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 Today 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.