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kanku 03-10-2009 12:20 PM

Interview with Gary Chamberlain UK Branch Chief Enshin
Part 1

H) Why karate?

There wasn’t much choice at the time. I needed to toughen up a bit and it was pretty much boxing, judo or karate – either Shotokan or Kyokushin. The boxing club was local but the kids all looked washed out and my build was just totally wrong for judo. It was purely by chance that my mother rang the Kyokushin dojo first.

H) How did your family react to your karate training?

My mother was very keen. She paid for my membership and gi on the strict understanding that I would stick it out for a year. After that I was hooked. My father was just scornful. He had fought in Korea and had a very low opinion of all things oriental.

H) Did you have to give anything up to progress in karate?

Not really. I was fifteen when I started so not into a career or anything. I obviously gave up hanging around with my mates drinking – at least on training nights! That did me no harm.

H) Was it easy for you going through the grades?

Definately not! The training was very tough (1971) and made even worse as I had to cycle 15 miles to get there, run around the drill yard 20 times, train for three hours then cycle home afterwards. I was permanently stiff and sore but I had promised so I had to handle it. We graded at the club until 4th kyu and then went to Haringey for higher belts. Those tests were very hard.

H) Did you cross train at all?

Are you kidding? I was too knackered and needed time to recover. After a while I used to go to other clubs and styles for a bit of a punch-up but nothing too serious. I’ve tried a few other things but always came back to striking as a first option.

H) Tell us about your preparation for shodan?

There wasn’t any really. We just trained hard and the instructors told us when we were ready. Since I joined I had passed everyone else in the dojo but Pete Kisby didn’t want me to test. I went to Holland for a summer camp though and everyone told me to go for it so I did - and passed - in 1975.

H) Did your working career help, or hinder your karate?

I worked shifts so it got awkward sometimes getting leave, but in 1976 the Leicester dojo moved to full-time premises which meant there was something going on every night. I was used to long sessions so regularly got there early to work the bags. I then trained in the early class, taught the middle class then trained in the late. I was usually there for about 4 – 5 hours at least twice a week, depending on my shifts.

H) At what grade did you start competing?

We had our first inter-club events when I was 16 (and they were fierce – enough to put anyone off!) but my first proper Tournaments were from 19 when I got my shodan. The early ones were ‘points’ fighting and I didn’t do well as my control was very poor.

H) I understand your shodan grading caused problems, please tell us about it?

Pete had refused permission so he was not happy. He pulled me out in front of the club and gave a big speech congratulating me on my efforts - then got me up to fight him. I was surprised at this as he never sparred usually, I moved around well and landed a few respectful shots. He didn’t like that so he grabbed my gi, punched me full in the face and broke my nose! Not the happy homecoming I’d expected, and the beginning of the end as far as trust and mutual respect was concerned.

H) How did your kyokushin career fare after that? Where did it take you and how did you fare what did you achieve?

I stayed at the club and tried to put it behind me, but in the end the seed was sown. I don’t want to just bad-mouth Pete, he had a lot of good qualities and was a very technical instructor. I wanted to do well in Knockdown though which he had no real experience of, so I started going to squad trainings. They were tough but very helpful. I’m not sure that delighted Pete as I came back with new ideas which the Leicester fighters were keen to learn. I never consciously tried to undermine his position but in the end things got tense. I started my club in 1980 after we had a couple of clashes, perhaps naively thinking we might get along better both being instructors. It didn’t work out like that though so I cut all ties and was happier on my own.

I travelled about a lot and trained with some great instructors to improve my experience and fighting style. The best of these was Brian Fitkin who had a real influence on me, not just technically but mentally too. I won the BKK Tournament in 1981 after his coaching in Sweden and then focussed on building up my dojo.

H) Leaving the BKK as a 4th Dan and a highly respected instructor must have been a difficult decision, why?

LOL – I’m not too sure about the ‘highly respected’ bit! ‘Charnwood’ did well in all forms of competition though and for a small dojo we had lots of champions. Let me start by saying this is all in the past. Over ten years ago now and the time has flown by. I bear no-one any ill-will so I’ll just state the way I saw it then without trying to re-open old wounds.

I was on the Technical Committee, the Referees Committee and the Executive Committee and looking back I got far too involved in the internal politics. I disagreed with a few of the changes that Hanshi Arneil instituted after the split from Japan. Being the gobby type I voiced this opinion strongly at meetings and soon found I was out of step with the rest.

