Jamie O'Keefe reflects

 

When asked by Lee Morrison to make a contribution to his website, I had no hesitation in doing so. Reason being that Lee is an individual that partly reminds me of my early days in the arts and the struggle that I first had in getting my viewpoint, ideals and philosophies across within the fighting arts. It was back in the day when there wasn't internet, mobile phones, email or any other outlets to express your viewpoint apart from the martial arts magazines.

Although there are many more resources and outlets these days, its still a relatively similar struggle to break through because of the sheer numbers of people all chasing the same spot on the proverbial stage.

In my time back in the late 70s to early 80's, I was a lone parent struggling to nurture my children along the right path whilst balancing this with my dream of writing a book, and also wearing many different hats to survive. Lee has many similarities to me which on the surface, are not necessarily recognizable but if you know anything about the pair of us you will see where I'm coming from... After first meeting Lee some years back when he attended one of my seminars, I knew he, like me, was different. Although his defined physique and psychomotor abilities were noticeable and puts to rest any theories that we were long lost twins J , it was his politeness, respect and points of difference that really stuck in my mind.

Now, a few years later, Lee has worked hard on his profile and has gained respect in all the right places through his dedication to training and his consistency as a person. He has authored two great books and is doing his part to keep true self protection and the fighting arts alive. So it was a pleasure for me to contribute to Lee's website and dust the cobwebs from my keyboard. I stopped writing for the martial arts magazines back in 2003 because I felt I had nothing more to say, or rather, nothing that could not be found in back issues or within my forthcoming books. I do not feel much different to that today. I also despised the ‘exclusivity' and ownership that some magazine editors hold you to. So for my contribution to Lee's site I decided to reflect on the path I have travelled, so as to provide something new and perhaps share a thought or two with you about the struggle that exists with enhancing your profile within the martial arts world, also to make you think about the choices you make in the martial arts world. So here it is.

 

Over time, I have learnt a lot about people and have awarded myself the title of 'people watcher' for the observations that I have made over the last 25 years. I feel that I have learnt to detect the charlatans from the real McCoy almost instantly in all walks of life, which helps me select carefully who I associate and disassociate myself with. This ability has served me well and more accurately than any amount of martial arts qualifications that I hold.

I feel content that I am at the stage in my life where I'm just sitting here ' watching the wheels go round and round ', to quote a John Lennon song.

 

There is nothing new to come from the fighting arts. It's just going round and rehashing all that's come before. The only thing that changes are the people and that's probably one of the best things that can happen to enable the arts to evolve. It's the new faces that are the future of the fighting arts. You will meet some people of real ‘significance and worth' along your journey plus the usual handful of goons, but we need them all.

I was a teenager when Karate and Kung fu exploded into the UK in the 70s on a commercial level, kicked off by Bruce Lee and the Kung Fu TV series starring David Carradine. There were no people like me, Geoff Thompson, Peter Consterdine, Dave Turton and like to learn from.

We were all sucked in by the mindset of doing Judo or Boxing, which were freely available but were not being considered of worth at that time. How wrong we were. We wanted Kung Fu, or Karate if we couldn't afford either, we would try learn from library books or try to teach ourselves.

I can remember going to Judo classes at school and staying on for the 'secret' karate lesson which some instructors taught. These coaches were not Karate trained or qualified but to a poor kid in the East End, it was still learning karate from a black belt. That's how unattainable the arts were then. That was an experience that would not happen today if someone chose to learn Karate.

You can now find an affordable Karate class on every street corner. Kung Fu managed to keep its 'secretively' for many years with all the behind closed doors bullshit and opened the floodgates for a lot of Orientals to make a financial killing from us westerners. Some were the real thing and others just restaurant staff seizing an opportunity. It took a long time for bodies like the Martial Arts Commission to expose the charlatans but there were always other bodies, associations, and groups to take them on board. Money talks!

The martial arts were a golden egg and it was not long before we Westerners began to exploit it.

