Leonard Jackson from Maroon Fist Bristol Kung Fu Club

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Bristol Kung Fu

Doug Swift @ Enso Martial Arts Shop:

Hi Len, thanks for meeting us today. Thanks for coming to the shop to tell us about yourself. Firstly, can you tell us a bit about yourself, who you are and what you do.

Leonard Jackson @Maroon Fist Bristol Kung Fu:

Okay, my name is Leonard Jackson and I started in Chinese Martial Arts about 42 years ago and I’m still doing it. What I’ve learnt is that I’m passing my knowledge now, back to my students. I studied in a traditional Chinese system and did it for about 35 years and went off and trained in boxing, traditional western boxing, and I wanted to blend different systems together. So you’ve got Chinese martial arts, boxing, kickboxing, Judo, Aikido, Ninjutsu, then you have the Tiger forms, Leopard, Phoenix system, monkey. You’ll bring a painting a collage of different systems together.

What I try to instil in my students is that you have to be flexible in your thinking, so I talk about being flexible and be fluid. I remember having that as a caption on my card “be fluid, be flexible” and everybody thought it meant you stretch this and that way. I didn’t want to put a limit on your learning, so you’re learning one system and you look at it and say, “what can I get out of that system?” So someone said to me, “you need to come up with a name.” I came up with loads of name, I had Tiger Fist, I was born in ’62, year of the Tiger, so I had tiger first. It was all very oriental, but after coming up with about 30 different names but I finally I looked at my Jamaican heritage, and my family lineage is Maroons, so I picked Maroon Fist, because that is me. I like to use my fists, when I’m doing kung fu.

Then I had to come up with a logo of Yin and Yang and on fire and me holding the fire. I think whenever you have a martial arts you should have a complement of it. Like you’d have hard and soft, so too much hard movement is not good for the body, so you need to complement it with something softer, like a bit of Tai Chi or a bit of Qi Gong. A lighter form of martial arts which is healthy for your body. From there Maroon Fist started to grow. So I had to start working on the systems and changing them to suit me, but that doesn’t mean because it doesn’t suit me it won’t suit someone else. So when I am watching my students now, I can think “okay, so he does it different from me, but it works” So when I am grading my students, if it works, they will pass. They could do a kick better than me or a stance better than me, but they put their own slant on it. That doesn’t mean it’s a failing, you have to big your students up, make them feel confident about what they’re doing and continue to grow. So that’s what I think, everyone is different, but as an instructor that’s what I want to get.

Doug Swift @ Enso Martial Arts Shop:

So going back to the beginning, you started quite young? When and why did you get into it?

Leonard Jackson @Maroon Fist Bristol Kung Fu:

I was working a shop on Saturdays, and I met this guy, a wonderful guy. He died at the age of 21. At the time back in the ‘70s, there was a lot of discrimination, racial discriminination. There were a lot of Asians especially Indians and Pakistanis, they were getting beaten up, etc. My friend turned to me “Len go down to central hall they are teaching Kung Fu down there.” So I went down there and it was a refuge for tramps, where they served food and hot tea, etc. and out the back there was this amazing instructor who was teaching Kung Fu. I looked at it and I thought “I want to learn that”. In the same year, I was just coming back from church and I was going to the cinema. I‘d seen this big Bruce Lee poster and a friend said to me “go and watch Enter the Dragon” and I was pretty young, so I’m not sure sure how I got in, but that was what I wanted to learn.

Things got put on the back burner now and again, with things like learning graphic design, etc. but that’s how it started back in the ‘70s.

Doug Swift @ Enso Martial Arts Shop:

So I want to ask more about your Maroon Fist style. On your website you talk about all these different elements? How does that work? Are they all mixed in together or all separate?

Leonard Jackson @Maroon Fist Bristol Kung Fu:

Well, you can mix them all in, because Mixed Martial Arts is big now, but if you have a student who wants to just concentrate on the sporting side of it, the kickboxing element. Punching, uppercuts, kicks, so that’s the kickboxing side of it. If your students want to do that, you let them do that. Then there’s the other side, the traditional side. If you want to learn the forms, the sets, the animals. Learn the characteristics of the animal, how it moves, how it attacks, backs up and so on.

That’s completely different, that’s where you want to go really deep with it. There’s the same thing for the Tai Chi element, so that’s another level of martial arts. So for me, you can bring all these element together, but it depends what the student wants. So I had a tournmant fighter who came to me, he was a marathon runner in excellent shape and I put into the Worlds, He was ready and he got silver. Whereas I have a student now who wants to do the Kung Fu, so he wants to learn Mantis, Snake and he takes it all on. Again, it’s horses for courses. I have other students that want to learn the Tai Chi, or the Yoga, but that’s the deep deep stuff. So you’re school has to have the umbrella, that suits the individual that comes. Another element that’s important is the respect element, we talk about respect, you go in and you bow. Respect is a dual thing, it has to go both ways. It’s good to have etiquette.

Doug Swift @ Enso Martial Arts Shop:

What’s your plans for the future?

Leonard Jackson @Maroon Fist Bristol Kung Fu:

Where I want to take it, is that I want to let the school grow. I have just been allowed to teach BT employees. We run a boxercise course, people that are on the computer all the time, they can come across to me and do a boxercise class. They can do self defence too. All age groups too. You don’t have to put on any special kit, you don’t need it. You won’t where a special kit on the street, you go out as you are.

We want to build Maroon Fist, I think it is important to give it back, to pass your knowledge onto your students and build their confidence. I think confidence is important, because I grew up with not having a lot of confidence. My mother raised us and I didn’t have a father figure. I was always second guessing what people were thinking. I’d go to my fellow students, “was that good?” “Yeah Len, it was great, fantastic” Next time I’d try and go faster or quicker, just double checking all te time, that it wasn’t enough.

Fairly recently I did a demonstration in front of a load of Karate guys. They’d love what you did with the sword, etc. I had loads of great feedback and in my head I’m saying “ was it good, are you sure?” I think that’s what kept my feet on the ground. But it is hard to gauge whether you are good or not, in tournament fighting it’s easy to see who’s the bets but in traditional martial arts you don’t have that. When we use the word traditional, we mean the person who is using the elements of a fighting art in a form or set. If yo look at those forms they can look very stiff, whereas western fighting styles like boxing are very fluid.

This is what I want to get into my students, this fluidty. Take a boxer and a martial artist, and he catches you with a good punch, he’ll claim your style is rubbish, but it depends who is behind the art and how much work they have put in. But you cannot measure two traditional systems, or judge their forms. How do you judge it? He did the splits so he’s better. If I do a Tai Chi set, to a youngster, it boring, it’s not exciting. If I jump up and did cartwheels, in the West we love it, this guy is amazing, it’s the Hollywood stuff. If you do a slow form Tai Chi in Asia, they will understand it. This guy knows his stuff. If I did Tai Chi out on the street now, people wouldn’t know what I was doing, they’d think I’d gone nuts. “What’s he doing” They aren’t interested. When it comes to fitness, we’re quite slow at it.

Doug Swift @ Enso Martial Arts Shop:

So just finally, can you tell us about your club, your details?

Leonard Jackson @Maroon Fist Bristol Kung Fu:

Well, I train at home, I have a little hall there. They can get a hold of me on my mobile. And also we have the website www.maroonfist.co.uk and we have the maroon fist facebook page. You can google maroon fist. Everyone is welcome, if you have trained already in martial arts. If people want to fight it is the wrong place, we want to pass our knowledge and continue to grow

Watch the interview in full with Leonard Jackson Bristol Kung Fu instructor