You reach a point where the moaning has to stop and you either back down and accept what’s being changed or get off your knees and make a choice. I left in 1998. Following leaving I had some pretty unpleasant feedback, as certain people felt the need to rally round and protect the king, but that’s all water under the bridge now. It did make me wonder at the time if I’d wasted all the effort on committees over the years, as being honest and upfront had obviously not been taken in the spirit it was intended. It was nice when I went to the Tournament at K2 last year and everyone I saw greeted me as an old friend.

H) You are now the UK branch chief of Enshin karate, how did your Enshin career come about?

After leaving the BKK we trained independently for a while as I looked around at other groups. Some were real rip-off merchants. I saw Kancho Ninomiya’s book and it just struck a chord. Combat applications shone through. It reminded me of my early training when fighting ability was my only goal and of course long before politics got involved. I contacted Kancho and the fact he wouldn’t consider my application unless I was prepared to travel to Denver fired up my enthusiasm. The rest (as they say) is history. I love the style and have never regretted joining. Kancho is a very hard man in a gi, but decent and honest with a good sense of humour as well. That helps!

H) I understand you trained in Japan under Sosai Oyama, please tell us about Sosai as a man and instructor and your experiences there?

I travelled to Japan in 1989 and 1991. Not to ‘find myself’ or any such notion, just to try the training and face the challenge. I was told stories from day one about how tough Honbu was and I suppose I just wanted to see how I coped. I really enjoyed it. I trained at Honbu and at Tatsuo Nakamura’s Zama dojo and it was a great experience. Most of the people I met were great – especially at Zama dojo. The atmosphere at the Honbu though was a bit strained. I wouldn’t describe it as being a happy place, especially for the Uchi-Deshi.

I found Sosai Oyama very friendly and helpful. The man was a legend with a tremendous presence but still thanked me for coming all that way. He was surrounded by middle rankers though that seemed to go out of their way to be arrogant with foreigners. You have to laugh really! Some of them obviously thought they were the Emperors Bodyguards or something. I’ve met top military men since who don’t strut around like that and mixed with Lords who expect less pomp and formality. I would stress I doubt if Sosai asked for all that – he seemed almost fed up with all the adulation. I sometimes imagine he’d have been quite happy to sit and relax in an English pub over a beer, but his entourage were constantly fussing around him.

(Part 2 to follow)

Olrac 03-10-2009 12:41 PM

Great interview.
Thank you both

(both repped)

niceguy 03-10-2009 12:57 PM

Nice one Hasbeen, thanks Gary. Osu!

Billy no mates 03-10-2009 01:29 PM

Nice one,thanks for that .

KvW 03-10-2009 01:41 PM

A very interesting read. Thanks guys.

vapor 03-10-2009 01:59 PM



meguro 03-10-2009 02:15 PM

Great interview, hasbeen! Inspiring stuff, Gary. Osu!

sandman 03-10-2009 02:21 PM


What a great idea - thanks hasbeen and Gary

walshy 03-10-2009 02:29 PM

Good interview and a nice read. I think someone needs to intrview Hasbeen now, he always seems to have some interesting storys to tell! :)

kanku 03-10-2009 02:41 PM

Part 2

H) What are your goals now?

LOL Keep moving well and help my students. Nothing flash. Walk softly and carry a big stick works for me.

H) Please explain your "impact" theory in knockdown fighting.

I love to study history and combat tactics. I’m a really crushing bore at dinner parties and the like as I can drone on for hours and put everyone to sleep discussing weaponry and fighting styles from the first millennium.

One thing that comes through from the days when men fought as individuals rather than in massed military formations is that speed and weight of attack is critical. Impact weapons deployed quickly beat the fancy stuff. To get back to combat sports, I noticed that most fighters I came into contact with were tremendously fit, they had no problem lasting the distance but often couldn’t score with a decisive blow. I adjusted my training and coaching to focus on getting more impact and my fighting (and my students) improved immediately.

I now emphasise impact before stamina in my personal training. I did a thread about this on the forum and had lots of positive feedback.

H) How do you introduce a beginner into Enshin, compared to your karate induction, many years ago?