The martial world became a political minefield. As well as the different systems such as Karate, Kung Fu, Jujitsu, Ninjutsu, Taekwondo, etc all bickering with each other, the individual styles also began infighting within their own systems. This caused one style of fighting art to split into many hybrid styles and the same with the other arts. It was all down to greed, money, power and control.

It wasn't happening within Judo, Boxing, or wrestling at street level, because there was no money to be earn't at root level. Something needed to happen in order to draw interest back to the fighting arts and sort out the Wheat from the Chaff. The full contact karate scene hit Britain in the late 70s to early 80s, introduced by my instructor Geoff Britton and his training pal Bob Breen. This knocked the stuffing out of every style and system and we saw 9th Dan black belts, martial arts masters and like, getting knocked out in seconds by individuals with relatively no martial arts experience. It was the biggest shock that the martial arts had ever had. There was no place for secret death touch techniques or being able to take any blow without even flinching. The fighting arts had now had a reality check. This caused a big divide between the modern reality full contact related arts and the traditional comfort zone arts.

I was studying both methods of the arts and decided neither was the sole path for me so explored the self defence route, which was innovative at the time in the mid 80s. There were (in my opinion) no 'reality' based instructors around teaching 'effective' self protection and I realized that I was capable of filling this void. I opened up the first UK full time Academy in East London and allowed every style and system that existed, to train, mix and exchange ideas. It was like a martial arts swapshop with no one person in charge or dominating what was being learnt. It was open 12 hours a day 7 days a week and at a cost of £5 per week for unlimited use. Yes £5.

It was not a business, but more of a forum. I spent the next year there studying every art that walked in the door. I also wrote my first two part feature ' which martial Art to choose? ' in Fighters magazine in the 80s, which was the beginning of my future in Self Protection some 18 years ago after spending 10 years in the traditional routes.

I forgot about this until I heard recently that 'Fighters' had sadly been bought up by Combat magazine, who I retired writing for about 18 months ago. I say sadly, because I do not think it's a good thing when one man has too much power and control over ‘what and who' gets published. I had paid for my advertising up front with Combat magazine until May 05 so it appears as though I'm still with the magazine, but I'm not and haven't been for a long time now.

Anyway getting back to the arts, I began my quest for 'reality' self protection back in the 80s but the scene was not ready for it, and certainly not ready for me. I was at the time still too flash and cocky, which frightened people away. It didn't help me much that I was also kicking off with anybody that wanted to challenge my beliefs. I needed to mature as a person and deal with the anger I was carrying from my personal life. There was no room in my life for plastic trophies or instructors. Dave Turton was the only other like minded coach that I came across within the fighting arts who was singing from the same hymn sheet as me.

It took around another decade to pass for Peter Consterdine and Geoff Thompson to bring Self Protection to the masses, and what a brilliant job they made of it. The time and chemistry were just right. They invited me to teach on one of the early British Combat Courses along with Rick Young which confirmed to me that I was not alone in promoting the cause.

The path of self protection is pretty well documented since then and without Peter and Geoff serving as the catalyst which created this move, I'm sure that I, and many other Self Protection fanatics, would still be trying to form hybrid fighting arts, rather than the formats in which we promote it now.

We needed someone to make a stand and open the ‘self protection' doors so that we could all walk through and strut our stuff. The old and new schools of thought had now found a forum from which to express themselves. A similar thing happened with the Grappling arts with the Gracie family bringing ground fighting to the forefront which caused a new martial explosion.

They were not the first to grapple, they did not invent grappling, but they were the best at what they did and shook the martial arts community with its effectiveness just as Kickboxing first did.

 

So this brings us to the question 'what's next?'

 

Well as I said earlier, there are no undiscovered arts, secrets or systems of training that are going to suddenly appear, making big changes to the martial scene. The modern - limited rules, cage fighting events are our most recent development of the arts. What else ‘new' can possibly happen apart from virtual fighting somehow mixing with reality fighting.

We have reached a point where the way forward will be preferred methods of passing on the fighting arts, as favoured by modern day instructors.

So instead of learning a style or system such Karate, Kung fu, Taekwondo etc students will be drawn to instructors, with the training style being secondary. This will be good for the new blood coming into the arts.

