The Karate Union of Great Britain, KUGB, has been renown for creating many dynamic and highly successful karateka and competitors. A list too long to make, it is fair to suggest that it is legendary in its status. One such fighter to have come from such background is Elwyn Hall. With a reputation on the tatami that inspired both awe and fear, he was, and is a remarkable talent in UK karate.
Here in this interview, we bring you a vivid and fascinating insight into this exciting karateka. Started a few years ago, this interview finally completed in 2010 allows Elwyn to discuss at length not only his personal karate background, and to share his memories, but to also discuss his fighting ethos and attitude towards the Martial Art.
I sincerely hope you enjoy this interview as much as us – Shaun Banfield
Sincere thanks to Paul Herbert for his support throughout this interview.
(The Shotokan Way) Elwyn, many thanks for agreeing to do this interview for The Shotokan Way. Can I start by asking you about your early days in Karate? What it was like growing up in South East London, how you first got involved in Shotokan and who your earliest influences were?
(Elwyn Hall) Firstly thank you very much for having me. Before we begin the interview I would like to say, like many people, I am still attempting to learn and still attempting to keep an open mind to learning, and in fact have a lot to try to learn. So please recognize that my opinion is only an opinion. I am not attempting to say mine is the only point of view or that my view or opinion is the only right one.
While I think it’s important to attempt to try to have the courage of your convictions, I think it is also important to acknowledge and recognise a potential broader viewpoint. As an individual, I have no interest in being well known. Anyone that knows me well would hopefully tell you that is not how I see the world. However whether I like it or not I am to a degree known in the karate world, and it has been bought to my attention, as an instructor, I may have some viewpoints of potential value to your readers. So here goes.
I was born in South East London, England. I was always a very active and curious youngster and like many boys, especially boys of the pre-politically correct era who enjoyed playing rough and sports in general. And also, like many boys of that era (and before) I was occasionally involved in the type of ‘do your best’ good natured bloody nose fist fight that boys got involved in. Win or lose, you did your best and shook hands afterwards. It was considered a natural part of growing up and you could even go as far as saying it was an important part of the learning curve. You learned to face your fears and always do your best, and I hope without sounding too ridiculous, to try and be fair.
So when I discovered there was a karate club nearly at the end of my road, I instantly joined up. I was 11 years old. To put it in context, it may be useful to also consider the environment and time in which we were growing up. Certain parts of London have, in my opinion, a somewhat underserved reputation especially parts of South London and East London. However I think to a degree it is true to say you will find there was, and is, an ever so slightly high preponderance of (untrained) people who are naturally (or environmentally) adept at taking care of themselves. Some real characters. Coupled with that environment, I grew up in an era of undisguised and blatant racism, so it was only sensible to want to make sure you were able to take care of yourself. So essentially for those two reasons, from time to time as we grew up and got older we sometimes had to defend ourselves.
I would just like to say here… like many people, I see karate as a Martial art and hopefully my teaching and kumite reflects this. I am, like most human beings, no angel or in any way perfect and in fact it would be silly to try to portray myself as such. But I do try to adhere to the idea of fight in defence only, last resort only… in defence of yourself or loved ones.
In terms of my earliest influences and how they may have specifically influenced my karate, obviously I would have to say my Mum and Dad. I will start with my Dad first, an extremely responsible person, by that I mean he strongly believed and believes in the idea that we make our own destiny and we should be fully responsible for our actions. He was and is, also a very disciplined man and if the unfortunate need arises, a formidable defender of his family or himself. Smart and very tough. He had come from very humble beginnings, come to this country from Jamaica after having fibbed about his age (saying he was 18) and joining the RAF during the war at 17. After the War, when his service was over he became an electrician and came back to England. As well as working very hard here at home in England, he also travelled and worked extensively overseas until my mum insisted he came home because my brother and me were becoming a bit too much! His life had meant that he absolutely needed to be able to take care of himself, in all senses. And he encouraged that in all of us, ‘Be fair, and take responsibility for your actions, and stand up for yourself’. And this will be recognisable to some of you out there, ‘Whatever you do in life, try to do it twice as well’ I suppose I am from a generation where Dads were like that. He’s 84 years old and he still does 50 press ups a day.
