George Carruthers is a traditional karateka who has trained in Shotokan karate for over 35 years. He is a founder member and Chairman of the International Shotokan-ryu Karate-do Shihankai, a member of the Japan Shotokan Karate Association’s Shihankai, holds a 7th Dan JSKA and along with Mr Charles Gidley, runs the JSKA-GB under the auspices of Keigo Abe sensei. George was honoured by Ozawa sensei in Las Vegas 1994, along with such notables as Mr Kanazawa, Chinen and Mabuni to name but a few by being presented to the officials, spectators and participants of the tournament. He holds a masters degree in health sciences and is well known in his field of expertise, both nationally and internationally with a particular interest in headaches, whiplash and injuries to the martial artist. He has been published not only in karate magazines in the past but professionally in both chiropractic and medical journals. He also holds fellowships in chiropractic, medical and health institutions – David Hall 07
(Dave Hall) Can you please tell me when you first started training in the martial arts?
(George Carruthers) My first experience of martial arts was in my middle teens in my home town of Dunfermline, in Scotland. Like most kids growing up at that time, I found it could be a rough place so I started boxing at a local Gym with a former amateur boxer, sadly I cannot remember his name and I didn’t last long at the club, as I met a lass who was a judoka and I trained for a few months at her club in Rosyth. My attentions were ignored and I therefore, as a fickle male, decided judo wasn’t for me. I then heard about a bunch of guys practicing karate up in the town. I made some enquiries and found myself in a scout hut in Dunfermline’s West End park, walking up and down a rough wooden floor for what seemed like weeks, practicing zenkutsu-dachi. This was my first experience in Shotokan; the club was run by Gene Dunnett who had just made the switch from Chito-ryu along with Jim Wood, to Shotokan under Mr Enoeda. I believe they had both graded under a Mr Webster in Chito-Ryu but had decided to move to Shotokan under Japanese tuition. It is my understanding they had their shodan grades accepted and all future grades were with the JKA.
(DH) I have heard you talk about both these instructors in the past, did they inspire you in any way and were there any others?
(GC) Gene was a dynamic fighter and always trained very hard, he was a member of the Scottish and British teams and produced some good international fighters of his own. I have always had the greatest respect for him and trained with him on the odd occasion over the years. In my opinion he was as good a tournament fighter as they come. Unfortunately work commitments at the time prevented me training on the days that Gene did, so I joined Jim Wood’s club. Jim wasn’t as dynamic as Gene, or maybe he was but in a totally different way, Jim could teach the masses to improve, where as Gene always looked to take the individual to the next level and usually the hard way. Jim was very successful as an instructor and built a large association in the east of Scotland under the auspices of the Karate Union of Scotland (North) headed by the Dempsey’s, Paul and Pat and their father ‘old’ Pat who were based in Dundee. Gene on the other hand stayed with Alex McGregor and the KUS (South) after the split, which was based out of Glasgow. The KUS was the KUGB equivalent in Scotland and our grades came through Enoeda sensei or his assistants of the time. I feel very lucky to have the grounding I had, and I trained with Jim regularly over a 10 year period, with a break of about two years while in South Africa. I then left the KUS when work took me to the Middle East. I still respect Gene a great deal, but Jim, although no longer my instructor will always be my sempai, he taught me a great deal in my early years.
(DH) You mention that one instructor could teach the masses and the other focussed on taking a student to the next level. Now as an instructor yourself, looking back, which do you think is the best approach for an instructor to take and could you please explain the obvious and subtle differences in their teaching method?*
(GC) They both produced some excellent karate-ka and the training was hard, but Gene didn’t suffer fools. If you trained with Gene it was definitely a school of hard knocks but that was reflected in the standard of all his students. His expectations were very high; you trained hard and fought hard or you didn’t train. Jim probably had a more structured approach to training and had a way of nurturing to get the best out of people, something which instilled loyalty in those days. They both utilised the same external examiners for kyu and dan grades so the quality assurance was the same. Jim however, turned professional in the early days and was very successful and he never wavered in his loyalty to Enoeda sensei. I think therefore that both approaches are dependent on the skills and personality of the individual instructor. Gene was a natural fighter and very motivated to give and expect only the best, Jim on the other hand was an excellent communicator and man manager. He was a good teacher who had a natural ability but always worked hard to improve. If I was to be honest, I would like to think that my approach sits somewhere in the middle.
