Saturday, 14 February 2015

Aberdeen Karate Club

The Beginning - 1962/63.

Until now, it has been a mystery. A 50 year old plus mystery. The question is, who actually not only established karate, but also introduced Shotokan Karate for the first time into Aberdeen and the North East of Scotland? 

Given that, in early 1962/63, the Aberdeen Karate Club was the first karate club to be set up in the region and was either the second or  third club in Scotland along  with Saltcoats and Glasgow, how on earth did it come to be introduced at a time, when karate was virtually unknown in most the United Kingdom?

The mystery deepens, when some internet sites, albeit in good faith, mistakenly name two highly experienced karateka, John Anderson and John Allan as the founders. To add to the confusion, various press/media reports etc., have referred at times,  to the introduction of Shotokan Karate and the  first Aberdeen Shotokan Karate Club as being set up in  1968 .To complicate matters even further, a  book, "Ronnie Watt- 8th Dan," by Dr, Clive Layton, was recently published. Confusingly, the book's publicity blurbs state that it records  the early history of Shotokan in Aberdeen and the North East of Scotland.and appears to indicate that this  also began in 1968. This is despite the undisputed fact that both karate and the Shotokan style, were both introduced well over five years before.That said, any confusion will be clarified later.
The Aberdeen Karate Club was formulated and founded in 1962/ 63.  This was years before any other club emerged in the area. As stated, it was not only the first karate club in Aberdeen and  the North East of Scotland it was also the first to introduce the Shotokan style of karate.

The club's founder and original Chief Instructor was at the time, a self-taught karateka called-  Stewart Duncan.

At this,Stewart gave a wry smile at the thought of all those voices out there saying- "I've never heard of him."

The question then arises, at a time when karate was an unknown quantity to most people, what led to its introduction in the North East of Scotland?
To understand how this came about, some  knowledge of how things were then is a necessity.  Back in the early 1960's, Aberdeen was in a different age. There was no oil.  No oil industry. No "Oil
Capital of Europe." Aberdeen Airport was tiny with few flights out. Employment was to be found in the many local industries of the day. these included engineering; shipbuilding; fishing; granite; paper and in the outlying area, agriculture.
  Money was tight with an average weekly wage of around £10 or £11.. Car ownership was sparse. Some homes were still without television. Unlike today, telephones were not so common, with many having to share a 'phone  line with a neighbour. There was no digital age, with computers giving instant access to information. There were no mobiles, IPhones etc. allowing immediate contact across the world.   As for movies like "Enter The Dragon," with Bruce Lee, which stimulated world-wide interest in karate in later years, they were non existent.
  It should be remembered that it was into this era that karate was introduced into Aberdeen and the North East of Scotland for the first time.

However, it should also  be noted that karate was not the first martial art in the area. Judo, was already well established and flourishing some years before with the Aberdeen Judo Club. It was popular, well organized and well taught with excellent instructors such as Bill Ross and others.
That said, given this unpromising background,   how did karate come to be established in the Aberdeen area.? To answer this, requires focus to be placed on the Aberdeen Karate Club's founder,
Stewart Duncan  and through him, the origins of the club.
For many, like Paul Allan, 7th.Dan and Ronnie Watt, 8th Dan,
"Is it too late for a Roundhouse kick?"
it is well documented that to some extent, they were apparently influenced by the James Bond movie "Goldfinger," where the character" Odd Job," stimulated interest in the then mystical martial arts. In Stewart's case,it was also a movie, which stimulated  his interest, only it was a movie from a a different time.   As already stated, in the 1940's, the martial arts were an  unknown  quantity in Scotland. So, when he saw the James  Cagney movie, "Blood On The Sun," he was entranced by the brutal, but terrific  fight at the end. This mostly involved judo, with an element of karate, in an age, when such scenes were unheard of.

