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Paul Herbert 5th Dan
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Paul Allan 7th Dan

The way of the ‘Celtic’ warrior

 

 

An Interview with Paul Allan

 

 

(George Carruthers)     When did you first start karate and with whom?

 

(Paul Allan)     I started in Shotokan around 1970/71 with my first instructor, Ronnie Watt in Aberdeen. I can vividly remember my first class at the school of Domestic Science by Queens Road. Ronnie was teaching, assisted by Brian Bothwell, both of whom being amongst the first black belts in Scotland and of course at that time, registered through Enoeda sensei to the JKA.

 

(GC)     What are your memories of the training in those days?

 

(PA)     The first night I was dragged to the class by a friend, who was a green belt. It was the time when "odd job" featured in the Bond Movie ‘Goldfinger’ and there was a huge interest in the ‘mystical’ martial arts. There were 120 people in the first class I went to, which as you know, was not abnormal in those days.

 

I was so dehydrated after that session, I remember I cycled to the Short Mile Pub in Aberdeen and drank 6 pints of Lager!  I soon realized that this was not a good way to progress and for the next 6 years I drank no alcohol and changed my diet completely, I lost 2 stone in 2 months.

 

(GC)     What was the training like?

 

(PA)     Training was fantastic, well you will remember the old days, demanding, with no compromise. Ronnie was an inspiring teacher absolutely dedicated to Karate. I now look back at the old training regime and realize just how brutal it was, but that was the way it was back then and it produced some excellent karate -ka.  I remember a guy called Mike Turnbull, walking along the line, kicking students in the stomach to test their resolve and I can see by your smile George that Dunfermline was no easier.

 

But those were still the best I think and you had a great instructor.

 

Yes, fond memories, and I have a lot to thank Ronnie for and I am glad to say we became very close friends. I would be training five nights a week and there was always some Karate event at weekends to attend. But then he always demanded the same high level of commitment from his students that he gave himself. I remember that even after training with him for 6 years, when I opted out of a training session because my feet were raw with blood blisters, he did not accept my excuses. His mother was an absolute gem and put up with all our madness, I cannot count how often she fed me or gave me cups of tea. 

 

We were training four nights a week with some event on most weekends. One old dojo, Woolmanhill in Aberdeen had a bad roof and in winter there would be ice patches on the floor. We had a dojo in Keith and the only heating was a gas ring in the kitchen! We also travelled a huge amount including trips to the Crystal Palace courses in London twice a year.

 

(GC)     When did you open your own dojo?

 

(PA)     Soon after starting I opened a Dojo for Ronnie at the College of Education where I was a student. We met every lunch time and trained together, I am sure people thought we were gay. I remember we wore long black leather coats and cowboy boots and carried our Gi tied with the belt over our shoulders and walked like John Travolta.

 

The Cowboy boots came from "R SOLES" in the Fulham Road, London where we used to visit when attending the summer camps at Crystal Palace, I was in London last year and visited the store, and the guy even remembered me and yes I did buy a new pair ….

 

I also used to train in London on occasions as John Anderson from Aberdeen was an instructor at the Budokai in London. This is now the dojo where Ohta is currently based, and I used to visit him and train there. It was during one of these visits that, as a brown belt, I trained with the legendary Eddie Wichard just after he returned from Japan.

 

(GC)     Now there is another British legend, what was Eddie like?

 

(PA)     He was an excellent teacher, what I remember was that he left one no doubt about his strength of technique, he taught in a very straight forward manner. I was very impressed and enjoyed the chance to meet him.

 

(GC)     I believe you initially started fighting in the University circuit?

 

(PA)     Yes, as a yellow belt I fought in my first International competition in the Universities league. During the competition I faced one of my first instructors, Brian Bothwell, who broke my nose. At that time the rules were less soft and he won. He was in one camp and I was in another in less than 2 years after I started training but we always stayed friends. Can you imagine anyone fielding a yellow belt at that level of competition these days?

 

Anyway, Brian, or maybe it was his father, used to make Makiwara stands, I still use the one I got then, today. We used this in our daily training and to train for tournaments and we would pound the Makiwara, 200 strikes per hand, open wounds were not an acceptable reason to stop. We would train on a Sunday morning, up to our waists in the waters of the North Sea lifting each other on our shoulders while doing kihon, yes all good sensible stuff, but it made us who we are today, so no regrets!