(DH) What about any other instructors?
(GC) I have trained with a great many senior instructors both Japanese and Western, but most of my direct training with Japanese teachers would be under Mr Enoeda, Tomita and Kawasoe, who is still a fabulous karate-ka, then Mr Kase and Shirai for a short while, Mr Sumi and of course Abe sensei. I also was the first person to bring Kenneth Funakoshi to the UK and Charlie (Gidley), Gerry (Breeze) and myself were aligned with him for a short period in the mid 90’s. My main British instructors however would have to be Jim Wood, Charles Mack, and Charles Gidley. I have been influenced by others along the way through such great karate men as Gerry Breeze and Vince Connolly the latter who has sadly passed away now, and with both of whom I ran the British Shotokan Karate Union in the early to mid 90’s, Terry O’Neill who used to run courses for us, Eddie Dixon, my old sparring partner in Scotland and student of Steve Cattle’s and Gene Dunnett, for reasons previously mentioned. Of course you keep meeting some really great karate-ka as you go along such as Paul Allen, Ronnie Watt, Danny Bryceland, Soon Pretorius, Hans Mueller, Deiter Flindt, Tommy Casale, Jan Knobel, Richard Amos, Bob Sidoli, John Mullin and Harry Cook to name but a few, and these guys just make it all worthwhile. There are some really great guys still in the game.
(DH) Do you have any stories of the early years?
(GC) Well I always remember the training in both clubs as being very hard. Hours blocking mae geri with gedan barai until the students were bruised, bleeding and tired and of course the vast numbers of repetitions of punches, kicks and blocks. The 20-30 man kumite line ups or rings, the latter where you had to fight opponents from all directions, sometimes two or three at once, but Jim always had it under control. I also recall when Danny Bryceland walked into Jim’s dojo just after he got his Nidan, I think one of the first in the UK, so that event was a big deal in those days and stuck in my memory.
During kumite training with Alex McGregor in Gene’s dojo, I was present when Alex (Eck) Duncan, another Scottish and British Internationalist and a student of Gene’s, kicked mawashi geri to the face of his opponent in jiyu kumite, took his foot over his opponents head to the opposite side and hit him with a ushiro mawashi geri. A truly phenomenal and controlled technique by an excellent karateka and all in the blink of an eye, sadly Eck’s kicking skills were and still are outside my functional remit. On one occasion in Dundee, the KUS (North) had some ‘light’ kumite organised against Hamish Adam’s Wado-ryu squad, there was smatterings of blood, a few broken noses and mouths, I think Eddie (Dixon) lost his front teeth during these proceedings and on a few on occasions, frayed tempers, yet there was never any animosity afterwards. It was just the way it was in those days, hard training but kept in context and in the dojo.
(DH) That’s an impressive list of instructors in your training history. How does it feel to have trained with the likes of Enoeda Sensei and of course Abe Sensei and what would you say has been the biggest things these instructors brought to your karate?*
(GC) Both instructors are/were special in their own way for different reasons and I feel very lucky to have met and trained with these great men.
