Dipping My Toes in the Water.

It has been many years since I first stepped foot into a dojo. Coming back from yet another beating I decided it was time to something about it.

But how I went from non- contact Karate (and absolutely no disrespect to it) to all out Animal Day fighting is a different story.

Dipping tells of how I went about it.


The first taste of ‘the leather’. The first time you taste your own blood on the inside of your mouth. The first time your eyes water from a jab to your nose and everybody laughing, thinking you are crying. An old friend of mine summed it up pretty good; “You can never forget the first time you smell ‘the leather’”.

At first, I thought he was using some sort of metaphor and meant the smell of fear. It was only later, during another sparring session that the penny dropped. The smell he spoke of was the smell of leather in your face as, yet another punch found its way home.

It took some years getting used to it. Once I was, it was replaced with the feeling of panic as you suffered a choke that almost made you pass out. Strikes had been replaced by grappling and with it, the feeling of burning in your aching muscles and limbs.

I imagine, most of us, during these times ask ourselves what the hell we are doing there.

What events took place in our lives to compel us, even drive us to this moment and the similar moments that come after it on many more occasions? If, like me, you make promises to yourself that this is “the last time” only to make and break the same promises the next time then you may want to take a journey back to the start.

My own experience is probably typical. As a bullied skinny kid, I was lucky that my sister started dating a Black Belt Karate Instructor who took me under his wing. I sat in and watched the first session and, whilst admiring the participants, did not, for one minute think I could do that! “Still, might give it a go” I thought. A tiny ripple was made as I dipped my toe in the water for the first time at the next session. As a novice, sparring was out of the question, thank god. So after being taught a few basics, I made my way to the side-lines to watch the advanced grades score points off each other. There was absolutely no contact allowed with no protective equipment worn or needed. The skill and control shown was excellent. Again in my head the “not for me” mentality shone through and again it was followed by “well it can’t be that bad, must be worth a try” voice.

The next time sparring was on the agenda I was asked if I wanted to try it. Nodding, I took my turn. I don’t remember how I did but I do remember how much I enjoyed it, especially as there were no marks or bruises on me. There were none on my partner either, but I suspect that was pure luck rather than any skill on my part!

I soon became a fan of sparring, preferring it over kata (personal choice not a reflection) and looked forward to more of the same.

At this time, the club I belonged to travelled out of our area to train in a joint session to be hosted by our Sensei who taught basic Shotokan and a club from Liverpool who would host the second part of the evening, teaching us an unknown system (certainly to me)”Freestyle”. They, if my memory serves me correctly, wore red suits and a type of boxing glove. We had never seen suits of this colour, we all wore the Traditional white gis. The guys from Liverpool whilst respectful, literally wiped the floor with most of the Karateka from our gym. They certainly did with me as sweep, after sweep saw my gi bottoms strike a close resemblance to the gym floor.

It was only a few years later when I became more familiar with the “names” in Martial Arts that I realised we had just been introduced to Alfie Lewis and his boys and their maverick, effective and highly skilful way of sparring. Again, I decided that their style was not for me. Far too heavy handed even at semi contact, yet a niggling desire to know more about this way of fighting kept cropping up in my mind.

For one reason or another, after some years of training and earning my purple belt, I parted company with Karate. It would be a few years before my interest was rekindled and when it was, the new club I joined wore white, elasticised cotton mitts with marginal contact allowed. The seminar with Alfie Lewis temporarily forgotten, along with the bruised calves and bashed ego, I watched with fresh fascination as the guys at the new club, fuelled by the confidence of wearing mitts, gave and took a few heavy digs.

“Mmm, not sure about this” I thought to myself as my toes itched and wiggled to dip themselves into the water again. So, I bit the bullet, padded up and proceeded to take a few hits. Still with control but now with a touch more aggression techniques were thrown in my direction and I threw some back. A couple of bruised ribs, bit of a lump to the side of the head, nothing major and I was comfortable again. I was happy