In the 1950's, Stewart joined the British Army and served as a regular soldier. Shortly after leaving the army, he was recalled as a reservist for the Suez Crisis in 1956, During his military service, after some unarmed combat training, he rekindled his childhood interest on the martial arts.In particular, in judo and  karate. Back then, even this was basic, but not surprising given the general lack of awareness of these arts. However,as a civilian, around 1958/59, he surprisingly came across a book on karate.If memory serves, it was called "What Is Karate ?" by Masutatsu Oyama, a renowned karateka, with a deserved reputation for fierceness.It is authenticated, that at different times, he fought 270 opponents. He defeated all of them.The best lasted three minutes. Most lasted just seconds. many required medical treatment. Added to this was the fact that he knocked out a bull with a single blow. Even early on, his harsh training methods reflected this.
    Intrigued by this, Stewart decided to take a chance. Bearing in mind that the digital age of mobiles, computers etc. had not yet arrived, he then wrote by air-mail to Oyama in Japan.In his letter, he outlined his long time enthusiasm for the sport. His desire to learn and despite using the book, the difficulties faced in training alone in an area where karate was non-existent.
"How do you say "karate" in French?"
  To his astonishment, Oyama replied. Not only was he delighted
to hear from someone in Scotland, but he went out of his way to
offer both help and encouragement.   He outlined a very detailed
training program  for Stewart to follow. This included kihon or
basic exercises; punching techniques; strikes; blocking techniques;
kicks etc.In all, a variety of techniques. Later, without being asked,  he gave guidance on kata training sequences, followed by advice  on sparring. Needless to say, communications by post took weeks.
   As for Stewart's problem of training in isolation, with no one to
refer to, Oyama pointed out that this should not be seen as a        problem, but to welcome it as an opportunity to practice self
discipline and self denial. Furthermore, that he too frequently
trained in isolation in all weathers. Oddly, he then recommended that Stewart find a hill and train on it. He did so using the  Broad Hill at Aberdeen beach .However, during the winter that followed, repeatedly cold and wet from training in the snow and rain, he decided that a severe case of  pneumonia would hamper progress. Reluctantly, he came to the conclusion that a a modified training schedule would undoubtedly improve his life expectancy.. Fitness levels improved. Confidence grew.
    This was added to around 1959/60 or thereabouts. On a short trip to Paris, he visited a Shotokan Karate Centre. There, his learning curve was enhanced on seeing group training, techniques action for the first time. In turn, this created even more confidence and in doing so, led to the idea
of eventually setting up a karate club in Aberdeen. However, the problems of venues; membership;
finance; training etc. were formidable and had still to be considered and resolved.

Unknown to Stewart, the solution to those problems were already in the pipeline. thanks to his long-
standing parallel interest in judo. As stated, this  awareness came about in childhood. Eventually, this
led in the late 1950's, to him attending a small judo club in the Tillydrone area of the city. Training    took place in a World War 2 nissan hut, which leaked badly every time it rained,  causing rusty fragments of metal to fall onto the mat..The instructors then were Eddie Grant, Dan Grade and Eric Scott, a tough, skilled  4th  Kyu, who surprised many senior grades in contest.
Later, following an advert in a local news paper, Stewart attended a crowded public meeting. This was organized by, amongst others, a senior judo instructor, Bill Ross and led to the creation of the Aberdeen Judo Club. Stewart became an early member. The training was rigorous but enjoyable. In turn, it led to his appointment as a judo instructor/ youth leader at Seaton Community Centre in the late 1950's.. This was then followed by his appointment as the instructor for Aberdeen University Judo Club  in 1960. Both gave him the welcome opportunity to hone his teaching skills in martial arts.
     Given this and his combined experiences in both karate and judo and the resultant added
confidence, his earlier thoughts of setting up a karate club in Aberdeen surfaced again. However,
given the lack of money the problems remained, in particular that of a venue. Fortunately, thanks to the generosity of the Judo Club, this was resolved An arrangement was agreed.  At no charge, use of
its dojo at set times, would be given over for karate training by Stewart. This was  a kindness still remembered over half a century later, which, at the time, paved the way for -

             The founding of the Aberdeen Karate Club and the introduction of Shotokan Karate            
              into  Aberdeen and the North East of Scotland for the first time in 1962/63.

