Gavin Mulholland Shihan interview

Discussion in 'Interviews' started by Telsun, Mar 15, 2009.

  1. Telsun

    Telsun Valued Member

    Gavin Mulholland Shihan, 5th dan, is joint chief instructor of Daigaku Karate Kai. He is a very well respected Goju exponent having written numerous magazine articles and made various TV appearances he is also one of the most proactive. With over 30 years experience in the martial arts, and over 15 years ‘on the door’ he has attained a practical understanding of the use of karate in the area of combat.

    Gavin, first of all I'd like to thank you for agreeing to do this interview. For the reader's could you just tell us a little about the Daigaku Karate Kai association and your position within the group?

    Originally we were all with the Okinawan Martial Arts Association but when one of the principle founders, Kyoshi Kim Roberts, left it and moved over to France, three of us (myself, Dan Lewis and Stuart Gent) decided it was time to set up something on our own.

    We were all teaching in Universities at that time and so the double meaning of Daigaku as 'University' and 'Place of Learning' seemed very apt.

    Daigaku Karate Kai is jointly run by myself and Dan Lewis and we have clubs in London, Bristol, Watford and Torquay at the moment. We made a conscious decision to only grow the association from within so while we will accept individuals, we don't accept whole clubs joining.

    Karate has got a pretty poor reputation at the moment and we have striven to make Daigaku a centre of excellence in martial arts terms - not necessarily in technical aspects, but in its focus on practicality and efficacy in fighting terms. I know karate is not all about fighting but for me, it is the basis that underpins all of the other benefits associated with training in a martial art. As such, it is important to us that a student understands all the links between, kumite, randori, Kata and bunkai in terms of developing them as a fighter.

    That's really what Daigaku Karate Kai is all about.

    So that's where you are now but you actually started in martial arts when you was very young, with your father I believe. Would you like to tell us a little about those early days of your martial art life?

    I was born in Belfast in the winter of 1962 and throughout the 1960's my father was teaching Judo and unarmed combat in the military in Northern Ireland. There were seven of us in the family and so we all trained. There were enough of us to fight each other so as far as I can remember, I've always been training.

    Also being a military family meant that we moved around a lot. I don't know how it is these days but back then, moving into a new school meant fighting the local kids when you arrived. We moved from Northern Ireland to Scotland then eventually down to England so we had the added bonus of having 'funny' accents everywhere we went.

    My dad was also very clear that we should not lose a fight. If one of us came home battered, Dad would send them back out to find the kid and do a better job. One time when we first arrived in Scotland my brother John was threatened with a knife and so he ran away and came home. He was still sent back out to deal with the other kid, which he did.

    Fortunately for us we all arrived en masse so trouble was sorted out early on until the next move. It all sounds a lot worse that it was, it was good fun and we used to enjoy our little tussles.

    LOL! No I don't think schools are like that anymore, at least not where I'm from! I presume your dad taught you pretty practical stuff being a military self defence instructor, no WUKO training for you eh?! When did you start training in a dojo environment and what martial art was that in?

    We did train in dojo's wherever we went.

    The earliest one was run by my Dad and a huge Belfast man called Uncle Bill - well his real name was Bill Norris but he was Uncle Bill to us! They had set up a dojo in Limavada just outside Londonderry called the Ken Cho Kai. It was part military and part civilian and done as a kind of 'military in the community' type thing. As I say it was mostly Judo but a lot of other stuff was thrown in there. I don't think the separation between the arts was a great as it seems today.

    At that time we were all living in a caravan and my mum still talks about the laughs we had with the whole club cramming into the caravan after training for tea and jam on toast. Kids were not really taught there but of course they made an exception in our case.

    By the time we came to England it was a lot more formal. We were training in a BJC club in Southampton. One day we heard Brian Jacks was doing a course at the Winchester Judo Club so we went along. It was awesome and he even rolled around with us kids, letting us put strangles on him and so on. On the back of that day we switched to the Winchester Club. It was a BJA club and man they were good. The BJC were much more technical but at Winchester, it was all about fighting. Because my dad was so into it he was happy to drive us the 60 mile round trip 2 or 3 times a week.