As for my Lovely Mum; smart, kind and with an implacable sense of justice and fairness towards everyone, regardless of colour or culture, very compassionate but with a will of iron. I suspect if you are of my generation or older, regardless of which part of the country, or what part of the world you come from, you might recognise my parents as being just like your parents. My personal view is that their generation were made of sterner stuff. So there you have it… that’s where I come from.
I am not sure what went wrong with me though (at this point much laughter from Elwyn). In all seriousness I am not trying to say we were some kind of south London Cosby family or anything like that. Like all families, we had our challenges. Ultimately it’s not for me to say whether I have their characteristics or not, but I know my parents did and do still have those qualities, and I like to think at least a little of those characteristics are in me and in turn influenced me and my karate.
I started karate at the age of 11 in 1977, very luckily for me I had found the right instructors and the right Dojo, right there at the top of my road. If you consider the idea that anyone could have been running that Dojo; they could have been people, who didn’t really know what they were doing or didn’t really care how they were teaching karate.
They could have been people who were just in it for the position and or the money. I was very lucky what I found was the Pattersons. Sensei Jimmy Patterson and his lovely wife Val Patterson. Their approach and attitude to karate, naturally influenced me. In particular Jimmy’s absolute enthusiasm and enjoyment of it was completely infectious. I think it was Waldo Emerson who said ‘nothing of real value in life was ever achieved without enthusiasm’. As I get older these things gradually make more sense to me.
(TSW) I remember you once saying just how restrictive you found the basics of Shotokan and how frustrated you felt at not being able to spar and express yourself early on. How long were you training before you were allowed to do Jiyu Kumite in the dojo? Do you feel that being restricted to pre-arranged drills until that point benefited you or do you feel being ‘set free’ earlier would’ve been even more beneficial?
(EH) It’s true, but only partly accurate. I very quickly loved the movement and the techniques. But I did, also to a degree, find elements of it restrictive and frustrating.
And again it might be useful to view what I am saying in context I was 11, 12, 13 years old and being the little ball of energy I was, naturally, I wanted instant full blown Bruce Lee multiply assailant quick - fire action at all times 24/ 7. I mean that’s what I had seen at the movies, it had to be the way to do it? Didn’t it? However very slowly, year by year, I began to feel and appreciate the incremental detailed development and discipline that karate demands. Very slowly I began to appreciate the fact that it simply takes time.
Don’t get me wrong I still wanted to fight and compete.
But I knew that with Sensei Patterson’s help and guidance the process of technical, mental and physical strength building would ultimately make me a better fighter. We did lots of pre-arranged partner work in those days and it was literally years before we were doing jiyu kumite in the Dojo, which was absolutely the right grounding, even though I didn’t really know that at the time.
As for actual competition! Jimmy, as ever, was very smart, along with not being allowed to enter competitions. And just to whet my appetite even further Jimmy took me along to watch the KUGB national championships a few times.
I remember seeing the likes of Terry O’ Neil, Billy Higgins Steve Cattle, Owen Murray and a very young Frank Brennan competing. Surely some of the best karate fighters the world has ever seen. What a spectacle, talk about inspirational!!
I was awe struck and highly motivated. But still Jimmy wouldn’t let me compete. I asked Sensei ‘when can I enter a competition?’ So many times, over so many years, in the end I just decided it was best to just wait until he told me I was ready. It is fair to say by the time I began competing I was very eager… to say the least.
I remember the first few competitions I entered, I got soundly beaten. In one competition by the end of the day, I just felt like I had been hit, and hit hard with almost every technique in the book. I remember being swept and stamped on before I even knew what had happened. It really stood out in my mind, left a real impression, I felt like I had been run over ….It was in the good old days when points were points!!
Anyway as with most good investments, the training slowly started to pay dividends a little bit down the road. Very gradually as the years passed I started to get a grip with what I was doing. Being held back in terms of Jiyu Kumite in the Dojo and held back from competition was absolutely the right decision. Some people and that probably includes me, need time to grow appreciation and understanding of things, and this in fact is the way I teach my own students.
When I am teaching seminars I also very much communicate the idea that correct solid basics are not just the framework for good kumite but that they also the internal engine to dynamic kumite. You simply don’t get a Tanaka or a Yahara without a deep routed grasp and understanding of kihon.
(TSW) There are a some interesting variations on tournament rules these days? Variations and offshoots of the Shobu- ippon kumite you fought in. What do you think?
