Interview with Sensei Grimes

(November 2006)

This interview with Sensei Grimes was conducted by Sensei Corin Pegden in November 2006.

When did you first start karate Sensei?

I started karate back in early 1966. I had wanted to start it long before then, but there were no clubs about, the only way you could find out about karate was through a limited number of books.

Had you studied anything before that?

I had done a bit of Judo and weight training, but I mainly did boxing at school. I have always liked to be able to defend myself and as in most schools there had been loads of playground fights. At Christmas time the teachers installed a boxing arena in the main hall so that any grievances could be sorted out in the ring!

I was never that bothered by the boxing, but one of the lads who had become quite good was looking for an opponent to fight and my teacher kept pushing me to box him, so eventually I did and I beat him. So I started boxing from that point and became Bristol champion. My last fight was for the area championship and I fought a guy from the Navy. I knocked him down twice and although he didn't knock me down, he actually won on points, which was a bit strange to say the least!

So how did you start karate after boxing?

I saw an advert in the local paper and went down to have a look. I saw Mr Suzuki doing Tamashiwari, which was a breaking demonstration and was hooked. I started training straight away.

Was there anyone there now apart from the Japanese instructor who is still training?

Oh yes, the Kear brothers who emigrated to Australia in the seventies. At that time Reg Kear was a Green belt and at that time was considered an advanced grade in the early days. Training was fairly primitive in those days. It was just up and down with basics and fighting. The fighting was very, very hard back in the sixties and there were injuries all the time!

What were your worst injuries?

I was far more fortunate than most! Mine were the odd broken nose and fingers and toes! I remember when we used to train, the Japanese instructors would make us all sit down around the dojo and they would walk up and down the lines. We would all look down at the floor as we knew that if they caught your eye they would call you up for free fighting with them! But if they called you up, you had to get up and have a go; it was really tough in those days. When I started at 16 I was given no help, but just had to get on with it.

Did you do many competitions in those days and what were they like?

Yes, I did my share. Competitions in those days were basically knockdown. I remember one fight I had against an ex junior champion and I knocked him out. There were all these people around him for ages and Sensei Shiomitsu was refereeing, so I thought I was in for a huge rollicking. When this guy eventually came round and got up, Sensei Shiomitsu had a go at him and told him as a Brown belt that he should be able to block better! He then turned to me and said "by the way, next time pull the punch a bit more!"

Reg Kear had to fight his friend a while later. Now the previous year he fought Reg while he had a cold and kicked him hard in the stomach, so this time Reg knocked him out and he was taken off to hospital! Needless to say Reg was disqualified.

I can also remember we had a visiting Japanese team who trained with us on one of our summer courses. At the end of the course we then held a championships and I was selected by Suzuki Sensei to represent England and compete against them. That was a great experience for me.

How do you think that type of training fits in with the training of today?

Believe me, if you had the guts to train in those days, it built and installed real character in you. If you experience those times, then it puts you in good stead for the rest of your karate career and life in general, but you have to mix the two and have a balance. The nanny state that exists in Britain these days means that we can't get that sort of training back and therefore develop the characters that we did back then. I remember the Kung Fu boom of the 1970's. The karate dojos were packed at the time and were really busy, but the vast majority of the students didn't last as they didn't want to do the hard training that was required.

Above my dojo in Bristol I have a sign that says "The hardest thing to do is to walk through the door" and this is so true even to this day.

What were you earliest recollections of Sensei Shiomitsu?

I remember Shiomitsu Sensei vividly, who was 24 then! He didn't know much else apart from how to fight in those days and he was straight out of Nichidai University and as I recall was a 4th Dan at the time. He was an awesome fighter and I remember on one occasion about some guy claiming to be a 7th Dan. Our club rang Sensei and he came down to Bristol and he came with the late Bob Wignall. Anyway, Shiomitsu Sensei invited this 7th Dan to a challenge and it frightened the life out of this guy! I recall him trying to close a door in their face and Shiomitsu Sensei trying to get his foot in it to open it and the guy saying if they didn't go away he was going to call the police!

Do you still enjoy teaching?

