Standing in the gym was as surreal moment that was shattered by the 15/16 years old I was just about to teach boxing to!
I had stood in that very same spot not knowing the path my life would take until I returned to this place, this school, and this gym. When I was 15 I had already begun my martial arts journey, travelling to Darlington every Thursday to train for 3 hours and then practice what I learned in this gym of St Anselms RC high school (now St. Thomas More) at the youth club every Monday and Wednesday evening. Myself and my friend Peter would get the mats out, roll, do wristlocks or try to remember Kamae No Kata and run around like real ninjas. My life was already planned, I was going in the Junior leader, I had passed the tests and was due to go in a week after finishing school. I did this, but during a particular hard assault course I tore my pectoral muscles; After being in hospital in Aldershot I was medically discharged due to my age but would be allowed to return at a later date if wished. I returned home and joined the 6th form and tried to regain my strength which took about 6 months of stretching and exercises.
I carried on training Ninjutsu, but my life changed one sunny evening, I was a defender for the 6th form football team, and I was good at it, and must have seriously pissed off the other team because I got told later, they came up with a plan to put me out of action… they did!
As the second half started two of them ran at me and stamped on my leg breaking both my tibia and fibula. The match was abandoned due to my foot facing the wrong way and the ambulance being on the pitch. My leg required 5 pins and a plate to hold it together; so, there would be no way I would be allowed to return to the forces. Ironically, I have taught a lot of different units and military personal because I feel the need to make them safe just as they are employed to keep us safe. My passion for training has taken me all over the world, trying to ignore the steel holding up my leg, my life at 6th form was not great as I struggled with my sudden change of career and life path. After leaving 6th form I tried many jobs, from working in factories and shops; notably working for weider the Bodybuilding Company. The only constant in my life was my training; where I was teaching at 18 years old and gained my black belt by the age of 20. I ran two classes per week, one in Newcastle Collage and the other in North Shields R.A.O.B club. Teaching at that age was a steep learning curve, full of people wanting to be real ninjas and other people want to show me how tough they were. I had so many fights because they would not take my word that the techniques worked. This led to door work and running a gym at Gallowgate street in Newcastle and trying to hold down a full-time job in a factory. This I did for a while until I took the leap to full time gym owner.
The arts and door work gave me a great opportunity to test my skills in a live environment and then gain more knowledge about both sides of the martial arts coin, I never wanted to be a dry land swimmer; The only way to learn was to jump in the pool. I worked with Geoff Thompson and Peter Consterdine and became one of the founding members of the British Combat Association and personally graded to 4th Dan about 15 years ago but never graded since but have taken about 15-20 people to 1st Dan in the B.C.A which I am very proud of!
Emma, one on the girls that worked in Berties bar in Tynemouth (one of the best bars I have ever worked in) had went on to become a P.E teacher at St. Thomas More (formally St. Anselms). One day I got a message from her wondering If I could teach Boxing Techniques to a Year 11 GCSE class; I was honoured to go back to my former school to teach. After all the paperwork was handled I was to teach the class in the dance studio (the former dining hall), this felt odd, teaching where I used to eat my fish bites beans with a brownie for afters. An old teacher popped in to see me, Mr Stanton (history) said he had heard a rumour I was teaching and wanted to say hello, I still called him sir which the kids thought that was very funny, but I told them everything should begin and end in respect. If you have ever taught 15/16 years old you have to give them some leeway in training but not let them rule you, I call them the Kevin & Perry class just like the one I have in the AFC. They whine and moan a lot, but I teach them to the best of my ability. One day we were moved to the gymnasium, it had had a face lift, but it was basically the same as it was in my day (feeling old now). This particular day they were being lazy and back chatting me, so I sat them down and told them I was once their age in this room doing the same thing they were doing to me. I wanted to inspire them with my teaching, encourage them to do their very best and it was an honour to be teaching them. By the end of the sessions I had everyone at a good standard and videoed them to show themselves and others how good they were in the 10 weeks I taught them for. Standing in that gym at that time telling a group that they can be anything they want to be if only they put in the work and effort and not be frightened about taking the hard path. It is less travelled by the few, that made their own way in life, Fear is the friend of exceptional people. I used my fears to travel to different places to learn new things, so I could be standing in front of this group 31 years later as living proof that they can do it!
I have gone full circle
Until next time
Big love from the AFC