So what do you say about Mr Enoeda that hasn’t already been said before? Powerful, confident, a presence, fast, strong, he was all these things and more. I trained with Enoeda sensei throughout the 70’s as a student of Gene’s initially, but predominately at Jim’s dojo or in Dundee. Enoeda sensei was younger at the time, extremely dynamic and the epitome of what we were all trying to achieve. I was far less experienced and as a mere student I wasn’t in the inner circle, so never really spoke to him socially until later on in life. I remember on one occasion meeting him at Heathrow with Gerry (Breeze) around 1995, we had just come back from teaching in Latvia and Enoeda sensei had just landed from Sweden I think, We stood and chatted for 10 minutes or so and then we went for our taxis. I remember thinking then that he was still the ‘boss’ even if we were no longer affiliated directly with him and was still ‘Shotokan’s Chief Instructor in the UK’ irrelevant of our current path. He was just simply Enoeda sensei and deserved total respect for who and what he was. So in answer to your question, what Enoeda sensei gave me, underpinned by Gene to some extent, but mainly through Jim’s instruction, was a strong grounding in basics and a pride in my style and our own karate heritage. I last trained with Enoeda sensei in 1993 in Bournemouth and his instruction was not dissimilar to the days back in Scotland, but as with all good things he had mellowed with age. I am deeply honoured to have trained under the man; he was and always will be one of the very best.
With Abe sensei it is different, he is older than Enoeda sensei was when I initially trained with him and although still just one of his students, albeit with a little more experience under my belt, Abe sensei is kind enough to share his teaching, thoughts and past with Charles and I. He is genuinely a font of knowledge and his understanding of his art has taken him, in our opinion, along the shu-ha-ri path to its end stage. This is another man with presence, dignity and the pedigree and understanding of his art that deserves total respect and to cap it all he has a very approachable ‘father like’ teaching quality which stimulates the student to offer their best. Accepting his age, he is a little less physically able to show the techniques and so he ‘teaches’ them. There is of course a massive difference in presentation and explanation by an individual who needs to and can explain, rather than simply showing what to do. One must assume that his many years as one of the main instructors at the JKA honbu and as a senior instructor teaching on the instructors class, is reflected in his skills and ability to run a class. His understanding of movement and body dynamics is also exceptional and for that he gives credit to his own teacher, sensei Masatoshi Nakayama, who put Shotokan on a sound biomechanical and scientific footing.
What sensei has brought to my own karate, accepting who he is and his place in Shotokan history, is the ability to be able to ask questions, to be able to ask for explanations, to be able to listen to a man who has been there and done it and was part of the process that gave us the Shotokan we know today. Both Charles and I believe that we are in a very privileged position to be taught Shotokan from a direct student of Nakayama sensei and one of the most senior honbu instructors at a time when the JKA was truly the bedrock of Shotokan karate.
(DH) You mention that you were the first person to bring Kenneth Funakoshi to the UK. How would you describe his karate and that connection with his group?*
GC: I met one of Mr Funakoshi’s students when I led a squad to Las Vegas and Mr Ozawa’s tournament and he approached us about bringing Mr Funakoshi over to the UK. I spoke to some senior and very well known British karateka from up and down the country to gauge interest in a visit and Gerry and I brought him over with a view to joining him, which we did. I did an interview on Mr Funakoshi for SKM, which he cleared before publishing and he did some courses in the south, the midlands and up in Scotland for us. Charles and Gerry remained with him for a couple of years after I left, but I chose, for my own personal reasons not to renew my affiliation. He is still represented in the UK by Mr Ron Silverthorne.
(DH) You mentioned that you went to South Africa, what was training like there?
(GC) I initially trained in Benoni at a local club for about a year, in 1975 I think. Chris Antony, who is now with Mr Yahara, was a new black belt instructor there. A friend then invited me along to a club in Germiston run by Derrick and Keith Geyer. This was an experience and it made me realise that strong karate definitely existed outside Scotland. It was through this club that I managed to train with Stan Schmidt. I have since been told by another senior South African instructor that the Germiston club had a reputation as being the South African equivalent to the Red Triangle and they definitely took no prisoners. So when some new guy with a strange accent joined, they wrote his name in felt tipped pen on his gi, in line with everyone else and he became the target for a few weeks. Like all things in life it then settled, they were great lads and in those last few months in South Africa, I trained there as often as I could but not as often as I would have liked.
