Shotokan 40 Year Break

Discussion in 'Training Logs' started by Phil Lewis, Aug 1, 2021.

  1. Phil Lewis

    Phil Lewis Member

    In the Beginning
    The first martial arts memory I have, is the BBC news reporting the death of Bruce Lee. I would have been almost 7 years old. They showed a few clips of him in the report, and I thought, “Wow, I want to to do that!” In fact, I said it to my dad.
    The only martial art in the area at the time was judo, and my dad took me along. I think I went for maybe six months, before giving up. I wanted the fancy kicks and punches.
    The next event was realising at age 13 that there was now a karate class in our local sports hall.
    By this time, I had seen all of Bruce Lees movies, and a few others.
    I started in the “entry” class, which was a six week class for newcomers, that you had to complete before joining the club, buying a gi, and joining the main class.
    The main class was busy. I’m guessing this was the height of karates popularity in the UK. The class was held on a full 5-a-side football pitch, and was a tight fit. We must have been at least 10 wide, and more than 5 deep on a busy night. It’s hard for me to remember clearly, but we may have been 6 or 7 deep.
    Over the course of a few weeks, I came to understand that I was training under Sensei Tommy Beaumont in Shotokan Karate, in a club affiliated to the KUGB.
    The first night in the big class, I met George Cartledge. Sadly, George died four years ago. From that first night, we stayed good friends. George will reappear a few times in this story.
    When I’d been training about 6 months, I also met Mike King at school. Mike trained in Shukokai, and we had a few good discussions about style differences, until we decided we should each go to each other clubs, to see what we really thought.
    We did that, and we both decided both styles were great, but we each wanted to stay where we were.
    We did, however, start training together at weekends.
    We also appealed to our school PE teachers, eventually protesting our participation in the obligatory football by simply standing still on the pitch and refusing to participate. After a couple of weeks of this, the teacher asked us to demonstrate our karate, and then agreed we could train together in the school sports hall, rather than join in the boring sports. After a few weeks, they also started to let us into the gym at lunch times.
    So by now, we were both doing at least two classes a week, practicing at home on our own, 1 hour each week day at lunch times, and at least 3-4 hours a day at weekends, in a local community centre that let us in for free.

    Leaving Shotokan
    Then, at 16, I left school and went to college. I had been training about 20 hours a week for about 2.5 years. I’ve no idea what grade I was, but I only recall 2 or 3 gradings.
    The college had the traditional (in the UK) Wednesday afternoon sports, and one of the options was karate. I obviously signed up.
    This was a 3 hour weekly session with Sensei Osie Wroe (I’m guessing spellings), in Shukokai. It was fantastic for me, because only 4 people signed up for the class, and one of then had never done any karate before. Sensei Wroe quickly saw that I was serious about me training. He used to get the two karateka with some experience working on something with the newcomer, and then I basically got a 3 hour 1-on-1 session each week.
    Working quite intensely with Shukokai started to confuse me, whilst still attending the Shotokan club. I decided I needed to pick one style. I figured I could be a one in 50 club member at Shotokan, or get 1-on-1 in Shukokai, so they choice was clear.
    But looking back now almost 40 years later, I believe it was wrong.
    Not because I think Shukokai is inferior in any way - I don’t believe that at all.
    But because once I changed style once, it didn’t stop there…

    I Don’t Know What to Call This Section
    I only trained for 3 months with Sensei Wroe, because the next term, I was the only person who signed up for his class, and it was discontinued. He asked me to attend his club, and told me I’d walk straight onto his competition team, ut it was just too far away from where I lived.
    I didn’t want to go back to Shotokan. After small classes, the military style drilling necessitated by the class sizes no longer appealed. So I found myself without a teacher.
    Until I met Paul Gilmore.
    By this time, I’d found The Tao of Jeet Kune Do, and was training by myself, using what I could glean from that text.
    I met Paul on the CB radio, which was big at the time. By now, I’m just about 18 years old.
    Paul told me about the club he trained at, which I won’t name.
    It sounded very interesting, and we met up to do a little training together.
    I’d now been training at least an hour every day - usually more - for nearly 5 years. Paul had been training 3 months, and was more than a year younger than me.
    And he was better than me.
    A lot better than me.
    Not just his techniques, but his speed, flexibility, timing. Probably all I had him on was strength. But he was only 16.
    He was also very mature. I was impressed, and was very happy to go along to his club… which I won’t name.

