Hi. It’s great to catch up with you once again. It’s been a long time and reports of my endless procrastination have been gradually exaggerated…mainly by me so now I’m here I know that I’ve won. Training of late has been a little up and down but I guess it’s a reflection in some respects of my life at present. Work is going well, social life is going well my family and my dad’s health? well.. that’s been emotional.
Being honest, I don’t want to go into the ins and outs of that right now, I don’t think it’s fair or right at present but being the amazing guy that he is, he is once again winning. His determination and endless resilience is where I get mine from He’s an amazing stage actor, incredible teacher formidable former ANC activist, writer and African story teller. He’s also a palliative cancer patient. He’s my hero, but then so is my mum.
Just recently I headed out to Spain for 10 days to spend time with both of them and despite the circumstances it was the best of times. I got to spend quality time with my mum, we ate, drank and did our best to merry, and we saw my dad at hospital every day. Seeing him laughing, smiling and demanding to go home was like speaking to my dad 20 years ago.
He is home now and that can only be a good thing. He’s fighting his way back to the best his health can be and right now every single day is a gift. Like me he is a fighter, he is tough and brave and strong and so incredibly gentle I hope he is here for many years to come. I’m out in Spain in the next couple of weeks and it will be good to see him.
I realised the other day that everything I’ve ever done has always been dad speaking through me. My writing, my boxing, my public speaking when I look in the mirror I see my fathers eyes. When I write these words I remember him in his study at home writing his memoirs. When I talk about why Black Lives Matter I see my daddy raise his fist.
When he first heard I was training in Muay Thai and fighting he didn’t know what to say. His little boy stepping in a ring. Winning a title. Then winning another one. And just never giving up. He used to play cricket for Cambridge and was an outstanding sports man. He has seen so much violence in his life he is a pacifist. The one thing him and my mum have always been is proud of me but never as much as me of them.
At school for my GCSE English exam the last question was “who is your biggest hero?” I wrote about my father and South Africa. There is a lot I want to and need to say right now but I keep pushing the wave of emotion down. I keep being resilient John, not little super John who’s daddy will never ever die.
It hurts to much to let him in and to tell him dad’s poorly and he’s fighting but its really serious and that I’m afraid. Every single day of my life I think about my mother and father and how I can support them. I want to train Muay Thai full time again not just “getting by” twice a week training but family comes first and work comes first and in the end, when everything changes all I will have is my mum, my friends, family, my art and my beautiful father. I’m sure it will be all or nothing as usual in the gym soon. Thanks for listening. I’ll see you on that road.
Hi. I hope your keeping well and that this week just like the one before has been a good one. When it comes down to me and all things martial all is well. Although I’m not training as much as I’d like at present I’m still enjoying my time at the gym and feel like I’m progressing. I intend to get myself back on that proverbial horse over the next couple of weeks but as always it is what it is and I’m enjoying the journey. Fifteen and a half years in and I’m enjoying it just as much as I did at the beginning. But that’s just me. Mr never give up will still never give up. He’s always learning.
Along my internet travels this week something caught my attention. In fact it caught my attention so deeply that I smiled and wondered if they’d done it on purpose. Just for me to see. That’s been happening a lot recently. It’s called timely algorithms in action.
“Wear your armour. Whether it’s a makeup, a band t shirt, your fandom pins, tattoos, jewellery your favourite pair of ripped jeans or something else no one else can touch or see your favourite song repeating like a mantra inside your head, the sound of your own heartbeat or the knowledge that you were brave enough to get out of bed today when everything else inside you said “no”. Wear your armour.”
My armour reflects my fighting spirit. Have you ever seen my dragons? my left arm and my right arm and shoulder are covered in dragons. On my back my dragon fights a Samurai. Order vs chaos. Fire vs balance. My dragon protects my soul. I’ve seen him in my dreams and he has a fearsome roar. He is the fighter in me and is there when I need him the most just like my art.
My armour also has put up barriers over the years that I’m in the process of tearing down. This is also a long road but an important journey. I see the cycles and I see the abusers. I remain emotionally intelligent and remember that a grown man is in the driving seat these days not a reckless kid, although sometimes it’s good to be spontaneous, not give a fuck and go with the moment. That’s a part of me too and something that’s kept me competing over the years. I get you need to get good at these things but if you have the heart then that’s half the battle won.
Muay Thai over the years has also become my armour. It’s about the aura I project. People know martial artists when they see martial artists like we know ourselves. Water no get enemy. The unintentional armour my art projects resonates from my heart and outwards. It’s a fearsome dragon when it needs to be and gentle as a lamb, even on my worst days. It pushes me through round after round and lets me keep fighting in that ring, win, draw or lose. Sometimes it feels like fire and more recently it just feels strong.
