The Sam Stewart Story
It was around the mid-eighties, whilst working in a packing factory, that I'd decided I’d had enough.
Today was to be my last day in this crap hole and my first day of being a professional karate instructor. For years I had thought about it and the last six months or so I had grumbled about it, but for these last few weeks the idea had been eating away at my mind. I had a steady job, a family to support and a wage not much better than what the government was paying out on unemployment benefits. I also had my pride and wasn’t living on someone else’s back; I was standing on my own two feet. I still felt like dog dirt but I was different from the others at the packing shed. They mostly seemed happy with their lot in life, every day the same. They would come in to work complaining about their home life and stand around until the clock ticked 8am, time to start work. Some would hang on a few minutes longer looking at the morning papers; luckily they only had to count up to page three before being told to get to work.
I was at my bench packing my umpteen bog handle and had already switched off the droning noise of the factory floor, replacing it with my own world of running a karate club. My thoughts of sparring combos and advanced katas were interrupted by a literal kick up the backside, I spun round to see one of the other workers laughing and saying “wake up and get the bloody packing done or I’ll have to teach you how to do karate properly”.
From day one this man had taken it upon himself to have a go at me whenever he could, it was his way of getting through the day. He would take the piss out of me with as many Irish jokes as he could muster and generally have a laugh at my expense. He had never hit me before but today he had crossed that line and I could not resist. He was standing almost sideways on and all I could see written on his leg was ‘sweep me’. No thought entered my head as took his front leg, he hit the dusty factory floor harder than I wanted him to and before he had chance to recover I was towards him with a chest punch. Some form of sanity took hold of me and I opened my fist and slammed him with an open hand strike, it sounded worse than it looked, though had the desired effect. He crawled towards his work mates, there were three of them, I was ready for the rush, but no one came forward, they just froze to the spot. It dawned on me that they were staring past me, I turned to look, standing there was the works boss. He turned and shouted, “Sam, my office, now!” I was in for it.
The office door slammed shut as he barked at me to sit down. He sat on his office desk, looked at me, and said he saw everything and I could be in big trouble. “He hit you first and if you had not retaliated I could have got rid of him, he’s been a pain in the ass for far too long. Karate move wasn’t it? I saw some of that stuff when I was in the army, you should take it up as a living. I’m not going to sack you though I’m giving you two weeks off with sick pay, plus you’ve got two weeks holiday coming, go see what you can find better suited to those hands and feet of yours and hopefully you wont need to come back. I’ll put the ass hole on a warning, good luck and I hope to hear good things about you”.
It was Monday morning, I didn’t go straight home, I had to do something. I had spent over 13 years in one form of combat system or another. It was in the blood. My uncles and cousins were boxing (in the ring and out), my mother had been taught Judo and Dad had trained in karate when he was out in Singapore with the R.A.F. I had experienced growing up in the riot torn streets of Belfast before moving to England. I escaped religion-fuelled violence and plunged straight into the face of racism. Xenophobia had its tight grip on British streets. Blacks, Jews and Irish where all targets, this was something I was unprepared for. I had grown up being told to never back down in a confrontation as if the catholic boys wanted to give you a kicking; no amount of pleading would change their minds. It was always better to get stuck in and kick your way through.
I was beginning to get in trouble in and out of school and my reputation was attracting too much attention from the wrong sort. If I didn’t do something soon there was going to be a bad result. The first sign of this came in the form of a couple of lads outside a pub, needless to say I was offered out. I turned and began to walk away when a beer bottle flew inches by my head, the devil jumped into me and before I could think I was tooth and nail into a fight. “You’ve killed him”, some said. The guy was lying on the ground with a pool of blood surrounding his head, “you’ve killed him”, she shouted. Seconds felt like hours, my life was gone, all because I couldn’t walk away. Fear took its hold of me as I looked down at what was, a few seconds ago, a piece of shit in my face. This had now transformed into someone’s boyfriend, someone’s son, maybe even someone’s dad. I could hear the police sirens in the distance and the words, “you’re going to prison”.
Through the commotion came a groan came from the lad on the ground, he moved and was helped to sit up, he looked up at me, pointed and said “bastard”. Somebody told me to get away as the police were coming. This was the catalyst for sending me to karate all those years ago.
I was going to learn how to defend myself without having to possibly kill someone. Almost 13 years had passed; this time was spent gaining a 2nd Degree Black Belt in Wado Ryu Karate and on seven years of Aikido training with my brother Dave. As well as other styles of full contact karate, Judo came my way for a year, along with far too many street fights. I enjoyed boxing but I did like to kick and found Thai boxing good, then it became clear that full force, no holding back Kickboxing was what the doctor had prescribed. I jumped in with both feet and set up a Kickboxing club at Coalbrookdale School I incorporated a couple of Karate sessions and used the hills around the area to help train the fighters. We took a few of the area titles plus a British welterweight belt.
We went to all the weekend tournaments worth going to with the karate clubs and did very well, always coming back with at least a third place in sparring, Kata or weapons.
Now I was at a crossroads: full time professional Karate or part time dreamer and weekend warrior. I spent the rest of that Monday going to five local sports halls and community centres. I hired two hours of time at each establishment, no turning back. I phoned up the British Karate Association in Manchester, as I knew of a Karate fighter by the name of Peter Consterdine, figuring that if I wanted to be the best i’d better join a karate association that had the best. I spoke to the then head of the BKA, Danny Connor, who arranged a meeting with me. Little did I know at the time, Danny would turn out to be a guiding light in my martial arts career. At that first meeting it was arranged that I should attend an instructors course on at the same weekend. It was Brian Seabright that introduced himself to me saying that Danny would meet me at the head office in Swan Street later that afternoon and asked me to sit down with him and go through what I wanted from the BKA. I was impressed by how well I was received; I was made to feel very welcome and told that there should be no problem in accepting my application.