(EH) As an individual in my everyday life I am all for innovation and an opened minded approach to life’s many challenges. In fact one of my personal bug bears is mindless blind adherence to tradition and doctrine, for traditions sake, in all things. Inside and outside of karate, I think the questioning of ideas, concepts, traditions etc is not just healthy, but in many ways possibly a paramount personal responsibility. So I think you can see this is something I have very strong feelings about. However some things have their place or position for good reason and do also bear close inspection and questioning. Things Like Shobu – Ippon kumite! Some of the new rules and variations of kumite rules, while they obviously do provide the fighters with a challenge, it is very questionable as to whether or not these rules demand the absolute very best from the fighters.
For me just like many people, Karate is a Martial Art, and along with the other essential primary core potential benefit of self development, is the benefit of self defence; potentially being able to defend yourself or your loved ones if the unfortunate need should arise.
From my understanding, when jiyu - kumite was introduced one of its primary objectives was to provide karateka with the opportunity to practice and pressure test real technique in a free flowing unarranged controlled environment. A test which would crucially also provide a gateway to enhancing the karateka’s ability to defend himself under duress. Personally I think that objective is still extremely valuable and even more relevant today. The development of real technique is central and vital to this process.
On the practical level if you have not had the dubious benefits of the acid test of defending yourself in real life. Although requiring some adjustments Shobu –ippon kumite can provide valuable preparation to actual real-life self defence. Preparation in some of the crucial elements necessary to overcome and survive real life conflicts (fear control, reaction time, timing, speed etc)
On the slightly more esoteric level, the development of effective technique for kumite takes literally years of rigorous practice and a deep seated understanding of Kihon and its inter-dependant relationship within Kumite and kata. You can’t have effective kumite technique without a solid grasp of kihon. The karataka should, in an ideal world, only enter into competition having acquired at least a solid grasp of technique. Otherwise what is he actually scoring with? This grasp of effective technique can only be acquired through the process of vigorous and often repetitive training. It could be argued that the only real value of endeavouring to become proficient in kumite, exist in the process of attempting to acquire the necessary skills and the potential consequential effects on the individuals nature or character …enhanced determination ,improved mental focus etc; all extremely valuable tools for life.
As they say… the real value is in the journey not the destination. The ultimate winning or losing of a competition really isn’t of much importance by comparison to the potential benefits (both practical and esoteric) gained by the individual in the pursuit of real technique.
I also think it is essential to be totally clear with the fact that when engaged in competition we are not fully engaged in an absolute, no rules, fighting test in which techniques are not controlled and the winner is the man still standing.
So in order for the kumite to retain its intrinsic sense of reality, integrity and value, and to re-iterate, that is the inherent value in the difficulty of the process and the practical benefit of being able to defend yourself. It is (and I have said this before) essential that good kumite should always strive be on the edge of very dangerous. Not gratuitous but controlled dynamic ferocity, which test the physical and mental limits of the person throwing the technique and the person about to receive it. A few short steps away from a real fight.
And whether we like it or not, the reality is competition can act as a catalyst, changing the shape and direction of not just the individual’s karate, but of a group’s karate. Negative and positive changes. And so from my perspective I think it is essential that the competition aspect of karate retains a crystal clear vision of what is it for, and what it is about. People pleasing is very rarely a good idea, and unfortunately the direct or indirect pressure applied by some people in an unfortunate minority of Dojos sometimes means that the instructor, if he is not careful, can end up running a trophy hunting club. Before students, and especially young people, are technically ready and before they have grown a fully realised appreciation for what they are doing .This can be a very short lived viewpoint.
Please don’t get me wrong obviously you need eager young people in karate but it needs to be very well managed.
The view or idea that Karate (and many other disciplines) have the potential to build character is undoubtedly true. However they can also reveal character. If the test or examination within a discipline (in our case one of our test is competition) is a genuinely difficult test. This then provides the opportunity to reveal character… find out what I need to work on.
I think it’s fair to say none of us are the finished article and are as they say, works in progress and as such we all have things we need to work on and improve. So how can we improve on what we need to improve on if we don’t really know what those things are? Because we are perhaps not giving ourselves the opportunity to find out? The test needs to be tough.
When I was competing (and I am sure it was the same for many others) it was extremely useful and informative for me to gauge my responses to the challenges I faced. How did I respond to an Ian Roberts back kick? Knowing if I missed a block it could easily break my ribs… Or when trying to move in on a Ronnie Christopher reverse punch knowing that serious injury was extremely possible….or knowing that George Best could hit you so fast and hard with almost any technique, that you could easily be finished before you even got started? What did my responses reveal to me about me? What did I physically and mentally need to work on?