(DH) We are currently interviewing Keith Geyer at the moment. What was it like training alongside this calibre of karateka and would you care to share some memories from your time training there?*
(GC) Both Keith and Derrick were of Gene’s ilk I think in their approach to training and they were very good instructors. Their classes were hard and both of them were fast with excellent technique with a big emphasis on hikite, they were both exceptional karate men. I recall that we did a lot of sparring then or maybe that is what I remember the most. It is my recollection that they were also training for selection of the Transvaal squad, so for the first few sessions I think I was just canon fodder. I recall fighting, or rather being hit about the head and body on my first night by a young karate-ka, who I think may have had or was going for his Transvaal colours, he was good. Fast and hard mawashi geris and gyakuzukis definitely improved your blocking and tai-sabaki. Anyway, on reflection, I suppose all the good clubs at the time saw the new guy on the block as fair game, it was hard training and although they weren’t unfriendly in Germiston, they definitely liked fresh meat. However, I really enjoyed my short time there; it was very hard but a high standard of karate with excellent instruction, South African karate and in fact Shotokan karate at its very best. I trained with the Benoni dojo, on a couple of occasions in between when I wasn’t working away and if I couldn’t get a lift to train in Germiston.
(DH) Having trained under Sensei Stan Schmidt, how would you describe his approach to karate and can you clearly understand why his name and reputation is respected internationally?*
(GC) I trained with Mr Schmidt only once as a kyu grade and therefore could not presume to comment on his approach in any great detail. I remember watching him and thinking how sharp and precise he was. Yes, I think that described him and on reflection I believe he had excellent hip movements, good hikite, very fast and a very hard man. He reminded me of a taller version of Pat Dempsey from the KUS (North), very sharp and strong. He was a real task master and I was aware that he was a regular visitor to Japan. I was also aware that he had trained with Enoeda sensei a few times and had a very special relationship with the JKA instructors in Japan, and it showed. He had a ‘no nonsense’ sort of presence about him as I recall, an excellent karate-ka. I remember when I came back from South Africa speaking to Tomita sensei about Mr Schmidt and he just smiled and said ’very strong karate’ and one, on reflection, could only agree. Interestingly, although I had an inkling that he was well known in Japan and his home country, I only realised on leaving South Africa just how well known and well respected Mr Schmidt actually was in the international world of Shotokan. I think it was Jim (Wood) who told me that he was called the ‘western samurai’ in Japan, and through his achievements, time has proven that that is exactly what he is.
(DH) I believe that you have trained in a few other styles?
(GC) I have never really ‘trained’ in other styles, more like dipped in and out of them with friends along the way. In around 1980/1, I was invited by Edgar Cairo, a former Dutch Internationalist to train with him at the dojo he trained with in Amsterdam. This was my first experience outside of Shotokan, and the Kyokoshinkai instructor taking the class was a pure gentleman. He gave the class in English and taught me a valuable lesson that you didn’t have to do Shotokan to train hard and hit hard, it was a great night. During the class I did some sparring with him, I swept him a couple of times, hitting him with gyakuzuki as he lost his balance, Scottish Shotokan at its best I thought and he just smiled. I tried it a third time, big mistake and very naïve, he locked his foot, countered the sweep and hit me half a dozen times as I hovered and before I hit the ground. I afterwards found out that he was Ton van Heumen, the Dutch National Coach and a 6th or 7th Dan at the time. So much for youthful arrogance getting you hurt, but he was a genuinely great guy and a gentleman and kind enough to give a visitor a couple of seconds of glory before the bruising started. Anyway we all ended up in Edgar’s bar afterwards, but I cannot remember much after that. Then of course, James Rousseau another great karate-ka, who has a Goju-ryu pedigree as long as your arm, and in fact graded shodan and nidan under Nakayama sensei at the JKA honbu in Japan before switching to train under Mr Higoanna. As a friend, he invited me to one of their gasshukus just outside Birmingham. So I spent a couple of days there with them which included another GKI instructor Len Sim, also a Dunfermline lad, going through kata and kihon. I had however loosely trained with Gary Weber (IOGKF/GKI) at university and with the Chinen sensei both in the US and at a course near Southampton. Unlike Harry (Cook) though, I am definitely no expert on Goju-ryu but I did enjoy the training. I have also exchanged ideas and had the odd training session with other main stream styles such as Wado-ryu and Shitoryu but interestingly there were a few Vietnam vets and Filipino martial artists that I met during my time in Saudi whose approach was slightly different to that of traditional karate. So all in all, these experiences have made me appreciate that the circle encompassing the martial arts is very large and varied. I also trained for a period in kendo for about 12 months and a of bit iaido on coming home, but decided to concentrate on my karate training.
