A number of people have asked me how my dad, Jeff Whitehead, became involved in Martial Arts so I have decided to dedicate most of blog seven to that story and in my dad’s memory.
Please bear in mind that the story is written as I see it and as I recall it. I wasn’t there in the beginning (I was just a tadpole) and some of the exact facts may have become distorted with the passage of time and fading memories. Here goes anyway:
The Lifetime Journey of a Martial Artist
When my dad was but a boy growing up in Little Lever, Martial Arts was not a popular concept in this country. Of course, the origins of Martial Arts go back thousands of years. People have been developing fighting systems ever since greed manifested itself as part of the human psyche. Eventually some of these fighting systems have been organised, catalogued and documented into specific styles.
As a teenager my dad trained in boxing and he had a desire to become a professional boxer. His father, however, had other ideas and did not allow him to pursue such an interest, not even allowing him to enter amateur bouts.
Conscription into the army (National Service) ended on 31st December 1960. My dad was 16 years old and missed being called up due to the fact that he hadn’t reached 18. He was confident that he would have performed well in the armed forces, but again his father forbade it.
England, did not see any real influx of Martial Arts until the 1960s, and even then it wasn’t particularly popular. The commonly known “Bruce Lee Boom” of the 1970s saw a massive interest in Martial Arts worldwide, but particularly in the UK and USA. My dad did not initially consider partaking in Martial Arts until a particular turning point in his life.
By then, he was a married man, but still very much enjoying going out with friends and partaking in more than one or two scoops of shandy. He was a cocky young man, very confident with more bottle than fighting ability, although he was quite capable at handling himself. Many a night out resulted in scrapes of one form or another and my dad held his own convincingly. As I said, however, although he had a degree of fighting ability, it was disproportionately outweighed by his confidence and bottle.
One night he was out and was walking through Bolton town centre, somewhat worse for drink. Further along the pavement there was a large group of young men, also cocky and in their prime. The group did not step aside as my dad approached them. Most would say that discretion is the better part of valour, but not my dad. He decided that he would force his way through the centre of the group. If they weren’t prepared to move, then he was prepared to move them.
This was not the best decision he had ever made as he quickly found himself surrounded by a large group of fit, able young men. At this point things turned predictably ugly.
I would love to say that he meticulously picked his assailants to pieces, casually analysing their weaknesses and exploiting them to his advantage. I would love to say how he left a heap of unconscious individuals on the floor in his wake. I would love to say how he walked away from the fracas unscathed, with his head held high. Sadly I can’t say any of that that. Instead, he took a merciless kicking. Once the gang had finished with him, my dad was left in a battered, dishevelled and sorry mess. The once fine, smartly dressed figure was now a blood soaked shadow of what he was earlier. Fortunately, a passing motorist saw him and took pity on him. He took my dad home and dropped him off with my mum, which was undoubtedly a massive shock to her.
It seems that in many ways my dad took the beating in his stride. I’m sure that psychologically it must have affected him deep down, but he turned this into a positive determination. This was his turning point and it was the catalyst that caused him to take up Martial Arts. Not only that, but it was the driving force behind his motivation to practice as he did, mixing styles and disciplines to try to find the most practical system.
He first started training at Spa Sports Centre in Bolton in Kempo Karate under the tutelage of Mick Mulroy. Kempo was seen as a dirty style of Karate as it used knees to the groin amongst other techniques. This, however, suited my dad and he quickly progressed through the grades, eventually becoming an instructor. This is where he gained his black belt 1st Dan.
At some point, and I am not sure when, Mick started to change the style to Shukokai, which was a form of Karate geared up more towards tournament. As such, the techniques were watered down to prevent injury and the style became a non-contact style. Although all Martial Arts have their merits, my dad felt that this direction was not where he wanted to go and he decided to move on to find another Martial Art to practice. He then found Professor Jack Holt, a Ju Jitsu practitioner.
The training under Professor Holt was very much rough and tumble. Ju Jitsu used throwing techniques, arm locks and groundwork and this added to my dad’s knowledge. The training was done without the luxury of mats and took place on a splintery wooden floor with loose floorboards and debris strewn around.
My dad once told me a story of two students who were wrestling, rolling around in the dust. One student, who was pinned by the other, reached for a lump of wood that was lying loose on the floor and promptly struck his opponent on the top of the head with it. This sort of training was not frowned upon and actively encouraged. This really was the dojo of hard knocks. My dad loved it, and he gained his 2nd Dan at this club.
By now, he had a good background in Kempo and in Ju Jitsu, but he still felt that something was lacking. He decided to experiment and added boxing style punches and boxing style defences (ducking, dodging, parrying and rolling) to what he knew. He also studied books such as Jukado by Bruce Tegner, This is Karate and Essential Karate by Masotatsu Oyama.
