DE} G’day, or is it good night over there in the Land of Oz? More about that later…I’d just like to say, welcome to this interview Sensei Harborne. I take it you know who I am [Laughs] Lets begin by you taking us a little step back in time. At what age did you take up Martial Arts, why was that and what was it like training back then?
RH} I first became interested in the Martial arts, probably about the age of seven. This would be around 1971/72, one night my family was watching TV… when an old program now called Cinema came on. Which reviewed Films and had a special on Asian/Martial Arts films, which was totally new to us and I remember watching in awe. I was an avid reader as a child, so searched for anything else on this subject and not long after Discovered Bruce lee…that was it, I was hooked from that moment on. I really wanted to start classes and learn, BUT my Father (remember these were different times) refused, along the lines that I was neither old, nor responsible enough to learn the Arts. Plus there wasn’t many clubs around at that time apart from Judo, which did not interest me although I have full respect for ALL Martial Arts. So I just kept researching myself, lending books from a library, following the pictures etc. Everything from Yoga and Tai Chi, to Karate and some (what I could find in those years) Kung Fu. Then in 1976… my Father started private lessons himself at The Temple Karate Center in Digbeth, with Sensei Toru Takimazawa. All though was not allowed to grade, because it was private lessons (how times have changed) Then in 1979 at the age of 14, my Father said to me, “Okay, you’re mature enough and responsible enough to start attending lessons and learn correctly. But at the first sign of a problem it stops." I agreed and the Temple was advertising a beginner’s class in January of that year in the Birmingham Evening Mail. (Let’s be honest, there was nowhere else i was going to go!) So on the 21st of January 1979, I stepped in to my first Dojo at the age of 14. (The kids class 12 years and under as I remember, was Saturday mornings) Into a class of around 30 beginners, I was the youngest. On a Saturday afternoon 1pm until 2.15 pm (I still remember the date and time lol) It was taught by Sempai Patrick Scantlebury, after a few weeks/months the class whittled down to perhaps 7 or 8, of which I was still one. If Patrick was away, Sempai Bob Taylor took the class and if both were absent because of tournaments or other things… Sensei Takimazawa took the class. I achieved 6th Kyu (Orange Belt) there and entered my first Tournament (the Wado Ryu Nationals) on October 14th 1979 (a day before my 15th birthday) where it actually went by Grades and being over 10/12, I was in adult sections…no mats just a hard wood floor taped off, my first match I was drawn against another 6th Kyu of about 20yrs and just under 6ft. I remember him walking to the line once we were called, looking at me (5ft 4 and barely 15yrs) laughing and gesturing to his friends with arms up! Right or wrong, any nerves I may have had was gone in that instance. It ended a split decision and I scored with Chudan Mai Geri, he caught me with a Gyaku Zuki, one point each. The Ref awarded the match to him after debate and that was it, no arguments…just accept, bow and then leave (how times have changed lol) However, after that match I was approached by a 1st Kyu…who asked if I would fill in at the Temple Team? For my grade, I said yes (of course) and was matched against a 5th Kyu Green Belt, about 24 and stocky (I remember thinking, "Why did I agree to this?”) but ended in a draw. Unfortunately soon after that time, I left the Temple and stopped. (Turned teenager…discovered going out among other things) A choice I still regret now I am older, but do not believe in dwelling on a past you can’t change. So that was probably my first chapter of Martial Arts completed…Oh, and it is Evening LOL.
DE} You sure walked the old school way of life. Tell me, have you seen many changes in the martial arts in your time. How does then, compare to now and what makes you happy and what don't you like?
RH} Yes I have seen many changes through the years, as I have watched the Martial Arts grow and spread wider in popularity. Years ago there was not the restriction in place as now, due to increased politically correctness and compensation culture that has grown…so Instructors do have to be more careful and aware when teaching. Probably not a bad thing in all cases though. Are there things I don’t like? Yes. Some of which i will not name here, but probably my biggest gripe was a thing I saw rise during the 90's of certain dubious people opening classes to simply make a quick buck. With NO Instructor training or qualification and in a few cases, not even being a qualified Black Belt (or even a high Kyu grade) themselves! They seldom lasted long, but did not see or care of the damage they did in that time to the true Martial Arts/Instructors and classes around. As students who may have been good with correct teaching, simply went away with a totally different view. What makes me happy? Without a doubt it's seeing a student progress. Regardless of if that is achieve a higher grade, win an award, or simply overcome a technique they have struggled with and through perseverance and self-belief, see it suddenly click in to place.
