Read and watch Bushinkai interview

Read interview with Simon Keegan from Martial Arts Illustrated conducted by Alfie Lewis:

Alfie:
We’re going to talk a lot about martial arts history, an area we are both interested in, but to start with Simon, why don’t you tell us about what you teach?

Simon:
I teach a system of Karate and Jujutsu called Hakuda Kempo Toshu Jutsu’‘, a traditionally taught method but one that is very much geared towards self defence. We do spar, we do grapple, but these are means to an end rather than an end in themselves. The aim is to develop a range of skills that are drilled in such a way that they become instinctive should the need arise.

Alfie:
Hakuda Kempo Toshu Jutsu is a bit of a mouthful. Why that name?

mai

Simon:
It’s very much in keeping with names of Karate systems pre 1920 which had names like Ryukyu Kempo Tode or Rentan Goshin Karate Jutsu.

Hakuda‘ was an atemi based approach to Jujutsu common to the Nagasaki area, Kempo refers to systems of Chinese origin and Toshu Jutsu is another way of pronouncing the characters ‘Karate Jutsu’. But generally my students just call it Karate or Bushinkai Karate.

Alfie:
What do you think is different about the way you teach compared with say the average Karate club?

Simon:
Firstly, I don’t think my club is better or worse than the next club. It depends what you are after. I might like an Italian restaurant that doesn’t mean the Indian restaurant down the street is no good. But my approach to Karate is this: I want to look forward and take Karate forward as an intelligently taught, practical, real workable self defence method, but I also want to have a living link to the past and the roots of Karate. Our branch may be Shotokan but the trunk is the Karate Jutsu of Okinawa, and then the roots are the systems of China like the White Crane school and styles like Hsing-I Chuan. So I want to better understand these too. People say “Karate came from Chinese boxing,” I want to know more. Which kata came from Chinese boxing? Which Chinese style? Whereabouts in China?

Alfie:
How do you go about this?

Simon:
For example in applying the principles of the Chinese internal martial arts in terms of postural alignment, softness and power generation. I have trained in Tai Chi for around 17 years and my Tai Chi teacher for nine of those years also taught Hsing-I. Not to say I learnt that art in any depth, more looking at some of the the first Five Fists. But it gave me a feel for how the art feels and moves.

Another example is in the Tiger boxing systems of Fujian. One of the masters who introduced this art to Okinawa was Tang Daiji, a friend of the legendary Gokenki. I’ve been researching the history of Tang family Tiger Boxing. I am lucky to have a good friend and Kung Fu brother from the Tang family whose great grandfather was a Tiger boxing practitioner from the Guangzhou area not far from Fujian. We compare notes. He showed me one of his forms, and I noticed a similarity with Seishan kata so having learnt the Shotokan Hangetsu and also the Goju Ryu Seishan, (as well as Aragaki Seishan a long time ago) I now have a third dimension to the form.

I am lucky to have also trained in a Goju Ryu system called Nisseikai, the founder of which was also a master of Fujian white crane – actually the Feeding Crane branch which was strongly associated with the Bubishi. So this gives another tangible link to the roots of Karate.

My friend and teacher Shihan Phil Handyside, as well as having studied Shotokan for the best part of 50 years, also trained and graded under the grandmaster of a Malaysian style called Budokan which owes its origins to Kanken Toyama’s Karate Jutsu which was very much a traditional old style, much more Chinese in appearance and Toyama was also a Hakuda master, so this is another area I am looking at.

Simon and Shihan Handyside
Simon and Shihan Handyside

Alfie:
You and I have had some good chats about martial arts history, whether it’s the old masters of the past or the more recent martial arts legends, but a lot of people don’t seem to appreciate the importance of martial arts history. Why is it so important to you?

Alfie:
One of the things you and I always seem to talk about is our shared interest in the martial arts heritage of Liverpool. Why are you so interested in that when you live in Manchester?

Simon:
Well I’m a scouser in exile in Manchester. And my family has a lengthy tradition in the martial arts in Liverpool. In fact my great uncle Bill Nelson trained at the same Jujutsu club as you Alfie – albeit about 30 years earlier!

