During my own years at Enoeda Sensei’s London dojo, I was lucky enough to train and compete alongside some fantastic Karate-ka and none more so than ‘the big man’, KUGB and JKA 5th Dan - Craig Raye Sensei. Blessed with the speed and technique of a man half his size, Craig has been involved in Shotokan Karate for close to 30 years and even now, he still trains weekly under the watchful eye of Masao Kawasoe Sensei. It was a pleasure for me to interview such a renowned British karate-ka who I am fortunate enough to count as a good friend. I hope you enjoy the interview as much as I did – Paul Herbert (March 2007)
(Paul Herbert) Thanks very much for agreeing to do an interview for The Shotokan Way. I know that you started training in 1978 at the Budokwai Dojo in London and moved to Kawasoe Sensei’s dojo the following year – What initially got you into Karate, what was the training like in those early days and who were your first influences?
(Craig Raye) My interest in Martial Arts was originally inspired by the movies of Bruce Lee, James Bond and even Elvis Presley. I wasn’t alone, as at my school, Holland Park Comprehensive the Kids had “Kung Fu” fights in the playground - these were real fights with kung-fu sounds thrown in!
In the 1970’s I was doing gymnastics at the Polytechnic in Regent Street, London. They had Kung fu and Tae Kwon Do there, but at the time I couldn’t afford the suits or joining fee, so instead I joined a boxing club in 1976.
I finally started Karate at the Budokwai Karate Club in 1978 – when I could afford the suit! My first instructors; Herbert Noel, Paul Louis, Allan Wallace, and Ceaser Andrews were all excellent teachers. They taught good basics and focussed on lots of kumite training. The main kumite class was on Sunday with 15-20 black belts there, as a white belt I would spar with them, sometimes for around 45 minutes to an hour.
When I joined Sensei Kawasoe’s Dojo I continued to train at the Budokwai. The Budokwai was a very open minded club. Whilst I trained there they also invited many instructors from other associations and styles, including, Vic Charles, Tyrone White, Meji Suzki’s Team Mugendo, Andy Sherry and Bob Poynton. A coach trip to Liverpool was arranged and we trained at the Red Triangle with Frank Brennan and also trained at Terry O’Neil’s club on The London Road.
These were great times, students and instructors were more open minded in their approach to training, before “politics” and the business side of Karate started getting in the way. The instructors mentioned above have all had a very big influence on me.
(PH) What was it like sparring with the likes of Kawasoe Sensei and Dave Hazard, and also getting to watch them fight each other in the dojo?
(CR) When sparring in the Earls Court Dojo we were most fearful of Sensei Kawasoe and his Mai Geri. Before the class started he would kick the bag on the Dojo for around half an hour. I’ve never seen anyone kick a bag like him. When we sparred with him he would try and get you in a corner so you could not escape, and then he would nail you with his Mai Geri, I could never block it.
Around the same time as this I sparred with Sensei Dave Hazard, the first time was the most frightening. Dave called me over and I thought ‘Oh My God, what have I done’, as in those days if a student got out of line Dave would put them in their place! I sparred with Dave for about two minutes, it seemed like an hour, but his control was fantastic and he just helped and encouraged me. Looking back I realise how lucky I was at this time, Sensei Kawasoe was obviously a qualified JKA 6th Dan instructor and Dave was a KUGB national champion. The atmosphere at that Dojo is the best I have ever experienced.
When Sensei Kawasoe and Dave used to spar they were very cagey with each other. It was obvious they had a mutual respect for one another, and it was fascinating to watch.
(PH) Can you tell us about your trip to Japan with Kawasoe Sensei, and am I right in remembering that the late Steve Cattle was with you over there?
(CR) That’s right. My first memory of my visit to Japan with Sensei Kawasoe was meeting Sensei Nakayama in a market place where he was picking melons. Sensei Nakayama then invited us to his Dojo to eat them, he seemed like a really nice man and very humble.
