I might have mentioned my keen interest in martial arts before.
Kung fu in fact. This has been my staple art for the last 3 decades but it wasn’t where I started.
These folk have a lot to answer for..
I do not own these images
Around the time of my 6th birthday I discovered Monkey and The Water Margin. The mere theme tune would get me hopping around the living room with glee!
Or this video
It wasn’t long before my mum had had enough. The twirling of the broomstick in the living room was getting out of hand. So was the imaginary battles with the imaginary warriors from the next [imaginary] village.
Off to Karate I went. I did that for a bit but didn’t take to it. Then Judo. Two gradings later, I left that. Then Tang Soo Do and Tae Kwon Do. They didn’t stick. I then discovered Muay Thai. That did the trick until I discovered traditional Kung Fu. My instructor was multi-disciplined in the Chinese arts and well connected (authentic lineage is vital in traditional martial arts).
Luckily the town I grew up in was rich with various styles of fighting arts as you can see.
I was 14 when began that journey. The training was hard and brutal; if you ever watched a Shaw Brothers classic you’d get my drift. It was great and I made lifelong friends with my instructor, his family and my classmates.
After a few years I took my knowledge into the ring (on to the mat). My first competitive fight was against a TKD black belt. Luckily it was semi-contact so the beating I got was limited.
I went back to the drawing board; more press ups; more sit ups; more kicking and more sparring. That did the trick. I entered the world of full contact fighting.
Competitions came thick and fast and I was doing well. The stars were falling into place for some title shots and I had performed well in team selections, well enough to get into the British Team.
Being 6’4″ and quite a big unit I found that most people in my weight category were more weight than style or strength. I used this to my advantage and quite literally walked through my opponents. I was fighting in two styles, Tien Shan Pai and Shuai Jiao and winning at both.
I won the British Championships with a TKO in 43 seconds. I won the European Championships in Milan almost as easily, after injuring my first opponent and the referee calling off another fight when my opponent fell over after kicking me in the chest.
That was it; I was through to the World Championships in Brazil, with ease.
Unfortunately my downfall was well underway.
I had little respect for what was needed to be a champ and because my preliminaries had seemed easy, I slackened off my training. I was convinced that the title was as good as mine and why not? the last two years leading to this moment had been a breeze.
I apologise for the quality of the photos that follow. They’re old, I didn’t take them and a friend took pictures of them on her phone in order to put them on facebook.
The team landed in Sao Paulo two days before the competition and checked in to our hotel. All the teams were in the same place and over the last couple of years we’d made great friends with the Italian, American and German teams. I was professional enough not to touch alcohol but I did keep late nights.
I did some light sparring in the courtyard but nothing major. Then the day before the fight I hit the hotel gym for some cardio on the bike.
Wake up call number one..
I selected a low resistance as a warm-up then got to work. And promptly stopped. I couldn’t breathe!
I had a drink of water and pushed on but had to stop again 10 minutes later. This time I had to get off, as my lungs were screaming, my muscles couldn’t support me. Not good. Back to the room.
Wake up call number two..
As the lift climbed to the top of the hotel, I felt dizzy and slightly nauseous. I thought I’d be able to sleep it off..
Two coaches picked us up the next morning and took us to the venue. It was 0800 and the weigh-ins began at 0900. Due to my size and weight my category was always the last to fight and depending on the field of competitors, this could take hours.
Wake up call number three..
The temperature in the venue was about 35ºc by 1000. I couldn’t get enough water down me and even through the light warm up – warm down cycles I felt poor and was leaking fluid like a damaged faucet.
Meanwhile in my head, I was still God’s gift to martial arts; the title was mine
I found an American fighter from my weight category and walked up to him whilst he was warming up. “I guess it’s you and me in the final” I said arrogantly.
I retreated to the stands to focus and lose myself in music. Eventually, I was called up.
Wake up call number four..
My opponent was a local fighter, disciplined in both Kung Fu and Muay Thai. At 6’1 he was giving away height but we weighed about the same.
I stepped up onto the Lei Tai and then it hit me; not my opponent but a wall of heat. The ambient temperature was augmented by the lights above the ring. Although the platform was only about 3 feet high, I can only liken the experience to getting into your attic on a midsummer’s day.
Boom; strength gone; energy gone; the referee dropped his arm. I hadn’t come this far to roll over and have my belly tickled so I went on the attack.
I threw everything at this guy; lefts, rights and when I could summon the strength, a couple of kicks too. Let me give you the real picture though; this wasn’t the stuff of movies, more like a town scuffle on a Saturday night.