    The Weird Years
    The club was great. Very, very different to what I was used to. Very relaxed, lots of fun, but serious training, and an enormous variety of techniques.
    I’d never heard of the style, but didn’t care, because it felt like it was what I’d been looking for, for a long time.
    Paul and I trained together a lot. A lot.
    The club ran very long classes on a Saturday and Sunday. I’m sure they were about 3 hours. Long enough we had to have a good 15 minute break in the middle. There were also mid week classes.
    Additionally, Paul and I got close to one of the two main instructors, so much so he invited us to visit his home to train with him.
    Before I go any further, let me just say there was never any hint of any impropriety.
    Eventually, it got to the point that Paul and I would go to our instructors house on a Friday evening and train until late. Maybe 10PM. We’d then sleep on his floor, and get up at 6AM to train. He would feed us breakfast mid-morning, and we’d train again until it was time for Saturday class.
    After Saturday class, we’d go back home with our instructor, and do the same again on Saturday night/Sunday morning, before the next class.

    The thing is, this was a made-up style.
    It was good.
    But it was made up. The instructor Paul and I trained with had some belts in some Japanese styles that I never got any details of. The other instructor was a brilliant martial artist who had trained in Wing Chun, Hsing-i and others. I don’t know if he had any qualifications other than just being astoundingly good. He later became a very prominent Tai Chi instructor, with real credentials.
    But it was made up.
    So I don’t feel like any grade I achieved in this style has any meaning.

    I trained this intensively in this club for a couple of years. Incidentally, George was also training at this club. I think he knew one of the instructors from somewhere, and liked the long, hard sessions. George was now a Shotokan black belt, and I used to look at him and think I probably could have been the same, if I’d just stuck with it…

    The Real World
    This was Thatchers Britain.
    All of this time, up to being about 20, I’d been either in school, or unemployed, and so free to train as much as I wanted.
    But at this time, the real world intervened, and I got a job.
    And I discovered Indian Restaurants.
    My eating increased, my training decreased, and I started on what became a lifelong battle with weight.
    Over the course of a few months, my training stopped almost completely.

    Over the next few years, I got into Tai Chi. George was there when I went to these classes. I also did some rock climbing, and then some fencing, but my weight was on the Mach, my motivation was dropping, I was working sporadically in theatre, and so odd hours, and I couldn’t get anything really together.

    Over this period, I tried a few other things, and it seemed like wherever I went, George was there. The difference was, George was now 3rd Dan, very healthy, very fit, and his karate was, well, 3rd Dan KUGB standard! (For those who don’t know, that means VERY good!)

    Eventually, I decided to return to education to study computing, and that was the end of everything. I went into college at 25 years old and weighing about 15 stone (already 3 too many), and came out aged 27, weighing over 18 stone.

    I stopped training even in Tai Chi, except the odd burst now and then. But because of my weight, it really got to my knees.

    I was probably 35-ish last time I went to a class more then a few times on the run.

    About ten years ago, the Tai Chi instructor started a Taiko band, and I joined them for a couple of years.

    Of course, George was there :)

    I’m now 54. I’ll be 55 in two weeks.

    Five years ago, I weighed 23 stone.

    By 4 years ago, I’d got down to 21 stone, and had been doing some weight training. I tried karate again, but my knees suffered terribly. After 2 classes, I needed a stick to walk for almost a month.

    By the start of lockdown, I was 20 stone (280#).

    I’m now just over 17 and a half stone. I’ve been running, skipping, working out on a heavy bag.

    I got to the point where I thought it worth another go at karate. Of course, my thoughts turned to George.

    George lived very close to me. 200 yards or so over garden fences, or half a mile round the fronts. George used to opt for the garden fence route.

    For a long time, I didn’t know George was ten years older than me. He always looked very youthful. One time when I was 19, I went to a different karate club, and, of course, George was there. When we left, and were walking home, he had a girl with him, about 7 or 8 years old. I said, “Is this your sister?”, and he said, “No it’s my daughter!”. I was stunned, I honestly thought he was maybe 20, 21, but he was 29!

    Even when he was 60, he hopped the garden fences to take the shortcut to my house. Sadly, when he was 61, or perhaps 62, George was diagnosed with cancer that progressed rapidly and fatally.

    The last time I saw him before he was ill, his Tai Chi was beautiful. He was soft, flowing, balanced, and precise. At the same time, his karate was still incredibly sharp. His kime was fearsome, he was still fast and sharp. I honestly think George had trained every single day of his life since his first karate lesson, until the end.