If the instructor is worth their sort, then their ideals, philosophies, concepts, psychomotor skills and knowledge, will transfer down and the whole thing will grow. This in turn will reward those that put something into what they teach rather than the laziness of expecting it all to come together off the back of a system name that's been prostituted for decades.

I personally feel that there's room for all methods of training and people should be free to make their own choice. Unfortunately the general public who are new to the fighting arts cannot decipher between what's good and what's crap. Also there is some truth in it being subjective, with individuals searching for different outcomes from whatever it is they are training in.

So my point here is that we can pretty much interpret any training system to be meeting our individual needs. The thing that's going to make the difference as to whether you gain that sense of belonging to your chosen group, is the type of relationship and attitude that you feel is taking place within the circle you've become part of, and the part of ‘the instructor' which has become the 'system'.

When choosing somewhere to train, are you choosing a system that you want to learn such as Wing Chun, Shotokan, Western boxing, regardless of the person teaching it, or are you drawn to a named instructor because they have a track record for their chosen method of fighting or teaching? You may be lucky and get both.

Hopefully both the system generated style of training will exist in the future along side the individual instructor based methods of passing on knowledge, skills and ability, so that we can always make our own choices. It would not do for us to all train in the one same method of combat.

Even within my own circle of ‘Self Protection', we are all attached and linked by the 'Self Protection' label. Yet if you look at me, Peter Consterdine, Geoff Thompson, Dave Turton, Lee Morrison, Dennis Martin, Liz Clark, Alan Charlton, Kevin O'Hagan, Darrin Richardson..Etc

You will find us all teaching differently, favouring different psychomotor applications, and sharing our knowledge from different angles. Their are many areas where we will cross paths and have common ground when promoting self protection, but its our points of difference which makes us individuals and special at what we each do.

I say with all honesty that I believe we are each the ‘best' at sharing our knowledge in the way that we each have chosen to do it. None of us are the best at self protection or the best street fighter, or better than each other. We are just different and the best at what we individually do. It's good that there's so much choice and also many more good instructors available to learn from. I have only named a handful of the UK instructors but there are many more good instructors that you need to seek out and learn from.

There is a lot of new blood within the instructor world that needs to be praised and recognized for what they are doing for the future of the fighting arts, and there is more on offer within Self Protection than just the same half dozen names that get banded about.

If there was just one way of doing things then only one of us would be needed to pass it on, but thankfully this is not the case and other options ‘are' available. Even if it were the case that we were all teaching in a very similar way, there would still be room for each of us, simply because we cannot each individually appeal to every follower of the arts.

There are some people out there that do not like my approach or me and would rather learn from a different Self Protection coach regardless of their teaching ability, whereas I know that there are other instructors that are also disliked and this stops some people from learning from them. At the end of the day we all put restrictions on who we will allow ourselves to learn from, and even if a particular coach is the best available to us, for whatever reason, our ignorance, dislike, pride and stubbornness will not permit us to accept knowledge from them. Sometimes the chemistry is just not right and the teaching and learning relationship will not come together.

As far as I'm aware I am the only Self Protection educator that's openly made myself available to the martial community for the complete weekend over the last four years at Birmingham's Seni Expo. Every year I was informed that I had been the fastest selling and most sold out seminar to take place, which made me feel that I still had something significant and of worth to offer.

It gave people the opportunity to meet, train and talk with me and make up their own minds as to whether our chemistry was compatible. This was my contribution to give something back to the fighting arts and for this I never personally accepted a single penny for my time and availability. In fact it would cost me around £500 each year for accommodation, travel, etc.

For me though, it was worth it just to meet some of the great people that have come into the arts, who were not all well known names or established icons, but they were all people of worth within the current scene and were contributing to keeping the fighting arts alive. Seni is the creation of Paul Alderton and the best thing that could have happened to the Fighting arts in the UK working as a catalyst to bring people from our field together.