What I am underneath is someone I’m growing to love more and more day by day. He’s someone who despite all odds will rise time and time again. Training is part of his healing process and his gym is his safe space. Later this year I hope that fighting enters my life once again because I want to test his mettle. I want to see how new he really is inside and out. It’s where I’ll cut my teeth and it’ll be brand new again just like the first time. From now until then I’ll keep pressing forward training hard to fight easy, and just like the last time.. I’ll see you on that road.
Hi. It’s nice as always to catch up with you once again. How’s your week been? mine’s been pretty joyous of late. Let’s rewind back to the end of last weekend and my trip overseas to see my parents. I’ve not seen them in close to a year but it felt like longer. I spent a good few days in the sun, had some nice runs and spent lots of time in the pool. Carlos says hi.
Most importantly, I got to spend time with my mum and dad, and if work wasn’t calling this week onwards I would no doubt still be out in Spain. Which brings back to the second joyous event which is after a significant lull in contract work I’m lucky enough to be working with a community organisation for the next few months in London as an IT project manager.
Of my many skills in the sector I’ve worked in now for over 10 years project management has become one of my most well paid and developed. I like challenges and I like helping people achieve their goals. I guess some of that stems from martial arts and the desire to help others from community volunteering and organising.
Either way, I’m pleased to be addressing areas of my life that were falling short. I’m also back on the horse when it comes to police monitoring. Which is always a good thing. As the saying goes when your facing the right direction, just keep walking. It’s something I can apply to most areas of my life and more often than not do. Helping others is rewarding and in my own way I guess it means I’m fighting back too.
You see, Bristol Copwatch is a lot more than a social media presence despite the lies the police and their allies (by allies I mean rats.) may tell you. We are an independent community focused police monitoring group who monitor the police on the street and across the UK. We are also a group of people with lived experience of police harassment and brutality and most importantly police corruption. We’ve been out in St Pauls, in Easton and around black and brown communities in the city off and on for over 12 months. We’re still young and have raised over 3 thousand in funds.
There is a long history of resistance to the police in black and brown communities and of course, many people in society these days can see the problem with policing (it’s going to get worse before it gets better.) If you’ve ever taken action over any matter you’ll be well aware of what the cops try to put you through, targeting, harassment, malicious arrests.. we’ve been there and most importantly I’ve been there. Sit down with me and I’ll tell you what’s been dealt to me since the age of 16.
It’s something that’s left it’s scars and that I’m working through healing with the help of a lovely friend. Those scars came back into focus earlier this year when I discovered that despite my brown skin I’d been misidentified as white. After much wailing and nashing of teeth the home office (you read that right, the home office) put me in the right box. “On appearance BLACK”. Well it was kind of the right box… but let’s not nit pick.
However, it got me thinking about the micro aggressions I’ve faced consistently over the course of my life to out and out racism (I first experienced it at about age 6 ) and at points the lack of my acknowledgement by some of my identity as a black man. Because, despite what you may be thinking I don’t have a “tan” and I’m not “half white.” White supremacy has never allowed for being half of anything let alone it’s favourite colour. Race and identity matter. It creates barriers and aggressions that I run into that you, if your a white person just won’t.
Sadly in martial arts those aggressions have reared their head more than once. My clearest memory of encountering racism in a Thai boxing gym was being told very vocally one summer many years ago that I looked like I’d jumped in the fucking mud. Silence from me. The person of course was just joking it was just a joke mate!. This of course in a training environment is completely unacceptable. So are monkey noises as is being told that I’m a “monkey looking c***” just joking just joking. Of course it’s just a joke.
I may be so laid back I’m almost horizontal but there are things that I don’t find ok. And I question the white silence that has emerged when the events above have occurred. We may live in a racist society but if anything that means we should all strive to be more anti racist than ever before. I walk into a gym to escape the day to day bullshit I run into. This includes police harassment, (I went through the stop and search paradigm in my youth so I’m no stranger) work and volunteering trials and tribulations, racism on a daily basis (the insidious snide sort the middle classes like is the worst) and everything else in between.
What I’ve never expected to have to deal with and still don’t is continuations of that racism in a place that has over the past 15 or so years become my home. But sadly, from time to time whoop there it is and I realise some people have a lot they need to unpack. However, me being me I just walk on by, hit the bag , hit the pads spar and have a nice time. When these events have unfolded in the past I’ve shrugged them off. Sometimes I don’t think I should any more. However, just like in life its not representative of the city I live in, and in training when its emerged its not representative of the calibre of my gyms past and present.