DE} Please tell us more about the style of karate you teach and have taught to myself.
I understand you're opening a new club (to be your 4th one I understand) and at the moment, there is no school about teaching this rare style...it is my understanding that people are aware of Sankukai, but what exactly is Sankuryu?
Well, the differences between Sankukai and Sankuryu are slight. But because those differences are there it, must be called by a different name. As you know I am a great Traditionalist in my views, however a short brief history may explain this better. In the early/ mid 90's, I was fortunate to meet an Instructor who ran a school in Derby. His name was Tony Brown and although he had previously studied Aikido, Jui Jitsu, and other styles of Karate, gained his high grades in Sankukai. Now I will never speak ill or disrespect any style, I do believe that no style answers all the questions or has everything. It Seemed Sensei Brown also thought along these lines and although being a Traditionalist himself, felt that Sankukai put slightly too much emphasis on spinning techniques…and he was always taught never to turn your back willingly on an opponent. So Sankuryu was formed/refined over a number of years, with just a few slight changes to the way certain techniques in some Kata's are performed. And because of these slight changes cannot be called pure Sankukai, so therefore is known as Sankuryu. After leaving the Temple, I did go back during the Eighties, but felt it had changed somewhat to how I remembered. So I moved on again to try Shotokan and then Freestyle, which is where I gained my 1st Dan. Then upon meeting Sensei Tony Brown… joined his classes and learnt Sankuryu which was more Traditional and what I myself prefer and through his guidance and teaching, attained my 3rd Dan in Sankuryu in September 1999.
DE} The good old 80’s. When did you open your first club and did you teach your children too? What makes a good Sensei and what makes a good student?
I opened my first club on 21st January 1995 (ironic isn’t it… the exact same date I attended my first lesson) and ran that club along a few others until 2012, when I moved to Australia. Yes I did teach my own children, but also had them attend other classes of my own Sensei at that time and I have no doubts they will tell you I was a little harder on them!! [Laughs} Which looking back in all fairness, I probably was so as to show no favouritism. What makes a good Sensei or student? That’s a hard one as everyone has their own attributes and ways. All I can possibly say on this looking back over my own Sensei’s is that they all had calmness about them. I never once heard any of them raise their voice in a lesson, but all got their message across in a very calm, confident manner and this seemed to filter through the lesson and the students attending.
DE} Well I can say to you now, after training under you and reading this…that you carried that through also as a Sensei. I've trained with your Son and been taught and graded by your daughters, it's safe to say they were potent. Been a smaller guy, have there been times or situations where people have underestimated you? Have you had to use your Karate at all?
Yes a few times. With awareness of possible situations, I have sometimes managed to avoid this or diffuse it before it can start. Other times some people do not expect the reaction they receive and are suddenly unsure, so back off or diffuse the situation themselves. However, there are or have been a time which has always left me a little disappointed, as I have always remembered an old saying from a Japanese instructor ..."If you have to fight, you've already lost the battle."
DE} I do remember you thrusting out Yoko Geri (Side Kick) and explaining how you shocked people before causing them to back off with their mates. I know what you mean, as Bruce Lee said, "The art of fighting without fighting." So now into the training side of it, did you follow a set routine then and now? What exercises do you use to compliment Karate, did you ever do the weights and how do you view heavy or light training?
Yes, years ago i used to train Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Using weights etc to a regimental routine for each day, then run classes in the evening and a 4hr class with Sensei Brown on a Sunday. Now I’m a little more relaxed with routines, but do use Iyengar style Yoga to help with flexibility and stretching and Chen style Tai Chi to help focus the mind (and is also a great Art on its own) Other than that I no longer use weights in my training, apart from ankle/wrist weights sometimes. Or a medicine ball and still use candle punching and speedball in training and split workouts. Kata, Speed, Technique, Fitness and stretching. Also sometimes a technique I have used since age of 14… mental awareness/shadow fighting. Where I close my eyes and imagine an attacker/attackers and what attacks they would use, or how depending on the direction. Then react to these as explosively as I can (to any onlookers I must seem to have lost my mind, attacking thin air or invisible opponents [laughs] but on the other hand…what are you doing with Kata?) I also meant to add Bag work! [Laughs] As for heavy sessions I would only do of a weekend, time permitting to have a day or two rest to allow the body full recovery. Otherwise would keep sessions pretty light, but to the stage where I still push myself. However if I had more time, or perhaps not so many other commitments, I would probably split training to a heavy session followed by a light session followed by a heavy session etc.
