pain I was in – you know how that goes Tom! I also expected there to be some animosity because of the hard techniques that had been exchanged, but they were as warm and friendly as the previous evening, and wanted more – I couldn’t believe it. They even asked me to take another class – thankfully I had to decline as I was going back the next day, but I did promise I’d return in a few weeks: ultimately the club became the first KUGB in that area. Cut a long story short, it taught me a couple of valuable lessons, chiefly that hard physical combat between karate-ka, even when previously unknown to each other, doesn’t always end in acrimony - and that Tom is what I believe to be the true spirit of karate. It also showed me that karate can breed lifelong friends as well as produce combatants, because some of those men and women in Merthyr, still train just as hard after almost four decades, and remain friends of mine.
TC. That’s an interesting take on things Ged, and I can share that feeling of what you Brits call the ‘stiff upper lip’ from my time with the Kyokushin-kia guys in Japan. The similarities though are that I gave a good account of myself, and managed walk off straight, but the similarities stop there: after training I was treated like any other Gaijin and it took some nerve to go back the next day. However, I believe that’s a Japanese thing, such a hardy race of people, but steeped in tradition, so you could say it’s inbred with them; something that’s not ‘inbred’ with most of us.
GM. Well you just mentioned something there Tom when you said ‘it took some nerve to go back’. That’s something that the old school gave you, dealing with fear, the fear of getting your ass kicked all over the dojo, but still going back again, and again, until dealing with that fear is no longer a problem. To Peter Consterdine and Geoff Thompson the expression ‘fear control’ is almost a mantra, and every seminar that they (the BCA) conduct deals with this, Peter refers to it as the paralysis of fear. In the dojo and the competition arena, there are rules that govern a fight – no such rules exist in the street and taking a hit is something you have to deal with and continue to fight back. You’ve worked on New York nightclubs doors and you know what that cold lump of ‘fear’ feels like, when the adrenalin dump hits you, unless you deal with it you start to freeze, and you’re a standing target. Geoff says that ‘fear is the friend of exceptional people’ and can act as a spur, so rather than freezing up, you use that massive adrenalin rush to unleash your best. Now then, I say again, outside of MMA where can you learn how to deal with that kind of fear today: we have mitts, we have groin guards, and we have gum shields and designated areas of attack and other areas that we can’t attack – over to you Tom!
TC. Well I understand your points Ged, but again I also re-state that people these days do not want to do all that heavy shit. If they do, they will more than likely go and start MMA, I mean, are you seriously suggesting that gum shields and mitts are a bad idea?
GM. No I’m not saying that, what I am saying is that there is a profound difference between what we learned in this former days, and what is practiced as Shotokan karate most dojos in the UK – I can’t speak for the USA because I don’t have enough experience of other dojos in the US. I know your own dojo in Brooklyn is still very traditional, and there are plenty of dojos in the UK that are still training like they did in the 60’s and 70’s – but most of those UK dojos have instructors who trained under Enoeda and Sherry.
TC. So to sum up, your view is that karate today is very much watered down and is a shadow of what it once was.
GM. Thomas, I never said that (laughs) my opinion, and let me stress it’s just a personal opinion, is that because of issues such as health and safety in the UK and the constant quest for Olympic recognition, there’s now more emphasis on competition karate, as opposed to the self defence element, and I again say that the Enoeda style of Shotokan is still alive in many UK dojos. As for my gripe about competition etiquette, let me finish by asking a simple question: what would Funakoshi think of some of today’s athletes when they behave like super stars at the conclusion of a match?
TC. (laughing) Ged, no one could ever put words into an Englishman’s mouth, that’s why you’re all such good politicians. Well thanks for your time and your opinion, which I’m sure will have an equal number of supporters and those that see the way forward as the Olympic dream. (laughing) Ged, no one could ever put words into an Englishman’s mouth, that’s why you’re all such good politicians. Well thanks for your time and your opinion, which I’m sure will have an equal number of supporters and those that see the way forward as the Olympic dream.
GM. No problem Tom, but can we now go to Junior’s?
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