Sensei Nakayama took us to the JKA Dojo and Sensei Yahara was there although he was not training. When we walked into the Dojo, Sensei Tanaka was sparring with Malcolm Fisher. I was late for the class, as I had to pay a visit to the JKA doctor to have some stitches removed from my face, which were the result of Sensei Kawasoe and myself being attacked in London before leaving for Japan. When removing the stitches the JKA Dr. said “first time free, second time pay !”. We trained under Sensei Omura. After doing some basics, Sensei Omura decided that we had to choose a partner and put them on our backs and practise all the Heian Kata’s. My partner was Bob Smith from Yorkshire who was 6’3 and roughly 15 stone, we were training in 90 degree heat that day – we were not impressed, nor was Sensei Kawasoe who was very annoyed. We had come to the JKA to learn, not to see how heavy our partners were. We learnt nothing from this exercise.
We then went to T. Tsyuma’s brothers Dojo in Kyoto to train, it was situated at the back of his house. One of the Japanese students training in the class became a JKA Kumite Champion. I didn’t have a partner in the class so I trained with Sensei Kawasoe, which was a really great experience.
The last session we had was at the university which finished with a two round friendly, Steve Cattle gave a really stirring speech reminding us that we were representing England and that we must put our heart and souls into it all. At the training session there were students and instructors from Goju Ryu. Sensei’s Tabata and Tomita were there who we knew from England and Sinji Akita was also training in the class. In both team fights I fought third, Steve fought first. It was a great honour to be in a team with Steve who was an England International and National Champion and someone who I admired and respected. In my fight I fought Sensei Aregane, who became an international instructor. Sensei Kawasoe was urging me to punch, I caught Aregane with a Jodan mawashi geri, and I got a Wazari. He just kept backing away after that and I won both my fights.
Japan was a great experience but a bubble had burst, I was expecting every Japanese Karate-ka to be as good as Sensei’s Enoeda and Kawasoe but they weren’t. I think the UK has produced some of the best Karate-ka in the world.
(PH) Next year will see you enter your 29/30th year as a member of the Karate Union of Great Britain. What do you think has made it such a worldwide respected organisation over the years?
(CR) The KUGB were lucky enough to have had Sensei Enoeda as their Chief Instructor until his death. As well as being a great teacher known throughout the karate world, he also had great drive, which in turn with the KUGB’s achievements gave the association the recognition it receives today. Almost all of the senior KUGB instructors are also international competitors, which in my mind gives the KUGB credence and credibility. Sensei Enoeda used to say, the KUGB members were like his extended family. Sensei Sherry, Sensei Enoeda’s student for almost forty years, has carried on in his footsteps, which is why I am proud to say I am still a KUGB member.
(PH) What was it like being on the KUGB England squad during a time that can only be described as a ‘golden era’? Who was alongside you on the squad during your time there and what was the squad sessions like under Sensei’s Enoeda and Sherry?
(CR) In 1981 the Earls Court secretary told me Frank Brennan had asked if I was interested in joining the junior squad. I was a first Kyu at the time. On the junior squad were Frank Brennan, Ronnie Christopher, Ian Roberts and Gary Hartford who were all now senior squad members but stayed on the junior squad for a year before joining the senior squad. There was also Miles Draper, Glen Davison and the Turner brothers. Andy Sherry took all the classes, the standard was very high and to this day they were the hardest classes I have ever taken. Andy is a great instructor. Years later I spoke to Elwyn Hall who feels the same way about the classes and Andy Sherry. We did lots of Kumite drills and the line-ups were really tough. In one of them you had to stand with your back to the wall and face everyone in the Dojo in a line and you had to make your way to the other end, blocking and countering the attacks. Some students could not get to the other end and I even saw one student cry, although he was very young at the time and it was a tough experience for anyone. I heard a story that someone was actually pushed through a window in a line up!
I had the pleasure of having Frank Brennan and Ronnie Christopher in a Kumite group of three, loser stays in. I stayed in the whole time.
At my last KUGB squad session, George Best and Richard Amos attended, I think it was Richard’s first session. He told me years later that he took my place to fight in Yugoslavia. It was a great squad, with an amazing spirit - those classes were legendary.
(PH) In those days, were the squad trainings held exclusively at the Red Triangle dojo? I know that over the years many ‘southerners’ felt travelling up to Liverpool always gave the local fighters home advantage – did you ever feel this?
(CR) To motivate yourself when you’re based in London and have to travel to Liverpool for the squad sessions was very hard. My main income was working Monday to Friday on the railway and then working on the door of a nightclub Friday and Saturday nights until 2:30am. Squad sessions were Sunday mornings, and I didn’t look forward to them, plus I was training 4-5 times a week in London - but they had to be held somewhere.