    A couple of my brothers ended up fighting in the Southern Area Squad. There was one great time when John and Gary had to face each other in a regional final. John was older and better than Gary but in the pin down Gary bit him and John leaped off. No one noticed and Gary won the Gold. Little bugger took it as well - his own brother – fantastic.

    Brotherly love, ain't it beautiful?! Great story Gavin. So your early days were mainly involved with Judo, did you have much competition success yourself, or climb up the grade ladder?

    We didn't grade very much and I think I got to green belt in judo. I did win a few medals although, mostly just in local inter-club competitions.

    I also used to box at school in Ireland and again in Scotland and also in the Boys Brigade. With them I made it to be the regional Boxing champion in Perthshire around about 1970. When we moved to England I tried to get the school to instigate boxing classes but by then the tide of opinion had turned against boxing and they were having none of it.

    So although we did do a lot of Judo, it was still all mixed up with boxing and the unarmed defence stuff my dad was teaching.

    What inspired you to give karate a go and when was that?

    To be honest, I'd always thought Karate to be a bit soft compared to Boxing and Judo but I was talked into going along to a karate club when I was about 16/17. The club was run by Kim Roberts and I saw him do a demo with Mick Lambert and Dave Arnold This must have been around mid to late 70's. I was totally blown away by the intensity and ferocity of it and particularly by Kim. He was awesome and fearsome and I wanted to train under him. It seemed a natural fit for all the separate bits and pieces I'd done for all those years, and here it all was in one system! After that, I never looked back.

    It seems that the trio of Mike Lambert, Dave Arnold and Kim Roberts influenced many of today’s Goju karateka, but amongst the majority of today’s karateka they appear to be pretty much forgotten. Could you tell us a little about Kim's background and what he's doing today?

    When I first met Kim he was already with Mick Lambert and Dave Arnold. Dave was in the original British Karate squad alongside the likes of Bob Breen. Bob is now a very well known and respected Jeet Kune Do man of course but he started out as a karate guy. Mick was a one time early student of Master Steve Morris but before that Kim and Dave had been with Mark Bishop. In fact I believe that Kim was with Bishop even before Bishop went to Okinawa to study at the Jundokan under Ei'ichi Miyazato as well as at other dojos on Okinawa. Kim also studied under Teruo Chinen and Meiji Suzuki.

    We were originally with the Goju Karate Remnei but alongside Rick Woodhams they were all part of the Okinawan Martial Arts Association headed up by Seitoku Higa in Naha, Okinawa.

    I left Kim's dojo in the late 80's to travel to the Far East. It had been very strong when I left but when I returned a couple of years later things had changed. Kim moved to France to join Dave who had moved there a year previously and the dojo passed into Kevin Buxey's hands. Kim returned shortly afterwards but he had become very disillusioned with what he saw being passed off as martial arts and for the next 10 years he would only teach myself and one or two others. At that time he also went very deep into Okinawan Te (again with Mark Bishop) and the Chinese arts.

    A couple of years ago I finally managed to persuade him to start teaching again. He currently heads up the Sogo Bugai No Kai and is based down on the South coast.

    What was training with Kim like?

    Training with Kim was a life-changing experience for many of us.

    I know it’s a cliché, but in the early days, the training was very tough. Fitness was a key element and physical training was used to push people to and past their limits. Kumite and grappling was also full on and brutal. If you weren't up for it, you just fell by the way-side. No-one would even say goodbye.

    My dojo today is also a tough place to train but I think we are a lot more tolerant these days. It's tough but friendly. I don't remember Goju Karate Remnei being that way, at least not in the early days. Over the years we built up a camaraderie which still exists today, 30 years on but at first I never used to talk to anyone and definitely not to Kim. I used to turn up, train and leave. Four times a week with no misses. That was it. I think I was probably a brown belt before I said more than two words to Kim.

    To be fair to Kim, that was probably more me than him. I used to see other students crowding round to talk to the seniors after class and I just wanted nothing to do with them. I wanted to be noticed for what I did during training, not what I said afterwards.

    Today, I count Kim as one of my closest friends, although those words are really not accurate. He is my Sensei in the true sense of the word and we just don't have a western equivalent to describe it. Suffice to say that next to may father, he has probably been the single biggest male influence in my life.

    But it wasn't always that way...

