JAPAN SHOTOKAN KARATE ASSOCIATION
‘Eye of the Tiger’
An interview with Charles Gidley 7th Dan
Traditional Karate Magazine May 2006
By Antony Davy
The Japan Shotokan Karate Association (Great Britain) (JSKA-GB) is affiliated directly to Sensei Keigo Abe 8th Dan, in Japan. The Japan Shotokan Karate Association (International) itself is over 7 years old and continues to be one of the fastest growing international Shotokan groups in the world today. It was founded by Abe sensei, a former Japan Karate Association (JKA) Director and senior instructor, on the 10th February 1999 and has many affiliated groups worldwide.
Antony Davy (AD): Gidley Sensei, may I ask you a few questions, can we start with what is your role in the Japan Shotokan Karate Association (Great Britain)?
Charles Gidley (CG): Of course Tony, I am the Technical Director of the organisation, which means that it is my job to ensure that standards are maintained and that the teachings of Abe sensei are passed down correctly to our students and instructors. Of course, this is a role which cannot work without the support and involvement of both the JSKA-GB Executive and the other instructors within the group. I am also responsible, as team coach, for training the squads for our many events throughout the year and especially for the JSKA World Championships in New York, this coming July.
AD: So you are basically the Chief Instructor of the association, is that correct?
CG: Far from it, and for two very simple but important reasons. The first is that the JSKA already has a Chief Instructor in the form of Keigo Abe sensei, so we do not require another and secondly, I work very closely with my very good friend and partner in crime, George Carruthers sensei the JSKA-GB Chairman, without whom much of this would not have been achieved. We compliment each other, both as karate-ka, and members of the executive but most importantly as friends. So there is no Chief Instructor of JSKA-GB, it is run by an executive committee of 7th Dans and that is appropriate I feel. The other Executive member is Ged Moran sensei who is our Executive Secretary.
AD: I would like to come back to both these people later if I may, but to continue with my train of thought can I ask just how large the group is, and how exclusive is it?
CG: The JSKA-GB has in its membership a few groups with the largest being the British Shotokan Kyogi and we are in excess of 2000 strong, which for a British single style organisation is quite large. We are however dealing with quite a few enquiries at present from karate-ka, instructors, and groups up and down the country, so who knows what the future will bring.
We are an inclusive association, any Shotokan karate-ka, dojo or group can join, they will maintain their grades as long as they have received them from legitimate groups with either Japanese or Western heads. Their standards will be assessed as normal at their next grading, which we would help them prepare for. If there are any weaknesses, we are there to offer guidance and support to ensure the standards of the individuals and thus the association, are maintained and upheld. We are here to continually raise standards and allow progress of our members, not to hold them back. There is plenty room in this organisation for Shotokan stylists that want access to good instruction and support.
AD: I believe that you were with the World Traditional Karate Organisation (WTKO) under the auspices of John Mullin and Richard Amos Senseis is that correct?
CG: There is no ‘were’ about it, we, the BSKI are still affiliated to the World Traditional Karate Organisation, along with a few other groups in the UK. The WTKO, which is run by our good friends John Mullin and Richard Amos senseis is a strong international group with excellent standards and instructors involved, many of whom are our mates, so a nice atmosphere. In fact it was through Richard that we decided to join Abe sensei’s group.
AD: So your choice of affiliation to Abe sensei, was influenced by Amos sensei?
CG: In part, as we deeply respect Richard’s judgement, but both George and I have trained with him in the dim and distant past and have great respect for the man, so it was an easy decision to make when we, as a group decided to align with a Japanese instructor. Also at the JKA European Championships in Holland in 1998, he was kind enough to comment on the high standards of my students. So he already knew who we were and what we could do. But besides that, the man’s pedigree is spectacular, he began training in karate and judo at age of 15 and in 1958 he entered the original JKA honbu dojo. He trained directly under the auspices of a young and very powerful sensei named Masatoshi Nakayama who was to become Abe sensei’s personal teacher and grandmaster until his demise in 1987. Abe sensei went on to complete the JKA instructors class and graduated in 1965, progressing in 1985 to became JKA Director of Qualification’s and from 1990, he was the Technical Director of the JKA (Matsuno section along side Asai and Yahara senseis). A position he held until retiring from the ‘JKA’ on 31 January 1999, at which point he started the Japan Shotokan Karate Association.
