John James from Dragon Arnis Bristol

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Dragon Arnis Bristol

John James @ Dragon Arnis Bristol

Thank you very much for doing an interview today for our martial art of the month, Escrima / Arnis Bristol.

Chris @ Enso Martial Arts Shop

: Could we begin with you telling us a little bit about yourself and your background and how and when you started Escrima.

John James @ Dragon Arnis Bristol

Yeah my pleasure. I started Escrima or Arnis a lot longer ago than when I actually went to a formal class if you get my drift. I started doing it in the late 80’s informally with one of my Kung Fu instructors back in Swansea who had been and trained with people like John Harvey and Pat O’Malley up in London and Luton. I started to get an interest in it then. As I was based in London, I started end of 1994 in Escrima, that was Rapid Arnis then under Pat and John when they were still together as co-head teachers as it were. It just escalated from there really.

Chris @ Enso Martial Arts Shop

: Right ok. With the Arnis, Escrima is that a generic term for stick fighting or does it vary depending on?

John James @ Dragon Arnis Bristol

Yeah lots of different clubs use Escrima, like Doce Pares, that’s one of the big generic styles. Others Arnis, it depends where you are in the Philippines I think. Arnis is more common so I’m led to believe in the Vizianes, so places like Sebu; and Escrima is more commonly used in Manila, in the mainland. Then you get other places like Mindanao sometimes they use the word Kali. Kali is more commonly used in America for some reason.

Chris @ Enso Martial Arts Shop

: Right ok. Have you studied any other martial arts, if so how has it affected you and would you recommend it?

John James @ Dragon Arnis Bristol

: Well I started martial arts when I was about 7 or 8, so nearly 42 years ago now. The original art I did was Judo back in Swansea where I’m from. I did that for a short while, less than a year. Then I went on to do Wadoryu Karate under Uno Wellington, again less than a year. For me personally they didn’t appeal greatly to me but I enjoyed them. Then when I was 12 I started Kung Fu, called Feng Shou under Grandmaster Chee Soo and I did that all the way through and I never stopped martial arts from 12 years old really.

Chris @ Enso Martial Arts Shop

: Did you find a lot of the skills you learnt in Judo, Wadoryu and Kung Fu transferable or did you have to learn new techniques in regards to stick fighting?

John James @ Dragon Arnis Bristol

: The reason I started the Arnis or stick fighting was the Kung Fu system, well the judo system certainly didn’t cover at the level I was at any weapon work and the karate certainly wouldn’t until I got to black belt or beyond. Filipino stuff is totally the other way around. They teach weapons first generally, then empty hands late on; we mix it in the class from early on. The principle behind that is basically if you get attacked by a weapon, which is quite common out in the Philippines or used to be, you’re less likely to survive a weapon attack than you are an empty hand attack. So its better to learn a little bit of the weapon work first and transfer that into empty hands because you might be able to crawl away from a fist fight you probably wouldn’t from a weapon attack.

The thing that appealed to me most was actually self defence against a weapon, so I looked for a system to do that and found Arnis. My friends and my instructors in Kung Fu had done courses with John Harvey and Pat O’Maley, and then I trained with them; and eventually found them in London, trained with them in London. The starting point was I suppose the fact you pick up a weapon like a 28 inch Rattan stick and your coordination isn’t great with it, wow back to beginner, which is great, do something that puts them back in to the equivalent of a white belt and I quite enjoyed that and I think because I did a fare few different martial arts my coordination was quite good, I could juggle as well which is surprisingly useful.

Chris @ Enso Martial Arts Shop

: Did you find yourself picking it up very quickly then?

John James @ Dragon Arnis Bristol

: I did yeah. I hadn’t intended to do any gradings or competitions I had no real desire for it. I sort of did all of that with the Kung Fu. I was just quite happy adding to my knowledge base and just going along to train but I did get pulled into it quite quickly with grading and competing.

Chris @ Enso Martial Arts Shop

: Have you done any Escrima training outside of the UK, if so how did you find the experience?

John James @ Dragon Arnis Bristol

: Yeah I was very fortunate to qualify for the British team in 2000 in fact prior to that as well for European championship, but the world championship in 2000 was in the Philippines so that was like a bedrock for me with finding instructors or being introduced to instructors by my instructors such as Ondo Caburnay from the Leputianis Abinico system, amazing guy. Juny Kenyete from the Doce Paras multi style system and quite a few others like Nick Ellisar who was then in Balintok now he has his own nicle stick Escrima system, so yeah we trained quite a lot with those guys as much as we could really and I’ve been back since to train with them as well.