After I had been on the junior squad for a few years I joined the Marshall Street Dojo. Around ‘85-‘86 Sensei Enoeda started to recognise me in the Dojo. He first asked me;
“Can you drive?”
“Yes Sensei I can”
“Ok, I invite you Liverpool…you drive me”
Great! Not only was I worried about the three hours of hell during the training session, I also had the pressure of driving his car, it was not good for my stress levels.
We did have one senior squad session that was held at Marshall Street, everyone from the national squad was there. Myself, Elwyn Hall and Roy Tomlin attended from Marshall St. There was definitely home Dojo advantage, especially as we knew where the hospital was! There is a definite psychological advantage when you’re in your own neck of the woods.
(PH) If we can just rewind back prior to your squad days - when did you first train with Enoeda Sensei and what was so special about him that saw you spend the next 19 years as one of his closest students?
(CR) When I was a purple belt I borrowed a brown belt so that I could attend on a black and brown belt course in Cardiff. We were doing Bassai Dai, my foot was in the wrong position, Sensei Enoeda shouted at me three times “move your foot”. He glared at me and I at him, I couldn’t move. He walked away and said what I came to hear many more times through the years; “so stupid”, I really miss those words.
Sensei Enoeda was a great teacher even after many years of training with him he would point something out that I was doing wrong. He had great charm, charisma and most especially a great sense of humour. When you were training you felt you might die trying your hardest for him, most people I’ve spoken to felt the same. Sensei was a man’s man, he also had a bad temper, it was part of his personality. Outside the Dojo he was always getting clamped, when I walked in on these nights he would have a face like thunder, I’d say “Hello Sensei” and he would just grunt. He’d always give an extra hard class on those occasions but afterwards he would be fine. Once when playing golf with two Japanese ladies they asked ‘how come he loses his temper?’ and I would respond that at the end of the day he was just a normal human being, this is also a part of his personality that made him real.
(PH) During all my years at the dojo, I never saw him as comfortable with anyone as he seemed around you. What do you think gave yourself and Sensei such a special bond?
(CR) In or out of the Dojo I never let him down. I always looked forward to seeing him, wherever it was, this feeling never went away. At times I saw him every day, playing golf two or three times a week, training four times a week and this was over nineteen years so I developed a strong bond with him. At Marshall Street, and especially when he moved to the Budokwai he wanted to see a familiar face, so I made sure that I attended every class that he ever did at the Budokwai. In his last years we would always go for a drink or a meal after training, this made us very close. Julian Mead pointed out to me some years ago that to Sensei my Karate ability was secondary even though I was one of his senior students in his Dojo, it was my commitment that was important. These things made us very close. He saw that I had character and that I was also a bit rough around the edges. I think he liked people with personality rather than those that said yes Sensei, no Sensei and three bags full Sensei, like a lot of people around him did.
(PH) I remember speaking to Terry O’Neill and Dave Hazard and both of them said they questioned if they could continue training after Sensei’s death. Did you feel this way, or like me, were you motivated to train even harder?
(CR) I’ve spoken a lot to Dave (Hazard) and also a little bit to Terry (O’Neill) about it. No, I never feel like giving up, I just wish Sensei Enoeda was here, he would never have wanted anyone to give up training especially students of his, like Terry and Dave, who he was proud of. When I first knew Sensei was ill, I never thought that he would not be coming back. I think Dave and Terry, like a lot of other people, felt quite cheated not being able to see him just before his death. It was such a shock and so unexpected. I was lucky enough to see him right until he went to Japan to get treatment, he phoned me about a week before he left for Japan.
(PH) In 1997 you were part of Sensei’s club team that won the KUGB nationals and then in 2003 you coached the team to the same title again, only 28 days after Sensei passed away. How did the two winning feelings compare - knowing how proud Sensei was of his London dojo and students?
(CR) Having trained and competed at Marshall Street for nineteen years, I know the team Kumite meant so much to Sensei Enoeda. Being in the team in 1997 and coaching in 2003 both feelings were the same, we just wanted to do it for him. They were both dreams that came true. His push and drive for the club to win the KUGB Nationals never faltered. Being in, and representing his club, as competitor and then coach will live with me forever, I hope we did him proud.
(PH) Now that some time has passed and there has been some time for reflection, how do you view the events that took place after Sensei’s death involving the JKA/KUGB and subsequent formation of JKA England?