I’m pleased to say I’m training again the rest of this week, and I’m completely COVID free. I guess I’m blessed. Well that and partially vaccinated. It’s going to be good to get back into the mix and focus on improving once again. Looking at photos of myself earlier was like looking at an older version of me. It’s going to be fun seeing what the new guy has to offer. On appearance he’s black. He still has a soul and will no doubt be back in the ring soon. Watch. In the meantime. have a great week and just like the last time.. I’ll see you on that road.
Evening all, despite arriving every so slightly fashionably late than last week my blog has once again returned. It’s good as always to be able to sit down and write. I hope things are good with you they really aren’t too bad with me at all, travel hiccups and summer colds aside last week including the weekend was a good one.
I’ve got so used to delays and complications with travelling abroad it’s water off a duck’s back although ultimately upsetting when things go wrong. Do you remember the good old days when you could just get on a plane and go where the fuck you wanted to? Yeah me as well. Thankfully, I’ve successfully reset since Saturday and this week prepare for round three of my very own personal groundhog day. Or maybe it’s the Edge of tomorrow.
Either way, I’m looking forward to a long weekend in the sun with my nearest and dearest. Of course, I’ll be back out to see them over the summer too but seeing as we’ve spent nearly 2 years apart I have to admit I’m excited.
If you follow my Insta as well as Twitter brace yourself for a weekend of Jazz hands and my infamous “I’ll tear your soul out” Thai boxing shark like grin that happens when I’m either really happy or when I’m about to punch someone. Competitively of course. Besides, it’s over 40 degrees and most importantly we’ve got a swimming pool and that swimming pool has a dolphin I miss. His name is Carlos.
Carlos is here only once.
Despite this post being slightly more bling than usual, (I don’t normally share photos of my secret Spanish villas just in case ) I just want you to know I am infinitely grateful and lucky to be able to go and see my parents. Both of them have always put me before themselves and are selfless people, who are both ex teachers and worked very hard for what they’ve got. There’s no disputing that some of their traits have absolutely rubbed off on me and there’s no better feeling than being able to recalibrate, recharge and come back refreshed for the rest of the summer. Even if I face more delays or complications there’s very little that will keep us apart or ever damage the relationship we have as a family.
Being an only child some say carries a lot of responsibility. My parents have always let me live life on my terms and just as fully as they have. My father as a black man growing up in South Africa resisted the apartheid regime with his sisters and came here to teach and start a new life. His life and his journey is truly incredible, beautiful and ultimately liberating. He was actually one of the political exiles that fled South Africa at the height of the troubles and wasn’t allowed back home until the fascist regime was broken and done.
My mum met my dad in London when she was teaching black kids with one of his sisters. She’s a feminist and has travelled around the world and has seen all 7 wonders. She’s a working class lady who knows struggle and taught me to get to know my African roots and culture. She’s also just as amazing as my father and from what I recall was a formidable teacher way back when. They’ve always taught me to just be me and to stand up for my rights. They’ve also watched me fuck up and fall time and time again and have never turned their backs on me. I’m a survivor and a fighter because I’ve inherited it from them. I have African blood. What did you expect?
At the moment I have clear and defined goals with everything I want in my life. There’s a lot I’m putting right and it’s fantastic to have my focus back at the level I do right now. I’ve realised that nothing needs to be rushed when it comes to training, relationships, work and everything else in between. The roadmap I’ve created as I’ve found my feet once again is clear and the way ahead is bright and most importantly I’m out here and I’m having fun just being me.
It’s got new speaker bio photo written all over it.
Because you see, I’m confident that this well deserved break is going to do me the world of good. In fact, right now for the first time in a long time I feel like I’m winning and I’m stronger. As soon as I’m back from my weekend in the sun I’m back to training five times a week again although even four sessions a week is currently enough. I’m improving and what’s nice to see is that I’m listening to my trainers more than I was before. We’re a good camp, in fact I’d be as bold enough to say we’re one of the best in Bristol.
I’d like to be able to fight under full Thai rules at least once in my fighting career and to do that I need to continue to push myself to be better than what I am right now. It’s exciting that the energy in my quest for self improvement in the gym is helping fix some areas of my life I’ve neglected for far too long. Observing myself and my thoughts and understanding my limitations and how I can surpass them is an ongoing process, but it’s a good journey and going back inside to tighten my game has given me a new found confidence I forgot existed.
Of course, throughout the past five weeks or so my friends have been there for me when I’ve needed them the most and I know that I’ll never walk alone. My dear friends like my dear family have never turned their back on me. It’s the sort of thing I don’t forget and will repay in my own way and in my own time.