For years, he practiced the techniques from these books with a friend of his (Graham Lane) and he repeated over and over his training until it became second nature to him. My dad had the remarkable ability to train, train and train, even in the most mundane task. He was always willing to repeat and repeat in order to develop muscle memory. He didn’t seem to get bored and was amazing at self motivation.
He now had aspects of Jukado (a mix of techniques from Karate, Ju Jitsu, Judo and Aikido) and Kyokushinkai Karate, as well as his Kempo, Ju Jitsu and boxing background. He decided that it was time to run his own dojo.
My dad was a real old fashioned journeyman, yet remarkably forward thinking in many ways. Back in the 70s in England you were either a purist Martial Artist or you were a cowboy. My dad refused to conform and was not satisfied with pure styles, choosing instead to mix and match. He was viewed as a charlatan and a cowboy by the Martial Arts authorities, but he paid no heed.
Bruce Lee was already mixing styles, in his creation of Jeet Kune Do, but no-one said that he rode a horse. There was certainly some disparity, but that’s the way it was.
Of course, nowadays MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) is all the rage and seems to be the fashion in Martial Arts gyms across the country. This is why I say that my dad was remarkably ahead of his time. (So was Bruce Lee, obviously).
My dad’s first Martial Arts class was opened around 1974 (there or thereabouts) at Radcliffe Civic Centre. He called the style Hybrid Karate Kempo and he put up a single postcard in the newsagent window to advertise it. On the opening class he arrived to see people queued up right round the corner and down the street. Such was the impact of the Bruce Lee Boom.
In about 1976 my dad moved his class to a shed that was in the grounds of Little Lever Cricket Club where his class was remarkably popular. Sandy Holt was one of my dad’s pupils back then.
The shed was eventually demolished which forced my dad to open in a new venue, so he used Little Lever Labour Club (now Hardy Hall) as the venue. In 1977, Sandy Holt left my dad to train in Muay Thai (Thai Boxing) with Master Sken. This was with my dad’s blessing, as he could see the benefit that Sandy would get by progressing into other things. He also opened a class at Little Lever Civic Hall.
He taught there until 1981 when he closed down his class in order to train and develop his style further. At this time, I was a 13 year old boy. I still wanted to train in Martial Arts, so I took up Muay Thai with Sandy Holt. Sandy had just opened a class in Bolton at Silverwell Street Sports Centre.
My dad trained for the next four years religiously, practicing with his friend, Graham, and going to various Martial Arts clubs. He used rooms above pubs, the back of Sandy’s class, fields, car parks or anywhere he could to train. In October 1985 he decided to reopen his Martial Arts class again. I made the difficult decision to leave Sandy at this point and rejoin my dad.
(Sandy Holt, incidentally, was an amazing role model for me growing up. He actively discouraged drugs and alcohol and promoted fitness with an evangelical attitude. I have ultimate respect for Sandy, who to this day is just as passionate about Martial Arts and fitness anyone I have ever known).
Thai Boxing was becoming very fashionable, so my dad decided to call his style Goshin Boxing. (Goshin, meaning self defence and boxing speaks for itself). Nowadays he would have called it MMA. It was based very much on boxing and had a real emphasis on boxing stances and punches. I also imparted some of my four years of Thai Boxing experience, which assisted in the development of my dad’s style even further.
My dad decided to join a multi style Martial Arts organisation for mutual support and he joined the Nippon Dai Budo Kai (NDBK), which was overseen by Professor Dave Hodgson. Here he was introduced to other Martial Arts and he developed a further insight into multi style systems. He was awarded his 3rd Dan (having been a 2nd Dan since about 1974).
His journey took him eventually from NDBK to UKASKO (United Kingdom All Styles Karate Organisation) run by Roy Stanhope and here he gained a useful insight into WUKO (World Union Karate Organisation) tournament rules and the grading system used by this group, which he adopted. Membership of UKASKO also encouraged my dad to amend his syllabus to include more Karate based striking and combinations. He gained his 4th Dan with UKASKO.
In 1990 he returned to NDBK, where together we practiced and taught on numerous courses and seminars in a variety of styles, adding further knowledge and development to the style.
It was in 1990 that I met Rick Oswalt, a Tae Kwon Do practitioner in Orlando, Florida. I trained with Rick intensely and visited Florida every year until 1996, training with Rick every time. The influence of Tae Kwon Do also helped develop my dad’s style even further.
In around 1991, my dad decided to change the name of the style again, to reflect the mixed influence so it became Goshin Budo. He gained his 5th Dan and eventually his 6th Dan with NDBK.
Eventually my dad formed his own association, the British Goshin Budo Association, which was a multi style association with members from all over the country and abroad in a multitude of styles, from Ninjutsu to Judo, from Ju Jitsu to Wado Ryu.