Masutatsu Oyama
At the same time, judo friends helped out in other ways. Some donated old outfits. Others supplied
equipment in the form of small boxes, one of sand the other of grain, for the use of hand strikes. As for a makiwara, someone, while walking his dog on nearby Balmedie beach came across some discarded wooden planks and a piece of old rope. These were recycled along with a bit of tarpaulin..
Together, following a rough sketch, these were carefully worked on by yet another judoka. The end result was a cost-free, makeshift makiwara, that proved to be highly effective until it collapsed. Needless to say, there was no rush to patent the design.
    The concern over membership also quickly disappeared. During this period, Stewart was contacted by a reporter from "The Peoples' Journal,"related to their interest in the setting up of the first karate club in the area .Given the fact that at the time it was an unknown quantity, the number of enquiries
that followed came as a surprise. The membership problem was immediately solved. Unfortunately, as the beginners introductory course was based to a certain extent on the hard training methods of Oyama, around 50% of the students dropped out of each beginner's course.

  Then,out of the blue, he discovered for the first time that karate was already established in Britain.. Until then, given  the  poor communications of the time and the sports lack of publicity, he was totally unaware of its existence. He immediately checked and discovered the following details.
  The founder of the British Karate movement was Vernon C. F. Bell. Already a 3rd Dan   in judo   and later, a 10th  Dan in Ju Jitsu,  He  regularly traveled to Paris. There, he  trained with Henri Plee the the pioneer of karate in Europe. In 1957, he became the first Briton  to  become a karate Black Belt.  
                                                                                                                                                        Following this,Mr..Bell then formed the British Karate Federation in 1958.  It was the first such karate  organization in the UK  and was  affiliated to the Federation Francais de Karate. Later that year it  became a member of the International Karate Federation.Also. in 1958, he attended the first European Karate Union meeting in Paris. There, he trained with Tetsuji Murakami, whom he invited to teach a basic form of Shotokan discipline for his BKF.
AKC Founder.

 Unlike today, where Ronnie Watt, 8th Dan of Aberdeen and Tommy Morris, 8th Dan, of Glasgow, have apparently instructed  around  20,000 and 100.000 students respectively, membership of the BKF then was small.     

 For example, by the end of 1959, the BKF had only 56 students. By the time Stewart joined in mi 1963,  membership had only risen to  just over 400. This was partly due to  due to Mr.Bell's insistence of  stringent selection criteria to students and in particular the general lack of publicity.   However, all that changed in 1965, as did the face of British Karate for ever, because Mr. Bell arranged    for  a group from  Japan. to visit. Their demonstrations introduced styles of karate previously never seen by the British public. Given this success,Mr. Bell then arranged for the Japan Karate Association's Hirkazu Kanazawa to stay and teach in London for a year. Karateka in Aberdeen and the North East will certainly recognize that name, but be unaware that it was VCF Bell, who brought him to the UK in the first place.

That said, on finding out that there was an already established karate movement in Britain, Stewart made enquiries and eventually contacted Vernon Bell. Like Masatatsu Oyama, Mr. Bell proved to be both interested and helpful. He listened carefully to the circumstances leading to the establishment of the Aberdeen Karate Club and its introduction of Shotokan karate, giving a welcome to both. Advice was then immediately offered relating to the problems of training,techniques, venues,money, membership and isolation in the North East of Scotland.
   Maintaining contact, Mr.Bell then invited Stewart to attend a BKF training course that was to be held in Middlesbrough. As luck would have it,  just before traveling, he sustained an injury to his foot, while training on his own.  Undaunted, despite having to use a walking cane to get  about, he attended the course. On seeing the affects of the injury, Mr. Bell suggested that as regards the  training, he should "sit,watch and learn."
     However, the opportunity to actually participate in group training was too good to miss. He changed. Took part. Almost immediately, the injury was aggravated and  to his regret, he was forced to withdraw. The positive side of that decision was that it gave him more contact time with Mr. Bell. Questions were asked and answered. Training methods discussed. Problems covered. Encouragement given. To a large extent, this compensated for the frustration felt over the missed training. More important, was the fact that he had been able to spend valuable time with the very man, who had not only introduced karate into the country, but also founded the British Karate movement, through the British Karate Federation.Vernon Bell then officially greeted  Stewart and the Aberdeen Karate Club.
 Following this, Stewart was then immediately registered as a member of the  BKF on 09-06-1963. He was then appointed the BKF's Area Officer for both Aberdeen and Lanark on 01-07-63 and still has the original membership and  appointment card. This  is signed,dated and stamped by VCF Bell. His death at 81 in 2003, led Master Enoeda, Chief Instructor for many years the Chief Instructor of the  Karate Union of Great Britain to describe him-
                    " a great master in history who discovered karate for Britain."     