Personally I think this access to real danger, this potentially revealing aspect of kumite is an essential ingredient of karate which separates kumite from pure sport and identifies it as a Martial contest. Danger is not just one of the most valuable and revealing aspects of kumite; it is also potentially the rich heart of it. Access to danger is part of the reason men climb mountains, part of the reason men race cars at 250 mph, part of the reason men box.
An essential aspect of the value of the challenge is directly and proportionately linked to the level of danger involved. Without the danger the challenge all too easily can become a hollow and meaningless one.
With regards to some rule changes….. I think it’s extremely important to remain actively discerning in differentiating good developments from not so good developments. Paradoxically some of the attempts at crowd pleasing (and this links up to point I made earlier regarding people pleasing) new rules and developments in tournaments have led to the exact opposite of exciting. Thankfully there are still some great fighters out there who can and are turning that around. With regards to teaching my own students my approach, as said, is very much to hold back on Jiyu kumite and develop strong dynamic technique first.
(TSW) What was the journey that lead you to Enoeda Sensei’s Marshall Street dojo and how do you thinkyour time there changed your Karate?
(EH) I had trained with Sensei Patterson since the age of 11 years old .I was about 18 or 19 years old when I was told me it was time to leave the Dojo.
He felt that I had reached a point in my training, where I could improve only by training under other
Sensei also. In order to to help ascertain whether it was time to go or not, he tested me!
At the time I didn’t know it was a test, he told me nearly 20 years later what the test had been! I told you he was special.
Jimmy was a truly remarkable man both inside and outside the Dojo. And again without, I hope, entering too far into the esoteric …you know the concept or aspiration within karate and other disciplines, martial or otherwise, of attempting to defeat the ego and develop the character/spirit? Very difficult for any human being, impossible or at least nearly impossible, to try not to operate egotistically on any level at all and simultaneously develop a strong nature or character for life.
Small ego, strong character. Obviously I am no expert and it is only my opinion…but I tell you this I think Jimmy Patterson was pretty close. He would be very miffed at me saying that, as he most certainly didn’t indulge in any kind of showing off, but I think it’s ok if I show him off as he most certainly deserves it.
Anyway he directed me to other instructors, which is something that not all instructors would gladly do. Even though I've trained with many other instructors, he is, and always will be my Sensei. And now several years after his death, I am still close friends with his wife Val .Who is not only a great karateka and Sensei in her own right was but was also instrumental in my karate development .And I know she will blush at this, but she is also a very kind and very lovely person.
I went on to train with Sensei’s Enoeda, Kawasoe and Sensei Dave Hazard.
With regards to Sensei’s Kawazoe and Hazard I was very fortunate indeed. In terms of technical mastery and practical application, few people in the world can equal either of them.
Some of the stuff they do simply has to be seen to be believed. Sensei Hazard’s additional personal
training, support and direction was extremely valuable and most appreciated. I also feel very privileged for the extensive training and time spent training at Marshall Street with the late great Sensei Keinosuke Enoeda, at that time the chief instructor of JKA Europe. I also feel very privileged to have known someone who can rightly be described as a Legendary Iconic figure within the karate world, Enoeda Sensei.
What a Man! What a karate man! What a Fighter! Without doubt we will not see the likes of him again, a true GREAT!! As anyone who has ever trained with Sensei Enoeda will know, he always got the best from you. His instruction always carefully balanced the pursuit of technical excellence and the development of fighting spirit.
(TSW) Do you have a single favourite memory or story about Mr Patterson that you would be willing to share?
(EH) In many ways that’s a very personal question, but I will answer what I can of it. Ask anyone that knew Jimmy Patterson and they will tell you that he was an exceptionally smart and insightful person. Loyal, kind, generous and a very thoughtful man.
And a very tough man of great integrity and truth. Most of all I am proud to say not only was he my Sensei but he was also my friend. I do realise it is very easy to retrospectively project a rose – tinted view of someone after they have passed away, but he was actually like that.
I have so many absolutely lovely memories of Jimmy, much laughter. Just thinking of him makes me smile. At the age of about 22 or 23, I was training (not with Jimmy at this stage) full time 3 times a day. Very fit and very focused, but also by the end of the day a little bit tired.