    There was never a doubt in my mind that if I tried karate again, it would be Shotokan.

    But thinking of George, it made me wonder if the KUGB were still around, and if they had any local clubs.

    George and I took our 9th Kyu together, graded by Sensei Billy Higgins. So I was delighted to discover that my closest KUGB club is run by none other than Sensei Higgins, who is now 8th Dan.

    So, it is in memory of my martial origins, but more especially in honour of my great friend of 40 years, George Cartledge, 3rd Dan, that last Thursday, I attended the KUGB Shotokan club of Sensei Billy Higgins, who graded me to 9th Kyu 40 years ago.
    Last edited: Aug 1, 2021
    Jaydub, Mushroom, Nachi and 4 others like this.
  2. Mitch

    Mitch Lord Mitch of MAP Admin

    Awesome! Looking forward to hearing how you get on :)
    Phil Lewis likes this.
  3. Dan Bian

    Dan Bian Neither Dan, nor Brian

    Fantastic story!
    From another Karate and Tai Chi practitioner, I look forward to chatting!
    Phil Lewis likes this.

    BL-TRAINING Member

    Brilliant story, wishing you the best mate. Keep up that consistency and discipline, even if you don’t feel like going to class training - you won’t regret it when you look back the next day having attended it. Even on your no class days, 15 minutes solo work in front of a mirror will add up quickly if you’re training some aspect every day.
    Mitch, Phil Lewis and Dan Bian like this.
  5. Nachi

    Nachi Valued Member Supporter

    What a great story!
    Also as a fellow Karate and Tai chi practicioner, I am looking forward to reading how you progress and if you are able to go to classes and enjoy them again :)
    Phil Lewis likes this.
  6. Phil Lewis

    Phil Lewis Member

    Thank you for the replies!
    A catch-up…

    Thursday 29th July 2021
    First day back to Shotokan in almost 40 years. First day doing anything other than tai chi in at least 20 years.

    Class with Sensei Higgins was awesome. I remember him being a huge scary giant who eats white belts for breakfast… but that’s because last time I saw him, he was a giant (of karate), and I was a 14 year old white belt!

    Turns out he’s actually a really, really nice bloke, as well as being a great instructor (still).

    Because of Covid, class was small. There was me, one 1st kyu, and about half a dozen black belts ranging from 1st to 3rd or 4th Dan, so quite a class to return to!

    After a warm up that highlighted a couple of areas a need to focus on (only 5 years ago, I did a lot of indoor rowing, and stretched extensively - where has my hip flexibility gone so suddenly!), we practiced some kihon, with oi- and gyaku- zuki, shoto and nukite, in combinations with age and soto uke.

    We followed this with some one-step kumite of some of these techniques. Then we moved into Heian Nidan, which came back to me remarkably quickly!

    Next we did some bunkai from Jitte, before moving on to running through the kata. One of the “benefits” of being a low grade in a class of black belts is you sometimes get these “sneak previews”, I guess! I had done Jitte a few times way back in the day, but it certainly didn’t come back to me like Heian Nidan did!

    It was pleasing to the ego that Sensei came over a couple times to help me out with the bunkai, but when he watched, he said, “Yeah you’ve done this before.”

    Also, when talking after class, Sensei didn’t believe it’s been 20 years since I trained, and complimented my basic form.

    It brought me a little down to Earth when he then said, “But don’t kneel down if it causes so much pain”… and I thought I’d been so brave :rolleyes:

    Something nice was that, talking after class, several people remembered George very fondly. They were saddened to hear of his passing, but it was nice to find that even Sensei Higgins remembered him well.

    Friday 30th July
    The day after class.
    I had the anticipated muscular aches, but, thankfully, not the slightest twinge at all in my knees!

    That was my biggest fear, that my joints may just be beyond it, but it seems not. Probably not skipping leg day on my weights routine has helped develop support around the joints, as well as the reduction in weight.

    Some light warm-up and stretching, and even the aches eased up.

    Saturday and Sunday
    Virtually nothing. A bit more light stretching to ease out the last aches. I wanted to try to remember Heian Nidan, but stopped myself from walking through, because I know what I’m like, and it would quickly become strenuous… I need to remember I’m nearly 55 and fat. Take it easy boy.

    Monday 2nd August
    I didn’t have the nervousness that accompanied my first day back, for today’s second session.

