In the company of legends

Bob Sykes and Paul Barnett of M.A.I magazine have run the Martial Arts show for the past 3 years, but this year was going to be the best ever, and I wanted to be there. Bill Wallace, Benny the Jet Urquidez and Brian Jacks were all going to be there along with a host of amazing martial artists at the Doncaster Dome.

I was gearing up and getting myself excited, like a kid going to Disney world when disaster struck; my knee locked out. I have had a reoccurring injury where my knee sprains and locks out, so I can’t bend it, walk well and definitely not train well. I had tried to ignore the pain for a little while doing all my stretches and even put my knee brace on to try and keep my knee from locking, but one week before the show my knee locked out at the end of my Saturday classes to the point that I could not remove my brace. Sunday was no fun at all I had rest it, ice it, and then have a hot water bottle on it overnight along with pain killers, and anti-inflammatory tablets which I prefer not to take but had no other option.
Kerry could see how bad it was, so we re-organised the group classes so that some of the amazing coaches took them and I taught my privates from sitting on the ground. Trying to explain the arts without the aid of demonstration was more painful than my knee. I forgot how much I am involved in my privates as I am coach, pad man, sparring partner, uke and generally the one that gets hurt a lot; I have found out the cause of most of my injuries. After a frustrating week my knee was starting to move but still had nerve damage in my knee and foot, so I decide to take Kerry’s jeep because it is an automatic, so I only need one leg to drive to Doncaster. I also didn’t take any training kit with me or knee brace, so I would not get the urge to have ago; but the universe had different plans for me!

I got up at 7am limped to the car and drove the 100 or so miles with the sun blazing in the sky while listening to smooth radio until I got no reception. Once I got there I popped to the loo because of the coffee and excitement, on leaving the loo the first person I bumped into was none other than Bob Sykes, one of the organisers and all round lovely human being. He said hello, and would I like to pop for coffee with him and Brian Jacks…. For those that don’t know who he is Brian is a 10th Dan judoka and was a standout champion of superstars were sports men and women competed in events to see who the best was and that was Brian jacks. He highlighted how super fit martial artists were and did 100 dips in a row. Over coffee Bob asked if I would be Brains uke for his teaching segment? What an honour! Of course, I would, and it would be a once in a lifetime experience.
My mind was racing, would my knee be ok? I have no Gi or brace and what would I tell Kerry my last words were “no I am not training I will just watch”. I carried Brains bags as all good ukedeshi does and off we went into the Show hall. It was full of martial arts and artists of different styles and disciplines. It was great to see everyone putting politics/attitudes aside and getting on with each other. The buzz in the room was amazing and it went up a notch when Brian walked in, everyone trying to say hello and catch a glimpse of a legend in the arts. Speaking of legends, Bob had told me that Bill Wallace was very excited to meet Brian, and when they were introduced Bill had the same look on his face that I did #fanboy. The pair were quickly ushered on stage for an interview. I met with my friend and training partner Martin O’Grady and we settled down to watch the interview. Bob singled me out to ask a question, that put me right on the spot and also took great pleasure in telling everyone that Brian would be throwing me around and choking me later that day (he did). So, I asked both Brian and Bill what were their opinions of training in Japan where; their answers were both descriptive and funny.

When they came off stage people swamped them to get photos taken with them both, but it took that long it knocked the timings and then Brian signed his amazing book, so we went to do the seminar around 1pm rather than 11am due to the volume for people. Both myself and Martin got photos with Brian and Bill together and signed copies of Brian’s book and t-shirts from Benny, then went to watch Bill Wallace teach. I have trained with Bill a lot spanning over 20 years, most recently was last year when I got to take Erin, one of my daughters with me and I loved the way she looked at him in awe as I did all those years ago. The amazing thing about Bill is you can learn a new detail every time you train with him. Bill was in the middle of his teaching segment, what a man and what a sense of humour, he was joking with everyone and kept coming over to a girl in the crowd saying she was staring at him and then shook her boyfriend’s hand, then even pinched his nose just for the fun in it! I had to leave just then as Brian needed me for his segment.

Brian started by showing a choke, used it to throw, then demonstrated the same choke from me passing his guard, that showed examples of perfect timing on throws with me showing the break fall side of excepting the throw. He then did a little Q&A which much to everyone’s surprise Bill joined the mat after finishing his teaching, so the group was entertained by both of them for the last part of the segment. I chatted with Brian after we finished then popped to get him a coffee but just as we sat down Bill shouted, “hey guys stay there I am coming over”. It was awesome to sit with such characters, but it did give me a problem, I knew Benny the Jet had arrived because the atmosphere had changed again and was about to start teaching. So, I had to make my excuses to leave such amazing company and get to where Benny was teaching.

I watched in awe as he explained his system, put the class through some techniques starting with hand blocks and legwork then moved on the clinch work and submissions. Then as a warm down he done something very different, he made them run while shouting and repeating affirmations about life. Then gave one of the best motivational speeches I have ever witnessed, it made the hairs stand up on the back of my neck. Then I got a chance to get my photo taken with him which made my day complete. I drove home buzzing over the days events flying around my head. The next day I texted, Brian to thank him and he texted me this back.

“John thank you for your help you were a pleasure to work with and a true martial artist. If you are ever in Thailand let me know “.

This was the icing on the cake and summed up the time I had spent in the company of legends.

As always sending out big love from the AFC

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