(DH) You are a senior instructor with the Japan Shotokan Karate Association along with Charles Gidley?
(GC) Yes, and Charles, well, what can I say about him, he is not only my compatriot in the JSKA-GB but is both my sensei and sempai and more importantly, one of my best friends. He really has influenced my life and my karate, he is an instructor’s instructor and his knowledge base is phenomenal. I have trained once a week with Charles for quite a few years now and he never fails to amaze me, his understanding of bunkai is extensive and yet he locks himself away in Manchester. I am amazed, it is like having a first edition karate text locked in the attic, he really is a great karate man and well worth his grade. He should definitely get out and do more courses and allow more people the opportunity to train with him, he really is that good. Both Charles and I were graded 7th Dan by Abe sensei in New York last year and as Technical Director and Chairman respectively, run the JSKA-GB for Abe sensei here in the UK.
(DH) What would you say has been the biggest thing he has personally taught and influenced in your karate?*
(GC) As a professional instructor, Charles thinks karate 24/7, he analyses body movement and picks up on the slightest deviation in position or muscle tension in a student. For an individual who is some qualifications in massage and reflexology but is not professionally qualified to any real depth, his knowledge base in the human sciences is pretty good. I feel that he is able to make subtle changes in your positioning which enhances that performance. Some people teach it correctly but do not necessarily appreciate the mechanics, Charles does. Also bunkai in kata, because of his size, his conceptual approach to bunkai is different to mine. He stimulates approaches that I would not necessarily consider and hopefully visa versa. He has influenced my karate in many ways but if nothing else, in the fact that I am able exchange ideas and have my own karate scrutinised by someone of Charles’s calibre. This must be of benefit to any individual during their own training.
(DH) Technically speaking, is Charles still researching and expanding his understanding of the Martial Arts and what is he currently researching?*
(GC) Charles is always researching; currently he is working on the Asai kata and their bunkai, some of it needs to be seen to be believed, but that is a question for him to answer. Currently we are talking to a couple of DVD production companies at present, so maybe something will come of that and his level of expertise will be appreciated by a wider circle.
(DH) And if I repeat the question for you, what are you currently researching in your continued study?*
(GC) Peter Consterdine was kind enough to come down to the leisure centre where we train, to go through some of his training programme. His ability to hit at short range from a natural stance has got to be felt to be believed. His use of biomechanics to induce as much power at the point of contact from as little, but as specific an effort as possible, is remarkable. I am therefore currently working on improving my short range attacks in both speed and power and interestingly Abe sensei’s approach of keeping natural and relaxed until the point of impact fits very well.
(DH) It is obvious that you and Charles work closely together and are very committed to the JSKA?
(GC) Yes, we are a team, and of course Ged Moran is involved as well who is another very good traditional karateka and a really easy guy to work and train with. But the day to day running of the association is carried out by Charles and myself. We are both very honoured to be associated with Abe sensei and the Japan Shotokan Karate Association. This man is a legend, one of the last truly great masters who has a direct Shotokan lineage through Nakayama sensei, to Funakoshi sensei. In fact, although we hear of people claiming to teach ‘Nakayama style’ karate, very few have had the training and tuition required to teach it, nor in fact have they the understanding nor therefore the right, to truly make that statement.
