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Matt Price

An Interview with Matt Price

 

It is with great pleasure that I publish this new interview with Matt Price. British Karate has a long list of internationally renown karateka who have stood the test of time, worked tirelessly to develop their own understanding and to influence the ability of those that surround them. The K.U.G.B (Karate Union of Great Britain) was unquestionably a driving force behind a great number of the UK’s talent, producing an illustrious number of inspirational karateka. To suggest that Matt Price is from a younger generation of that movement would seem perhaps derogatory, in light of the decades of commitment he has made, but it undoubtedly true that he is a member of a current generation of instructors that are making waves in the UK karate community. This interview was in many ways conducted in two parts. The original draft was complete, but in between the completion and this publishing, a considerable amount of time passed, meaning many comments made may not be completely current to March 2014.  In this new interview with Matt Price, I question him on a broad range of topics. He speaks openly about his decision to part company with the K.U.G.B, about his coaching career, his DVD work and the new experiences he has had in the last few years. Matt also offers his opinions about coaching, MMA, and the influence of WKF karate. I hope you enjoy – Shaun Banfield 2013

 

(Shaun Banfield)     Matt, it has been 8 years since we first interviewed you, thank you for agreeing to this following up interview! Karate aside, what has changed in your life?

(Matt Price)     Wow has it been 8 years! I have had many changes in my life. I married my partner Zoe last year in Vegas and we are expecting our first child together in January. So plenty to look forward to. I have a young son of 8 years old from my 1st marriage and he’s growing up into a fine young man, of which I’m very proud.

(SB)     Congratulations to you and your partner on the pregnancy. And your son, is he involved or likely to get involved in karate at all?

(MP)     Unfortunately my son lives quite a distance from me. I get to have him during the school holidays and he travels with me and train a lot then. He enjoys his karate but at the moment he really enjoys football and cricket. It would be nice in the future if he decided that he really wanted to put all his sporting effort into karate but as long as he’s happy, then so am I.

(SB)     From my personal perspective, the role karate has played in my life has changed as I have progressed and gotten older. What role does karate play in your life now?

(MP)     I hope this doesn’t sound a bit sad, but I would be lying if I didn’t say that karate is my life. I’m not saying that my family comes second to my karate, but that they coexist happily together. I am very fortunate that my wife fully understands my passion for karate and she is happy to let me explore all that karate brings. She understands that for me to be me, I must do karate and lots of it!

My study of karate has been the constant in my life since 9 years old. It is what grounds me and continues to fascinate me. The more of karate I understand the more there is to learn and see.

(SB)     After 30 years, most karateka start to get complacent, stop questioning and perhaps rest on their laurels. What have been your most recent discoveries and person developments in karate, on either a technical or philosophical level?

(MP)     I spent many years concentrating on competition kumite. I would devote most of my training time to developing my tournament repertoire. I did this to gain success at competitive karate. I knew that karate was a lifetime’s study and that I would have plenty of time after my competition retirement to broaden my karate horizons.

Since retiring from competing, many instructors have shown me many different things. I will listen to them and then question what they have said. I have been heavily influenced by three instructors in the last few years.

Takeshi Yamaguchi Sensei. Since first training with him in Japan I was extremely impressed by the way he could explain why you should do a technique in a certain way. He always demonstrates what he believes you should be doing and clearly shows you why. He resonantly taught on the JKS England Autumn Technical Seminar. He instructed for 10 hours over the weekend and I enjoyed every minute of it, and came away enriched.

Steve Ubl Sensei. Steve Sensei is like a walking encyclopaedia of karate. His knowledge is incredible. For people who don’t know his history, I won’t go into it here, but it’s an unparalleled karate journey from the teaching of Nakayama Sensei. Plus when he hits you, you know it!

Richard Amos Sensei. I trained with Richard Sensei whilst on my honeymoon in New York. My wife constantly jokes that I spent more time with him then her. I am venturing back out to New York in the next week to train again with him (2013). Richard Sensei has a huge knowledge of karate, he has spent time learning from the best and now teaches Japanese karate translated to a western audience.