He absorbed everything.
I took a step back and we looked at each other. He was playing the classic fighting game of letting me burn myself out. That point wasn’t far off but I wasn’t quite done yet.
I only had one thing left in the toolbox so I threw it. It was a running, jumping knee strike to the chin; a surefire knockout blow.
I did it; he took it. Noticing my shoulders drop in disbelief, he moved in. I shut one eye.
Boom. It landed; a big right. This was the first time i’d ever been hit in the face! It hurt like hell but I was still standing!!
Not for long.
I opened my eyes to an incoming front snap kick that knocked the wind out of me, me off the platform and out of the competition.
I got back on to the mat but was injured. I kicked, he blocked and it hurt me! I went down again and this time I couldn’t get back up. I looked at the English ref and whilst counting, he mouthed ‘get up’… I looked to the side of the ring and one of the American ladies was gesticulating ‘get up get up’. I couldn’t. My fight was over; I was beaten mentally.
I failed to prepare so was doomed to fail. I knew nothing about the country or it’s climate and the altitude. I knew nothing of my opponents even though the circuit didn’t really change and more importantly I knew nothing about myself.
Thankfully that has changed. I flew home with my tail between my legs. I received a world ranking of 4th, but there were only four of us in my weight category.
I learned a heck of a lot that year. Thank the lord there’s no videos of it.
No kids today but i’m up early and off to the city for a meeting. This gives me a rare opportunity to ditch the uniform and dress like a proper grown up.
These meetings occur once a quarter and I usually drive, but on this occasion I have opted to take the train, joining the early morning masses. Even after shaving my head, filtering water (in child’s plastic bottle, having discarded my own metal one) i’m out of the door in plenty of time. I even find a parking space at the railway station. I can’t see what the fuss is about so far.
I buy a return ticket. The taxpayer is now £79 worse off. I wonder if the teller had accidently included the previous traveller’s ticket in my price but say nothing.
Walking to my train I pass a sign informing passengers that due to the change of seasons and the potential for leaves on the line, some services may be a few minutes late. George Stephenson and IKB are probably rotating in their graves.
My train arrives and isn’t too packed, so no traingate scandal for me. As I walk down the carriage I find a seat in a cluster of 4, where 3 commuters have set up residence. Oddly, it’s the window seat that is free as commuter 1 has elected for an aisle seat. I break the first rule of commuting; thou shalt not invade personal space. We smile at each other yet I still have to ask to sit down. At £79, you can bet i’m going to sit down; I owe that at least to the taxpayer. He obliges, grudgingly, and moves the several sheets of A4 (and himself) to allow me in.
Now I am not small; in fact i’m quite the opposite. Add a Navy Peacoat and bulging laptop bag and you get somewhere near the picture.
Commuters 2 and 3 stare at me with incredulity. I smile back and continue my descent into my seat. I should have taken my coat off first, but the moment has passed; Commuter 1 has resettled. 2 and 3 have gone back to his mobile device and her window staring respectively.
I’m still all elbows, having to turn my laptop bag on it’s side to take my Kindle out.
Now the bag won’t fit between my legs and the table, and won’t go on the floor. I put it beside/behind me, but this forces me into a kind of ‘I have a secret to tell you’ position with 1.
I look up, and realise that a quarter rise will probably be enough to place this carbuncle in the luggage rack.
Normal service is quickly resumed and 1,2,3 and 4 (me) engross in our collective solipsism. Then it happens – my foot accidentally touches that of 3 under the table. She has skillfully placed her continental sized handbag on the table between us and this has done its job, but she neglected to protect her foot space. There is an audible dual shuffling of feet and we successfully ignore each other. Until it happens again.
Good Lord; in terms of Britishness this is like some mismatched date where well-meaning parents mastermind an attempt to pair their offspring.
She plays with her hair but staring out of the window I take this as extreme discomfort. The book that i’m reading is now the most interesting thing I’ve ever read.
A slow stroll amongst the morning rush gives plenty of opportunity to people watch. This lifestyle has zero appeal but creating backstories for strangers amuses me no end. The sun’s ineffectiveness does nothing to lessen the beauty of the day, even amongst the volumes of traffic. Day 2 of fasting and it feels pretty easy, even when I order my lunch.
Fast food chains insist on American vernacular but I don’t. I ask them if I can ‘have’ a ‘medium’ Chai Latte please. He turns to his colleague and shouts “CAN I GET A MEDIO CHAI LATTE…!”
I sit down in the meeting room alone, with 15 minutes to spare and as I check the agenda, I see that the meeting starts at 11, not 10.