    For many years I actually hated Kim. I hated him for what he put me through and I hated him for the beatings I used to take from him. Looking back, I can now see that I was a cocky young lad and Kim did everything he could to bring the best out in me. At the time I thought he was trying to get rid of me and I simply refused to go. I would turn up week after week just to spite him. In my mind I would not be beaten. Today I am eternally grateful for what Kim did for me.

    In karate circles Kim was feared, we were feared and he liked it that way. (He has mellowed today of course!). I can still feel the fear of entering the dojo some nights and sometimes even today, the smell or sounds of a real dojo can trigger a little adrenalin drop in me. Fantastic - I love that power karate has over me!

    Do you think that the toughness of karate has been sacrificed so that everyone can be accommodated, reinforcing the saying "karate is for everyone" that we see so often today?

    I do Terry.

    When the old Masters said that you shouldn't eat from Karate, they really knew what they were talking about. I think a lot of the erosion of standards is down to people making their living from teaching karate.

    With the best will in the world, if you need 30 students to pay the mortgage, you are going to ensure that you have 30 students on the mat. It's just human nature.

    Once you do that the dynamics are all wrong and your students become your 'customers'. Once you have customers, you are forced into giving them what they want, not necessarily what they need. So eventually it gets easier and easier and everybody looses out.

    I don't believe karate is for everyone at all. Well, that's not entirely true. It is open for everybody to train but only an elite few should ever make it high into the Black Belt ranks. That's what the grading system is for. Every grade serves to weed out more and more people until only the strongest and/or most dedicated are left. That's supposed to be what a Black Belt represents. McDojo's giving Black Belts out for nothing really is an insult to the rest of us who have striven hard to obtain what we have over the years. It really is quite sickening.

    The way of Karate is supposed to be an arduous and austere undertaking but for many people today, that simply isn't true.

    I whole heatedly agree with that!

    You mentioned earlier that training in Kumite and grappling with Kim was extremely tough. Grappling in karate seems to have become en vogue recently but Kim was doing it as part of his karate back in the 70's. Was his grappling from his Goju background or did he add it to his system from some other source?

    To be honest Terry, every Goju instructor I have trained with had grappling as an integral part of their Goju - Kim Roberts, Steve Morris, Nick Hughes. In fact I was more than a little surprised when I came across other Goju groups who did not practice grappling. Goju is a close quarter system and that means grappling. Goju is a fighting art and that means studying all aspects of combat.

    An awful lot of it is in the Kata too. When I was training in Japan I was told that often Shiko Dachi is often an indicator that the move being performed is a ground fighting technique, or at least that it also has grappling possibilities. When you look at Kata in this light, some of the more bizarre moves start to make sense.

    Furthermore, Jigaro Kano, the founder of Judo is on record, complementing Chojun Miyagi on his grappling skills. Miyagi was teaching 'Goju' before it was named. If it had no name that to me must indicate that it had no boundaries. Miyazato was known to be a good grappler so it makes no sense that they would have compartmentalised the various bits and pieces in the way people do today.

    The main problem came when karate was exported from Okinawa to mainland Japan. Karate was desperate to be recognised as a martial art and they began training on Kendo and other hard floor dojo whereas previously, they had often just been outside. With the best will in the world you cannot really train full on throws and grappling on a solid floor. It’s simply too dangerous. And once one instructor lets it slide, it’s gone. Then people are just too embarrassed to admit that they don't know it so it just gets left behind. This is what I think has happened within some Goju schools.

    I believe that grappling has always been an integral part of Okinawan Goju Ryu.

    You mentioned that you trained with Steve Morris. Are the stories of him true? Is he a technically brilliant animal!?

    I find it a bit difficult to talk about Morris because of his current disillusionment and stance regarding karate but I will say that the stories about his brilliance are true, and the ones about his lunacy are not. He is an incredibly gifted, skilled, intense and hard martial artist. He was very tough but I never saw him injure anyone while training. He has basically spent 50 years or so in the martial arts being continually disappointed by styles, organisations, teachers, students and people in general, I guess it just finally got to him. It's a real shame.

    And Nick Hughes, an unfamiliar name for most, could you tell us a little about him?

    Nick Hughes is another fascinating character. Six foot, eight inches tall and 20 stone in weight. Sergeant in the French Foreign Legion. Military policeman. Bodyguard to the Saudi Royal Family. 20 year doorman. Sixth Dan Goju. Black Belts in Karate, Ju Jitsu, Aikido, Judo - the list just goes on and on.