However I still needed money so Jimmy somehow wangled me a job working nights doing engineering work on the underground. It was difficult, dirty work and I really didn’t have a clue what I was doing.
As you can imagine, by the second week or so I was in a real state. I was obviously still training hard during the day. So I was getting very little sleep, just a few hours! You have to appreciate at the best of times, Jimmy was absolutely relentless in his ribbing of people and especially remorseless with regards to ribbing me. It was as if he saw it as his personal duty. Even though I tried my best to avoid him on the job by trying to find different spots to work in, somehow everywhere I turned he was there. Anyway, as said, by the second week or so, I was in a dog tired state.
It must have been about 4.00am during a brief break from working and I was standing on the edge of the platform overlooking the lines. I made the big mistake of falling asleep, while standing up! In mid-conversation mid- sentence with Jimmy.
I can still see the look of sheer undiluted joy on Jimmy’s face! I knew and he knew I had given him ammunition for years to come.
Catching me sleeping on the job, literally! Standing up, he just loved it! I think I heard variations of ‘watch out when you’re talking to him he tends to just fall asleep’ or ‘Elwyn mind you don’t stand still for too long you know how you get’ for the next 20 years or so…..
At his funeral there were so many people there who loved and respected him, so many people inside karate and outside karate. Black, white, brown, you name it.
There were generations of families who had been taught karate by Jimmy Patterson, the lovely Irishman. A Father and son who had trained with Jimmy, and the son who in turn had brought his own son .You know they say look at a man’s funeral, and to a degree, you can see how he lived.
Well I think Jimmy lived a beautiful life.
(TSW) Would you mind answering the same question regarding Enoeda Sensei?
(EH) Enoeda Sensei was a truly extraordinary man….
It is a challenge for all of us, I think, to reach our full potential in whatever our fields of endeavour, to be everything we can be. And in truth possibly only a rare few actually do.
He was bursting with vitally, energy, confidence and utter commitment. For me Sensei Enoeda was without doubt the closest thing I will see to the physical embodiment of the concept of, life in every breath…. (I know it s a line from a movie but it’s also happens to be a real concept)
He was the full extent of himself .What a man! What a Karate master!
I have been lucky enough to have known some extraordinarily talented people from all walks of life, writers, sportsmen, business people, politicians, all sorts inside and outside Karate. And I think you only see that sense of a person living and being the full extent of themselves in the few great ones regardless of their fields of endeavour. For me Enoeda Sensei had that. There are some very good club instructors who are able to inspire a handful of good students who train year in and year out and stay the long course.
There are some very good association chiefs, who are able to inspire many hundreds or even thousands of students who stay the long course.
Enoeda Sensei along with Kanazawa Sensei in terms of karate inspired a nation.
I knew Sensei Enoeda and did spend time with him. I cannot claim to have known him or to have spent the kind of time with him like people such as Dave Hazard or Craig Raye. But from the time I did know him, and the time I spent with him, what always struck me was his vitality and sense of fun.
There were many occasions when I went to dinner with him either with the Martial Street team or the England team. One of the things Sensei would do during a celebration dinner was pour your drinks for you. Apparently this is a Japanese custom during a celebration; pouring the drinks for the person next to you. Personally I always really enjoyed getting drunk that way, with Sensei telling me to drink up, very nice and great fun.
(TSW) Another Sensei who speaks highly of you and who obviously influenced your own Karate was Dave Hazard, what did he add to your style and what are your thoughts about his karate?
(EH) That’s very kind of him.
Sensei Hazard is in my opinion, without doubt, one of the best all round karate men in the world and a true original. There are some Instructors that can really function very effectively in real life situations. But for whatever reason they are unable to teach effectively. There are some instructors who are absolutely fabulous instructors but can’t really function in real life situations.
There are some instructors, who claim to have fought in this and that, done this and done that, claiming to have trained with everybody right back to Funakoshi Sensei. I exaggerate the point but you know what I mean. Sensei Hazard really is the real thing, the complete package. He really can do it all and has done it all.
For most of us the pursuit of karate mastery really is a worthwhile aspiration, but in truth nearly all us don’t or won’t get there. Dave Hazard is, I think, that extremely rare thing… a modern western karate master.
When Jimmy felt it was time for me to leave the Dojo, as said, one of the people Jimmy advised me to train with was Sensei Hazard. After training on a few of his courses he must have seen something in me worth working with, and he invited me to train personally with him.
