The introduction to martial arts can occur at any time of life. For some people, they began their martial arts journey as a child, whilst others develop an interest later in life. I was one of those who started learning as a child and that love for martial arts has never gone away.
Unlike a lot of people who first discovered martial arts as a kid, I wasn’t encouraged or inspired to get involved by any other means than my own curiosity. I never really watched any martial arts movies, I’d never seen a Bruce Lee movie and the nearest thing I’d watched that involved some sort of martial arts was children’s show, Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers (I even had a costume of the red ranger!). None of my family were even remotely interested in martial arts and none of them pushed me into learning.
I had developed a fondness for martial arts prior to my love for Power Rangers, receiving a pair of boxing gloves and mini punch bag, complete with stand, as a Christmas present. Not exactly the present you’d be expecting for a girl aged 5 years old, with other girls her age receiving prams and Barbies, but I was absolutely over the moon with my combat gift. Even younger than that I used to grapple and wrestle with my father, but I’d never win and often scream out in pain as my arm was wrenched up my back and forced to submit. It never deterred me as I’d always come back for more, grappling with him like a young pup plays with its father.
I must’ve been around the age of 6 when I pestered my parents about wanting to participate in martial arts. At that time, I was unaware of the differences in styles on offer but chose to look at two of the local Karate clubs in the area. The first was Sei-Do-Kan karate club run out of Howe Bridge Sports Centre, in Atherton, tutored by Sensei Billy Higgins, who was already a pretty accomplished karate black belt at the time winning various champi0nships from early 70’s to 80’s, and is currently, as of 2013, a 7th Dan black belt. I then spectated at another karate club, this time in Leigh. Mike Newton’s Budokan, situated at Welch Mill on Arthur Street, was like Billy Higgins’ class: impressive and disciplined. The crisp white karate suits gleamed as the students performed their kata in front of 7th Dan, Sensei Mike Newton. Karate was a very focused martial art and admirable, however it wasn’t quite what I was looking for.
The thought of martial arts slowly slipped into the back of my mind as I did what typical kids do: play and have fun. It was when I was 10 years old that a school friend said I should check out the Japanese Ju Jitsu club he went to. Unbeknownst to me, the Ju Jitsu club he mentioned was just a minute away! How could I have missed this? The club was run from Leigh Self Defence Studio, a dojo that played host to not only the Leigh Ju Jitsu club, but also Shaun Hodson’s Jaguar Thai Boxing. I went down for my first class, led by Sensei Alan Francis, and after witnessing the hands-on style of throwing and grappling, I was hooked.
I spent a solid 2.5 years studying Japanese Ju-Jitsu before knee issues became a problem in continuing. The workload of high school didn’t help, but as I grew out of my teenage years, the knee pains subsided to the point where I could do martial arts without hindrance. Gnawing at the back of my mind was the fact that I loved Ju-Jitsu and was so close to reaching a goal – my black belt – that would mean so much to me to achieve. Hard-as-nails Sensei Alan was a face I would see regularly, up and down the street, and I would always say hello. But it just so happened as I was contemplating a return to Ju-Jitsu, 10 years after leaving, that I saw Sensei Alan and he said for the first time in 10 years, “So, when you coming back, Steph?”. That was it. If there was something that was meant to be, this was it. And boy, can I say it was the best decision I ever made.
Returning to the club as an adult has opened up a whole host of new and exciting techniques, each one as refreshing and deadly as the next. Whilst making lots of new friends, I also have the good fortune of reacquainting with some old ones in the form of Sensei’s Chris, Richard and Selina, the people I aspired to be like when I was just a youngster over a decade ago. Now, with the rise in popularity of Brazilian Ju Jitsu, I love nothing more than learning impressive, lethal self defence skills in Japanese Ju Jitsu with 5th Dan Sensei Alan Francis and some jaw-droppingly awesome BJJ submission grappling skills with 2nd Dan, Sensei Chris Davies.
So that’s my story of how I became a child of Ju-Jitsu, and fortunately for me, I refound the ‘anything goes’ martial art and am more in love with it now than I ever was. Achieving my brown belt after 10 years away, and now as an adult, having to re-learn all the throws and learning finishing moves for the first time, was probably one of my greatest achievements.
We’d love to hear your story of how you get involved with martial arts so please leave a comment below.