(Shaun Banfield) Can you please tell us a little about how you first got started in karate?
(Ged Moran) Well, in the mid 1960’s I stared Judo at a Manchester dojo, and one evening after finishing the judo class, I noticed a karate class start. I decided to watch the class and was suitably impressed. The instructor was a guy called Trevor Casson and he was a 1st kyu – pretty good grade in 1967. Well, the rest is history, I was hooked and started training in Shotokan the very same week.
(SB) You spend a great portion of your training career under the KUGB, who were your main influences at this time?
(GM) Well, I was very fortunate in meeting Andy Sherry about a year after I had started training. I was a 7th kyu by then having graded under Kanazawa and Enoeda. Andy came to do a course and after that session, I was well and truly hooked. Wherever Andy Sherry went to teach, if I could get there I would be on that class. Eventually I reached 3rd kyu under Andy and started teaching at the KNK Manchester, and it was then that Andy suggested I open my own dojo. That was in 1970 and karate was really catching on in the UK and before long I had three dojos.
(SB) How would you describe Andy Sherry’s teaching style, and what were the main focal areas of his teachings?
(GM) Andy invited me to start training at the Red Triangle’s morning sessions, and it was then that I realized how devoted Andy was to the art. He never asked anyone to do anything he didn’t do himself, and his energy and effort just inspired everyone to do their best. The training was at times scary, but never brutal. I haven’t seen Andy for some years now, but he is and will always remain my sensei.
(SB) Were you lucky enough to train under Enoeda Sensei?
(GM) Yes, we used to have Enoeda sensei and Tomita on alternate visits to my Salford dojo, and of course when he was at Liverpool. There were times when he could scare the Hell out of you, and then he suddenly laugh and…. Wow what a relief. However, when he was dealing with the KUGB squad, he was truly awesome. I used to watch the squad sessions and my respect for both junior and senior fighters was boundless. Those sessions were usually four hours in duration and it was four hours of the hardest karate I’ve ever seen. Enoeda was relentless and if anyone didn’t give their all, they were dropped from the squad: it was as hard and fast as that; no excuses.
(SB) What kinds of things were emphasized in these squad sessions and who was on the squad at this time?
(GM) Typically, there would be about 90 minutes of basic punching and kicking techniques, first solo then with a partner, finally moving into jiyu kumite. This period was tough because there was no let up, the squad was kept on the go all the time with no ‘take a break’ until the 90 or so minutes were up. There would then be a break for about 15 minutes, which barely allowed the squad members to regain their breath, and of course just long enough for them to begin to stiffen up! They would then be called out in two’s – typically Frank Brennan against Ronnie Christopher, and then the bloodletting would begin. Although points were noted, there was no ‘totting up’ the fights were just kept going, sometimes fro four and five minutes, until they were near to exhaustion. Even the girls had to endure this, Karen Finley and Jane Naylor, or Julie Nichols and Christen Pullen, the whole thing could get real scary, even if like me, you were simply watching. Sensei Enoeda had said that he wanted the squad to go through the same training regime that he had experienced at the JKA. There’s a clip of one of theses squad sessions on The Ultimate Aim DVD and I recall a former USA team member saying, after he’d watched the clip, “This is savage, these guys are fighting for their lives.”
(SB) Through your years at the KUGB, you must have been exposed to many great karateka from Japan. Can you please tell us who you were exposed to during this period, and how made the biggest impact?
(GM) Well as I’ve already said, I trained under Kanazawa, Sumi, Tomita and of course Enoeda – all great karate men. I recall that Kanazawa was so flexible he could do a jodan roundhouse kick in the Empi kata, where the rest of us managed with our knee raised to our elbow or at best a front kick. Sumi was a little guy but full of dynamite, and was always willing to spar with the seniors. Tomita was also very dynamic and a great kata man - I always enjoyed his classes. But….. Enoeda was The Man.
(SB) Did you ever attend the Crystal Palace Courses ran by the KUGB? If so do you have any particular memories from these courses and what impact did the varied instructors make?
(GM) No, I never went on the Crystal Palace courses, I somehow never managed to get a full week free. I used to go down with the Salford Shotokan teams on the Friday, for the nationals. I did hear some of the ‘non karate activities’ that took place after training; from the Liverpool lads, but I’ll pass on those little stories as I’d like to go on living a little while longer!
(SB) Many people criticise Shotokan, and indeed karate as a whole for being unrealistic for street situations. Did you ever have to employ your karate skills in a street fight?
(GM) Well, anyone who believes that ought to take a look at the old KUGB squad-training clip I mentioned earlier, that’s as close to the real thing as you can get. There’s an organization called the British Combat Association that’s run by Peter Consterdine and Geoff Thompson, both former traditional karate men, Geoff JKA 3rd Dan Peter SKU 6th dan. Now this organization is aimed at threat awareness and street combat, indeed Peter and Geoff created a four part video programme called The Pavement Arena – not something for the feint hearted. These two men are world-class names in the area of personal protection; Peter a professional bodyguard and Geoff an award winning author and self defence expert. They are both personal friends of mine, and both have stated many times that the combat level of Shotokan in general and the KUGB squad in particular was highly respected.