(CR) I feel the same now as I did then, Mr Ohta was very popular and I feel there was no reason for him to leave; he could have carried on making a very good living in the KUGB as a JKA representative. He also would have been able to branch out more than he is allowed to now. Sensei Sherry and the KUGB were shocked and very disappointed at the way in which he left and especially so quickly after Sensei Enoeda’s death.
I’ve always been proud to say that I’m a member of the KUGB, which was affiliated to the JKA, after all Sensei Enoeda who was here with the KUGB for 35 or so years was one of the most senior JKA instructors in the world and Andy Sherry was his student. I now have a very low opinion of the JKA, they showed obvious prejudice against the KUGB and Sensei Sherry. The JKA wanted Mr. Ohta to become Chief Instructor of the KUGB, even though Sensei Sherry has been training and teaching almost as long as Mr. Ohta’s been alive – work it out for yourself. I know it’s made the KUGB an even stronger organisation, I have always been proud to train with the Japanese as well as all of the senior British instructors. This is unlike Mr. Ohta’s organisation, where they seem to be dropping like flies.
(PH) Would it be fair to say that you always endured a ‘strained’ relationship with Mr Ohta and a simple tolerance of one another whilst Sensei was alive? What do you feel the reasons were for the type of relationship you had with him?
(CR) I wouldn’t say we didn’t get on, just that we didn’t really hit it off. I joined Marshall Street after leaving Sensei Kawasoe’s Dojo, which wasn’t over anything major. It seemed to make Mr. Ohta a bit uncomfortable that I was from Sensei Kawasoe’s Dojo.
Mr. Ohta taught very basic classes, sometimes too basic considering the whole class would be black belts. I would come out of most of his classes feeling very frustrated. Sensei Enoeda did teach basic classes but you would always come out feeling knackered and exhilarated.
I found Mr. Ohta very negative in the classes, he came up to me once and said ‘Craig, calm down’, I wouldn’t mind but this was just going up and down the Dojo punching and kicking thin air !. People like me, Elwyn Hall and Assai Adjadj, would find it best to try and find a student to pair up with who had a good attitude. In the end I got scared to pair up with anyone I didn’t know, he made me worried to make any contact at all.
(PH) You are now back training regularly with Kawasoe Sensei. How would you describe his Karate in 2006 compared to the early years?
(CR) Sensei Kawasoe was then and still is now technically the best I have ever seen, but his knowledge now and the way he puts it across is brilliant and so interesting, he’s also very approachable to questions.
(PH) Over the years, how have you blended the influences of Sensei’s like Enoeda, Kawasoe and Hazard to suit your own Karate?
(CR) I’ve just tried to remember what they’ve taught me and apply it; I know I’ve been lucky being in London and to have the opportunity to train with these people on a regular basis. Dave has obviously been able to put his viewpoint across from a European perspective.
I realised from an early stage that obviously I’m a different build to these instructors mentioned, but I just try to copy to the best of my ability the instructors I respect. The three instructors you’ve asked me about are all unique in their own way. Recently I have thought I’ve not had many instructors of the same physical stature as me, only Terry O’Neil and Bob Poynton are possibly similar and they are both great instructors.
(PH) I’ll always remember Sensei telling me to watch you if I wanted to see how to kick really well. What advice would you give to all the prospective ‘kickers’ reading this interview?
(CR) When I joined Sensei Kawasoe’s Dojo he use to do loads of Hiki ashi training, knee lifts from Zenkutsu Dachi and we would sometimes do a hundred or so. I believe that it is this training that made my kicks very sharp.
It was pointed out to me, I think by Dave Hazard, that the Japanese had a very fast knee lift from the floor whereas Europeans tended to be quicker on the second part of the kick after we’ve lifted the leg from the floor, that difference of speed also applies to hikite (punching) as well.
In my opinion a lot of students make the mistake when sparring of trying to kick too correctly. As a brown belt I sparred with Vic Charles and he kept catching me, one reason could be because he was very good and a world champion, but it was also because I was used to blocking more technically correct kickers, which just didn’t work against Vic’s more unorthodox style. You should be able to kick both ways, I learnt from Dave Hazard to kick from different angles when sparring. Students should always try to hit a moving target, i.e. a human body.