Today, over 50 years after first meeting Mr. Bell,  Stewart is proud that the original Aberdeen  Karate Club, was directly associated with  both him and Masutsu Oyama At a time when the sport was non- existent in the country, VCF Bell was the one man who had a vision. As stated, he not only introduced the sport into the UK for the first time; he was also the first to be awarded a Black Belt.and crowned all this by having the foresight to set up the sport's first UK association, the British Karate Federation.

On that nostalgic note, it comes as no surprise learn that many of today's senior karate grades are not
even aware of  who VCF Bell was, let alone his achievements. At the same time, it is also safe to say that many of  those who trained initially at the Aberdeen Karate Club, are also   unaware of who actually founded the club. To some, as stated earlier, their internet sites refer to John Anderson and John Allan as the founders. Both were highly experienced karateka, who went on to become  Dan Grades.. However, neither were the founders.They were in fact early students.of the sport.In particular, Stewart remembers John Anderson who immediately came to notice, as a natural karateka . Like John Allan,  who followed, both were dedicated and skillful.
    In turn, this benefited the club, when, as a result of a recurring medical problem , Stewart was reluctantly forced to retire from the sport at that time. Both the above  then became the AKC's Chief Instructors.
    On checking with some of the writers of the internet  entries and exchanging information, it became clear that a simple, unintended mistake had occurred. This was due to an honest assumption being made that as Chief Instructors at the time, they were also the founders. of the club. Nevertheless, items such as these, along with others mentioned at the beginning of the post, led to questions being asked relating to Stewart's connection with karate in the local area. For instance, local press and media reports have wrongly stated  that the first Aberdeen Shotokan Karate Club was set up in 1968. For whatever reason, these reports consistently ignored the simple fact that both karate and the Shotokan style were introduced well over five years before by the Aberdeen Karate Club, which was formulated and founded in 1962/63.This was not only the first club established  in Aberdeen and the North East of Scotland, it was also the first in Scotland north of the Glasgow/
Edinburgh area.

To aggravate the situation even further and to add to the confusion, was the recent publication of a book, "Ronnie Watt, 8th Dan,"by the well known author and karateka, Dr. Clive Layton. To be frank, Stewart, as yet, has not read the book. However, he has read the publicity blurbs which accompanied it. The following is just one example-

   "From the author... comes another brilliantly researched work that not only has the early history of Shotokan in the North East of Scotland and been recorded for posterity, but documents the extraordinary and eventful life of one man whose karate foundation it provided."

These, along with the other blurbs, give an indication of content. From these and only these, it would be reasonable to assume that according to Dr. Layton's book, that  Shotokan karate was apparently introduced with the emergence of Ronnie's Aberdeen Shotokan Karate Club/Centre in 1968. Various other quotes reinforce this. As for the book itself, it appears to be an autobiography on the one hand and on the other, purports to follow the early development and history of Shotokan karate in the North East of Scotland.
    However, despite its description as". another brilliant researched work..," it appears according to    the blurbs, to have missed out the origin of karate in the area and  the first  five years or so of its development through the  founding of the Aberdeen Karate Club in 1962/63. Stewart, as the founder   of  the AKC and the person who actually introduced the sport into the area, was never at any time        contacted by the author regarding the book's "early history."  This is of particular relevance given that apart from the AKC, no other club existed in Scotland anywhere north of Glasgow at that time.         Obviously, this and the other issues relating the origins of the sport etc  in the area, have led to questions being asked and as a result, cast a   shadow over  Stewart's integrity.    In turn, this led him to contact both  Ronnie Watt 8th Dan  and the author  Dr,. Clive Layton. To be fair, Ronnie replied     almost immediately and explained that he had assumed that the  book was about him and his Shotokan karate
    At the same time, given Stewart's concerns, he also passed a copy of these onto the author. But, no contact was made by him.. Given this, after some time had passed, Stewart again contacted him directly, voicing his concerns. For whatever reason, after some considerable time, Doctor Layton has not as yet replied.