These instructors amongst others have made me question and change some of my karate. When I change something technical I find it extremely exciting, as continued improvement is what we all desire.

(SB)     So technically speaking, in what ways has your fundamental karate changed or developed as a consequence of these instructors?

(MP)     It's difficult to pinpoint particular things, its just changes as my karate evolves. Hopefully it's getting smoother and that is certainly something these instructors have helped with. They have helped me to understand how to use my body in a more relaxed fashion and not to try to use my strength but focus on developing power though technique.

Matt Price with Andy Sherry and Frank Brennan

(SB)     You recently made the decision to part company with the KUGB. What prompted the change in direction?

(MP)     Ha ha, big question. The KUGB was great for me, I enjoyed every minute of being part of it for 30 years. I have nothing but great respect for Sensei Sherry and the KUGB hierarchy. The KUGB brought me up and taught me great karate.

I left the KUGB to spread my wings. The world of Shotokan is huge and there is so much karate to be learned. Joining the JKS has given me, and my students access to some incredible instructors and karateka from all over the world.  The link to Japan is also a huge facture. Shotokan karate is a Japanese art and when you train at the JKS Hombu in Tokyo you see a living breathing karate that is constantly developing and growing.

Another factor was wanting my competitive students to gain experience competing in WKF events. One of the main reasons I succeeded in Shobu Ippon tournaments was that I was also competing internationally at WKF events. Whatever your view is on tournament karate, you cannot deny that the top level WKF competitors are extremely talented and we can always learn from the extremely talented. To deny this is to bury you head in the sand.  As I said before, I believe that karate is constantly evolving. I feel that if you take and study the best from the ‘traditional ways’ and add the best from the ‘modern generation’ and your careful not to lose anything of value along the way , you are following an exciting path.

(SB)     Many tend to write WKF competition off. Is this fear of the ‘new’ do you think?

(MP)     For many it is fear of the new. The top level WKF competitors are extremely skilled, they have dedicated themselves to succeed. It is far easier to just dismiss them and say its not real karate than to credit them and see what can be learned from them. Kagawa Sensei is one of the world’s leading traditional karate instructors, but also coaches the Japanese WKF team. For many years Japanese competitors such as Shinji Nagaki have been at the top of the tree in WKF and traditional shobu-ippon. It’s hard work to do both, but the WKF kumite will enhance your shobu-ippon.

Earlier this year I was at a WKF competition and saw a competitor dropped with a fantastic gyaku tsuki to the body almost from the hajime. He went on to lose badly, never really recovered from the body punch. I later saw this gentleman holding court with, I presume members of his Dojo, telling them that the shot he was hit with wouldn’t have happened in a street situation and that his knowledge of street defence would having seen him prevail. Now watching this karate-ka handle himself on the tatami, he was ether guilty of hypocrisy, dilution or stupidity.

(SB)     One major criticism aimed at WKF karate is its absence of budo spirit, and this criticism tends to get aimed primarily at the other styles present which consequently influence shotokan practitioners’ attitude. What has your experience been of the conduct at WKF events?

(MP)     There have been problems in the past. Especially with points being awarded to an opponent when you have deemed to strike them too hard, this has led to inevitable play acting. But the WKF have recognised this and the rule changes that took place at the start of the year have been put in place to bring the budo spirit back. Gone are the points against and if you make a fuss when hit you are warned. The referees are being extremely strict with this and the difference has been striking. Competitors must now act in a budo fashion. There have been many other changes since the start of the year and most have been put in place to increase the martial spirit.

Matt Price

(SB)     So do you think the WKF will be successful in achieving Olympic recognition? What are your feelings on this?