    I first met Nick because he had been writing a lot in the MA press about how rubbish most of the stuff was. I agreed with him so when I got the chance to train with him, I took it. I was pretty blown away by his utterly practical approach to karate and especially to making Kata and bunkai work for you. I know the stuff that Iain Abernethy has done with bunkai recently might be a revelation to Shotokan and Wado guys, but its pretty much been Goju heartland for years. Well Nick was really at the cutting edge of all that and every move he does has devastating practical effect.

    We hit it off and I ended up spending a lot of time with him before he took off for the States where he now lives. I still get over there to see him when I can.

    I have been very fortunate in my training and at the risk of insulting them all, I really think that Kim basically taught me most of what I know, Morris made me understand it, and Nick utterly rooted it in street-wise practicality.

    It's been a very good mix and as I say, I have been very lucky.

    At UGS 2004 you performed a bunkai demonstration of Seiunchin. It was quite an eye opener for many of us Goju guys there with the various throws, locks, escapes, etc it was quite different from what I had seen done as the bunkai of Seiunchin before. The Goju that you practice obviously has a very different flavour to that of, for example, IOGKF. Are these the applications that you have been taught or have you created them yourself?

    It's hard to say where they all came from really as your understanding of Kata is like a a good whiskey – distilled, aged and loved over a long, long period of time.

    Most of the bunkai I would have been taught but not necessarily for that Kata or even from within the Goju system. Systems are a great vehicle for passing on knowledge but if you don't look outside to see what else is going on you run the risk of becoming very insular and small minded. Many Kata from different systems utilise the same or similar moves to the Goju Kata and it makes sense that they must represent similar techniques.

    I mentioned Iain Abernethy before, and I have to say that I admire what he has done for Karate and people's understanding of Kata, but I think a lot of people have missed the point and have become confused. I even see it within my own association - there seems to be a growing belief that you can just 'make bunkai up'. I very much disagree with this as an approach.

    You mentioned that a lot of the bunkai I demonstrated for Seiunchin were throws, locks and escapes. That is because Seinchin means 'Trapping Battle' and is essentially a grappling Kata. As such any 'new' bunkai you bring to bear on a Kata must remain true to the Kata's 'spirit' and reason for being. To put striking bunkai into a grappling Kata doesn't really gel. You can do it of course as all Kata have striking elements to them but are you adding anything that hasn't already been taught in the previous Kata? Probably not. The underlying 'principles' of any given Kata are what must be understood and adhered to. If you just add in extra bunkai as you see fit, (which I think a lot of people are doing today), you just end up having more 'techniques', where as a new Kata is supposed to indicate your next area of study the next year or so.

    In Seiunchin's case, a student's arrival at this Kata means that they are ready to study the grappling side of Goju for the next year or so. It's that kind of structured progression that makes Goju a system. Otherwise a new Kata is just another set of moves to learn.

    Do you believe that Kata is at the core of karate or just part of the trio of Kata, Kumite, Kihon?

    I definitely believe Kata is at the core of karate but only if it is studied in conjunction with its associated bunkai. In fact it is probably the only thing that distinguishes 'Karate' as a separate set of martial arts. Without Kata, I don't think you would be practising Karate. Without bunkai, I don't think you would be practising Karate either because you would not really be learning and studying the Kata, you would just be learning to dance (badly!).

    I'm also not entirely convinced by the Kata, Kumite, Kihon trilogy. In my own system the Trilogy is Kata, Kumite, NeWaza (grappling), but that doesn't have the same ring to it does it?

    I think Kihon is over-used, over-rated and little-understood. The vast majority of kihon type moves are found within the Kata. Others are performed during Kumite in a far more realistic and usable way. Line-up Kihon is really just useful for drilling basics in a large class. However, ultimately, they are just that - basics. Eventually you have to leave them behind and move on.

    I know people say you have to keep practising your basics and to a degree they are right, but how many writers go back and endlessly practice writing the alphabet? They don't. They 'practice' by actually writing. How many painters continually practice basic paint strokes? They don't. They 'practice' by actually painting. Kihon is much like this. Good for building class spirit, good for teaching the 'trigger' parts of a technique, and good for passing the time if you can't think of any proper Karate to teach!