(DH) But Abe sensei has?
(GC) Of course, Abe sensei was a direct student of Masatoshi Nakayama and where many JKA instructors spent only 5 or 6 years training at the honbu, before being sent as Shotokan pioneers and ‘missionaries’ to other countries to teach, Abe sensei trained and taught there almost every day of the year for around 35 years. He was there during, and was part of, the evolution of JKA Shotokan as we know it. He spent many hours with Nakayama sensei, writing many of his thoughts down and was one of the most senior instructors and at many times, the most senior instructor of the JKA instructor’s class, of which he himself was a graduate. He has taught many of the senior instructors in the world today, some heading their own international groups. In Japan, his reputation and standing is such that in the past he has headed well over 50 international delegations and visitations for both the JKA and the Japanese government.
(DH) I believe that he was a great fighter in his day?
(GC) Well yes, many people know the run of the mill stuff which is on the internet about him, his captaincy of many teams, his successes in tournaments and the request by Nakayama sensei, out of all the available instructors, to do the choreography for a James Bond movie. What many people do not know is that he is the fighter that kept the ‘Shotokan Tiger’ at bay. He fought Enoeda sensei, who was already well renowned for his skills, ferocity and strength, in a major tournament. The fight went to 6 enchosen (extensions) with the bout being finally won by Enoeda sensei, but only on hantei (judge’s decision). Knowing Enoeda sensei as we all do, one must assume that this was no easy task, but it does reflect the past abilities of this very humble and knowledgeable man.
(DH) I believe he was the man who devised and formulated the shobu ippon rules when with the original JKA?
(GC) Yes, that is what I am led to believe and at Nakayama sensei’s behest; this was to ensure that the concept of budo as accepted by the JKA was not lost in the tournament setting. Abe sensei was a major player and senior instructor in the JKA. He became a JKA instructor in 1965, then a Director of Qualifications of the original JKA in 1985. However in 1990 when the JKA split into two groups, Abe sensei joined with Asai sensei in the Matsuno faction, where he held the position of Technical Director and in 1999 he started the Japan Shotokan Karate Association. Interestingly, most instructors of any note carry two grades in Japan, one from their national association e.g. the JKA and one from the governing/registering body, the Japan Karate Federation. The JKF grade is usually lower than the association grade and Abe sensei and now as of last month, Mitsuru Nagaki sensei, JSKA Assistant Chief Instructor and Shinji Nagaki’s father, both hold 7th Dan JKF. During one of our discussions, Abe sensei kindly told me that he was one of only 10 karateka ever to have refereed/judged in front of the current Emperor of Japan and the only Shotokan stylist ever to have performed kata in front of him. This is such an honour in Japan and only those who are greatly respected ever attain this. He is also an official instructor with the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, a national instructor and referee for the Japan Karate Federation and a WKF International referee.
(DH) How does his teaching differ from other instructors?
(GC) The man is a living legend and a part of history, when he teaches, what you are getting is Shotokan with a capital ‘S’, it is delivered as it was taught at the honbu dojo. He teaches as Nakayama sensei taught him and teaches as he himself taught in the JKA instructor’s programme, a programme that produced many great instructors. He is one of very few senior Shotokan instructors alive today who can offer this level of instruction. Accepting he has come through an illness he still hits like a train, and his brain is as sharp as ever with his understanding of maai (distancing) and bunkai being quite phenomenal. However, accepting who he is and his standing in the international karate community, he is a true gentleman who teaches that the concepts of karate dictate the way a karateka leads their life, he epitomises the ‘do’ in both karate-do and budo, a great man and a great teacher and the Shotokan legacy, through him, definitely continues.