(MP)     I am sure they will eventually achieve a place in the Olympic games. If the WKF handle it correctly it could be great for karate. Hopefully they can learn by the mistakes other martial arts have made. If it brings youth into dojos, that’s great, and hopefully they will learn to love karate for the complete art it is. I hope that if it does get in it will help to eradicate the current trend in non-contact karate. I see these McDojos as a great problem. I am sure you have all seen the adverts for karate instructors wanted 'no experience necessary'. The students are basically being conned, told they are learning karate when they are learning no such thing. Hopefully with the Olympics in mind, parents will be a little more selective about where they are sending their kids. I have seen many good dojos from many different styles affiliated to the WKF, I have yet to see a good non-contact McDojo.

(SB)     You refer to Japan in an earlier answer. How many times have you visited Japan in recent years?

(MP)     I have been a couple of times in the last few years, and am currently planning my next trip there with the JKS World Championships being held there next July. I have competed there in the past myself and it’s an amazing experience. I plan to train there as often as I can in future.

(SB)     And the training there at the JKS hombu, what did the experiences highlight to you?

(MP)     The intensity of the training has to be experienced to be believed. The attention to technical detail and the repetition of correct technique is incredible. You hear stories about how hard the Japanese train and its not until you experience this that you really understand just how demanding it can be.

I often read experienced British karateka stating we don’t need a Japanese influence anymore and that if you state that you enjoy the Japanese training that this just makes you an unquestioning Japanophile. What should be understood is that for many of the Japanese karateka all they do and have done is karate. From their early schooling, though to high school and university, everything has revolved around their development of karate. This will undoubtedly give them added insight to the art and we would be foolish not to try and learn from them. I will happily learn from anyone who has something worthwhile to teach.

Another criticism that I sometime hear levelled at the Japanese is that they will just march you up and down the dojo but not teach you anything. This in my experience is just not true. Any dojo I have trained at in Japan and especially at the JKS Hombu the instructors want to show you their karate, they want you to understand what they are doing and why. Even with a language barrier they will get the message across to you.

(SB)     Any stories from the Japan trips that you could relate that could shed some light on your experiences there?

(MP)     I have many Japan stories, a favourite of mine is when we went in 2009 we trained at Yahara Sensei’s dojo. In our party we had about twelve and we were told to come on the Saturday and Yahara Sensei, Isaka Sensei and Ibusuki Sensei would teach for us. When we arrived it was basically just us and a small handful of his higher grades training. At the start of the lesson Yahara Sensei called us around and we were told that unless we could tell him what karate was, he would not teach us and we must go. As you can imagine this put us under great pressure. As we gave our answers, Yahara Sensei seemed less and less impressed and I could see us leaving without a punch being thrown. Myself and fellow LKA instructor Nick Heald exchanged a few worried looks and just as it looked like we would be on our way, I said that karate was a great way to hit people. Sensei was delighted by this and gave us a talk about how we must practise with the aim of killing with every blow we make. That karate was the art of killing. Now whether or not you agree with him, it’s certainly an interesting way to start a session and to get you ready to train hard.

Mikio Yahara delivering his definitive blow

 

(SB)     And what did you think about the training under Yahara Sensei?

(MP)     I found him to be extremity inspirational. He moved like lightening and certainly commanded respect. Growing up and reading the tales of him in Fighting Arts, I was extremely excited to be training under him in his dojo. He didn't disappoint and wanted to show his karate to the full. I remember him putting one of his students in a back stance to demonstrate the extreme he wanted from the stance. He then started a long talk about taking everything to the extreme. His student just had to stand in the stance for what seemed an eternity, he was shaking and the sweat was pooling at his feet but he didn't dare move a muscle until he was excused.

(SB)     Did you get to train under Ibusuki Sensei?

(MP)     Yes, that was great. To train with one of Gichin Funakoshi Sensei's students was an amazing experience. He said he would show and teach us Funakoshi karate. He taught with a great sense of humour. We were very lucky!

(SB)     Outside of the JKS and KWF, did you train at any other dojo in Japan? Can you tell me about them?