Chris @ Enso Martial Arts Shop

: So how did you find the comparison between other there to here?

Dragon Arnis Bristol

John James @ Dragon Arnis Bristol

: I was very fortunate really training under Pat and John, they had already, I suppose along with Bob Breen, who’s like the godfather of stick fighting in Britain. They incorporate a lot of different systems and styles into their own system, which meant that anyone training with them and hopefully now with me would be able to fit into another class what ever system it is was and maybe not know the same terms because sometimes they use different languages let alone terms, it’s all transferable skill, so I find it straight forward training with them, but a great eye opener as well because they are the best at what they do really.

Chris @ Enso Martial Arts Shop

: What do you feel you get from Escrima that you don’t get from other Martial Arts?

John James @ Dragon Arnis Bristol

: Well certainly Escrima or Arnis is well known for it’s weapon work and the intensity, and complexity and simplicity in many ways of the weapon work is the main thing you get from Escrima or Arnis and that’s why most of my classes are full of other instructors because they found the same thing that I did twenty odd years ago. I wouldn’t say other systems lack weapon work some systems, I wouldn’t name them, have weapon work I don’t think would work and puts people at risk with the mental approach and the actual practical approach. So I think certainly it’s the defence against as well as using the weapons and the main reason we learn to use a weapon is so we have a greater understanding of how it can be used against us.

Chris @ Enso Martial Arts Shop

: What are your biggest accomplishments and the highs and maybe some of the lows if you have had any?

John James @ Dragon Arnis Bristol

: I suppose the, from a martial arts perspective, the highs include; I think they all come from my students really. Through the club we’ve had 11 world champions I can’t even count how many British champions or British championships individuals have won. Several of the club members have won British, European and World titles and limited amour titles where with the weapon work we don’t do it very often but it’s quite damaging for the body. Limited amour is where you use a live stick with just a helmet and a pair of gloves and a groin guard; we’ve had several champions that way as well. So those are the highs, I’ve won British, European and Word titles myself but I think seeing my students do it, getting their black belts and well earned black belts as well, that’s been the thing that stands out for me

Chris @ Enso Martial Arts Shop

: What would you say is the biggest positive influence Arnis/Escrima has had upon you?

John James @ Dragon Arnis Bristol

: I think one of the biggest influences is it certainly rounded me out as a martial artist. Punching, kicking, grappling are all part of Arnis as well but my martial arts, certainly not everyone’s, but my martial arts lacked ability to use and counter weapons. It gave me an added respect for anyone that picked anything else up whereas in many ways as a martial artist had a unrealistic confidence against weapons prior to starting Arnis . Now I have a realistic expectation founded on many years of training with them and a much better chance of dealing with them, but it hedges your bets against a person with a weapon, especially a bladed weapon.

Chris @ Enso Martial Arts Shop

: Can you tell us about what keeps you interested in Escrima after all these years?

John James @ Dragon Arnis Bristol

: Yeah that’s a good one. I suppose I don’t and I’ve never have stuck to formula teaching and just working off a grading syllabus. I like to develop an art and I like to help other people develop the art my students have contributed to Dragon Arnis as much as I have and I think the evolution of an art is what keeps me going.

Chris @ Enso Martial Arts Shop

: If you could give one piece of advice to somebody that is beginning there martial arts journey now, what would it be?

John James @ Dragon Arnis Bristol

: Go along and watch a class if you don’t like the instructor and you don’t respect the instructor or you feel that the instructor doesn’t respect his student’s….walk away. Find someone that will respect their students and they in turn will have a much better chance of respecting them. Because it’s a relationship like any other you don’t go to your grandmaster and ask for mortgage advice but there are grandmasters and other esteemed practitioners that let things go to their ego and believe that they have a very valid opinion about things they are not qualified to have opinions upon so find an instructor that you can respect and you can quite easily see whether you respect someone in the first 10 minutes of a class I would say.

Chris @ Enso Martial Arts Shop

: Yeah definitely. Can you tell us about your teaching career?