I still don’t know how he put up with me. I was about 18 or 19 I think, and in those days I hardly spoke more than two sentences a day! Coupled with the fact I was in absolute awe of Sensei
Hazard, the overall nervous exhaustion of the whole situation made me into semi- nervous wreck!
And that was before the training had even started. Dave soon put me at my ease though.
Anyway I travelled firstly over to East London to train with Dave and then down to Brighton for weekend training sessions. Sleeping on his sofa.
No one asked him to do that, there was no gain in it for him whatsoever, I wasn’t even in the same organisation as him; he did it totally off his own back. Very generous and kind of him and I am always grateful for that help and the direction he gave me.
Extremely valuable training, extremely valuable direction, which influenced and helped my karate development immensely. His incredible ability opened my eyes to the possibilities that it could actually be done at such a high level. And like many people I am still trying to.
(TSW) In all your years as a competitor did you have anyone who you considered to be your ‘nemesis’ or do you remember a specific ‘toughest’ opponent?
(EH) It was all a challenge and I learnt not to take anyone too lightly especially in international competition. However there are a few people who were particularly challenging you may have heard of some of them! I am afraid it’s quite a long list though …. Ronnie Christopher Ian Roberts George Best Frank Brennan Gary Harford Randy Williams and that’s in no particular order.
(TSW) With such a ‘busy’ fighting style you must’ve been physically very fit. Were you a natural athlete or did you have a specific training routine?
(EH) Whether I like it or not I am a little bit analytical and detailed in my approach to challenges in general. I tried to condition myself down to the last detail.
I would break down every aspect of a technique; my goal was to take complete ownership of what I was doing. I never achieved that goal or was ever satisfied with my results in training or when competing, not once. I have viewed those old tapes of me fighting and there is a lot of stuff I should have done better, including not having that unfortunate early 90s side parting
I was training 3 times a day. I never viewed myself as a natural athlete, so I worked intensely on full fitness conditioning alongside my karate training, inclusive of running and full blown fitness and conditioning work. Over the years as I continued competing, so my training intensified and I became more accurate in my preparation. I tried to leave no stone unturned in my training.
Besides being motivated by the task in hand, I knew the other guys on the England team would be training just as hard. My goal was to attempt to peak perfectly on any given competition day. I never once got it perfectly right either in preparation/training or on the actual competition day. I was never once 100% satisfied. The nearest I got to any kind of performance satisfaction was the World championships in 1900. And I still wasn’t satisfied.
Maybe one of the unique additional challenges for today’s young competitor and particularly the elite competitor is the fact that nowadays more often than not he is training and preparing in a relatively small squad or talent pool. This tends to not necessarily always create the most conducive environment for growth.
But it also makes the achievements of some of the fighters out there, who have managed to excel having come from a relatively small talent pools all the more remarkable. Anyway from the moment you arrived at your first squad session you knew you were in for some, how should I put it, special treatment. And in those days being the only Londoner, I assumed I would get some very extra special treatment.
And so I made sure I was as ready as possible. From my perspective, the main difference between international competitors and domestic competitors was and probably still is mental and physical toughness, speed and striking power, commitment, confidence and self belief. When competing internationally there are no easy rounds. Nearly every guy you fought whether he was from, Japan, Germany or Brazil was a very tough committed guy at the top of their form, and were very well trained and extremely motivated… fighting for his country!
Fortunately for us, at the heart of our squad there was a nucleus of guys who were capable of very effectively dealing with this challenge .And as the saying goes, the harder we trained the more fortunate we got.
(TSW) How did the atmosphere influence your development do you think?
(EH) Knowing you would have to do it again and again.
And if you wanted to stand a chance of doing it well on the next session meant you had to significantly raise your game in your own training away from the squad. What was impressive about these sessions for me was the overall level of commitment, and clarity of purpose both in the way they were instructed by Sensei Enoeda and Sherry, and in the overall atmosphere of the Dojo. Nothing was wasted; nothing was superfluous, everything we did was done at 100%. Obviously when teaching seminars, a full blown ‘squad session’ type seminar is not appropriate to everyone, but one of the elements I try to instruct on the other seminars I teach is that clarity of commitment, purpose and performance. ‘The field of accelerated awareness is the place where you will find your best performance. And the only way to get there is to trust your training and let go’ I think this is out of place here but I will leave it to your judgement.