    I arrived half an hour before class to warm up, and Sensei (and his 3rd Dan wife) were there already.

    It’s weird. He talks to me like I’m a grown up. Oh wait… I’m not 14 any more!
    I can’t help feeling I’m commit some faux pas that everyone is too polite to mention.

    For example, as other students (again, all black belts except this time 2 1st kyus), warmed up and chatted outside, just as we were about to enter, it occurred to me that I was the only person standing on the same side of the space as Sensei, and everyone else was stood opposite. The other training I’ve done didn’t have the same kind of etiquette as Japanese arts, so I must remember to watch out for this stuff. Nobody seemed offended, least of all Sensei, but still, I don’t want to be “that guy”, or to force someone into the discomfort of “having a quiet word”.

    Another great session based around kihon and bunkai, this time from Jiin. Jiin came back to me a bit more than Jitte, but still, nothing like Heian Nidan. In my life, I must have done each of the Heian kata thousands of times, but katas like Jitte and Jiin, maybe only a few dozen times at most, when training with George.

    Tuesday 3rd August
    Kihon kata.
    Heian Shodan.
    Heian Nidan.

    I’m limited for space and even these small kata I have nowhere to practice at home that fits them, without shuffle-stepping.

    But I can do them with “correct” (to the best of my ability) form in sections, then string the sections together with the odd shuffle… as long as I put the coffee table on the sofa…

    First nasty habit spotted tonight, so spent some time trying to drill it out: DO NOT TURN OUT YOUR FRONT FONT BEFORE STEPPING FORWARD IN ZENKUTSU DACHI!!!

    Other things to work on:

    • 270° turns - keep low, keep centre of balance under control.
    • Fists - Keep them closed! Open palm only when palms should be open!
    • Kokutsu dachi and Kiba dachi - do some work on these.
    • Opening of Heian Nidan needs sharpening - everything up to Shoto is poor.
    That should keep me going!
  7. Phil Lewis

    Phil Lewis Member

    4th August
    Took a break - or rest day! I definitely want to ease back into training, and not overdo things.

    Last night I was looking on these forums for posts about shoulder impingement, as I’ve had something going on for a while. Whilst doing so, I came across a post by @inthespirit that mentioned trigger point therapy.

    Quick background. I started some e excise last November, with running, shadow boxing, and then bought a heavy bag. Frustrated at the space available around my bag, I decided to clear and refit garage. Shortly after a few weekends of overhead physical work (sorting out the ceiling), I started to get discomfort in my left shoulder.

    Over the course of a few weeks, the stopped me working out on the bag, then playing golf.

    I went to a physio for a few sessions (10?), but stopped going when it just carried on getting worse. It got to the point where it settled into a continuous background pain, and reduced range of motion, but wasn’t getting any worse.

    Then I started in my right shoulder, and that went the same way. By now, I’ve figured out what I can and can’t do, limits of motion and pain etc.

    Then last night I bought the book recommended by @inthespirit.

    It included a section that precisely matched my symptoms, and suggested that it wasn’t necessarily a physical impingement, and might be an over activated “trigger point” in a muscle at the back of my shoulders, even though the pain was at the front.

    It suggested a simple massage technique in specific locations on a few muscles. I picked the main matching muscle and, getting out of bed to do so, tried the message on those points for 1 minute each side.

    It was like switching off the pain! Briefly, I regained about 80-90% of my previous range of motion, pain free!

    After an hour or so, the condition returned, but that’s expected. According to the book (which I now have some faith in!), I need to do this exercise 3-6 times a day, for a few days, weeks, or months, depending on how long it takes.

    Frankly, if I need to spend 2 minutes, 6 times a day! forever, as the cost of a pain free existence, I’ll take it!
    Mitch likes this.
  8. Phil Lewis

    Phil Lewis Member

    Thursday 5th August
    Focus tonight at class was Heian Godan. This was interesting… because I thought I had a fair recall of the Heian kata, but Godan didn’t come easy. Neither physically (high knee lifts, turning jump!) nor mentally - my memory of it was vague at best.

    Also, tonight’s kumite was difficult, using shoto-shoto with a step, switch stance to defend and counter. Defending with the hand across the body, and countering with shoto as an attack. I found this incredibly unnatural, and will use it as an exercise to try to get back into a karate mindset, in terms of body mechanics.
  9. Phil Lewis

    Phil Lewis Member

    Sunday 8th August
    Not much since class, just a few walk-throughs of Heian Shodan and Nidan, and some kihon of oi and gyaku zuki.