    LOL! You mentioned earlier that you travelled to the Far East. What's the story behind that? I understand that you sold your house to fund the expedition!!

    Basically, it was always something I wanted to do, and one day in 1989 I just decided to do it.

    I handed in my notice at work, put the house on the market and got one of those grubby little shops who offer 'house-clearance' to come around with a view to buying everything I had. After looking around and logging everything in the house, the cheeky little tosser offered me £40 for the lot! He was out the door and down the street without even picking up his clipboard let me tell you! In the end I put an ad in the paper 'Owner going abroad. House contents for sale'. In one night I sold everything. People were over the house like locusts and it really was stripped to the bone. People bought everything right down to lamp shades, light fittings and bits of lead in the garden. I even sold the guy's clipboard! At the end of the night all I had left was a stool, a guitar, a surfboard, a gi, a rucksac and a ticket to India. It was an incredibly liberating experience.

    From India I arrived in Japan and I don't think you could have a bigger culture shock. After the dirt and squalor of India, Japan was so clean, almost sterile. Well at least Tokyo was. Despite living in London now I'm not really a city boy and I couldn't wait to get out of Tokyo and into the 'real' Japan so I headed North. A friend of mine was teaching English far up North in a place called Morioka up near the top of Honshu, near Hokkaido. I went up and stayed with him while I got my bearings and found my feet.

    Another English guy told me he had just started Karate and asked if I wanted to come along so I said of course. I had already lost my gi by this stage so my plan was just to keep my head down, introduce myself and go and train quietly at the back of the class. Unfortunately, when we met the Sensei at the door, the English guy blurted out 'This is Gavin, he's over from England and he's really good'. Oh ****!

    The Sensei said nothing but just nodded me in where I did line up at the back. He took the bow in then barked a series of commands and everybody headed out the door. When I tagged along at the back he stopped me, indicating I should wait and then disappeared himself. I was left on my own standing in this strange dojo for about 15 minutes before he returned. When he did he was wearing full body armour with what looked like a kendo mask. I have no idea what style he was teaching but he carried the same gear for me to put on. Obviously, I didn't have a clue how to get into this stuff but eventually he got me strapped in and he just bowed in and that was it.

    Kim had warned me that they would just want to fight me in Japan and I have to say, by and large, that was the case. Basically, what had happened was that he had sent the class home and we just fought full on. I have to admit I was feeling less than comfortable with the situation I found myself in in my first dojo in Japan, so as soon as he said Hajime, I shin kicked him in the face. In truth it was more out of fear than judgement but it dented his face mask and I think he gave me a little more respect after that!

    Afterwards he took me back to his house which was very traditional - no seats, low tables, kimono'd wife bringing food and Sake all night. He didn't speak a word of English but in that amazing way that you can when you have a mutual interest, we just got hammered and 'talked' and laughed all night.

    It really was a baptism of fire but a fantastic experience and there was plenty more to come.

    Who did you train with during your stay in Japan?

    I made a conscious effort not to specifically target the big dojos or even Goju specifically because it was my intention to keep travelling. I have always resented people who train with a famous Sensei for three classes then all of a sudden he is on their resume as their teacher! It's just false advertising at its worst.

    Anyway, my plan was to hitch-hike the whole length of Japan, and every night that I stopped, I would train at the closest dojo irrespective of style. That's what I did.

    I have never regretted my decision either. I think to focus on Goju would not have improved me to the extent that this method did. For a start it cut out all that searching but more to the point I got a huge exposure to a very wide variety of arts and styles. I trained in everything from Goju, to Kyokushin, to Ju-Jitsu, to Judo, and a whole lot of other stuff that I have no idea what it was. I even tried Kendo which was a laugh.

    By and large Kim was right and in most places, they did just want to fight me. In some places I had to fight them all – brown belts, black belts, then the Sensei! I guess in truth I was better than most, equal to some, and took a few kickings along the way - as it should be. I was a Second Dan at the time so I was pretty up for it but the thing was, I was very rarely asked my grade. I think that this is where some of the horror stories about training in Japan have come from. If they had done the same thing to me as a yellow belt, I'm sure I would have a very different perspective on my experience in Japan!