 

 

(GC)     Ronnie’s Group was affiliated with Enoeda Sensei, who did your first grading?

 

(PA)     My first grading was under Andy Sherry, then a 2nd Dan and a KUGB grading examiner.  Andy was, and is an inspiration; he is completely dedicated to Karate. I remember being astounded at his speed across the dojo while demonstrating the combination he was teaching. I was lucky enough to be awarded a double grade on that first grading. However, it is a sad reflection on the KUGB just how little the grading examiner group has grown in size, even since that time. Look at how many good people, we both know George, have left the KUGB out of frustration, your good friend Charlie Gidley and the magnificent Ronnie Christopher, to name only a couple.

 

Anyway, I digress, after five years of intensive training I passed Black Belt. Malcolm Hogg from Cammachmore passed on the same day, and it was a great feeling, as I know you can appreciate.

.

(GC)     Was Enoeda Sensei your first Japanese instructor?

 

(PA)     No, the first Japanese instructor I met and trained with was Mr Kanazawa. He was a brilliant instructor and very polite, unlike some of the Japanese who followed. I arranged for him to conduct his first Tai Chi class in the UK in the early 70’s, in Aberdeen as it happens. Eventually Ronnie and I felt that he had became too "expensive" and we had to stop inviting him up. Over the years I had a lot of exposure to Japanese instruction as we were growing up in the dojo, the influence of the JKA was of course very strong in those days, as I am sure you will remember.

 

(GC)     You competed for some years, what are your memories?

 

(PA)     Well the truth is I did ok in Scotland, but never made much individual impact in the European scene. I have some reasonable results in the KUGB Nationals though. When I was competing there were two world governing bodies, WUKO and IAKF. Even then the politics were a mess and because there was lack of unity, Karate was kept out of the Olympics. To gain separate recognition for Scotland as a country we put forward a case in the 1970s, in Belgrade, which was then in Yugoslavia. This was when I first met Dr. Milorad Stricevic whom I have recently re-met. It was during the IAKF meeting that Mr Nishiyama, who was chairing the congress, said that they would accept Scotland as an independent nation in the tournament, if Ronnie & I fought the next day. So we did and although we got no worthwhile placements, we did gain the recognition for Scotland to be represented separately from England…and I am sure as a fellow Scot you can understand our elation on achieving that status for our country.

 

(GC)     Yes, politics have caused a lot of problems but it is usually driven by ego and finances, even when we started.

 

(PA)     Yes I agree, my first licence was a KUS licence but very soon after that, the KUGB Scottish Region re-formed. Even in the early 70s the politics were strong and the commercial influences a major factor in how groups became structured.

 

In my hometown of Aberdeen, politics stopped everyone from getting together. One could blame the Japanese and the factions within those groups, but we allowed it to happen and in fact some people still do. Just look at the plethora of Japanese led groups that still exist. How ridiculous to be led by individuals who a) have no unity within their own ranks and b) are placed due solely by their race.  In the old days, karate was in its infancy and we were naïve, when the Japanese started to visit we were in awe of them. We had never seen such dynamic technique. Now, things are so different, all the countries in the world have top level instructors and the Japanese no longer have the monopoly, in teaching ability, experience or technical ability. Some people still need to grow up and have confidence in their own abilities. Don’t get me wrong, there are some Japanese instructors that I hold in very high regard, but unfortunately my experiences have led me to lose respect for the Japanese instructors and I have very little interaction with them now, although I will be at the JSKA World Championships in Manchester in August to support you guys (smiles).

 

(GC)     What do you regard as being your main achievements in your Karate career?

 

(PA)     Well George, I mentioned the international recognition for Scotland already, but one of the big achievements I made was to bring all the Scottish “Enoeda” groups together, we ( the KUGB ) hosted a meeting at Crystal Palace and everyone signed up to a document whereby everyone became able to train at “Enoeda” courses, irrespective of which group was the host. At the end of the meeting one of the group leaders, a prominent Scottish karate-ka said “OK let’s go and make some money now” which for me, was not quite the intention of the agreement!

 

(GC)     The KUGB was in its prime then?