AD: Pretty impressive, and was he also rated as a tournament fighter?
CG: Yes, Abe sensei is no slouch and was very accomplished in the tournament arena. He took 3rd place in the first JKA National Championships. He was the captain of the Japanese team at the second World Championships in Paris, France. He won 1st place at the JKA international Friendship Tournament in 1973, and took 1st place in the second and third JKF National Championships as a representative of Tokyo. So he was a highly rated and dangerously competent JKA fighter in his younger days. It is also suggested that he was responsible for devising the original rules for Ippon Shobu competition in a manner which preserved budo through the concept ‘killing with one perfect, decisive blow’. Abe Sensei is a karate-ka who appreciates and embraces Shotokan’s Okinawaan roots and the deep concepts of budo in Shotokan karate, a concept both George and I really enjoy. This is reflected in his own understanding, performance and teaching of kata. He has a structure in place within the JSKA that enhances growth and high standards, rather than impedes them. We are very proud to represent him in Great Britain.
AD: I heard somewhere that he choreographed in a James Bond movie once at Nakayama sensei’s behest, is that right?
CG: Yes, that is not well known, in fact it was ‘You only Live Twice’. Abe sensei had great respect for master Nakayama and he is reported as saying the Nakayama was the only man he would ever call sensei. Another thing that is less known is that Abe sensei is from a samurai family, with his forebears being bushi (warriors). In line with his heritage, Abe sensei himself has been practicing with the katana (iaido) for well over 30 years. He is a remarkable individual.
AD: But you have a quite few personal achievements yourself, do you not?
CG: Well that is really kind, nothing like Abe sensei of course, but my achievements are more to do with the people around me I think, I have always had tremendous support from both student and instructor alike and seem to manage to get the best out of them or, in the past to have received the best instruction. George, who is no mean karate-ka himself, is often embarrassing me by telling people that I am an instructor’s instructor, whether that is true or not I cannot personally say. It is difficult to see oneself as others perceive us, I just do my best. On reflection, I think I have been very lucky with my own students and their calibre, many of whom have taken places in championships both home and abroad. We also have within our group many senior grades that I have trained from beginners, such as Ian Newsham and Marc Leacock to name but two, both with international and national titles under their belts. I have also had a few students on the squad during my time as a KUGB instructor such as Bob Maher, and again Ian and Marc spring to mind, the latter two fought beside Richard Amos on the junior squad prior to him going to Japan.
AD: So can you give us a little of the background of the three senior instructors in the JSKA-GB, which includes yourself?
CG: Well I started karate when I was 22, but before that I had boxed since the age of 7. I was lucky enough to be taken under the wing of my uncle, Jackie Brown, former World Flyweight Champion. So that was my first introduction to a martial art but more importantly I was taught how to understand and assimilate not only my own body movement, but that of my opponents. This has stood me in good standing and helped with my understanding and teaching of karate, especially kumite. At the age of 22, I started training in Wado-ryu under Danny Conner and Tatsuo Suzuki senseis, but changed to Shotokan in 1966 under the late Terry Eaton sensei (the first Secretary of the KUGB). I was a founding member of the Karate Union of Great Britain under the guidance of Keinosuke Enoeda and Andy Sherry senseis, where I stayed for 22 years. I regularly fought in the KUGB nationals at Crystal Palace in kata and both team and individual kumite but although we did very well, we were up against some serious opposition as you can imagine. I left the KUGB in 1988 and formed my own association, the British Shotokan Kyogi (International) under the auspices of the British Karate Association whose squad I ran, some would say successfully, from 1988 to 1992. The BSKI became a stand alone group in the latter part of 1992.
