Bristol Dojo Imperial Karate Interview with Instructor Simon O’Brien (Part 1)

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PHIL @ Enso Martial Arts – Hi Simon, Thank you very much for giving us your time. Could you tell us about your history in Karate please?

SIMON @ Bristol Dojo

– Ok, well I started in 1979, so yeah, a fair few years ago. I’m originally from Cardiff, I did the usual school kid thing, trying something for 2 weeks and then moving on to the next thing, but Karate got me hooked. I started when I was 12, and have been training ever since 1979.

PHIL -Excellent, and how long have you been teaching for?

SIMON @ Bristol Dojo

– Well, when I retired from competitive Karate, a lot of people retire and they give up, you’ve got to have something else as a goal as people who compete are goal orientated and I just felt I wanted to do more so I started teaching, probably about 20 years ago, and the built up a following from then.

bristol dojoPHIL – Great. You mentioned your competitive background. Could you tell us a bit about your biggest accomplishments and the highs and maybe some of the lows if you had them?

SIMON @ Bristol Dojo

– Well you know Phil, there’s always highs and lows when you compete out there. The club I was involved with in Cardiff, everyone competed, that’s what you did! You trained your skills, then you competed with them. There wasn’t really any option not to do it. I think I lost every fight in the first year I competed, I just wasn’t one of those people who would win and then suddenly I got a win, I started to train harder, and the wins kept coming and I just got hooked on it. I think it was my inability to quit and keep going. Eventually at my association black belt championships, so I got my black belt after training for 8 or 9 years, which then put in the competition category with other black belts and second time in it, I won it! Which got me noticed by some of the senior coaches and bout 6 months after that I was picked for the Welsh national team and I was a member of the Welsh national team for 7 years and then also my association national team, and lucky enough if you fight national level then you’re able to go round the world and financially it gets paid for and I got to train with people that I probably never would have got a chance to train with if I didn’t compete.

PHIL -Excellent, which countries did you got to?

SIMON @ Bristol Dojo

– I competed all over the UK and Europe and a lot of the Scandinavian countries and I spent some time in Japan as well, so yeah well travelled, and other countries like Ukraine and the Eastern block countries.

PHIL – Excellent. How do you think the sport side of Karate compares now to when you were in your prime?

SIMON @ Bristol Dojo

– I think the main difference is the level of contact. We wore small gloves. Gum shields weren’t compulsory and you looked a bit soft if you had to wear a gum shield.. ‘what’s the matter with you? Why are you wearing a gum shield?’. It was supposed to be controlled contact to the head, but you know it wasn’t, and it was full contact to the body. So maybe just under full contact to the head. But if you knocked somebody down you won the fight, now if you knock someone down you get disqualified. So I think all sports are more safety conscious now. My main thing is, is that safety consciousness has gone and taken a lot of the hardness out of the art that I liked. And you know if that if you didn’t block that punch or kick, it was going to land on you and it was going to hurt. Now you haven’t got that, if someone hits you and its light contact, its not going to hurt anyway. And a lot of the semi contact sports have gone down that route, and again, I think most of the people from my era would prefer the hardness of the knock and you certainly learnt where your mistakes were.
PHIL – Yeah ‘pain is the best teacher, but nobody want’s to go to his class’ as they say.

SIMON @ Bristol Dojo

– Exactly! And you know, I’ve broken bones, all my front teeth are false, and broken noses and everything. So maybe not the best thing, but you know there were some great karateka in those days even in Bristol, there’s some fantastic coaches from that era that are still out there teaching. And I think if it wasn’t for that hardness, it wouldn’t have made that character.
PHIL – How do you see the traditional side compared to the sport side of Karate now? Do you have a preference, do your students do more competition or a mixture of the 2?
Well I’m old school now. One of the old brigade. I think the years training, I’ll be 50 this year, so I’m young but one of the old brigade, and we still train that way and we train hard, that’s my view of Karate. I think sport Karate, like anything else, evolves, and it’s now almost a separate martial art from Karate. A lot of the things we train, you can’t compete with. Sport Karate guys are athletes like any other athletes out there, high level, high performance and quite technical athletes, and to be successful in that arena you have to train solely in that arena. So there’s definitely a split between the traditional type Karate and the sport Karate and both have their merits, and both have their individual skills, but the 2 are 2 different martial arts.
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SIMON @ Bristol Dojo

> PHIL – I understand you have done some cross training throughout your time. How would you say that that has affected your Karate? Would you recommend it? What’s your ethos on cross-training?

SIMON @ Bristol Dojo

– Well if you have a look at any traditional art, even Karate, Kung fu, Taekwon-do, if you look at their routes they’re all complete arts. Karate is not just a stand up art, and especially my style of Karate, Wado Ryu. The founder of Wado Ryu Hironori ?tsuka was a 10th dan in ju Jitsu before he had his first Karate lesson. When he had had his lesson he decided that this would be a good fit in with his Ju jitsu, as Ju jitsu has limited striking ability. So he threw his Shotokan Karate in with his Ju jitsu to develop Wado Ryu. It’s just when Karate came to England in the 50’s and 60’s

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This is a two part interview, more to follow soon. Watch this space!

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www.bristoldojo.com