(TSW) Jane Naylor recently remarked that you always looked so cool and unaffected by the pressure, was this really the case? How do you deal big fights?
(EH) Cool? It was all a façade… inside I was wreck (again much laughter from both of us) Jokes aside yes of course I was nervous.
However I had learned over the years to channel it and use that nervous energy. I have prepared the following suggestions for your readers with regards to on the day preparation. I hope they can find one or two things within it useful.
Getting It Right on the Day
You Deserve to Win!
It is a cliché but there is a lot of truth in the idea that often the outcome of any contest or conflict is decided by who wants it more. Deep at the heart of the want or motivation to win, is the knowledge that you have trained more, trained smarter, given more blood, given more sweat, and you deserve the win. One of the most dynamic engines of motivation is an internal knowledge and recognition of the fact that you have done the work to win. Psychologist and sports psychologists call it placement recognition.
Train hard and smart, train very hard and smart . Your training and preparation doesn’t just position you physically to win, it also better positions you psychologically to win.
Control your fears and apprehension…
Be ready for the mind games…
Suddenly right before a big fight …legs don’t feel strong, they feel sluggish, or feel really tired, or feel tight. A common experience for many fighter, it’s not real - dismiss it!!
Learn to conquer it and control it! Exchange and channel it into positive dynamic controlled aggression. Push it away and focus your mind completely on your strengths. You have trained hundreds, if not thousands of hours, ran hundreds of miles, and conditioned your body over hundreds of hours.
Actively and repetitively visualise yourself at your very best. You are absolutely and completely ready. Confidence and self belief, it is the one essential ingredient that you must have. Work on it! Build it! And enhance it! When you fight it must be nothing less than 100%.
The harder and smarter you have trained the more belief you should have. Actively visualise and see yourself at your very best. You have one chance… There is only now!! There is no tomorrow. Fight like it’s the last thing you will ever do!
Approach each fight with the un-jaded sparkling enthusiasm of someone fighting for the first or last time. Remember to maximise your assets… You have trained hundreds of hours working on what suits your particular mind and body. Don’t get out there and suddenly try and fight like a great kicker if you are really a great puncher. Stay adaptable but remember to maximise your assets.
Keep it simple…. A fight is a pretty straight foreword proposition. Don’t over engineer the situation. The winner of a fight is usually simply the person who hits first, hardest and with the strongest intention. Keep it simple. James Patterson sensei said completely know your outcome, be an absolute and complete (pragmatic) optimist. One of the best kept ‘fighter’s secrets’ is that most of the best fighters are almost always incurable optimist, you really need to know your outcome.
Not think you know but really know the outcome of the fight before the fight. Leave absolutely everything on the mat…be completely in the present and completely alive to the idea that the only real loss you can suffer is that of not giving 100%. Leave it all out there on the mat. Immediately adopt a mental state of focused, controlled aggression. Take control of your mental state straight away and don’t wait till you get hit by something before you are ready to fight. You need aggression to fight; switch on straight away before the fight begins. Seize the initiative. This doesn’t just mean ‘be first’ or Sen- no-sen. It means seize the initiative in a far broader empirical sense. Seize the moment absolutely by completely being in the now.
Seize absolute control of yourself, don’t accidentally do anything.
Seize absolute control of the mat.
Seize absolute control of the fight
Seize absolute control of the outcome.
Now trust your training and let go! Accept you will be taking a brisk walk in the field. During laboratory condition testing, high ranking Kendo exponents and elite athletes were measured reaching the optimum performance state of ‘complete relaxed focused alertness’. Alpha wave activity was at its height .Not only was the bodies biochemical cohesion dramatically improved, it also appeared the brains synaptic pathways were working considerable more efficiently. Cocooned in a silent envelope of impenetrable alert calm. Individuals describe being in what could only be called a state of altered perception. Free from doubt, hesitation or distraction. Unconscious, uninhibited reactions and actions flowed completely instantly and freely. Interestingly, the Kendo masters were able to access and maintain this field of accelerated awareness almost at will.
You have trained very hard, now let it go.
If you are consciously thinking about your next move…then it is too slow. The Japanese call it ‘no-mind’. Western psychologist and physiologist call it achieving ‘optimum performance alpha wave
activity.’ Athletes simply call it the ‘Zone’. Whatever you choose to call it…The field of accelerated awareness is the place where you will find your best performance.