AD: Did you ever train at the Red Triangle?
CG: Yes, on a number of occasions, training with the KUGB squad and seniors of the day, but most vividly when under Enoeda Sensei I took my nidan and sandan grading's there, it was hard work but very enjoyable. I have a lot to thank Enoeda sensei and Sherry sensei for, they gave me a great grounding in the style, but we all have to leave home sometime.
AD: You are a member of the International Shotokan-ryu Karate-do Shihankai as well are you not?
CG: Well yes, in fact George, Ged and myself are all involved, along with a number of other senior Shotokan figures internationally. This reflects many long and in-depth conversations George and I had with other karate-ka over the years and is based on the concept of retaining Shotokan as a martial art, rather than a sport. It is by invite only to Godans and above.
AD: You have also travelled quite a bit to teach and referee?
CG: I have quite a few affiliates outside the UK and have taken teams, taught and/or refereed in the USA, India and into Europe on quite a number of occasions. Interestingly I was one of the very first ‘western’ karate-ka to teach in Rumania after the fall of Ceausescu in the early 90’s. That was something else, these people were learning from books smuggled in from the west during the communist regime, and were still better than some of our home grown people. It was like going back to the ‘old days’ when people like George, Ged and I started. They had a thirst for knowledge, fire in their bellies and a willingness to train hard. They were tremendous people.
AD: How did you get out there so soon after the dictators’ fall?
CG: Through George, he had his own association at the time and had affiliates in Rumania as well as a few other countries overseas. He was invited to teach out there and was accompanied by another BSKU instructor, Gerry Breeze sensei, and was kind enough to invite Bob Maher and myself to accompany them. This was the first time I had seen George teach on a course. He really knows his stuff… his academic background; I think he has a master’s degree as a health professional, gives him an in-depth knowledge of anatomy. Tie that in with his years in Shotokan….and you have a man who is both dynamic and devastating. That is why I like our weekly training sessions; I like to think we both get a lot out of it, and a few bruises to boot.
AD: You have a few qualifications yourself though, which also gives you insight into the way the body works?
CG: I have qualifications in sports and therapeutic massage, reflexology and shiatsu, which gives me a reasonable understanding of the body, but George, works with it on a daily basis and knows his stuff. Also in December 1994, I attained my NVQ in karate and I am currently an external assessor for the RSA (Royal Society of Arts). Until the dissolution of the EKGB and the formation of the new body ‘Karate England’, I acted as the BSKI/JSKA-GB’s external assessor for the EKGB towards the EKGB instructor’s certificates. I was also lucky enough to have been honoured by my peers through my name being added to the ‘Combat’ Hall of Fame in 2002, the World Martial Arts Hall of Fame 2002 as "Senior Shotokan Karate Instructor of the Year." and the ‘Instructor of the Month’ from the World Traditional Karate Organisation 2003.
AD: It is pretty obvious that you have a great deal of respect for the JSKA-GB Chairman, George Carruthers sensei, 7th Dan?
CG: Well it is easy to respect George, you have met him; he just has a presence. One of these people that exudes confidence, but unlike some where that confidence may be misconstrued as arrogance; he is a very likable and straight down the middle sort of guy. He is an excellent and well respected karate man, with a reputation in his younger days for his kumite. He has been around for a long time, and that sort of says it all really. But that is not what you want is it?