A humorous  or light -hearted  approach to the question of the "early history," would be for an author to write the history of World War 1- 1914-1918, by beginning in 1919.

As for the early history of the AKC detailed above, it must be admitted that it is on the long side. For that, Stewart would offer  apologies all round. Nevertheless, it is a history to be proud of not only because of its direct link with VC F Bell, the founder of karate in the UK, but because of the achievements of its members.
    Obviously, achievement can be measured in many ways. A few AKC members went on into the professions. Stewart, for example, did an M.A. degree at Aberdeen University and went on to become a school teacher. Others went on to build up successful businesses outwith the sport. Unsurprisingly,
others created worthwhile careers within the sport. Amongst these original members were-
                                                                                                                                                            John Anderson, 1st. Dan, then. He was one of the first members of the AKC. A dedicated student, he went on to become joint Chief Instructor of the AKC along with John Allan. Later, he left to become an instructor at the Budokai in London.
                                                                                                                                                              . John Allan,  also a   Dan Grade, followed John Anderson above as an early member of the AKC and as stated, became joint Chief Instructor of the club. Following this, he then went on to  become Chief Instructor at the thriving Aberdeen University Karate Club. 

Brian Bothwell,  6th Dan. As Brown Belts and members of the AKC, both he and Ronnie Watt now  8th Dan, left to form their own karate club in 1968, over five years after the founding of the AKC. In time, he not only set up his own club, he became an approved grading instructor. He also established the Grampian & Northern Karate Association in 1985

Sandy Marwick, 7th Dan, who also trained at the AKC, went on to be graded  as a Black Belt in 1972 He also trained in both boxing and judo. Following service in the Royal Air Force  and the British Army. He also studied other martial arts and styles such as Bujinkan Taijutsu and on visits to Japan, trained under Japanese instructors.He also trained service personnel in close quarter combat, using his specialist service qualifications.Later, on leaving the Army, he became a security consultant, before working for the Metropolitan Police as an instructor in self-defence techniques.

Ronnie Watt, 8th Dan. He joined the AKC in 1965 and trained there until 1968. As stated, he and Brian Bothwell, as Brown Belts, left the AKC to form their own karate club in 1968. Later, Ronnie was awarded 1st Dan in 1969 by Kanazawa. Other grades rapidly followed until eventually he reached the coveted 8th Dan in 2005.In addition, Ronnie has launched a highly successful career within the sport. He has not only established his own popular karate centre, through which, some  20,000 members have passed through, but also set up the National Karate Association (Scotland).In addition to the many other posts held in various karate associations, he achieved recognition with the award of the O.B.E here in the UK and internationally, with the further award of the Japanese Order Of The Rising Sun.

Finally, when Stewart Duncan was asked, what had given him the greatest pleasure in his involvement with the  the sport of karate, he replied-

That in founding the Aberdeen Kararte Club well over 50 years ago in 1962/63 and introducing karate in the Shotokan style into the region, he had not realized at the time, that in a sense he had opened a "door." However, in the years that followed, he gradually became aware that many of those who had stepped through it, had, because of the sport and their own individual abilities, gone on to make life-changing achievements.












Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Welcome to my new blog....Coming soon, lots of info on the clubs beginnings....and the many Karate Black Belts, who started their careers there. Watch this space...bookmark me for later.