    I’m still a little nervous of doing too much too soon, as I have in the past.

    One good thing - this seems to have kick-started my weight loss. After having stalled for about 6 weeks, I’ve lost 7 pounds in the two weeks I’ve been training!
  10. Phil Lewis

    Phil Lewis Member

    Monday 9th August
    Class tonight. Still only black belts, 1st kyu’s and me.
    We did a line up with people sequentially attacking a defender with oi zuki, defender blocking g age-uke and countering. I was last in line. When the defender blocked my punch, he did so very strongly, and it jarred my impinged shoulder quite badly.

    I headed to the back of the line but was doubled over in pain for a while. Sensei came over and said I was doing too much, too soon, and he’s right. Even though I have a history in martial arts, I must remember it’s a LONG time ago, and I’m old and overweight.

    Sensei also went to the person defending and suggested he relax a little, but it really wasn’t his fault, and had I not had an injured shoulder, I wouldn’t have flinched.

    I ended up doing som kihon practice separate from the group, which I was more than happy to do, with occasional corrections from Sensei.

    Kata tonight was Heian Sandan, which is another that came back to me quite quickly. I remember the moves from way back, but again, need to work on hose stance - specifically mobility from horse stance.

    This was my fourth session, and so ended my “try it” period, and I joined the club. Sensei has ordered a gi for me in my crazy big size, with the club emblem. I’ve also applied for my KUGB license online.
    Mitch and axelb like this.
  11. Phil Lewis

    Phil Lewis Member

    Tuesday 10th August
    40 minutes doing katas kihon-shodan-nidan-sandan - sandan-nidan-shodan-kihon.
  12. Phil Lewis

    Phil Lewis Member

    Thursday 12th August
    Just received my makiwara!
    Hope to get it mounted this weekend.
    Tonight’s training update to follow.
    axelb likes this.
  13. Phil Lewis

    Phil Lewis Member

    Thursday 12th August Part 2
    Another good session tonight.
    The first few, Sensei had me joining in with all of the black belts, with whatever they were doing.
    Last night, he gave me a few things to do individually, and spent a fair bit of time with me 1 on 1 to get me going and check me over on each thing.

    Horse stance and sidekick are probably my biggest issues right now, which comes down to flexibility and leg strength. Back stance as well, really. I can do a back stance, and can move in it, but not in properly deep Shotokan style.

    Slightly weird that I can place my foot on a 40” high windowsill in a good sidekick position, and work into the stretch, but I can only kick at knee height. I can’t figure out why that would be?

    Regular squat sessions will have to become a thing.
  14. axelb

    axelb Master of Office Chair Fu

    kick at that height might be a struggle if your hip flexors require some strengthening.

    It might be worth taking video or picture of the position you are in when stretching and kick to compare the positions you are in. I used to observe the same, I could stretch to the side above 6ft, but would struggle to kick to above chest height of 6ft person - in part it was my hip flexor strength, and also it was my torso position when stretching was more horizontal, compared to executing the kick my torso was more upright.
    Mitch and Phil Lewis like this.
  15. Phil Lewis

    Phil Lewis Member

    Thank you, that makes a lot of sense!
  16. Phil Lewis

    Phil Lewis Member

    What I miss is a training partner, or partners.
    When I was younger, we would train every evening that there wasn’t a class. And often after class when there was one.
    Now, I do t know anyone else who trains, and anyone in my age group is unlikely to have the time to to do that.
    It’s ok doing John and kata on my own, but it doesn’t compare to training with friends.

    BL-TRAINING Member

    I’ve been in similar positions in my life, especially trying to find specific partners to your particular art as Karate styles can vary so much between one another. Learning two styles at the same time; ie Wado vs Shotokan I found was counterproductive. Can you do any 1-2-1 training with your instructor outside normal class or could you do some virtual/zoom training?
  18. Phil Lewis

    Phil Lewis Member

    Monday 16th August
    Pretty bad stomach bug since Saturday.
    I fear I’ll have to skip training tonight. I hate to do so, but at times the stomach cramps are debilitating.
    Hopefully it’ll clear up in the next day or so.
  19. Phil Lewis

    Phil Lewis Member

    Wednesday 18th August
    Still sick.
  20. Phil Lewis

    Phil Lewis Member

    Thursday 19th August
    Feeling much better today. Confirmed not Covid, so looking forward to training tonight!
    axelb likes this.

Share This Page