Absolutely and I try and learn from my students as well. If they have been away on a course with Sensei Shiomitsu or Grandmaster, then the first thing I always ask them is "show me what you learnt". If you take away the blinkers you can learn so much more. I always tell them that the important thing is not the grade but the journey. I've always had that determination to get up and push myself and I love passing the knowledge that I have learnt onto others.

What makes a good instructor?

A good instructor should always have patience and give his effort to ensuring a constructive class which is both informative, yet challenges the students. I am like Shiomitsu Sensei though; we both don't like lazy people. Your instructor should not be lazy and then he can demand that his students are not lazy in return. Good instructors are always sincere, honest, firm but fair, but most of all humble. They should always be humble without exception.

There is a lot of pressure on me you know when I teach at the big courses and Sensei Shiomitsu and Ohtsuka etc are there, but you have to handle it. High grades come from all around the world and are expecting a good lesson from me, so you have to deliver one.

What are your recollections of Grandmaster 1st, Hironori Ohtsuka?

Although I never trained with him, I did see him do a sword demonstration at Crystal Palace back in the 70s. Of course I understand the technical expertise more now, but I didn't at all back then! To the naked eye it looked a lot softer to the harder Wado we were doing. He was very impressive though and moved exceptionally well

What do you think of competition karate?

I think it is a good thing as a small part of Wado karate. It shouldn't be the be all and end all. I encourage my students to compete and try everything as you can't compete when you are older! As I've said before it develops character.

What do you think about these "high" grade instructors who say they have mastered karate?

Anyone who says they have mastered Wado karate is mistaken. If that's what they think then they may as well give up and do something else! Getting your Dan grade is like passing your driving test. It's the first rung and too many people give up too quickly afterwards. Wado is a never ending struggle to continually improve and believe me, the more you learn the more you realise there is to learn. Those that say they don't have to train or get up and "walk the walk" anymore probably can't!

Looking back, what are your thoughts on your karate experience?

Well firstly I am lucky to have the best instructors one could ever ask for. Once they are gone, they will never ever be replaced. Sensei Shiomitsu is a great ambassador for Wado karate throughout the world you know. He is always looking to improve himself and develop his technique. He is a truly amazing man. When he first came across to England as I said before, he was just a fighter, (and what a fighter he was!) but like a good bottle of wine that improves with age, you now always receive a first class lesson and he packs in so much information that you can't help but learn from him and admire him. I model myself and my karate on Sensei Shiomitsu.

What's the best advice you can give a Wado practitioner?

My best advice is never give up. It's always an uphill struggle and the higher you get the harder it is. If you go up a rung, there is always someone above you who is ready and able to kick you back down! Also keep training and working hard. Always practise hard and remember that winners are not quitter. If you've been knocked down, come back stronger. For instance many people give up if they fail a grading and this is wrong. If you fail you must come back stronger. Perseverance is the key.

Are you proud you have remained loyal and at such a high grade are still training under the Japanese Sensei?

Oh yes, you should always remember your roots and always be loyal, although loyalty and respect must work both ways. I have the same Sensei now as I had 40 years ago and how many people can say that? Shiomitsu Sensei is a brilliant instructor and is the absolute best in my humble opinion. He is pure Wado and that is exactly what I am after and I feel so lucky that I am able to learn from him and also able to pass this knowledge on to others.

What do you want to be your legacy?

I want my students to carry on and develop my teachings after I die. I hope that I will have taught them correct values and respect in life and that they remember that they should always believe in what they do and believe in their instructor. I hope that I have produced many fine karateka over the years and will continue to do so for a long time yet.

Have you ever thought about doing karate full time?

Yes, many times! But I have worked for BT for many years now and am seeing it out until I'm 60. I don't have long to go. I try and balance work and karate and after my family, karate is my life.

Any final thoughts?

Well I'm proud to have come from the Bristol Dojo which has produced so many fine Wadoka. It has spawned two 7th Dans, namely myself and Phil Kear and three 6th Dans, namely Robert Kear, Reg Kear and Bob Flowers. I can't think of any other European Wado Dojo that has achieved this feat. Although the Kear brothers are part of Suzuki Sensei's organisation, we are still very good friends and I think that this is very important. Life is too short for bickering.

Time goes very quickly, but as I've said before, you should always remember never to give up and to keep training hard.