This month I got to meet Dan Lewis, Goju Ryu Karate Instructor of DKK – Daigaku Karate Kai, they run classes in Bristol and Portishead so I travelled down to Portishead whilst he conducted an intense and large group grading for varying levels.
From the other side of the car park I can hear some seriously loud Kiai’s and I head towards a room of extremely focussed karate students. As a senior student asks if I am lost, Dan spots me and heads over. I’m given a friendly and warm welcome and a brief plan of action between us, then his serious face returns and he steps back in to run some fitness drills. Just watching this class I am compelled to join in as instructions are given, plus I’m happily reminded of my karate days some 30+ years ago.
This is a well oiled machine, the group moves as one, a pack, for various reasons they split in to smaller groups, each expertly run by its own impressive senior, all this with military precision and an overall cohesion. This is not like other classes I have witnessed but more like the entire room training to the best of each and every individuals ability but like it’s a team sport. Everyone pushes everyone to the limit, but then comforts them if it gets too much. After a couple of hours in the room I feel like I’m being welcomed to a family. The katas are well drilled and the sparring has good contact and excellent application. Despite the intense focus, sweat, emotions and stress (it’s a grading after all) there are smiles all around and a few jokes thrown in when appropriate, and then they go to the pub (bonus). Its at this point I get to sit and have a more structured chat with the master himself.
So Dan how did it start for you in the Martial Arts world?
So it was about 35 years ago a friend was doing Kyokushin Karate I didn’t really have a clue what it was at the time, but I was happy to go along. I remember the first lesson and I thought this is fantastic and just came home and practised every single day. Went back the next week completely ecstatic again, and so on for every lesson. Then about 13 years later I came to Bristol to study and went to a Goju club and hooked up with Gavin Holland and Stu Gent met with their instructors and then DKK was founded, Daigaku meaning University I was at Bristol Gavin was at Westminster and we never looked back, its been great.
Whats the lineage and history, there is some Okinawan Karate and Chinese White Crane and from what I have seen some grappling too, where has that mix come from?
Goju originated from Naha-te which is the indigenous martial art of Naha. The white crane part of the system came from China via Chojun Miyagi who formalised Goju as we see it today. But he also trained in Judo, had an influence of grappling and weapons, so its within the system, it was all there as a traditional system. We are mainly a stand up system so we use our hands elbows knees and feet primarily.
Normally what you are carrying around with you then!
Is there a particular reason why you picked karate after trying other styles and stick fighting you’ve come back to it?
I think as with many people really it was the first thing I did and didn’t know any different then as years progressed I looked at other systems, some lacking in areas and then Goju really gave me the complete system the depth and breadth of a whole system. The stick fighting was similar so then mix that into the Goju also.
I see you have done door work in the past is that something that led to the Karate or the Karate led to that?
When we were at Bristol University we actually took over the security, and it became part of our right of passage to get to black belt, I wouldn’t do it now, but it was a good understanding of your mechanics and how to work things and how to control your fear. But also good for techniques, all my instructors have been in or around that environment so it was always kind of there really.
So if someone as a beginner comes down to your class, what can they expect?
Well they are gonna get a kicking (We laugh, he’s joking, I almost choke laughing), well they might at some point (laughs again)(please do not let this put you in fear, he is alluding more to the hardcore style of training than beating innocent, random strangers……I’m pretty sure anyway! J ).
Well its interesting because I’m a teacher by trade so I have a very nurturing side, so they will get pushed hard right from the very start, and endorphins kick in and if doing grappling they can be in close proximity to people which they might not be used to so they either take it or don’t and those that take it tend to stay.
Then it becomes addictive doesn’t it.
A little bit of pain is quite nice (we share a knowing giggle).
You’ve said that your students don’t need to compete but you have had some success with students who have taken that path?
So Neil “Goliath” Grove (hope that’s right) fought in Cage Rage about 10 years ago he was the British World champion.
Was that a UFC style championship?
It was but a British based one. It was great as they didn’t really like karate and he went in and within about 10 seconds he knocked out their lead guy at the time, and we had a few others as well. And of recent times a few other guys have enter Kyokushin knock down competitions (a more traditional event) its full contact to the body, legs to the head. But no full punches to the head. One did really well getting Gold in Heavy weight and one got gold in Middle weight, so if they want to compete I wouldn’t say no to it, it is a great testing ground. It’s also good to be able to say we came out tops from it.
From what I saw tonight there is a lot of sparring, grappling and pad work is that a normal lesson scenario?