So I first met George over 15 years ago through a mutual student, Vince Connolly who was 4th Dan at the time I think, when they both lived in Bournemouth. I had of course heard of him way before we met, this was excluding his many ‘Trad’ appearances’ at the time. George was Chief Instructor to the British Shotokan Karate Union (BSKU) in those days, with a few thousand members both at home and abroad and quite active on the national and international scenes. His background is through the Karate Union of Scotland, a sort of KUGB equivalent north of the border which was also under the auspices of Enoeda sensei. He started training in late ’71 with Gene Dunnett and then Jim Wood sensei. I also know he trained in South Africa for a few years in the mid ‘70’s, and then on his return to Scotland rejoined the KUS with Jim Wood. He finally left them when he moved to the Middle East, where at the time there was not a lot of JKA coverage. He was with Charles Mack sensei for a while in the 80’s, while in Saudi Arabia, before starting his own association.
AD: Jim Wood I have heard of, isn’t he the JKA Chief Instructor for Scotland, but Gene Dunnett, not sure who he is?
CG: Yes, George speaks very highly of both these individuals and in fact Charles Mack sensei. Jim Wood sensei is a 6th Dan instructor from the JKA, and interestingly I am led to believe, is the only JKA instructor with a special license directly from the JKA Japan to grade in Scotland. So yes he is by virtue of that licence, the JKA Chief Instructor for Scotland and in fact currently heads the JKA World Federation-Scotland. He is an excellent karate-ka, I met him when he brought a team down to George’s tournament in Bournemouth, the 1st Funakoshi World Championships, a really nice guy. As for Gene Dunnett, he fought for the British team in Long Beach, California in the 70’s, and was a regular on the Scottish squad. George rates him alongside Frank Brennan as a fighter .....he thinks he was that special.
Going back to George for a minute, what has always impressed me about him, outwith his knowledge and his skill, is that even when he travelled with his job, wherever he was, he still trained and more importantly graded. Most of us have graded in our own associations, ones we grew up in as it were, so we all had a relative comfort zone. Yet here was a guy, a stranger in town, putting on his gi and stepping up to the wire and taking whatever was thrown at him. He has stories when he trained in some of the foreign dojos led by some very well known instructors, especially in South Africa, where as a rather big guy with a Scots accent, he was seen as fair game, but I think he held his own, (big smile). It kind of mirrors some of the stories relating to the Red Triangle around the same time. He has my respect and friendship.
AD: I believe that George is part of the BSKI as well as holding the Chair of the JSKA-GB, is that correct.
CG: Yes, when George came up north to the Sheffield area, he and a chunk of the students left the BSKU and went with Kenneth Funakoshi sensei’s FSKA. However, we all have either had or heard of past experiences with senior instructors which go wrong. George unfortunately fell in the former category and he decided that he had, had enough of the politics and just wanted to continue to train in Shotokan and concentrate on his professional career, both of which he is very successful in. He has been with me for quite a few years now, we train every week together and in fact we both graded for our 6th Dans in 1996 with Yoshikazu Sumi sensei 8th Dan when he came over to the UK from Japan. As Chairman of the JSKA-GB, he is kept pretty active with his integral role in the association but he still very much enjoys his personal training. He is well known as a highly reputable, well travelled and knowledgeable instructor, and I am glad he is on our side.
AD: So that leaves sensei Ged Moran sensei, he is the Executive Secretary of the JSKA-GB and also a 7th Dan in the organisation
CG: Yes, Ged and I go back a long way and have been great friends and stable mates throughout our time in the KUGB and beyond. He is currently a 7th Dan with us. He began training in Shotokan karate in late 1967 at the Red Triangle in Liverpool. This was under the guidance of Andy Sherry sensei, and of course Enoeda sensei. He become a professional instructor in 1973 with 9 dojos in his organization (Shotokan Karate Association) and became known as a pictorial historian covering many of the KUGB national events. This eventually led to the formation of his martial arts video company, Legend Television. He resigned from the KUGB in 1988 due to an ever increasing workload but continues to teach worldwide. Ged is very flexible and a natural athlete, and is still a very well known exponent of Shotokan kata. He is, in my opinion, an instructor of high regard with a strong understanding of his art.
AD: He has just released the Brennan years?