Yes, like many other karate exponents I have worked a nightclub door. Although I had no particular favourite technique, if I had to hit, it would be a snap punch followed by a sweep. Five of my former students are still doormen and anyone of these men will vouch for the efficacy of Shotokan ‘in the street’.
(SB) You are of course famously known for Legend Productions. Could you please tell us a little about why you decided to start such a company?
(GM) Well I used to go abroad with the KUGB whenever I could, and it was Geoff Wilding (KAMAE) who suggested I take a video camera with me and record the KUGB squad in action. Video cameras were in their infancy then, so I bought the best unit available and started to record some of the (blood baths) lads and ladies in kumite and kata. We now use digital cameras costing thousands of pounds, but in those days the equipment was primitive by comparison. However, the fighting was so dynamic it made up for any shortcomings in the picture quality. But now, with the advancement of digital technology, we are able to boost the picture and sound quality of that old footage to a level that is more than acceptable, and in some cases it’s hard to believe that you’re looking at footage that’s 30+ years old.
(SB) Do you think Legend has met the objectives you set for yourself?
(GM) That’s hard to answer. I have always tried to match the quality of the karate, with the same high level of production values. Legend Productions now has access to television professionals and of course a full-blown professional editing suite. Working with professionals and proper equipment makes the task easier: it’s not cheap, but then again, neither is the karate action!
(SB) Legend looks at the past of Shotokan Karate, where do you see Shotokan in particular going in the future?
(GM) I wish you hadn’t asked me that one. I’m about to set myself up for some angry responses, or flame mail. The WKF style of karate is, in my opinion, a million miles away from the karate I learned. I can stand outside a nightclub on a Saturday night and see that kind of action (or brawling). I take nothing away from the athletes; there are some terrific fighters and they’re very fit. However, when I see a fighter leaping up and down, waving his fist in the air because he or she believes they have scored a point, I wonder where the dignity has gone. In all the 21 years I was with the KUGB, I never ever witnessed a display of bad etiquette or insolence to the officials. We’re talking here about some of the world’s best, and yet they all behaved in a very dignified manner; just as Funakoshi’s maxims require. There have been times when I have screamed from the sidelines at the most biased decisions against the KUGB. The most famous example being at the ESKA championship in Istanbul when the referee had called yamae and as Frank Brennan relaxed and dropped his guard, his opponent smashed Frank in the mouth, loosening his front teeth. This was a full two or three seconds after yamae. The German referee simply called yamae again and never even cautioned the other fighter. I shouted some very uncomplimentary remarks at the referee, only to have Andy tell me, in no uncertain terms, to be quiet. Incidentally, Frank went on to win in masterful style, and then shook hands with the other fighter before having his teeth looked at by the doctor.
But, to come up to date, we recently had a crew at the JSKA world championship in New York, and the WKF rules were in use for most of the event. We ended up with hours of footage that was completely unusable – fights that were little more than brawling matches. As a result we never went to edit with the stuff – the programme was never made. Having said that, there are some excellent dojos in the USA – and we’ve had the opportunity to film in a good number of them. Richard Amos’s Honbu dojo in Manhattan is a good example. In fact we have made promotional videos for several top class instructors in the USA – Richard Amos, John Mullin, Tommy Casale and Steve Bowkowski. These guys practice outstanding Shotokan and it so refreshing to see traditional standards being maintained. The videos we produced have been shown on USA cable TV, which is very gratifying in that it reflects both the high standards of the karate and the video production.
(SB) You mention Sensei Richard Amos and John Mullin of WTKO. How would you describe these instructors and their organisation?
(GM) Well, John Mullin is a man I have the highest respect for. He trains for an hour, five mornings a week at 6am before starting his regular job as a New York City schoolteacher. Then teaches at his dojo four evenings a week and a class on Saturday and Sunday. John also attended the JKA for several years and that should tell you a lot about the man. But you know Shaun, he’s so very modest, and reminds me a lot of Andy Sherry in that he prefers to simply get on with his training, with little interest in rank and politics. I train under John, and if I get the chance; Richard Amos whenever I’m in New York. John and Richard run the WTKO in a manner that is based upon good solid Shotokan. By that I mean you simply can’t join the WTKO from another organization and expect your rank to be instantly recognized – you have to prove your ability.
I have been at Richard’s Manhattan dojo many times and the dojo itself is unbelievable, you have to see it to understand what I mean. It’s just inspirational: nothing fancy, but a beautiful floor as well as mirrors and bags, but on top of that, there’s Richard Amos. I think Richard would be about five when I began training and it might seem odd when I say I learned so much from him, but it’s true. I recall doing a technique that I had been doing my way for many years, and Richard stopped me, pointed out something that I had never thought about before, and the technique improved a great deal. His ability to spot things like that makes him a fine teacher and a guy who I have great respect for. He’s also a walking encyclopaedia of the correct use of Shotokan terminology and protocol, as well as being fluent in Japanese. And I have to mention that he has a great sense of humour.