Alfie:
That would be Skyner’s Jujutsu, a tough club with a real understanding of streetfighting. When did your great uncle train there and what do you know about Skyner’s?

Gerry Skyner
Gerry Skyner

Simon:
Skyner’s was one of the first martial arts clubs in Liverpool. The very first was the Kara Ashikaga in 1906 where Gunji Koizumi taught before he moved to London; the second was Jack Britten’s Alpha Jujutsu school and the third was Skyner’s. The story is that Mikonosuke Kawaishi who was later a great Judo teacher in France came to Liverpool in 1928 and taught Professor Gerald Skyner. Kawaishi had been taught Jujutsu or more specifically Aikijujutsu by Yoshida Kotaro who was a senior student of Daito Ryu master Takeda Sokaku. Yoshida was also the hereditary master of a style called Yanagi Ryu which was derived from Yoshin Ryu Jujutsu or Hakuda.

Kawaishi is famous for his Judo but in the few years he was in Liverpool it was definitely Jujutsu that he taught. My great uncle trained there after the war from 1945 and gained his blackbelt which was a very high grade at the time and then he trained in another style from the Koizumi branch. I consider myself fortunate to have been able to learn of this era from my great uncle who I was very close to. My great uncle and his brother Jim, my grandad had been taught to box by their dad and grandad when they were kids in the 1930s.

My great great grandad was in the Swedish Royal Navy and if you go back even further a branch of his family three generations earlier sailed to the Far East with the East India Trading Company.

Alfie:
And your dad’s a martial artist as well isn’t he? Did that influence you?

Simon:
Yes, my dad Dave Keegan teaches Tai Chi these days but he begun originally in about 1959-1960 training in Jujutsu with the Blundells, another one of Liverpool’s early Jujutsu clubs. He has also studied Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu Iaido as well as Karate. He also worked in China when I was younger. My dad gave me my start in martial arts, training in his garage and boxing in my grandad’s back yard then I joined my first club aged 10. I also have an uncle who was a Shotokan blackbelt and an uncle who had done Goju Ryu. I formally started Karate as a teenager.

Alfie:
So who was your main Karate teacher when you started out?

Simon:
It was Steve Bullough, who was on the Great Britain squad with you about 20 years ago. I’ll always credit Steve for the eight years I trained with him. He taught me traditional Karate, sport Karate, some Judo, some Aikido, some weapons, some boxing. It was great because it kept me fit, toughened me up and gave me an introduction to a lot of different areas. I used to train at his house at weekends not just in class.

Alfie:
Who are some of the others who have influenced your approach?

Simon:
As teachers, Bob Carruthers and Reiner Parsons have probably been the biggest influence over the last 12 years. Bob Carruthers (7th Dan) started in a style called Bujinkai which was headed by John Smith and your old friend, the legendary Danny Connor. He then moved back up to his hometown of Wigan where he trained in Shobukan with Phil Handyside an art which comprises style such as Shotokan and Budokan. After being in the martial arts for 30 years when most people would be coasting he started learning other arts, Jujutsu, Iaido, Escrima, Karate Jutsu and he really set an example to me that you should always be open minded and put on the proverbial white belt. He now teaches Abaniko Tres Puntas, a style of classical Arnis and through him I was introduced to grandmasters like Rene Tongson and Angelo Baldisonne. It’s not really my thing but a pleasure to have trained with them.

Bob’s own teacher Shihan Phil Handyside is now a friend and teacher of mine, I first met him on a seminar in about 2003 and was impressed, not only by his Karate, but also the way he carried himself. In around 2003 I was accepted into Japan’s Kokusai Budoin organisation in the Shotokan division headed by Hirokazu Kanazawa who was Mr Handyside’s teacher and in the Nihon Jujutsu division headed by the late Shizuya Sato and I also had the opportunity to train with masters such as Tadanori Nobetsu and Mitsuhiro Kondo.