So its taken me a long time to get to where I was, understanding karate, thinking that Kata (the forms) is So crucial and everything comes out of those katas, the sparring, the pad work, the sweating, all of that is within that kata.
The old adage Practice makes perfect.
Yes, You’ve got pad work, the mechanics for each kata so we do a lot of sparring and pad work in the classes but they are all joined up and follow a line it all flows as you progress, which some clubs do but not all of them.
We discussed stages earlier, was it four stages?
Yes, so Gavin (the other head instructor) wrote a book “Four Shades of black” from beginner to black belt and about understanding kata. So, first kata the applications aren’t overly important but they are there, it’s all about down the line smash and destroy.
Second Kata is about smash and destroy down the line but open hand techniques but then coming off line and angles of attack. Defending and pulling someone off balance.
Thrid Kata is about all that but now someone has got their hands on you so its all about smashing and tearing or tearing them.
The Fourth kata incorporates all that and then trap and battle which is then grappling either standing up or on the ground.
Do the different style influences affect or change in that progression?
They all allude to them really and each alludes to the next kata, so come the fourth or fifth kata you get a little bit more of the crane influences within them really.
As a kid I always thought karate was quite solid but you seem to have a good hard and soft training mix within this style, is that something that makes you different from other Karate styles?
I think some systems are unaware, some have lost it and it also depends on the instructor. I want to keep this as a complete system the best I can, I try not to miss anything. The Go and the Ju actually come from the Sanchin in the kata (the breathing) soft side. It’s a good blend.
You mentioned Sanchin briefly there, I believe you are writing a book on that, how’s it going?
It’s taking some time! (laughs) I’m a busy man. So it’s three battles, the mind body and spirit part of it, it is a karate book as such but its not just about that, its about using it to get over things in my life and getting over things like death in the family and using that but also looking at the actual kata as well and how it all affects you. Then the latter half is How the body mechanics work in the kata.
So you have taken the karate into the rest of your life and used it and then brought that back into the karate as a benefit also.
Yes, definitely, my life and my karate is completely entwined like most martial artists.
Some people like to use it as a separate entity or as an escape but you have blended it all as one.
Yes I can’t escape that now, One day I will finish my book, its only been about ten years so far (more laughs).
I noticed in part of the class some students had their tops off and were being poked and bashed, is that some sort of chi cleansing process, can you explain, is it a system secret?
So that is actually the Sanchin, we are looking at their muscular and skeletal alignment, how they are holding themselves and just correcting it. Testing their balance when taking a hit and also a mind thing so they know its going to happen but they don’t know when. So Mentally they have to be ready for it, Physically preparing their body and spiritually they have to get through all that. They have to be grounded but not completely solid they have a softness and be ready to react and move.
Similar to tempting hands testing a feel and testing reflexes etc.
I also noticed green belt is a particular achievement in your club?
Yeah so once they get to green belt they get the club badge which basically states they now have a solid understanding of the basics and are able to go to other clubs (not that we want that) and have a good understanding and develop from there, it’s a right of passage in a way.
When they get to black belt (5 – 6 Years) they can then do a 30 man fight, they don’t HAVE to do this but it can be done and that is everyone with the Black Gi’s you saw in the class. There is also a Tattoo that the seniors get, again they don’t have to, but a lot of them have, we are NOT a CULT, its not anything like that. (Chuckles away again).
We also have 3 years between our black belts, most do two but I think that it takes the first year or so to realise you have the black belt and where you are at, then you have to understand how to move on so we give that extra time to absorb first and then move on to the next one
Once we get to 6th Dan as well you have to do something to give something back outside DKK, it could be writing a book or articles for a magazine or something like that.
That is not something I’ve heard of before but I really like that.
Thanks so much to Dan Lewis, this is a brief summary of a long evening with many ups and downs throughout, which made this process difficult, but we overcame them all. As I said, I felt like part of the family when I got home at midnight, this is a fantastic club with a superb bunch of people all from a man that absolutely lives and breathes his art and is an inspiring influence. Thanks to everyone at the class also, I’m sorry for standing in the way and poking cameras in your face and huge congratulations to all those that levelled up, you all thoroughly deserved it. And thank you to the man who bought me a beer! All the best for recovery to Dan’s daughter who suffered a non karate related injury and ended up in hospital during the evening too. If you are in or near Portishead, this is a well thought out structured system with truly dedicated and well trained participants from white belt to the master himself, get down there and get serious about training with these guys and gals. An absolute pleasure and I’ll be back to do some footage for our You tube channel at some point, cannot wait.