There’s no ‘syllabus’ in Enshin, so we all train together and the difference in the grades shows in the quality of their moves, not the quantity. Every Enshin branch chief can arrange their dojo training as they see fit, so long as the kihon and kata are technically up to scratch we can coach in our own way.

Beginners are able to train with the black belts in every class and they are mentored and coached by them all. When I started in 1971 you just joined the back of the line and tried your best to keep up! I don’t remember much kindness when I started, so today I go out of my way to make people feel welcome.

H) What have you given up in the name of karate?

Nothing really; as I said before. It’s been the death of a few relationships though. Funny that – how some partners see training almost like an ‘affair’ because you don’t want to see them every night!

H) What do you consider your greatest achievement in life?

I served as an operational firefighter for 31 years and was involved in many rescues. Nothing I have achieved in karate compares with saving lives - especially children - and those memories are very special. If karate helped me hold my nerve in dangerous situations it’s all been worthwhile, regardless of any grades or trophies picked up along the way.

H) I know you are a "Freeman of London" for your services to charity, would you elaborate....without being too modest!!?

I was granted the Freedom “by nomination” rather than the “honoury” Freedom bestowed by the City. I can’t really elaborate why. I was nominated by an Alderman for “a lifetime of public service and charity work.” His words, not mine. I have supported a local hospice for years and now try to raise funds for the SBSA – a military charity.

H) What advice would you give to anybody considering taking up karate?

Try your best, but remember to keep your life balanced. Family - Work - Karate is my personal order of priorities and I hate to see people getting so obsessed their marriage or career suffers. In the west, karate serves us by providing a challenge in a supportive environment. I do not feel we need to take this to extremes and following severe health problems I strongly advise against overtraining. I realise some people like to immerse themselves in the Japanese culture and if that works for them, great. I have never felt I wanted to act in that way though – I just focus on the practical.

It’s also good to keep your eye on the prize. If you started for self-protection keep things realistic. If you have talent your instructor may pressure you to enter Tournaments etc but you’re there for what you want, not for him. Focus on what really matters to you. That will keep you more interested than imposed demands.

H) What advice would you give to instructors?

Remember that, "You cannot build character and courage by taking away initiative and independence” I’ve got that printed in my office to remind me how to coach. In the old days we just survived the class, but its better long term to help the students find their own character by encouraging them to challenge themselves. Never just beat them into the ground.

This is especially true with juniors. Some of the kids I get joining have had all their confidence kicked out of them already, so immediately putting them under pressure and correcting every mistake just reinforces feelings of inadequacy. I prefer to find something they’re good at and praise them until they start to regain their self-belief. Technical corrections come later, when they are confident enough to accept them.

H) Any messages to the world of karate and k4l especially?

This forum proves that different styles and factions can get along just great. Sign the top guys up!

H) When are you going to publish the much awaited book?

LOL Probably never! It’s just a record for my kids to read when I’m in a nursing home (smelling of piss and biscuits) I started the idea thinking I could perhaps raise some cash for charity, but things stalled a bit after I got to winning the Tournament. Two parts to go so don’t hold your breath!

In conclusion, I’d like to thank everyone who has influenced and guided me this far. Even if I didn’t agree, they made me get out of my comfort zone and press on. That was just as important as showing me the skills.

Thanks to you as well Hasbeen. :)


Nix 03-10-2009 04:03 PM

Excellent interview! Thank you both H and Gary for taking the time!


Brazilian Berseker 03-10-2009 04:21 PM


Tks a lot for the interview, that was just great!

Gary....I don't know what to say.........maybe OSU!!! It's nice to have the privilege to read your wise opinions....tks a lot!

jcc 03-10-2009 04:40 PM


A big thank you to both of you guys for taking the time and effort. Great interview and some great insights there. Gary, as always succint and to the point! :)


Lucy 03-10-2009 04:54 PM

I like it. Honest and upfront. Nice read guys.


MilkManX 03-10-2009 05:34 PM


Thanks! That was great. I always have a smile on my face when I read Gary's posts! I hope someday to meet him since we are in the same style family.


bobh 03-10-2009 08:05 PM

What a pleasure that was. Thanks.

Dent 03-10-2009 08:41 PM


Excellent content and perspective! Both Repped!


kyofighter 03-11-2009 06:51 AM

Good read.

ksan 03-11-2009 06:51 PM

Good post.... always nice to learn more


senshido 03-11-2009 07:38 PM


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