    My initial plan had been to be away for 3 months. Almost 2 years had passed before I eventually returned to England.

    Was it an enlightening experience?

    Yes, it was a very enlightening experience. I think one of the main things I learned was not to fear an Oriental guy in a Gi. I really believe that this is a demon that western martial artists need to slay. As I say I met people worse than me, people better than me, and people the same as me. The Japanese are still revered in this country and while some of them definitely should be, it has to be done on individual merit. I still get people asking if my instructor is a Japanese. They wouldn't care who it was as long as the name sounded Japanese! The belief that a Japanese in a Gi must automatically be 'authentic' has led to a lot of rubbish being passed off as karate and it remains a problem to this day. 30 years ago, the Japanese were undoubtedly better than us. But their best had 40 years experience while ours had 10. That has changed now and as a nation of martial artists, they are no longer better than us.

    I loved my time in Japan. They are a warm, friendly, and incredibly hospitable people. Hitch-hiking was virtually unknown and yet I had no trouble at all. Many, many times I was fed, watered and allowed to sleep in the dojo after training and without their very kind support and help, not only would my trip have been impossible, but I would not be the man I am today.

    Perhaps one day I will write a book about it...

    I'm sure a book would make for very interesting reading, you can put me down for copy!
    Do you think that to truly understand the art of Karate you need to travel to its place of origin to submerse yourself in the culture and study with instructors with direct lineage to the founders of the arts?

    In truth, no I don't.

    As I said 30 years ago, if you wanted to study with anyone who had been training in Karate a long time, there was really no alternative but to head East. That simply isn't true today and we have some amazing Masters in the West. What's more, they can actually explain to you what is going on and why? No more need for monkey see, monkey do.

    Having said that, I fully understand why people would still want to go to Okinawa and Japan. I remember recently Simon Lailey got quite a bit of stick for attempting to raise funds for a trip to Okinawa. That simply wouldn't have happened even say 10 years ago, as people were hungry for the knowledge and there was nowhere else to get it. I think Simon came in for some stick because people are starting to recognise that while there is still the desire to seek out the source, there is no real need. People head over there because they are interested in the history and roots of the art, not necessarily to improve their karate or to improve themselves as fighters.

    At the beginning of this interview you stated that you “know karate is not all about fighting” do you believe that Karate is a way of life or that it is a means to reach a spiritual awareness? What does karate mean to you?

    Ah, the million pound question...

    At the risk of contradicting myself, I actually do believe karate is all about fighting. Or at least, fighting is the vehicle by which all the other benefits, including spiritual awareness are approached.

    I see clubs advertising that they will teach awareness, spirituality, self-confidence, self-defence etc. The truth is that these things are all by-products of karate training. If you have been through the furnace that is Karate training you will emerge with these things, but the way to them is through fighting and hard, arduous training.

    Where it becomes blurred I think is that, unlike MMA for example, in Karate the opponent is not really the one you have to beat. All the fighting is against yourself - pushing physical and mental boundaries, facing your fears etc. That is why we bow to someone who has just beaten the crap out of us. Because they are not an 'opponent' in the usual sense of the word. Without them battering us, we wouldn't be afraid and we wouldn't be able to face those fears so we need them and are grateful for their 'help'.

    What kind of fighting are we talking about Gavin? Does WUKO type sparring play any part in the art of karate?

    Although I have competed in, and had some success in WUKO type sparring, I've never really been a fan of it. It does have its uses though. It's good for teaching distance, timing, speed and a little bit of bottle because it still takes guts to get up and fight. We still use it for our lower grades but the Black Belts fight full contact.

    In order to forge the spirit, the heat must be intense and the further you move away from full contact fighting, the less intense it gets.

    Funnily enough I have fought in WUKO semi-contact, in full contact and in NHB but the format where I picked up most injuries was the WUKO stuff. I've never really figured out why but I think it's something like going in for a rugby tackle. If you go in full on, you're both usually okay, it's the half-hearted tackles that get you injured. I also think because the contact isn't there you don't train with the same level of intensity. Then you have the issue of people getting upset because they think the other guy hit them too hard and so it escalates. You end up picking up stupid little finger injuries and such. Whereas, if you know the other guy is out to finish you off, you just accept all those things and get on with it.