(SB) I watched footage quite recently of a fight, and half the way through the fight, one guy came up to the other, nose to nose in an undignified manner that belittled the spirit of karate. How do you think this would have been dealt with in your generation of karate training?
(GM) I was a qualified KUGB referee and I can tell you now, that depending on the degree of improper conduct, I would have at least given a public warning and more than likely, if the prevailing rules allowed; disqualified the person. Charley Naylor was the man who conducted the KUGB judges/refereeing courses and constantly drilled into us that proper conduct and dignity of both fighters and officials was highly important.
(SB) Considering the world of karate today, how are you looking to ‘change with the times’ as far as Legend goes?
(GM) Legend will never change. The reason we are successful is due to the fact that our archive is rich in the style of fighting that is traditional: sanbon or shobu Ippon. I believe that if the WKF type of karate gains more popularity, it will be at the expense of traditional karate standards. It wont be the death of good Shotokan; there are still a lot of top class associations out there, but they will sadly become the minority. This point came up recently when we were in a meeting with Harry Cook. As you know Shaun we’re working on a documentary about Harry Cook and he’s really switched on and very aware of the influences of WKF style of competition. His view is that if you want to do sport karate, WKF is fine. If you want to do Budo – then you’re a real traditional. Harry believes there’s room for both, I’m not so sure – but then again, I am not going to argue with Harry Cook!
(SB) You are now a part of JSKA GB, can you please tell us a little about the set up of this organisation, and what drew you to this organization?
(GM) Charley Gidley and I have know each other and been friends for some 40 years, we both started in Shotokan around the same time, although Charley had been doing Wado for some time before that. He and George Carruthers invited me to join them, and as I had all but stopped teaching professionally, and no longer had my own dojo, I said, “Yes, thank you.”
(SB) How have Charles Gidley and George Carruthers influenced you and your karate?
(GM) O.. they both keep telling me my stances are too long and then they proceed to beat me up – that’s the influence they have on me…! (Laugh) But seriously, we’re all three of us too long in the teeth to start trying to alter each other’s way of doing things. We get together and train usually each Wednesday in Manchester, and then enjoy a meal (usually at George’s expense – and being as he’s Scottish, that makes it all the more enjoyable!!)
(SB) As far as your personal training goes, what are your own personal aspirations?
(GM) I still work out most mornings, either at home or at the local fitness centre. It’s mostly cardio vascular work and lots of stretching, followed by (if I’m at the fitness centre) 20 minutes in the hydro pool and then a bloody big breakfast! I still love to do kata; I enjoy it more and more as the years roll on. It’s invariably when I’m on my own that I enjoy it most: there’s something about kata that’s deeply personal, and some times, there’s a feeling of accomplishment that’s so special. The next time you do the same kata, there’s something missing and you keep on trying for it, but it’s simply not there all the time. I was talking to Harry Cook about this and he said that such moments are like ‘trying to grab smoke’ – you know it’s there, but you can’t just get hold of it. I’ll continue to train until I my Zimmer frame becomes too much of a handicap!
(SB) What’s your favorite kata and why?
(GM) Nijushiho – I love it, and there’s never a week goes by that I don’t go through it. I can’t really tell you ‘why’ except to say that it just feels right for me, and I just enjoy doing it over and over – never get tired of it.
(SB) One last question Ged, what has Legend got lined up for 2007?
(GM) Well we’re well into pre-production with the Harry Cook profile, and we’ve just completed the Ian Roberts profile. Next year we plan to do the Gary Harford profile as well as profiles on George Best and Ronnie Christopher. These profiles on former KUGB squad members have proved enormously popular. We have already done profiles on Elwyn Hall and Frank Brennan, as well as Karen Finley and as I’ve said Ian Roberts. I think they’re so popular because of the strong and excellent fighting styles they had. I read on the Shotokan Way forum recently that someone believed that some of the modern fighters would easily beat the likes of Frank Brennan and other KUGB fighters. Well, I don’t see any video programmes being made about these people, and if they’re that good, why not?
I have to also mention that 2008 is likely to be a really exciting year. The JSKA World Championships are being held in Manchester, and it’s likely to be a real blockbuster. With entrants from South Africa and the USA and South America, as well as the 19 European who are already committed, it’s sure to be good. I understand that Abe Sensei has indicated that this time there will be no WKF category, and obviously I’m pleased about that. Although I’m sure there are lots of WKF enthusiasts who will say I’m wrong in my opinions about WKF, they have to consider that if we are to make a good programme from the proceedings. We simply can’t make a silk purse out of the proverbial sours ear.
(SB) Can We just say a huge thank you for this interview and all of the support you have generously provided to our project!