(MP)     We did try and gain permission to train at another well-known headquarters but unfortunately we were denied.

(SB)     Sensei Kagawa of course is an international name, and watching him in action makes it incredibly clear why. What do you think of his karate?

(MP)     Sensei Kagawa’s karate is exceptional. His technical ability is second to none. You cannot help but be utterly impressed when you see him in action.

 

Sensei Kagawa laughing, showing his fun and happy personality - Photograph by Emma Robins

 

(SB)     The thing that struck me about Sensei Kagawa when I trained with him a few years back, is the pure relaxation in his movement. For many the idea of doing ‘less’ to achieve ‘more’ seems unfathomable, do you agree?

(MP)     This is I believe the ultimate in technical understanding. It takes years of hard training and understanding to make it look so easy. Kagawa Sensei does this brilliantly. It's not something that can be rushed; you must go though many stages before you get there. Kagawa Sensei shows us what we must strive for. The idea of doing 'less' to achieve 'more' is an excellent way of putting it.

(SB)     You have always had an excellent reputation as an instructor and coach, but your profile seems to have gotten even bigger in recent years. What do you attribute this to?

(MP)     Thanks Shaun, that's nice to hear. I really enjoy instructing and coaching nothing gives me greater pleasure then seeing someone improve. I hope that the enthusiasm that I have for karate is infectious. I love to learn, and I hope that I can encourage someone training with me to enjoy the learning experience. I am constantly questioning and analysing my karate and enjoy passing on things I've learned. I think it's important to make people think and question what they’re doing. You must try and understand why you are doing something. If I ask you to do a technique in a certain way I must be able to explain why I want you to do it that way. Just saying ‘do it’ that way because that's the way it's done is not a reason.

(SB)     Why do you think the ‘do without questioning’ approach to teaching is adopted by so many instructors?

(MP)     Because it’s easy. If you just do exactly what you’re told to do and follow blindly it saves you having to think for yourself. You can then pass this onto your students and just tell them this is the way I was taught it, so do it this way. No need to think and to analyse.

(SB)     And is it still the approach still prevalent in UK karate do you think?

(MP)     I think it is, but its getting better. I will often ask someone why they do a technique in a certain way and still sometimes get the response “because that’s how it’s done”. In my view the emergence of MMA has been a good thing and has caused questions regarding technique, and hopefully these same enquires are being asked in karate dojos throughout the UK. In MMA if your technique is not sound you will be found out very quickly the same is true in other hands on martial arts such as BJJ, wrestling, Thai boxing, boxing etc but in karate a senior grade can hid behind the “because it’s done that way” answer and never have to prove it works.

(SB)     What has your exposure been to MMA training, and how has it influenced the karate you practice and teach, and the ideas you have?

(MP)     I have been training in MMA for quite a few years now. I have been fortunate to train with some excellent fighters including Chuck Liddell and just resonantly Dean Lister. I gained my brown belt in submission wrestling a few weeks ago. I know that there are some poor MMA dojos out there, and you do hear horror stories about instructors who have watched some DVDs then set up teaching, but I have always strived to get the best instruction. What is very noticeable is just how technical the training is. Like karate, you are always being shown little technical details that can make a huge difference. I especially enjoy the groundwork and am always fascinated by just how much there is to learn. Once you hit the floor many of the things you would do in stand-up fighting will get you in big trouble. If you don't know what you’re doing with an experienced ground fighter, you will find yourself asleep or with a broken limb in seconds. I find it an excellent complement to my karate.

(SB)     Leeds Karate Academy has developed an outstanding competitive record. How would you describe your approach to teaching and coaching?

(MP)     I ask a lot of my competitors and I expect them to work hard.  Your competitive career is short in relation to your lifetime study of karate, so I expect my elite competitors to put the effort in. When you finish competing, you should have no regrets, no "I could have been a contender". I am willing to put the work in to develop the training and drills that will hopefully improve the competitors, so I expect the competitors to put the training in.