And the only way to get there is to trust your training and let go.
If you win, understand and know exactly why you won and how you won? Make sure it’s not an accident…. reverse engineer it! Work out what you did and why. Also work out what you need to improve on.
If you draw, same as above, work it out without repeating the draw aspect of the fight.
If you lose, work it out and break it down in detail. There are sure to be many valuable lessons in any defeat. Just make sure to not lose the opportunity for learning and growth in the fog of disappointment.
And remember the only real loss it not giving 100%. And the final thought connected to loosing…
“The greatest glory in living, lies not in the falling but in rising every time we fall” - Nelson Mandela. If your readers are interested in finding out more about kumite preparation, I have a Kumite Tips mini-series about to come out very soon.
(TSW) I have spoken to several people who were at the 1990 world Championships. Fighting number one you helped England to famously win the World Team Kumite Championships beating Japan in the final. And in the individual kumite many people felt on that day you were the best you had ever been, easily one of the best fighters there on the day…you were fighting out of your skin apparently. Had you not been disqualified you had a good chance of reaching the final and maybe even winning it. Any thoughts?
(EH) Obviously I would have preferred to win it. However if you are trying to do kumite a certain way, disqualification is always a risk. But ultimately that’s the nature of the beast… victory and loss. So you know… onwards we went, and go.
(TSW) What did it feel like lifting the World Championship after beating Japans JKA national team in 1990 final? Can you remember the emotions involved before and after the final?
(EH) Winning the world championships was the culmination of decades of training and work for everybody on that team. And for me personally in terms of my achievements within karate it was the thing I am proudest of. It felt wonderful.
(TSW) You regularly teach very successful seminars throughout the UK and Europe and the rest of the World. Please tell us a little about what people can expect? I have heard that your courses are extremely informative and also very inspiring?
(EH) What I teach depends on the level of the class, however I do always try to create a challenging and simultaneously rewarding atmosphere for the students. My job is to provide training methodologies and training strategies which people find useful and can incorporate into their own training schedule if and when appropriate. If people are also motivated then that’s wonderful.
(TSW) In a recent interview for TSW, Sensei Yahara describes the best mental state for fighting as a state of nothingness. Is this something you would agree with, what are your opinions on this?
(EH) Yes I agree, however on a very personal level, I would add the following with regards to competition kumite absolutely yes. With regards to real kumite, only if there is absolutely no choice, if you are forced to defend yourself or your loved ones. However it’s important to be aware entering into this state of mind in a real situation can be very dangerous .
(TSW) Today, many people train for competition with competitive success being the ultimate goal. Was your competitive success a consequence and product of your training or did you ever train ‘for’ competition?
(EH) Any success was a by product of training I really just wanted to try and do my best and give
100 %. Later in my competitive career when preparing for specific tournaments and people, it slightly changed. In as much as, yes of course I wanted to win and prepared precisely, but still most important for me was to try to fight 100%. When I am teaching, I always try to emphasise this idea.
(TSW) You are very well renowned as a superb and very successful fighter. How important was kata to you and do you have any favourites?
(EH) I would say Sochin, it’s not a pretty sight however. Kata in general is of great importance specifically with regards to technical strength building and as a glossary of familiar and unfamiliar techniques.
(TSW) One of the most remarkable aspects of your karate is your timing. Do you think timing is an instinctive thing, or can it be developed? If so, could you please suggest methods?
(EH) Thank you. That was an area I really specifically worked on….finding the right moment and conditioning myself to react appropriately. I would say yes I had a little talent in that way. But I had to really work on it, to build and enhance it.
(TSW) You are quite renowned for your sweeping ability. What are the key elements of effective sweeping would you say?
(EH) Understanding your opponent’s balance and your own. Then commitment.
(TSW) Compare today’s karate with karate before.
(EH) There are obviously some absolutely fantastic Sensei around and some really fantastic karateka around. However I do think especially in this day and age of so much choice with regards to the proliferation of Martial Arts, and a propensity towards activities that deliver a quick fix, that the natural temptation is to meet that demand by scarifying the integrity of what and how we do what we do. Consequentially I think it is important that we are careful to maintain the important martial aspect of what we do. It is, I think, important to carefully differentiate between what are valuable developments and what are not so valuable development
(TSW) Can we say a huge thank you for this opportunity to interview you and may we wish you every success for the future.