Another formula that could have been good for this was the Combat magazine ‘Hall of Fame' Awards. I was inducted into the Hall of Fame and received three awards over 4 years. However the whole thing became meaningless when there was never even a mere snippet of its existence or of it taking place in Combat, let alone any of the other magazines.

Combat's editor Paul Clifton had an opportunity to really make this something of worth and was the catalyst responsible for bringing this into creation, but for what purpose?

Throughout the four years that I took part, the thing that meant most to me, more than anything, was when Geoff Thompson MBE ( not Geoff T the author from Coventry ) took the stage and quoted me and my work to the audience.

Yes! That made my attendance at all the Hall of fame awards feel worthwhile. I felt that I was making my contribution and serving as a good role model for the current and next generation of martial artists.

The award itself meant nothing (to me) if Combat could not bring themselves to publish an article or report on this event, over the 4 year period. It felt as though they were embarrassed to let it be known that it was taking place, so what was the point in the Hall of Fame taking place?

I guess the message I'm hoping to get across with this written contribution, is that the way forward for the fighting arts is to decide ‘why' you want to learn in the first place and from ‘who' do you wish to learn. Is it the style being taught that attracts draws your interest in learning or is it the way and approach of an individual instructor's method of transferring knowledge which offers you what you want?

Whatever your reasons for absorbing and studying the arts, from self Protection to getting inducted into the Hall of Fame, or to instruct or to become a black belt, think about what it really means to you and what difference the achievement will make to your life.

Try to seek out the up and coming new blood that's eager and hungry to share the fighting arts with you. Don't put on blinkers and only accept advice, just because it's from a known name, at the cost of missing something vital from a lesser known name.

For a price some magazines and associations can, and will, make someone a known name overnight within the martial world, but it does not make them any better at what they do or teach, and their profile ‘expiry' date will rapidly kick in when they stop parting with money.

Websites such as this one, allow us to take back the power and control that some magazines have held us ransom to for so long.

With outlets such as EBay, we can promote ourselves to 36 million people across the globe without the extortionate advertising fees charged by the martial arts magazines and we have an endless resource within fighting art related, websites and forums.

I managed to build my profile and become known within our world purely on the good relationship I had built up with 'Martial arts illustrated' magazine and its editor Bob Sykes, who worked with me on my profile for about 2 years in the mid 90s to promote a book I had written called ' Dogs don't know kung fu '.

I did not part with a single penny for advertising or anything else throughout the time I spent with the magazine. Just a gentleman's agreement that I would write articles and a column for the magazine plus serialise my book with them but was also free to write for the other magazines if I wished.

It was a great arrangement between us that was of a mutual benefit and neither was taking more than they were giving. I moved on from writing for the magazine after a couple of years because the proverbial ‘Self Protection stage' was becoming a little crowded and in danger of infighting beginning in order to secure a pole position with the magazine and the Self Protection community.

Whilst many Self Protection coaches and enthusiasts were all working towards a cloning process of all looking, speaking and teaching the same thing, I realised that it's our ‘points of difference' that we needed to explore in order to break through and stand the test of time. I am grateful to Bob Sykes and ‘Martial Arts Illustrated' for that early help and would not have achieved the level of acknowledgment that I have reached today, without that start.

I was one of those lesser known instructors who would still be relatively unknown had I not shown my ‘points of difference' to Bob and his magazine. This is why I urge you to seek out the vast resource pool of quality instructors out there and not stop at just choosing from the handful of current known names.

Use these websites and forums to find what you want and get yourself known without going through the controlling process demanded by some of the magazines and associations.

Take all advice on board and decide what's appropriate and right for you. If you put blinkers on, you will have to make your choices from a much narrower stream of underpinning knowledge.

I hope my rambling has sparked off some thoughts to help you to get what you desire from the fighting arts. Also, if you have made it to these last few words, I thank you for reading this.

More text will be available along these lines for like minded people in my next book 'Survive and stay alive -( how to create your own personal fighting system) ' which I hope will be ready for release later this year.

Thank you for interest in reading this.

Take care and stay safe.

Jamie O'Keefe

January 2005