DE} That sounds familiar. If I remember rightly, you had us doing that years ago. You would put in the finger strikes to the eyes and hits to the groin. Hold on a minute…I’ve suddenly come across all nosey again! I hear you have some news regarding a certain club you're opening in Australia? Would you like to tell me more about that?
Sure, after moving to Australia six years ago, this subject has come up many times with some people approaching me and asking me to perhaps open a club. I always resisted, perhaps deep down part of me did not feel settled enough to start such a commitment. However, now I do and feel that the time is right to do so. I am now a member of Martial Arts Australia, have arranged insurance through Worldwide Sports Insurance. Designed specifically for sports and Martial arts clubs, have arranged a venue (pic supplied) Certificates, badges, supplies and will be opening the Victoria Sankuryu Karate Academy on the 10th of April this year all going well.
Me- That looks and sounds perfect and I want to wish you the very best, as you know I'm behind you. Who or what inspires you and do you have any advice for the kids of today and even the adults, or maybe your younger self? One other thing... Do you remember your quote that you would always revert back to?
Thank you very much Duane. Who/What inspires me hmm? So many it would be unfair to name just a few, but when I see people young or old with Disabilities in sports and Martial Arts, it always reminds me that if you want something bad enough you'll find a way. If not you'll find an excuse! The level some of these people show brings it home to me ...There are NO excuses! But all students in lessons or I have taught and watching them progress, always inspires me to do and give my best to them. My advice to any student would be never give up because something is difficult, but always persevere and you will overcome the difficulty. To perform something well, you first have to believe you can do it yourself. Students or parents looking to start, perhaps do a little research on a club first and the instructor. I will have my Qualifications on show in the class and would take no offense to a student or Parent asking about my background or qualifications. I would be happy to explain and I think any Instructor would be the same, as for quotes [laughs] there are so many again, but I always said "The best block is not to be there.” Which is within the Sankuryu style.
DE} I've always said that it was my karate training under you that prepared me for reality, more so than when I trained other arts. My reason… I found the different angle of movement within the katas and the two vs one training very beneficial, not to mention practising blindfolded. A lot of combat sports train on a one vs one basis, where as you had us fighting from seated positions and so on?
Yes it's the angle's that probably attracted me so much to Sankuryu. I find them to appear a little more complete and although as you know, I am or appear to be very Traditional orientated. I still am always on the lookout for any knew or possible training techniques, not only for my own improvement, but also if they can benefit students and improve them then all good. Even if some may seem a little unorthodox, there is a reason for all and if it works then use it. By the way…thank you so much for the compliment, I’m really pleased that you feel you got the more out of routines. I guess that proves my point in a way.
DE} Martial arts is supposed to teach us control and it's clear to see that young men in general, have anger in their DNA. Tell me, have you ever had to call on your training to calm you down? You strike me as the mysterious type, a cross between Yoda and Seagal and Norris in your demeanour. Finally what would you want to see for the future of Sanku Ryu karate?
Yes I have many times, I think we all do. However I find Martial Arts training helps a great deal. Let me explain a theory I have, now please understand I have no scientific evidence or back up for this. It's simply my own belief and personal view from what I have seen and felt through the years, we are all human, we all get frustrated by things every day of our lives. Something does not go quite right; some idiot in a car cuts in front ...many things. All this builds as a negative emotion (anger) it may build unchecked for a few days, weeks or even months. Then some slight little thing can set us off to react with Anger in a way we should not, because it’s so trivial but it happens. Yes anger can momentarily give us a slight increase in strength and aggression, but it takes so much away too…like control, focus, awareness etc. However I do believe that consistent regular training in Martial Arts, where you are constantly using "controlled aggression” helps to alleviate this and removes the negative frustration and anger that is slowly building inside. Think about it… you go attend a lesson and are punching, kicking, blocking in a controlled manner… or even with force against a focus mitt, heavy bag, kick shield, speedball or whatever. Releasing all this frustration and anger that has built up, or is building up in a positive way. Turning negativity in to positive action and results. I believe that’s why I see so many students becoming calmer in their manner, along with an increase of self-confidence of course. But like I said previously, this is only my own personal thought.
DE} If the whole world was listening right now what would you say?
Never give in, never get demoralised. If you want something bad enough, you can / will get it. First believe in yourself and the rest will follow.
DE} Harborne Sensei, thank you for your time in speaking with me. It has been insightful and encouraging – Bow.
Domo Aragato gozai mashita Rei, and your very welcome.
DUANE EMSLEY 2018.