Reflections on my 8th Dan black belt promotion.
‘Desire, burning desire, is the basis of achieving anything beyond the ordinary.’
Joseph. B. WirthlIn.
Just before Christmas 2019 I had an almighty surprise when I was awarded my 8 th Dan black belt in Combat Jujutsu. It was totally unexpected and something I hadn’t really given thought to since my promotion to 7th Dan some 8 years previous.
It was a very special occasion for two reasons.
Firstly, because the award came from one of my senior instructors and peers Dave Turton 10thDan.
I first met and trained under Dave in the mid-eighties and we have stayed friends ever since.
Dave had been very ill throughout 2019 and it was wonderful that he was on the mend and able and well enough to sanction this grade for me.
My grade was also officially endorsed by another martial arts pioneer Peter Consterdine, 9th Dan of the prestigious British Combat Association.
Secondly the whole thing had been organised by my two sons Tom and Jake without my knowledge and they presented me with this high accolade at the end of a special class were the three of us shared the teaching on the mats.
As I said I was well and truly shocked and its only now that it has properly sank in and I have time to reflect upon what this means to me and how I got to this point in my Martial arts career.
I would like to share some of these honest thoughts here in this blog.
As a young boy of 14 years of age setting off on his Martial arts journey the thought of achieving a black belt was my ultimate goal. It became my obsession and I done everything possible achieve this. It didn’t come overnight I can tell you. Many obstacles presented themselves, but I refused to give in until I got there at the young age of 21.
44 years later since I first stepped into a Dojo to still be on the mats teaching and training and being awarded my 8th Dan and to be-able to wear the mighty red and white block belt is a surreal experience.
Over the years I have read about these legendary 8 th Dan Masters. Gnarled, hard as teak battle- hardened veterans with years of combative training and experience under their belt (excuse the pun). Guru’s with sage advice. They individuals bore the scars of people that had been there, seen it and done it.
These individuals were few and far between almost mythical. Am I now viewed as one of them?
Where did that 44 years go? The time between being a young and green kid with a thirst to learn to a world wise 58-year-old father, Grandfather and so-called Master.
I have spent a lifetime on the mats, in gyms and dojos all over the world. They have been my learning ground and workplace for as long as I can recall.
Once I am on the mats, I am no longer Kevin the son, the husband, the father or the Grandfather. I am Kevin the warrior, the Samurai, the Martial artist.
The mats have been my stage and my playground for a very long time.
I have faked nothing in my career. I have tested myself time and time again in just about every arena. I have always striven to give a 100%.
I have tasted success and failure. I have won and lost.
Every time I trained, I always felt I left another little bit of me on the mats.
I have lived and breathed Martial arts and tried to conduct my life in the manner of a true warrior.
I have striven to be brave, to face my fears, to be humble, to be a protector, to lead by example, to give help and support and to fight only when every other option is exhausted.
I haven’t always got it right, sure I have made mistakes, but this is an ongoing process in my life and my martial arts journey.
As I mentioned I first started training in Martial arts in 1975 but It wasn’t to 1984 that I began my journey in Jujutsu. I instantly knew I had found what I had been looking for.
I first experience of jujutsu training was by invite up to London for a weekend free of charge with a Soke Del Connelly who is now a 10th Dan.
I will never forget how kind and welcoming he was to me and how he started me on what was to become a jujutsu crusade.
There was no jujutsu in my home city of Bristol or the surrounding area at this time.
You must remember in the 1980’s the North of England was the stronghold for Jujutsu. Outside of that region you would have to travel far and wide to find a club, if any.
Most people where training in Taekwondo and kick boxing and many hadn’t even heard the term jujutsu in this era.
Travelling back on the train from London with my head spinning from training I there and then made a pact with myself that I would get my black belt and pass my coaching qualifications and be the person to open up the first Japanese jujutsu club in my home city and then go on a life time’s mission to establish it and spread the word.
This is what I did. I travelled the length and breadth of the UK to train with the best and achieve what I set out to do. It became a vocation. I felt this is what I had been born to do.
I proudly opened my first jujutsu club in Bristol in 1986.
Later in the late 1990’s I also went on to be the first instructor to open an MMA club in Bristol and establish the first fight team where so many successful champions and fighters first ‘cut their teeth’.
Because I just love training and teaching, I tend to forget about these pioneering achievements which were extremely important for the development of martial arts particularly jujutsu in Bristol and the South West.
It also paved the way for others who went on to teach and open their own schools in the city.
These days Brazilian Jujutsu is everywhere and just about everybody has heard of it. But what many don’t realise is there would be no BJJ without Japanese jujutsu.
Japanese jujutsu first came to the British shores in 1892 and has been around in some shape or form here ever since.
As a young man I was fortunate to have been on the mats with some legendary and pioneering instructors of this art.
Also, I have been taught by instructors who were innovative. They had adapted their jujutsu for work in security, door work, policing and the forces.
Jujutsu was and has been primarily an art of self -defence and Combat and this is where my expertise really lies.
I have competed in Jujutsu kumite, bjj, submission wrestling and MMA and enjoyed the experience as part of my learning curve.
I think BBJ is a wonderful combat sport and I had my first taste of it way back in 1997.
I have attended seminars by BJJ legends such as Carly Gracie, Royce Gracie, Renzo Gracie, Mauricio Gomez and John Machado.
BJJ has kept the term Jujutsu alive and well across the world and brought it to the attention of the masses again in recent years.
For me my now job is to preserve the origins of jujutsu from the Samurai and connect the dots between JJJ and BJJ. Also, to show the difference between sport and combat. My particular brand of Combat jujutsu has kept its roots but is still a modern and relevant combative art for today’s society.
There are many young pretenders out there competing for the bragging rights for Street combative self- defence, but Combat jujutsu is the Granddaddy and the forerunner of all of them.
Many of my peers and instructors are no longer with us or too ill to continue teaching. Suddenly I am not the young buck looking up the mountain at them anymore I am the next generation to get up the mountain behind them and I now am in that lofty position where I need to keep this art alive and breathing and pass it on to the next group and not let it disappear and become obsolete.
I few years back I will be honest in the wake of losing both my parents I went through a dark time and even contemplated given up teaching.
I felt that I had reached a point where I had done it all and I no longer had that fire in my belly.
I never would have foreseen another grade promotion on the horizon. I had well and truly fallen out of love with Jujutsu.
But like the proverbial phoenix rising from the ashes I somehow came out of that terrible darkness and rose yet again and resumed my role with new ambition and direction.
I am now glad I did as I feel these days I am teaching the best I ever have and trying to impart my considerable knowledge on to a new generation.
My promotion has been a wonderful benchmark. All my awards and achievements over the years have been gratefully received but my biggest pleasure has been training and teaching in a fantastic art and being able to develop it and preserve it. Long may that continue.
Thank you to all my instructors, students and Martial arts brothers and sisters across the years.
Read my training autobiography ‘When we were warrior’s’ to learn my whole story.