Late afternoon turned into evening by the time I reached Martial World, the office of the BKA on Swan Street, it was raining and dark. I went into the shop to see Brian deep in conversation with Danny; they both glanced my way and continued with their debate. I looked around; the place was more like a junk shop than a martial arts store. Danny spoke first, “Sam isn’t it?” “Yes” I said, like I had just been pulled up to the Headmasters office. Twenty-one questions later he said, “Ok, we will take you on board, WELCOME TO THE BKA”. A strong handshake, a big smile and a £70 wheel clamping ticket marked my entry into one of the most prestigious associations in Great Britain.
Everything was now in place, I was starting to live my dream, I was helping people to get their own self-belief up and go for it. Seeing people blossom into strong, confident individuals was a big reward and the support I got from the B.K.A. was outstanding. Danny Connor took me under his wing and mentored me, helping me to remove the self doubts that had plagued me as a younger man and helped me to establish the clubs own identity. Danny was the one who told me to call the club Kyushinkai. He remarked that after watching me go through a training session that all the movements I performed were honest, sound techniques that were very truthful. He offered me the name ‘Kyu’, meaning ‘Truth’, ‘Shin’, meaning ‘Spirit’ and ‘kai’, ‘Society’.
The club continued to grow, becoming stronger with every passing year. Lots of successes and failures ensued also, but these were used as learning tools that only helped make the next time better. Strength is drawn from the falling session. Wado Ryu was the main course, followed by full contact Kickboxing and self defence lessons. The freestyle phenomenon was in full swing and we used it as a useful source of information and a good testing ground for our up and coming fighters.
I already knew Peter Lewis of the then, F.S.K., through the B.K.A. After a tournament the club attended I was asked about becoming a member of the World Kickboxing Association. Peter was, and still is, a walking encyclopaedia of what’s what and who’s who in the martial arts world. Of all the awards, trophies and black belts I achieved with the W.K.A., the one that I am most pleased with is the title of being one of Peters closest friends. I stayed with the B.K.A., as I was being well looked after and Danny Continued to educate me in Karate, Tai Chi and life.
Around fifteen years later a devastating shock was to hit me hard. As the first year of the new millennium began, so ended Danny’s life. Cancer had a hold on Danny for four years or more prior to his death and I had known nothing about it. Danny had kept it to himself. The shock of Danny’s death was like losing a father, he had helped me and so many others get a good deal out of life.
For the next two years I was numb. It was Brian Seabright who eventually came along and snapped me out of it, the new head of the B.K.A. He stayed in touch with me and was always there at the end of a phone, even if all I wanted to do was have a chat, he would listen. He told me that Danny would want me to get on with things and not to stand still. Brian still continues to do the Dan grading for the school and give good advice, whether I think I need it or not. Brian got me back to serious training, involving me in sessions with Tatso Sazuki and Ju-jitsu lessons with sixth Dan, Rob Campbell.
I was looking at an article in Fighters magazine that Danny had done on me and found on the next page a story about Geoff Thompson and the British Combat Association. I Knew that Peter Consterdine was part of this new body and I thought it would be good to see Peter again so I phoned for an info pack and left a message, a few minutes later Peter called me back and welcomed me into the B.C.A. I explained that I would stay with the B.K.A. and Brian Seabright as loyalty was important, and as Peter was one of the original leading lights of the B.K.A., I felt that I was not falling away but getting closer. Brian had started meeting with Peter and other top Karate fighters for training sessions and was fine with me mixing it up, as this was something that I had always done.
The first training day came with the B.C.A. in the form of Brazilian Ju Jitsu and at the end of the day Peter introduced me to Geoff Thompson, I was very impressed with him. A few days later I called him just to say that it was good to meet him and I was looking forward to the next training day. I told him that I was hoping for the chance of a longer talk with him and right away he offered to see me in Coventry the following week. From there we got on like a house on fire and I am pleased to be able to call him my friend. I have been lucky enough to have had one on one training sessions with him at his home, as well as be led to other great opportunities such as an invitation up to Huddersfield to train with Peter Consterdine and Brian Seabright, as well as other top karate and kickboxing fighters like Lance Lewis and Ian Abernethy.
My learning curve shot up, I felt like I was standing amongst giants. I continued to go to bi-monthly sessions with Geoff and Peter in Coventry as it gave my instructors and I the opportunity to train with people and in styles of other combat systems. One such meeting was to train with Mo Teague. The drive down was not pleasant, we where bricking it. The reputation of Mo’s sessions were the stuff of legends and by the end of the day I’m pretty certain I was approaching death, though, out of this, a new friendship was forged. I have had the good fortune to be able to train with Mo in his home town of Weymouth and our school benefits from having one of the best close combat experts and M.M.A. exponents in the world teaching and supporting not only me and my instructors, but also the Dojo.
Around 2005 I was teaching as usual from the local sports centre that I had been at for almost two decades, the classes were packed a lot of the time so I had to split the class in two in order to get round everyone.
I think I had been told that my rent would be going up again and I was fed up of the poor surroundings and hassle from the teenagers that always kicked the door in when I was teaching. As well as the rubbish building with the missing tiles. Jimmy, a friend of mine that I had known for about 15 years, offered me one of his factories for conversion into a training venue. I was not prepared for this, I talked it over with my partner Diana, she said “its your dream, go for it”.
I told my top instructors, Steve Pike and Dale Pritchard, about my idea and they were fantastic.
Once the entire club found out about my mad plan I was overwhelmed by the enthusiasm and energy that came from the students. Everyone pitched in, people ran everywhere to help sort it out and I must say that without their belief in me, I would not be where I am today.