John James @ Dragon Arnis Bristol

: I’ve taught martial arts, Tai Chi Kung Fu and the Filipino arts for 30 years, yeah it must be 30 years. I’ve always enjoyed teaching big classes, small classes, seminars. Mny of my students are reluctant to teach their own classes.

Chris @ Enso Martial Arts Shop

: Why do you think that is?

John James @ Dragon Arnis Bristol

: They still enjoy coming along and learning, admittedly as they progress and become better the amount of learning that they get back in a class new experiences will be lower than the first few years where you get an overload of information and new techniques and thing plateau. You basically want to know about my teaching technique or?

Chris @ Enso Martial Arts Shop

: Not necessarily your technique but just overall what you’ve done over the years with regards to teaching all the martial arts.

John James @ Dragon Arnis Bristol

: Yeah I’ve always enjoyed teaching from even on one to one basis, private lessons which I don’t really do now. One of the best things I’ve found is actually teaching students to become teachers which I never actually received myself unfortunately, that’s not a failing of my instructors by any means, it’s just they didn’t teach their students to become teachers , it’s just a different way.

Chris @ Enso Martial Arts Shop

: What are your aims and goals in training and outside of training?

John James @ Dragon Arnis Bristol

: Well one of the more recent goals in the last few years has come to fruition in many ways is to become head coach of the British Stick Fighting Team, The Global Stick and Blade Alliance, was formed actually in Las Vegas in 2012. Myself and Damien Mills are the head coaches of the British team and we’ve managed to exceed all expectations as a British team and we’ve more than doubled the number of gold medals in a British team has ever had at one championship. The last world championship in Italy, we had 28 fighters and the Americans who had the biggest team, over 50 fighters. We managed to beat them by one medal, which was probably the best achievement we’ve had to date. We did it with a team that really gelled together and helped each other. They fought each other in the final too, and did it with respect too. We won a lot of respect from the other country coaches and the federation. That was one of the biggest goals for us, to expand upon that.

We have a world championships this year in Hawaii, and then the following year is the Europeans in Poland. So we should hope to have a big team there, but Hawaii because of the cost, everyone is self funded it’s a big ask.

Chris @ Enso Martial Arts Shop

: and what about outside the martial arts?

John James @ Dragon Arnis Bristol

: I have one student that’s emigrating to Spain, British European and World champion Erin Turin, he’s going to be living in Pamplona. I hope once, he’s settled he’ll open up a club there and expand around Spain and into France. I have a student on the South coats and hopefully he can set up a club there too.

Chris @ Enso Martial Arts Shop

: To finish off, could you tell us about your classes for those interested in starting Escrima.

John James @ Dragon Arnis Bristol

: I think, come with an open mind, don’t leave what you already know at the door. If you have a background in Karate, Taekwondo, there’s nothing wrong with what you already do. Arnis for me is something that blends very well with a lot for other systems. You adapt and take on board what works for you. If you’ve never done a martial art before expect your mind to be befuddled with coordination, because even using hands and feet is hard enough, whe you’re a beginner, but put a stick in your hand as well. It has a life of it’s own. It becomes a lot more complicated. Also, you are more likely to be clipped by a beginner than by an experienced practitioner, just the way it is. I always tell my more experienced guys, be careful with beginners, for them and for you.

Chris @ Enso Martial Arts Shop

: So where are your classes?

John James @ Dragon Arnis Bristol

: They’re at the Scotch Horn Leisure Centre in Nailsea and they’re on Tuesday and Wednesday from 8 – 10pm.

Chris @ Enso Martial Arts Shop

: is there a particular starting age?

John James @ Dragon Arnis Bristol

: Well because we don’t use weapons, apart for the stick, we don’t use live blades. We use Machetes, Bolo, Kampilan, Kris Blades, all sorts of different blades like Pinuti. They aren’t sharp but they are heavy, so have to be a bit careful

Chris @ Enso Martial Arts Shop

: so what sort of age would you suggest starting?

John James @ Dragon Arnis Bristol

: A teenager, 13 – 14. I have had younger children. I used to run a children’s class but time doesn’t allow it now. For children we don’t use the practice knives, it’s okay for teenagers.

Chris @ Enso Martial Arts Shop

: Fantastic, thank you for your time and talking to Enso Martial Arts.

John James @ Dragon Arnis Bristol

: It’s been a treat, Thank you

You can visit John James website here for more details: www.dragonarnis.co.uk