With Kokusai Budoin Reiner Parsons (7th Dan) another 40 year veteran of the martial arts, took me under his wing. Reiner started in Goju Ryu in Liverpool with Tony Christian, Dennis Martin and your old friend Gary Spiers, he later trained with masters like Morio Higaonna, Kai Kuniyuki and Nobetsu who is also a huge influence on me. Reiner hasn’t so much taught me Goju Ryu as teach me a more efficient way of doing what I do. He would see me do a technique like an inside block or a front kick, then he’d prove to me why it was lacking power and show me how to add power to it – which usually boiled down to a few simple things – relaxation, waist movement, breathing and so on.

Nobetsu’s system was of great interest to me because as well as Goju Ryu Karate he was also a master of Feeding Crane Kung Fu which was one of the Fujian boxing styles that influenced Karate in the first place, so Nobetsu was a tangible link to the roots and the trunk not just the branches. Again, it’s not about saying “I’ve trained with suchabody so I must be good” it’s just about this is where we come from and this is why we do what we do.

With the Kanazawa Shotokan as a basis, I began to look at ways the more Chinese influenced styles like Budokan and Goju Ryu and the Chinese styles themselves had a more effective way of moving. However the definite change to my approach was not about adding it was about taking away.

Alfie:
Do you mean like the ‘Bruce Lee’ concept of discarding what is useless?

Simon:
Yes, in a sense, but it wasn’t Bruce Lee that impressed it upon me it was Terry Wingrove! I was training in Poland with Terry and we were talking about techniques and I mentioned some technique or other let’s say it was a spinning kick and Terry said: “So give it the Tesco Test.” I said what’s the Tesco Test? He said, you’re standing in the baked beans aisle at 11 O’Clock at night and somebody takes a swing at you are you going to do a spinning kick on them? I said no probably not, but, you know, it’s part of Shotokan he said “Oh right so when they attack you maybe you can pull out a picture of Funakoshi and see if that impresses them.” That was my “Eureka moment” – everything I taught got the Tesco Test. I took out the stuff I couldn’t make work in a ‘live’ environment, I took out the anachronisms and I concentrated on developing an approach to self defence that was more tangible and scientific.

Alfie:
Can self defence be taught in a scientific way?

Simon:
My approach in martial arts is to look at how other things are taught successfully. If you learn to drive you do your practical, your theory, your highway code, your hazard perception, your maneuvers, your emergency stops. I devised a self defence approach called The Bushinkai Method which divides the subject into three areas – the Science of Violence, the Science of Technique and the Science of Learning. The first is your “theory” a knowledge of the realities of combat, the second is the how and why of techniques and the latter is the ability to drill techniques so they become instinctive – like an emergency stop.

The science of technique looks at the underlying principles of techniques. If somebody attacks you you’re not going to do a picture perfect shiho nage or an Olympic standard tomoe nage, but you must respond powerfully and decisively. We don’t learn 1000 techniques once, we learn one technique 1000 times in 1000 different ways. It becomes un-mechanical. It is by “feel” not by rote.

I never teach “if he does A you do B” I give the students the principles, the ability, the power and the reactions they need to respond quickly and efficiently. It is like language, you start by teaching a child the right answer to basic questions, by the time you are an adult you can just converse on any topic and respond to any question. This is where the science of learning comes in. Often people can do a technique in the Dojo but when it matters they go to pieces. Techniques must be drilled, practiced, tested, and ingrained so that responses are as natural as walking.

Alfie:
You talk a lot about kata and bunkai. This is a controversial subject. What’s your take on it?

Simon:
I love bunkai, especially exploring grappling and weapons applications. Some people have the attitude that bunkai is one of those subjects for when you are too old and fat to do anything active. Well I’m neither but the reason I like to explore bunkai is because it gives meaning and purpose to the kata. Then the form acts as a mneumonic device in other words a kata is a database of techniques and your bunkai is your data.

Alfie:
We briefly mentioned Mitsuhiro Kondo and of course Terry Wingrove, this links in with a project you’ve been working on doesn’t it?

Simon:
Yes, I’ve recently worked on a brief history of British Karate (1956-1966) which included published about 20 photographs from that first era that have never been seen before. Those were really the dark ages of British Karate. Everyone knows about Kanazawa, Enoeda, Suzuki, but few people realise it all started with Vernon Bell.

Alfie:
Thanks for speaking to us

Simon:
Thank you Sensei.

Watch Martial Arts Guardian interview with Simon:

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