I have taken the role of JKS England National Coach and again I expect the squad members to put the work in.

Matt Price

(SB)     What is the structure of JKS National training? How often, etc?

(MP)     We run an Elite Squad four times a year. To become part of the Elite Squad, you must take part in a selection and prove you are at the desired level. I also take Open Squad session about four times a year which are held after Sensei Alan Campbell’s excellent brown and black belt training session. The open squads are open to all and are good for someone just wanting to do a bit of extra competition training or those looking to gain a place on the elite squad.

(SB)     And what tends to be the most important ‘focus’ within the squad training? What do you emphasise the most?

(MP)     My aim is make the competitors as well rounded as possible. At the moment, the emphasis is on kumite. I try and show and teach them the skills needed to succeed. Obviously martial spirit is important and developed on the squad, but also a good understanding of tactics and strategies.

(SB)     Can you tell me a little more about the tactics and strategies you feel work best on the tatami?

(MP)     There are many tactics and strategies that can be employed. I try and teach my students to work out what strength they have that can be used against an opponent. If the opponent looks strong, don't try and beat them with your strength, instead beat them with your speed. If they are fast impose your strength on them. If they move well, close their area down. If they are static, move around them. Build your skill base and try and have an answer for any puzzle that is put in front of you.

(SB)     You were involved in the movie ‘Sucker punch’. How did this come about?

(MP)     Joe long who promoted and ran events such as the 10K Karate Clash was involved in the production of the film. Joe asked myself and my good friend Paul Newby (former WKF World Champion, and current assistant EKF national coach) to do a fight seen. We played brothers in the film; I imagine we were asked due to our film star good looks! I am still awaiting the call from the academy awards. It was great fun and the fight screen certainly came across as aggressive and fast pace.

(SB)     Any ambitions to make a repeat appearance on the big screen ha ha?

(MP)     Ha ha. No plans at the moment, but I have resonantly completed Vol 1 of my kumite instructional DVD series ‘Winning Kumite Strategies’. Which I’m very pleased to say has been getting excellent reviews. But if any Hollywood directors are reading this I’m always willing to help out!

(SB)     ‘Winning Kumite Strategies’ is an excellent DVD that I genuinely feel will give many fighters and coaches some valuable material to work with. What prompted the DVD as you have been involved in instructional DVDs in the past haven’t you?

(MP)     Thanks Shaun I'm glad you like it! I have done some Internet instructional footage in the past and a basic karate CD ROM quite some time ago. I was approached by a friend of mine who saw the potential for an instructional DVD that shows the teaching process of the techniques and strategies for kumite. The first volume concentrates on punches and shows many of the drills I use.

Winning Kumite Strategies Volume 1

(SB)     You also have been a part of a series of KettleBell DVDs. What are your views on Kettlebell training for karate?

(MP)     I think Kettlebell training done correctly is a great supplement for karate. The exercises in the ‘Kettlebell Conditioning for Combat Sport’ series focus on building your strength from the core and linking the muscle groups so all the strength gains you make are usable and not just for show. Guy Noble who presents the series is a Kettlebell guru and really knows what he's talking about.

(SB)     The British Karate community recently lost one of its finest ambassadors. You contributed to our article on Randy Williams, but could you please convey what this loss has meant for you?

(MP)     To me it was losing a good friend. I still find it hard to believe that he’s gone. I still expect to turn up at an event and see him there.

 Randy played a great role in my development as a fighter. He always had time for me and always wanted to help. His karate was fantastic but I thinks that the greatest compliment that can be paid to Randy was that he was liked and loved by everyone that new him. I think everybody that new him will still be missing him.

(SB)     Are there any points that I have neglected to ask you about, that you would like to discuss?

(MP)     Nothing springs to mind.

(SB)     Sincere thank you for your time, and giving us such a frank and interesting interview.

(MP)     Thank you Shaun. Keep up the great work with the website!