 

(PA)     Yes, within the KUGB we were somewhat protected by the strength of the organisation and the high quality of the senior group, however the other side of that coin was that many people in the KUGB did not get to experience the teaching of instructors from other styles and types of martial arts. Personally I never worried and trained with lots of different instructors and disciplines which I know you have as well, and I believe it has made my karate stronger for it.

 

By doing this I was able to encourage others to have an open mind and this I regard as being a major part of any contribution I have made to any student.

 

(GC)     You had quite a large dojo in Scotland, if I remember correctly? 

 

(PA)     Yes, I was very proud of my dojo in Huntly, Scotland. I bought a furniture warehouse from Jonny Gibb, one of my brown belts and converted it into a full time Dojo. I had around 16 regular Black Belts who all had a key and could train there any time. I produced over 80 Black Belts during my time there.

 

Then I spent 3 or 4 years training with Ian Roberts, who in my eyes is a brilliant karateka at his St Helens Dojo when I was living there before moving to Cork. Ian had at one time five students in the KUGB national squad. I hope I played my part in helping them gain the World titles and European titles that were achieved by them when I was around. Ian was a key fighter with KUGB English team and had a fearsome back kick – another big achievement for me was avoiding it during training!  As a side note, my respect for Ian is conveyed by him being my best man when I married my lovely wife Eileen, after moving to Ireland.

 

(GC)     So now you have taken your teaching skills from one Celtic nation to another?

 

(PA)     Yes, now I have a great club in Cork, Ireland, they are a lovely bunch and Joe, who you met in NY, is my right hand man. He is busy preparing for Yondan. For me this is what I feel to be an achievement, helping genuine and committed students to become quality karateka. The guys travel all over with me, including regular trips to the USA.

 

(GC)     You are very well respected over there, as of course you are here?

 

(PA)     That is kind George. Last year I was honoured by being invited to become a founding member of the fledgling North American Karate Do Shihankai. This group then awarded me the rank of  Shichidan (7th). This award came completely out of the blue and I was delighted that Joe and the other guys from my home dojo were there to share the emotions with me. This was followed by Sensei Sal Lopresti’s USA-SKF appointing me as European Technical director, the group is now renamed IUKO. All in all, huge honours that touched me deeply.

 

As you know, I had previously been honoured by being invited into the International Shotokan Ryu Karate-Do Shihankai who, I am proud to say who have subsequently also endorsed recognition of my rank. I appreciate your kind words and support George and also those of Ged (Moran).

 

(GC)     Going back to the old days, even as a small nation we produced some great fighters, some from my home town, I am very proud to say.

           

(PA)     Sure, in the Scottish scene there were some world class competitors, but we unfortunately, never had a true Scottish team which would have been world class. There were excellent individual fighters like Hamish Adam from Wado-ryu (Edinburgh), Gene Dunnet, Shotokan (Dunfermline),  Alistair Mitchell, Shotokan (Annan),  Gerry Flemming, Shotokan (Glasgow), Alec (Eck) Duncan, Shotokan (Dunfermline), Ross Frame, Shotokan (Glasgow), Pat McKay, Shotokan (Glasgow) and of course many more as you know George.

 

In the first echelon of  karate in Scotland, Tommy Morris went on to become the world authority on Refereeing,  Danny Bryceland I remember fought well at the nationals at Crystal Palace, Gene fought for the British team in Long Beach and Eck in Tokyo, all top drawer Karateka and all from the days of hard training when we both started.

 

(GC)     Can you expand on this?

 

(PA)     I could talk for hours about the politics and the personalities within the various groups and factions, but at the end of the day is any of it important? Well, yes, in that it shaped the current scene, but I always think we should look ahead and what happened is history. What has yet to happen is where we can influence the direction of karate the most. I like to look to teachers such as Patrick McCarthy, who I feel have brought incredible insight and openness to Martial Arts teaching in general.

 

(GC)     Out with personal participation in tournaments, you also did your bit for Scotland as a national entity in these tournaments as previously alluded to, can you expand on this?