    What are your feelings on the current competition scene (Kata+kumite)?

    To be honest, I know very little about the current competition scene. It is so far removed from what we do that I don't really see it as anything to do with Goju. How can you apply hard/soft principles in a semi-contact, no grappling game of tag?

    As for Kata competition, I'm not really sure. I have seen some fantastic performances but I'm not sure I'm looking for the same things as the judges. Kata is a very internal and personal thing and to have people say one man's performance is better than another's is simply reducing it to its aesthetics. Kata to me isn't about how it looks, its about what you can do with it and what lessons it is trying to teach you.

    It's a bit like trying to judge a music competition. Once both parties are competent, it simply comes down to the personal preferences of the judges.

    So I guess in sum, I don't like semi-contact sparring but I'm undecided about Kata competition.

    It does appear that karate today is fast becoming re known for its "games of tag", if you want to learn to fight, general opinion, is that you have to go to an MMA school. It seems that karate is heading towards the competition arena, we only need look to the karate governing bodies for evidence of that. So those with the most medals and/or best marketing strategies are the ones that represent the face of English karate what's your opinion on this?

    I'm afraid I'm a bit of a Luddite when it comes to this. I don't want to see anyone being the 'face of English Karate'.

    It is an art-form and art-forms thrive on diversity. Unification is often another word for 'standardisation. That's why I am opposed to all these so-called governing bodies trying to unite Karate. I can fully understand why practitioners of Sport Karate would want to see their chosen sport represented. The problem I have is that what they do bears absolutely no resemblance to what I do.
    We already suffer hugely from a public misconception that Karate is a martial art in its own right. Karate is an umbrella term encompassing dozens of different arts. To have some any one version take such a high profile would only serve to perpetuate this damaging myth still further.

    Any given group or activity will naturally fall out into a natural distribution with some exceptional people/groups/styles and some weak people/groups/styles. The bulk however will, by definition, fall into that middle ground. As I say, unification is often a covert name for ‘standardisation’ and standardisation is a sure way to push and promote the values of mediocrity.

    How would you personally like to see karate in the UK develop?

    Personally, I would like to help put some respect back into Karate as a fighting art but I fear I might be too late and the damage already far too extensive. Due to the increasing sportification of the art and the proliferation of McDojo’s teaching absolute rubbish under the guise of being Karate, it has almost become embarrassing to say we do Karate. In fact I very rarely use the word and prefer to simply say I do Goju. I fear that the reputation of ‘Karate’ might already be irretrievable.

    The way I would like to see karate develop is to have lots of different little clubs, all doing there own thing. Darwinian principles will apply and some will succeed and others will fail but at least they will do so on their own merits.

    So Gavin you've obviously had a colourful journey along the martial path up till now, is there any particular moment that stands out as an enlightening or special time?

    It has been quite an amazing journey so far and so many things stand out that it's hard to isolate any single moment. In no particular order these were all 'special' times for me:

    Gaining my Black Belt

    My final year at Eastpoint Karate Club training under Kim Roberts
    Arriving in Japan with nothing but a rucksack and a Gi (which I promptly lost!)
    The long drive up to Steve Morris' Horsham dojo
    Meeting Nick Hughes
    Seeing my first student achieve Black Belt
    DKK Summer School
    Every 30 Man Kumite I've ever seen

    All of these stand out in my mind as defining moments along the way.

    What are your plans for the future?

    The future? I don't really know. I've never really been one for planning so whatever comes my way, I'll look for the best in it and move on.

    Gavin it has been an absolute pleasure and a very interesting interview, thanks again for agreeing to do it.

    My pleasure Terry.

    For further information on Daigaku Karate Kai (DKK) please visit
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 13, 2010
  2. puma

    puma Valued Member

    Nice evasion when asked where his Bunkai came from!
  3. Commander Nitro

    Commander Nitro Valued Member

    Enjoyed reading this one!
  4. Doublejab

    Doublejab formally Snoop

    Really good interview, he talks a lot of sense! Cheers for posting
  5. aintstoppin

    aintstoppin Valued Member

    Thats a guy without the politics or BS I would like to train with him for sure.
  6. puma

    puma Valued Member

    It says he competed NHB and full-contact. Does anyone know his record and where he fought?

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