I suppose that being brought up with many siblings my martial art career began at quite an early age. Furthermore, at the very tender age of ten I arrived in Britain to begin a new life. This being the latter part of the 1960s, new country, different culture and all the political garbage which existed at that time for someone of colour, yes, fighting became an almost daily occurrence.
I found my school days to be very instrumental in my early and informal martial development. Being a new boy in town I had to prove myself constantly. It appeared that if you were new to a school then you were unable to fight. Many found out to their cost that, as far as I was concerned, this was not the case. My third year at secondary school was when my formal and structured education in martial arts began. Out of several options offered to my year for once a week practice I choice judo. It is to my great shame that I must admit to having forgotten the judo teacher's name. He was an ex international judoka, short and stocky and hailing, I think, from the east of London. He had a neck that would certainly have given Mike Tyson a run for his money. I trained with him between the ages of 13 and16 and much of what he taught has remained with me today, if not all the techniques but many of the guiding principles. These principles were to become the foundation upon which my martial journey would develop.
The second person to influence my martial development was a Wado-Ryu instructor called Chris Thompson. It was he who started me on my journey in the punching and kicking arts. He possessed a slickness and an elegance in the execution of his techniques and a patience with a group of 17-18 year olds who would have tested the patience of saints. I was with Chris for a year before he had to give up on our group for personal reasons. He made a profound impression on me. Most important I think was to be selective as to whom I allowed myself to call teacher/ master.
It was to be four years after meeting Chris Thompson before I was to meet perhaps the person who would make one of the greatest changes in my life and my martial arts. His name was Mr Shener Dervis. For the next twenty two years of formal training, and still today, I address him as Master Shen and occasionally Grand Master Shen. It is really odd how you get to meet those who have a lasting impact on your life. I was just approaching my twenty second birthday when a colleague at work remarked that his martial arts teacher had found new premises to teach at and classes would resume in the new year. I was very eager to resume my formal martial journey and having heard so much about this new teacher it was an almost unbearable wait. On the opening evening of this new school I cycled to the venue with huge excitement. On entering the training hall I noticed two spectators, and my work colleague and his brother who were being taught by a man who was obviously the teacher. You cannot begin to imagine my initial disappointment on casting eyes on the teacher. Instead of the six foot tall man I had imagined I was faced with a 5'7" tall man whom I would generally describe as skinny. That said, he had a presence. The way he stood, the calm authoritative way in which he instructed his two charges, something about him captured me, so much so that I enrolled that very same evening. He became my karate teacher for the next 21 years in the style of Shen Chi Do (SCD), a style he developed after attaining master level in the Korean martial art of Kuk Sool Won from his master, Mok Young Kim. I attained the third dan black belt grade in SCD. Having trained to the fourth dan level I ceased training in this system. From Master Shen I learned much more than martial arts: humility; humbleness; not insisting on winning just because I could; not being judgemental in the martial world and making assumptions about people; allowing others to believe me to be less able than I was; and not flouting my abilities. Along my martial journey my debt to him remains immense.
In 1988, my martial journey was to take on a new direction. I had been training SCD for 9 years when I happened upon an article about the Tai Chi Master Mr Dan Docherty. Something about the person and his exploits fascinated me, so much so that I felt compelled to ring him immediately, which I did. This was a Sunday afternoon and I began training with him on Monday, the very next day. Dan's approach to teaching I found very different to what I had become accustomed to with Master Shen. If I am allowed to use the analogy of yin and yang I would say that Dan's approach was yang whilst Master Shen's was yin. They truly complimented each other. For me there was no conflict with the two systems within which I was now engaged, far from it. I found the two systems mutually compatible; one helped the understanding of the other and vice versa. I must say to Dan's credit that if you were a student willing and able to learn and with an agreeable manner he would teach you as rapidly as you were able to absorb and remember unlike many teachers of Tai Chi who would insist on duration of time before progressing to the next stage or level. Dan seemed very keen in his students' accelerated advancement up the Tai Chi ladder. I consider myself fortunate to have been able to compete successfully in SCD as a fighter and in Tai Chi winning numerous competitions both national and international. Triumphing in Hong Kong gave me the greatest fulfilment as at the time I felt that it gave my teacher huge satisfaction as his contingent of part-timers were victorious in a tournament hosted by his own master in which two of his own students defeated mainland Chinese champions, me being one of them. From Dan I have learnt things that I know for a fact I would not have learnt elsewhere. I consider myself fortunate to have met him during a period which I myself coin the golden age of Wudang Practical Tai Chi Chuan.
I feel truly honoured to have been blessed with not just one but four brilliant mentors along my martial journey. For those of you who have labelled me elitist for being choosy as to whom I seek instructions from, and you know who you are, I hope you now can see where I am coming from. It is my sincerest wish to pass on my accumulated knowledge through the medium of Wudang Three Treasures Tai Chi Chuan to those who are willing to share my journey.