Bujinkan Bristol instructor Mike Colbourne talks to Enso

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Doug @ Enso Martial Arts: When did you start training and why?

My dad who was ex RAF showed me a few throws and pressure points when I was a kid and I was fascinated by it. At that time I also gravitated hugely towards TV shows that had a strong theme of warriorship such as Kung Fu, Monkey and Robin of Sherwood which all had archetypal hero’s fighting injustice, usually with their formidable fighting skills and seeing weapons being used like the bo and the sword attracted me as well. I was also bullied a bit at school and wanted to know how to defend myself.

Mike at Bujinkan Bristol

: So I started Judo in my first year of Secondary School around 1980 which I did for a few years until I discovered a Higashi Karate Kai class at a local sports centre. As a split off from traditional Wado Ryu Karate, the training was much more sports and competition orientated.

Although I enjoyed it immensely, I found myself always gravitating towards the more traditional martial arts side and despite going up the ranks and winning a few trophies, I still felt quite limited in what I was learning so decided to look around for something that resonated fully with me.

I tried various arts such as Kung Fu and Kendo and even studied stick fighting techniques from a library book (spookily written by my future Grandmaster) before seeing a poster in the old Hero’s martial arts shop in Bristol in 1987 (the height of the Ninja boom) and finally found my home in the art of Ninjutsu at the Victoria Rooms in Clifton.

I asked the teacher Phil to do some techniques on me to test their effectiveness and felt excruciating pain with really minimal effort from him. I was sold.

Doug @ Enso Martial Arts: Who else have you trained with over the years?

Mike at Bujinkan Bristol

: I had the brief opportunity in Judo to train with Arthur Mapp who competed in the 1980 Olympics as well as Brian Jacks who won Britain’s first medal at a world judo championship, taking a bronze in 1967 gaining a second bronze at the 1972 Munich Olympics and who was at that time a national hero in the BBC1 show Superstars. Both were outstanding as you’d expect and I certainly learnt how to break fall!

The Higashi Karate class was taught by Lloyd Russell and his assistant instructor Cleeve, both great guys with Cleeve showing me more of the traditional side. Lloyd was a former British champion at the time so the training was much more competition orientated, and sparring with Lloyd and the others was tough but definitely enjoyable.

My teacher of Bujinkan Bristol Ninjutsu was Phil Mullins, a hugely gifted teacher and a much valued close friend. He was awarded his 5th Dan in 1991 and was the founder and principal instructor of Bujinkan Bristol Ninjutsu Dojo since its inception in 1985 until retiring from public teaching in 2008. He continues to be an on-going source of inspiration to me.

In addition to training with Grandmaster Hatsumi of the Bujinkan and his senior master teachers whilst in Japan, I’ve also had the pleasure of training at Tai Kai’s and seminars with Chris Roworth, Dave Heald and Peter King.
Bujinkan Bristol

Doug @ Enso Martial Arts: Tell us a bit about Japan.

Mike at Bujinkan Bristol

: Well, my good friend Craig and I had always wanted to go since we both joined the art in 1987 and as we were both 4th dan’s and Grandmaster Hatsumi was no longer travelling overseas, this meant it was a perfect opportunity to go to Japan in 2005 and potentially take the 5th Dan test (also called the sakki test) which only the Grandmaster could administer himself.

The ‘sakki’ test involves the student kneeling in seiza position with his back to the Grandmaster who stands above him with a sword and at a moment of his choosing, he cuts the sword, without stepping, down onto the students head and the student has to intuitively sense the cut and the danger, and thus move out of the way untouched.

Fortunately both of us passed this nerve wracking experience and we were awarded our 5th Dan grades along with our full teaching certificates. So that was an experience I won’t forget!

We trained with Grandmaster Hatsumi (genius) and his highly skilled master teachers such as Noguchi, Nagato, Shiraishi, Seno and the late Oguri San as many times as we could afford, both physically and financially. We just loved the whole experience of the Budo training as well as the sights and culture of Japan of course.

I hope to go back in the next few years; however it took me 3 years to pay off the last trip so I better start saving now!

Doug @ Enso Martial Arts: How do you think your training has developed over the years?

Mike at Bujinkan Bristol

: In the beginning of my budo training, like most people I struggled to know where to put my hands, my feet, where to put my focus and was very tense both physically and mentally. There were times I thought I would never get it. But knowing that ‘Nin’ can mean ‘perseverance’ I continued – and now years later I understand that this is very much part of the martial training to ‘keep going’.

After a while I learnt the basics of how to move and shape the body, and learnt how to relax in order to respond appropriately to whatever was happening in the moment using the principles that the Bujinkan Bristol teaches. I developed a better understanding of distance, timing, intention and of course myself in this forging process.

I feel now that I can creatively express myself much more freely with my Budo as things have dropped away. There’s no politics, no longer a pressure to perform, to be better than anyone else, no desire to be strong or perfect or to increase my rank. Just me and the Budo.

For myself Budo is not just a set of physical skills, it has to cultivate the whole of you and it has to transfer outside the dojo into the world of relationships, work, friendships etc.

Doug @ Enso Martial Arts: What are your goals for the future?

Mike at Bujinkan Bristol

: My goals are to keep delving ever deeper into the world of Budo, exploring my own art as well as others. Every art has something to offer I believe, as well as the great friendships that can be found through the shared passion of martial arts.

In order to pass on and give back more of what I have been given in my Budo journey, I am also opening a new dojo called Bujinkan Bushin Dojo in Bristol which should be in place in May 2015. So if anyone is interested in coming along, please feel free to check out the website at www.bujinkanbushindojo.co.uk or alternatively you can just email me at colbournemichael@hotmail.com for details.

Doug @ Enso Martial Arts: Tell us about your club now.

Mike at Bujinkan Bristol

: Well Bujinkan Bristol Ninjutsu Dojo has been running now since 1985 and we’re the longest established Ninjutsu dojo in the South-West. In fact, many of the Ninjutsu practitioners teaching in the Bristol and surrounding areas have come from Bujinkan Bristol so we must be doing something right!

We train in a friendly and relaxed atmosphere in Cadbury Heath on Thursdays 8pm-9.30pm. The dojo has mats and tuition is provided by Craig Nash, an experienced 5th dan and of course myself.

We employ natural body movements to strike, apply locks and strangles, and to throw. Once the basic principles of unarmed self defence have been grasped, weapons training is then introduced to the student.
As our art has nine schools to teach from within the Bujinkan Bristol system, our classes can cover a wide variety of techniques, both unarmed and weapon skills and of course lots of basics, rolling, breakfalling etc so it’s safe to say we’ve always got more than enough to study and vary the training with!

Beginners or the more experienced martial artists are welcome to train of course and students get their first lesson free. We’ve got male and female students, some are experienced and some not and the minimum age requirement for children is 13.

If anyone’s interested in training, they can find our website at www.bujinkan bristol.co.uk, our facebook at www.facebook.com/BujinkanBristolNinjutsuDojo or they can email me at the address above.