(DH) You mention his understanding of maai. Could you please elaborate on what he has taught you in this field and how would you describe his teaching style?*
(GC) During his last visit to the UK, Abe sensei talked about the ability to move as the opponent moves, to be able to judge the distance and the timing and to stop the opponent’s technique as it begins. Abe sensei covered the concepts of go-no-sen (taking the late initiative), tai-sabaki (swivelling) and sen-no-sen (taking the early initiative) and working on the importance of good stances and posture in all techniques to ensure proper delivery and stability. Sensei would have Charles attack and just as Charles initiated his strike, Abe sensei would move just prior to Charles’s execution of the technique (sen-no-sen). He watches the opponent, and describes it as feeling the opponent, being in zanshin, always aware. For me therefore it is the ability to pick the rhythm of the opponent up and react with the opponent rather than against them. It is about maintaining control within a controllable area allowing you to react, before, after or during the opponents strike. It is therefore about choice and maintaining your control of that choice.
With regards Abe sensei and his teaching methods, here is a man with so much to give, so much knowledge and experience and we are just scraping the surface I think and although no spring chicken, he still moves very quickly and is solid and strong in his techniques. His method of teaching is descriptive in the respect that he likes detail; it is repetitive in that he will teach, show, allow participation and then if any faults are found, rectify, then go over again, but always detail.
(DH) I have heard that you have had a bit of a tournament history yourself?
(GC) Well I have fought in a few tournaments through the years, under both shobu ippon and WUKO rules, but not to the standard of many others. I have fought on national association teams and instructed and refereed in Europe, America and the Middle East. I was one of the first westerners to lead a karate delegation to include Charles (Gidley) and Gerry (Breeze) into Rumania just after Ceausescu fell. Tournament wise, I do remember fighting the Saudi national Tae Kwon Do champion in the Dhahran Open Tournament two years in a row, but with different people holding the title. I was disqualified in the third round the first time around being accused of kin geri, but video footage of the time showed the kick was above the belt and he clearly had his stomach wrapped around my foot before bouncing on his buttocks across the floor. That is not saying the guy was any slouch, he was a very competent fighter as one would expect and had scored an excellent wazari with a mawashigeri combination prior to this, but I thought at the time that the disqualification was a bad ruling. The next year I was working out and stretching in the gym prior to the tournament and a Saudi lad dressed in a thobe and gutra (Saudi dress) approached and asked if I was George Carruthers, the guy who had bruised his friend’s stomach last year? He then introduced himself as the new Saudi national champion and that he was looking forward to meeting me in the competition. So it just goes to show, I possibly should have been disqualified for bad control anyway. I met this lad, both in the team event and in the individuals. If I remember correctly, I beat him in the team with ippon and we took third place that year, but I was beaten, fair and square in the individuals. I recall that both lads went on to win the tournament in their respective years. Interestingly, I also had the opportunity to fight Dan Anderson, the then reigning World Free Style Champion in a demonstration match in Abqaiq, Saudi Arabia, around 1980. He was kind enough to say to me afterwards that he had fought many top contenders who were much worse, but thought they were much better and that I had been a formidable opponent. I took it as quite an accolade from the man, accepting his standing at the time, or maybe he was just being polite. In general however, I was definitely no Frank Brennan nor Gene Dunnett, but I thoroughly enjoyed my time on the floor.
(DH) What is your favourite kata and why?
(GC) I used to dislike kata in my younger days; I preferred the oyo/jutsu approach to Shotokan as I have always felt karate was a martial art which could be used in real life situations. Then through ongoing badgering from people such as Eddie Dixon, Gerry Breeze, Vince Connolly and then Charlie Gidley, I have for years really enjoyed it. I think it is the footprint of our style, it is very personal and everyone does their kata slightly differently depending on many variables. As long as you feel the kata within the constraints and rhythm of the kata itself, that is ok. Yahara sensei is an excellent example of a man who feels kata but doesn’t necessarily look pretty doing them; it is the feeling of the kata, which supersedes the kata itself I think, yes, good stuff.