During the 1990s my dad was plagued with trouble with his hip and he eventually had a hip replacement. He was determined that this would not stop him from training, but my dad being my dad, overdid it and snapped a wire which held the hip together. This caused multiple problems, least of all the fact that his hip continued to come out on average three times a year.
In about 2000, my dad had some surgery to rectify the problem but it meant that if he overdid it again and it came out, it would be completely ruined and he would be left with no hip at all. I reluctantly persuaded him to give up Martial Arts at this point. It was a very difficult decision for him. He agonised over the decision but it was one that he had to make. It was Hobson’s choice that was the end of my dad’s Martial Arts journey.
He took up creative writing instead and was fast becoming an accomplished poet and writer. In 2007, however, he was diagnosed with cancer and a long battle began. In February 2009 my dad lost that battle with cancer and passed away peacefully at Bolton Hospice at the age of 64.
During his Martial Arts career, my dad and I have taught in London, Horsham, Brighton, Lancing, Great Yarmouth, Rhyll, Hull, Blackburn, Padiham, Wigan, Altrincham, Darwen and Burnley, as well as very locally in Walkden, Little Hulton, Little Lever, Bury and Bolton. We have also taught in the Isle of Man, Gibraltar, Spain and the USA. Both my dad and I have taught in numerous schools including Little Lever School, Canon Slade, Saint James and Harper Green.
I still find it amazing that even now, people speak to me with memories about my dad and his classes, and also the classes of instructors under my dad. I couldn’t begin to estimate how many people he has taught throughout the years, but he has had a massive and positive impact on many people’s lives and I know that people remember him with fondness.
Sandy Holt openly acknowledges the influence that my dad had on him in starting his Martial Arts journey and the amount of lives that Sandy has touched with his classes is immense.
Directly and indirectly, my dad has impacted on countless lives and his legacy certainly lives on. One knock on effect of him taking up Martial Arts is the fact that I met someone with whom I have had a wonderful daughter. Indirectly this has led to meeting my wife and my beautiful step-daughter. I know of several marriages and strong friendships that have formed as a result of people getting together and meeting at my dad’s classes. I know of another friend who has a daughter as a result of meeting someone at one of our many Martial Arts events. It is staggering when I think of the ripple effect.
I refer to my earlier comment, when I implied that my dad forcing his way through a group of unruly young men was an unwise decision. With hindsight it seems that the ripples have been something very positive indeed and I may need to retract my statement. Upon viewing the wider picture, the decision may in fact have been the best one he ever made.
The decisions that my grandfather made when he refused to allow my dad to take up boxing properly or join the army had the ripple effect that resulted in my mum and dad meeting. That same ripple caused my dad to be in Bolton on that fateful night. The rest, as they say, is history.
The Rest of the Blog:
On with the rest of the blog. There is no major progress to speak of regarding any of my projects, although I have written another poem, ‘Corroded Man’, which I will paste below. I have also entered a poetry competition with my poem ‘Caramel’ which featured in my second blog. I will update on any news for that as and when I know.
I am going to start going to Write Out Loud again, an open evening of poetry reading as this is an amazing source of inspiration and learning. The next Write Out Loud gig close to me is on Sunday 20th April 2014. I will update my blog further with any news from this.
Older Song Lyrics:
Some years ago I started to write quite a lot of song lyrics. I have compiled these into one document which is available by clicking the below link:
Book of Songs by Darren Whitehead
Any musicians out there, who feel that they can put music to them, please let me know. I am always looking for collaboration opportunities.
The song lyrics that I spoke of in my last blog, for the Belgian rock group Frozen Rain, are now completely finished and work is well on the way for the completion of their third album. This does take time and will probably be by the end of the year.
I have recently been listening to music of a good friend of mine, Warren Malone. I went to school with Warren and he had talent even then. He is an amazing song writer and performer and some of his music can he heard here.
Below are some links to some of my projects, which you may find interesting:
Peering Through the Mist
Love The Speech
As promised, below is the new poem, ‘Corroded Man’:
Thirty years of others’ ruin
Of over-wound body clock,
And cheap lunches at 2am.
Tipple before bedtime
As his child skips to school.
Thirty years of dozing through daylight
Broken by the annoying tune
Of the postman’s whistle,
The salesman’s knock,
The harsh telephone shrill.
Broken by twisted thoughts,
On permanent rewind,
Daggered back for daring to own a spine,
Rusted through shovelling sewage
From one day to the next.
Day by day.
Thirty years watching the end of the tunnel.
But too crumbled to enjoy the light
When it finally comes.
Thirty years of others’ ruin,
A corroded man.
© Copyright – Darren Lee Whitehead – 18th March 2014
Finally, now that the clocks have gone forward, I will share with you a springtime photo. I hope you enjoy.
That’s it for now. Please do keep checking by and please do let other people know about my blog. Feel free to share it with as many people as you can.
Until next time …