 

(PA)     At European and World level, I felt my main mission was to establish and open doors for Scotland. Ultimately, via a behind the scenes, political battle, I gained a place for the talented Scotsman, Gordon Mathie, in the KUGB world squad. I was also the first international referee for the KUGB in Scotland and when I left Scotland I remained the only KUGB national referee north of the border. To achieve many of the things we did I competed, not as the best fighter in Scotland, which I was not, but as someone who believed in making a public commitment to gain whatever progress we could as a nation. Often I had to compete in the senior event and ref in the junior event to meet the requirement of ESKA (European Shotokan Karate Association) whereby competing countries had to supply a referee. I remember Terry (O’Neill) Billy (Higgins) and I all did the ESKA referees course together in Dublin, interesting times.

 

(GC)     I think you are being modest in your abilities, and you did fight some of the best.

 

(PA)     Well, even at National level, the KUGB annual event at Crystal Palace was an intimidating forum. When I was competing there were some brilliant and talented competitors. In the late 70’s when the English Team came to Aberdeen I fought the then KUGB Champion Joe Farley and also George Godfrey who became a huge European talent. I beat George, by default it is fair to say, and once again enjoyed a broken nose in the process. It took a long time to learn not to block with my face but it gradually sinks in. Also on the English squad at the time were Billy Higgins and Bob Poynton, both great karate-ka.  This of course was in the early days, but my last competition internationally was against my very good friend, Randy Williams in Istanbul, Turkey. He got a ½ point (wazari), I equalised, and then he scored again and won. Like many of the KUGB squad, when you faced them, you knew you had a challenge on your hands, but I really enjoyed it!

 

(GC)     I understand that you attended Mr Kawasoe’s wedding?

 

(PA)     Yes, Ronnie (Watt) and I attended, Andy (Sherry) was there also and Steve Cattle.  I wore my kilt of course and caused some amusement with the Sassenachs. I am sad that I lost touch with Sensei Kawasoe, I liked him as a man and as a karate teacher, and he had great technique and taught with enthusiasm. I used to visit him in London and train at his dojo…ach well, but life goes on as they say.

 

(GC)     Do you have any embarrassing competition memories?

 

(PA)     Well, apart from one time then I was fighting Jimmy Brennan, Frank’s older and better looking brother, Jimmy’s words not mine, and thinking “what  can I do to stop this guy scoring?” It was a nightmare.

 

I was also the first KUGB competitor at a European Competition performing Kata. All 3 KUGB countries squads were watching / supporting me along with Andy Sherry.  Charlie Naylor, who has sadly passed now, was a corner judge and I ended up outside the area facing the wrong way, it took a few minutes for me to realise why Andy was walking away and Charlie was giggling away merrily. Very embarrassing!

 

Another time my box fell out, down the leg of my gi pants. I never wore one again, and this was in front of 1500 spectators. There I was doing my bit and some pink and plastic object drops on the floor…..even now I see by your face that it raises a laugh, but at the time I could have died.

 

(GC)     You are no longer with the KUGB, what are you doing now?

 

(PA)     I moved to Ireland about 11 years ago and started my own Dojo; Gin Sen Karate Do. Sensei Enoeda had graded me to Godan but then became unhappy due to my new direction. I guess that was very sad as he and I had been extremely close over the years, or so I thought. I taught a course along with Mr.Ohta up north in Letterkenny soon after this and he asked me to join up again with Sensei Enoeda. But After 25 years of politics in the KUGB I really had had enough and I am enjoying my independence.

 

(GC)     Do you feel let down by this experience, an experience we have all had one way or the other or have you moved on?

 

(PA)     Eh, well….I am not really bitter, but I am a still just a little bit pissed off and I do not know if that will ever disappear, I hope so. Having spent many years, with great personal cost, I felt that I was rejected by the KUGB. It really saddens me to think about it. I mean, how pathetic to make someone a life member, I was one of the first to achieve this after 20 years loyal service, and then to stop sending the annual licence simply because I had moved country of residence.

 

I had represented the KUGB as their Senior Instructor in Scotland and as Regional Officer for Scotland for a long, long time. Anyway,  now I don’t really care, I choose my paths, I choose my friends, I choose who I train with and I am very happy…. still pissed off…..but very happy (laughs). I would however really feel sad if the Scottish Region KUGB clubs that I fought for both politically and physically, have forgotten me, of course I don’t mean my own old Dojo in Huntly, but that would make me feel sad.