My favourite kata, well I have three, my first choice being Hangetsu, because as a big guy I like the ibuki breathing and natural tension in the kata. My second is Nijushiho, which is a kata that allows you to get lost in its movements and interpretation. It is an excellent kata for both attack and defence interspersed with fast and slow movements, I really enjoy the experience of performing it and my last is Sochin, John Mullin’s favourite kata, which is in part a bit similar in emphasis to Nijushiho, with its fast dynamic, and rhythmic power, augmented with focused, slow deliberation and impact, another kata to get lost in.
(DH) You have experience in the primary health care field. Can you please tell us in what way this experience has influenced your practice of karate?*
(GC) My profession has helped my karate in two ways. Firstly my understanding of anatomy, physiology and biomechanics allows me an understanding of the body’s function, how to optimise that function and what would cause it to be dysfunctional. This allows me, hopefully to better understand the concept of optimal movement for maximum effect and secondly if you know what improves the body’s function, you also know what causes dysfunction. This covers my interest in oyo kumite/karate jutsu.
(DH) Karate today is taught with a bigger understanding of good biomechanics than many years ago. What advancements have you personally seen in regards to the way karate is taught to protect the body from self-induced injury?*
(GC) I think that a better understanding of exercise physiology and biomechanical stresses has seen the removal of exercises which most certainly has caused damage in the past, such as bunny hops, duck walks etc. Because of the amount of children in the classes now, better warm up and cool down regimes and an improved awareness of the difference between those below the age of 19 and those above with respect to fully formed skeletal structures. I think this has been a great step forward in the education of the majority of instructors and their understanding of sensible teaching plans. Obviously this can only help ensure that the chances of damage in later life is reduced and therefore less damage increases the functional longevity of the individual and gives them the ability to train longer if they so wish. Also an understanding of good biomechanics can reduce the stress on the joints in training. The knee for instance, by using the correct muscles at the right time, one can limit the possibility of maltracking through incorrect positioning and muscle tension. So research and a sensible approach to training is of course very important especially as we live in a litigious society. I do think however that it is just as important not to wrap students in cotton wool. This surely limits the karateka’s progression and therefore their understanding of the art in its traditional form, if that is the type of training they are after. You cannot really hit or appreciate the outcomes unless you have been hit yourself. I have met quite a few karate men who look good in a gi and some who do not, but who in my opinion, would struggle in a real life situation. Self experience is therefore worth 100 didactic lessons and karate after all is surely still a martial art, with all the contact required to make it so.
(DH) Which areas of the body do you think are the trouble spots that regularly get damaged through unsafe training and can you expand on how we can make training safer?*
(GC) Professionally, most of the non-traumatic cases I see are knee and low back problems, occasionally shoulder and then elbow and these usually occurring through incorrect warm up regimes, bad posture or lack of good functional control in training. Of course it is also important to realise that not everyone is anatomically capable of moving or functioning like Frank Brennan. Instructors should be aware that a good teacher must have the ability to improve the student, to take them in a sensible manner, through good instruction, to their own personal limit and build on that, Jim Wood and Charles Gidley are excellent examples of good instructors who understand these concepts. Safe training is therefore sensible training, and sensible training must be good for the student. I do however believe that, as in all things now and in the past, although common sense must always be used in the dojo, training must reflect that traditional Shotokan is not simply an aerobic exercise; it is, as said previously, a martial art.
(DH) What does the future hold for you?
(GC) I have committed myself to supporting Charles and Abe sensei in the JSKA-GB and JSKA respectively and I see a continuing and very great future for the JSKA itself which just keeps getting bigger ...and of course to keep training as long as the body and mind will allow.
(DH) Thank you for our interview and congratulations on being invited into the JSKA Shihankai.
(GC) Thank you on both counts and thank you for taking the time to interview me, oss
* - Questions by The Shotokan Way