CG: Yes he has, Frank is a one off and interestingly there wasn’t much footage of the earlier fights, but I remembered having some 35mm footage on a reel in the loft, which is the rather ancient stuff at the beginning of the DVD. Unfortunately, none of the footage anywhere, in my opinion, does Frank justice…you really had to have been there. But a great DVD of a great man never the less.
AD: I am aware that for years, George and yourself get together to train for a couple of hours on a weekly basis, and occasionally Ged joins you. Can I ask what sort of things you cover when you get together?
GC: We do a lot of kihon, kata, and bunkai and occasionally kumite. We feel that in the main within the kata are enough kihon and kumite technicalities to keep us going. George calls the Shotokan kata the footprint of the style and I agree with him. Some weeks we will work on stances, on where the hip is in relation to the foot and whether the front or rear hip initiates movement, some weeks we discuss whether the technique requires spinning on the heel or the ball of the foot or what techniques fall within the kata, whether they are throws, breaks, locks, strikes or blocks. The biomechanics of the best way to generate power in both blocking and striking techniques, whether these are in a static position or during movement. We spent a whole session discussing whether the front or back foot should move as we move into the grab, prior to the 360° turn into the penultimate kokutsu dachi in the kata empi (migi sho gedan ni oshidasu/hidari sho jodan tsukami-uke). We looked at this technique from the position of the bunkai as well as the kihon and what the technique could be used for, the points of contact, the anatomical structures involved and the stresses on those structures at the time. We usually use the 5 heian kata as a warm up then; move on to what we have decided to cover. Probably similar stuff to most other senior grades out there, we both enjoy it.
AD: I have watched you and George during your weekly sessions on a couple of occasions and am living proof of how a slight change in direction and the specificity of the strike, even when done lightly with control, leaves a residual pain which lasts for days?
GC: Yes, we discuss and work on a lot of that stuff; both of us have a longstanding interest in the oyo/jutsu side of things as we feel that karate, and for us most importantly Shotokan, is a martial art based on the concepts that is budo. So as traditionalists we tend to keep well away from point scoring and sports karate, this is neither where we want to be nor how we teach.
AD: Can I ask your opinion therefore on the new unification that is Karate England?
GC: George and I have discussed this at length and appreciate and understand that many people have concerns, I think there was a full page letter in ‘Trad’ recently which covered most of them, but we feel that there are a lot of good people at the top and we must wait until the dust settles if we truly want to see English karate unified. They should be given a chance, so let’s see what happens with time. Communication and common sense is the key in all of this, from all sides.
AD: Ok, so in summery, what does the JSKA-GB have that all the other Shotokan groups out there do not?
CG: Well, we obviously have many similarities to other mainstream Shotokan groups but what makes us different is that we have quite simply and primarily… Keigo Abe sensei and the strength of the JSKA internationally, then in the UK, George Carruthers, Ged Moran, and myself along with a 2000+ strong family in Great Britain alone. We are a group with exceptionally high standards and a welcome to any individual or group who is serious about training in traditional Japanese Shotokan karate, with an organisation which has a lineage back to both Funakoshi and Nakayama senseis.
AD: Thank you, for your time sensei, one last question, is it true that you are teaching on the master’s class which coincides with the JSKA World Championships in July ‘06?
CG: It has been a pleasure, and yes both George and I have been asked to teach on the Masters class in New York by Tommy Casale sensei, 6th Dan, Technical Director of JSKA-USA. So see you there, I am led to believe there are a great many countries represented at the tournament, I am sure it will be a good bash, to coin a phrase.
AD: Thank you sensei, oss
CG: Thank you again Tony, oss
For more information on the JSKA-GB or Sensei Gidley:
JSKA-GB Honbu: 18 Gordon Way, Darnhill, Lancashire, OL 10 3PP, Great Britain.
Tel/Fax : (44) 01706 621 640 , Email: JSKAGB@aol.com, Website: www.jskagb.org
Sincere thanks to Mr Antony Davy for so kindly allowing us to use this interview