 

Anyway, since then my Karate has blossomed. I have become a member of the American Shotokan Karate Federation. This happened after Sensei Richard Gould invited me to teach at their summer camp in 2000. Sensei Gould is one of the pioneers of Karate in America along with Ed Otis, Rae Dalke, Les Safar. I am now senior instructor of the ASKF and very close to Sensei Gould. Karate in USA has some great talents and I find the students very keen and genuinely interested. I have discovered and made many strong friends. I visit USA and teach there regularly.

 

In 2006 I coached the ASKF squad that competed in the JSKA world championship hosted by Tommy Casale in NY. I met Sal Lopresti there, who invited me to teach at his USA-SKF camp in Atlantic City. Sal is a brilliant Karate teacher and his son Paul is his long time student. Paul is also Hanshi Patrick McCarthy’s area representative. Sal and I are now very good friends. So you can see why I love to visit USA and how my direction has been influenced by great Karate people. Sal has an incredible group of people, many who have been with him for over 25 years.

 

(GC)     You recently met Patrick McCarthy?

 

(PA)     Many years ago Terry O’Neill had great foresight and brought Patrick McCarthy into England. How typical of Terry, he was in a league of his own, when so many around him wore blinkers, a great karateka. Hanshi Patrick McCarthy is the most incredible Martial Artist I have ever met. His knowledge of the Martial Arts and his ability to perform and teach is beyond description. After studying, in every sense of the word, karate for over 37 years, he left me feeling like a beginner. I attended a seminar in Galway in late 2007, we immediately hit it off and I have been in contact with him continually since then. I am delighted that he will visit my Dojo in Cork in April this year. I am now a member of his International Ryukyu Research Society and I cannot recommend him in too strong a manner.

 

(GC)     Strong praise, but you must have met many great instructors.

 

(PA)     Yes numerous, too numerous to mention and I dislike lists. I have already mentioned the inspiration and guidance I have had from Sensei Gould and Lopresti and their help in determining my future.

 

(GC)     Would you care to say a few words about the ones who have most influenced your Karate?

 

(PA)     OK, but in no particular order and this will by no means be a comprehensive list, Ronnie Watt, my first instructor I have talked about already. Bob Rhodes, who was my adopted Sensei after I left Ronnie, a very close friend and I am godfather to his son Alex. He is a fantastic, no nonsense Karate-ka and an inspiring teacher. Billy Higgins, a brilliant fighter and inventive teacher, he and Bob and I spent some great times together both in and out of the dojo. Terry O’Neill, the most exciting and talented fighter I have ever seen, and a fearsome and innovative talent with real “street ability”.  Terry is a complex character but he was very kind to me when I was at a low point in my life. Frank Brennan, a true Karate Champion and always a gentleman with amazing technical perfection, a great example for those outside and in the Martial Arts. Keinosuke Enoeda,  an awe inspiring Karate Ka and a fearsome adversary. Professor Nakayama plus many of the JKA and European instructors that I trained with have all had some influence on my Karate career. However last but never least, Ian Roberts, my best friend, and a fantastic fighter. Ian has of course created many world class competitors in his own right……all in all I feel very honoured and humbled to have trained with the people I have trained with, even though in the final stages of the KUGB I was left with a bitter taste, but I am still grateful for all the good times and that is something no one can take away.

 

(GC)     Finally Paul – what is your advice to aspiring Karate Ka?

 

(PA)     Find a good instructor and stay with them, train hard and listen, get a makiwara and use it regularly. Treat all martial arts with equal respect and keep an open mind, it will stand you in good stead. Always be a student, physical training alone will only take you so far, academic study helps understanding, get familiar with Hanshi Patrick McCarthy and his work. But most importantly enjoy what you do.

 

(GC)     Paul, it is always my great pleasure to see and speak with you again and thank you for an open and frank interview. I look forward to seeing you in August at the Championships and maybe playing a little guitar with you on the evening…should be a good time, Hans (Mueller) plays as well…and I may even bring the bodhran.

 

(PA)     George, no seriously my friend thank you for taking the time to listen. I enjoyed the reminiscing and hope the readers enjoy the interview. I look forward to August and the generous single malt Scotch whiskey you promised to supply (big smiles).

 

You can see more about Paul on his excellent resource website www.silverspringskarate.com