(PH) Do you think that Karate is relevant in the modern world? Some would say that an antiquated art from the last century has little meaning today and that MMA (mixed martial-arts) are really ‘where it’s at’.
(CR) I think Karate is still relevant in the modern world, but people’s attitude is completely different to when I started. The students training years ago were, in my opinion, tougher and more up for a good tear up. Looking back I realise most of the people doing karate when I started were drawn by it’s fearsome reputation as a fighting art, these were guys who may have already done some boxing, doormen, builders etc – tough people who came to train with a tough attitude. As karate has grown in popularity it has attracted a different sort of student, drawn more to the “philosophical side” of the art, and as a result this has led to a change in teaching methods, some would say less brutal – but I feel personally that we have lost something along the way.
My hero’s were Terry O’Neil, Dave Hazard, Bob Poynton, Bob Rhodes, Billy Higgins, Ticky Donavon, Joe Farley, Steve Cattle and Frank Brennan. They all looked like they could have a tear up both inside and outside the Dojo. When you use to watch these people fight in competitions (and later on Ronnie Christopher, Ian Roberts and Elwyn Hall as well), you felt the danger when you watched them compete. I think Matt Price and Julian Cunningham have carried on that tradition in the KUGB.
The KUGB still practises tough karate with a tough attitude, a lot of the pioneers of karate in this country we knew of or had heard of had real fights at times, that is what made it exciting. Now in some associations, if it’s heard that you actually have a real fight then it is frowned upon and you would probably get thrown out. With that attitude put across why are they teaching karate and advertising it as self-defence? It should only be advertised for Kata, Kion and Dojo Kumite and the word self defence should be taken away. If I was younger I would have loved to train and compete in the Ultimate Fighting series, Chuck Liddell is my hero in that sport.
(PH) And what of Kata’s relevance? Do you feel that Kata is still en essential part of Karate-Do and what would you class as Craig Raye’s favourite kata and why?
(CR) Kata is essential, it’s what makes me feel that my karate is complete and when done properly is incredibly hard on the body and is always a good mental test for your mind and memory.
As for my favourite Kata, it’s the shortest Kata that I can find to do! Seriously though, Sochin is probably what suits me best and was one of Sensei Enoeda’s favourites.
(PH) What has been the single best piece of advice you have ever received within Karate and from whom?
(CR) I can’t say I’ve been given one single piece of really good advice, but when I do need advice or direction the first person I will call is Dave Hazard. Firstly, because I respect him deeply and because he is hardly ever wrong in his advice to me. Secondly, Dave’s seen and heard it all. Everything he says is always spot on.
(PH) Congratulations on you excellent instructional DVD’s which continue the teachings of Enoeda Sensei. What do you feel is the most important thing you stress as an instructor?
(CR) To try your hardest in the Dojo or competition arena.
When teaching, if I see students not trying, I think why bother turning up when everyone else is trying. When I use to teach at Marshall Street I found the lower grades to brown belt generally had a better attitude, they didn’t care who was taking the class as long as they enjoyed it. There were a lot of black belts there who thought that they should only be training under Sensei Enoeda or Ohta, one of them used to say how proud she was to be British but would never train under British instructors. I will train under anyone if they take a decent class, so should everybody else who enjoys karate.
(PH) Just finally, are there any points or subject matter that you’d like to comment on that I’ve neglected to ask you?
(CR) As you know, around 3 years ago after Sensei Enoeda died I was unhappy that Mr. Ohta had left the KUGB and put myself, and a lot of people in an awkward position. Thankfully Mr. Ohta helped me by cutting me out of the Budokwai where I was training and teaching. My main reason for writing a few things commenting on that period is simply because I’ve been asked to, and also to clear up any confusion other people may have. An example of that was when I went to the KUGB National Championships, a lot of people thought I had gone with Mr. Ohta and his association.
At first I thought about giving up Karate, I lost a club that I had been training and teaching at for nineteen years. Nobody in Mr. Ohta’s association really cared about that. But I have since come to realise that it could not have worked out better. Sensei Andy Sherry has been very supportive whenever I’ve trained, seen or spoken to him. I train and teach in the KUGB and also train and teach at Sensei Kawasoe’s club, who has also been very supportive.
Thanks for asking me these questions.
(PH) On behalf of myself and The Shotokan Way, thank you for an excellent interview and best wishes for the future.