I can see and hear the 20 something inside who’s still as reckless, adventurous and impulsive as he always was. I’m getting to know him again and I’m learning how to fix what hurt him little by little and day by day. He’s been stop and searched by the police over 50 times in his life. He went through the criminal justice system backwards. He still has a lot to say and like me he loves helping others. I think in time, that we’ll be good friends. I’m actually that fighter and ex champion he never thought he would be.
Being able to see the parts of me now that around two months ago were screaming for recognition and to be heard is liberating. It felt like everything had fallen to pieces and my life was a mess when the worst happened. The burnout breakdown that came, came hard and was down to never giving myself time to breathe. . I saw the cycle develop and stopped when I saw the edge. I’ve put that down to life experience and letting the grown man drive the emotional wreck to safety at the time.
Nearly two months on I’m back on my feet again and better than I’ve ever been. Everything as they say happens for a reason. Sometimes, things fall apart so something or someone better can emerge. As the I Ching said to me recently “good things are coming and are not to be rushed.” I think the new John is going to leave the negatives in his life in the dust. For now, that’s just about all she wrote. It’s been good as always catching up with you and I hope this week is an excellent one. On your way out don’t forget to say hi to Carlos. He’s only here once. Train hard and just like the last time.. I’ll see you on that road.
Hi, good to catch up once again. How’s your week been? mines not been too bad at all. Running and training have been consistent as always and it’s good to see that freelance work is finally taking shape after a massive hiatus period that I can only attribute to lockdown. I think my business is also going to successfully come out of hibernation too. All in all things are looking much brighter than they did 2 months ago, so I guess that can only ever be a good thing.
You know it’s funny just having been through a pretty rough period in my life that things as always seem to be righting themselves. Nothing it seems, is ever permanent and everything changes. From time to time I use the I Ching (The book of change) regardless of what you think about that sort of thing I’ve always found it never tells you anything you don’t know already.
In regards of what I’ve just been through and where I’m headed it’s told me the future is bright and to take my time with everything I want to improve in my life. This is sound advice. When it comes to Muay Thai little by Iittle I can see improvements happening. There is no rush and I’d rather develop what I do at my pace. I have a lot to learn but so does everyone. Nothing I do is perfect but what’s perfect anyway?
“It is meaningful and important to notice your limitations, where you need to grow, and your mistakes. It is not meaningful – ever – to judge those exact same observations. Because they are perfect, just as they are. They contain the whole of your potential, just as they are.“
I spend a lot of time pulling myself to pieces over the smallest things when it comes to martial arts and it’s taken me over fifteen years of training to realize that self improvement is an ongoing process. It never really ends unless of course you decide to throw the towel in. I’ve never been a quitter.
Sakprasert Bournemouth , 2009
Today I realised that I’ve been training for nearly fifteen and a half years. Overall in martial arts I’m close to 17 years. I never thought this was going to happen but now that I’m here I’m very pleased it has. Once again, Muay Thai has been there for me when I needed it the most. I met it when I was a shadow of myself and on the tail end of a very messy breakup with a girl I loved very much.
It gave me some self confidence back again and then it pulled me out of a cycle of police targeting and constant stop and searches. It showed me there was more to me than I thought and the shy kid who used to get picked on by wankers? He decided to leave and a confident man emerged in his place, stronger than he had ever been walking taller than he ever had before.
This time round, although things are different they are also the same. I fell down and got up but instead of glossing over the damage I’ve decided to sit down with it and ask it how we can heal, and in the background always there for me is my art, letting me switch off when I need to and reminding me that I’m a lot stronger than I ever thought I would be.
I don’t react to so called problems in my life any more I respond to them. The emotionally intelligent 42 year old man knows when the impulsive 20 something wants to drive and assesses if he should. It’s fun letting him charge off into the sunset but you know what? I’ve learnt from past mistakes so know how to not make the same ones again. Training helps keep me focused, sharp and my heart big. Us fighters aren’t thugs. We’re martial artists and life warriors. Nothing I do is perfect, but I only ever grow. Have a good week and train hard, and just like the last time.. I’ll see you on that road.
Hi. I thought I’d take the time to sit down and catch up with you. Training wise this week has as always been a good one. I’m pleased to say that in fact, all is well. I feel a lot better in myself than I have done over the past few weeks. Most importantly I feel a lot stronger. There’s a lot to focus on at present but little by little it’s getting easier to put it down, so I can get back to basics.
I’m start to sharpen up a little on pads and bag work plus sparring is something I’m enjoying. For the first time in a long time this week I’ve stepped into my gym and left everything at the door. It’s literally happened every time I’ve started training. Learning to switch the noise off is never an easy task at the best of times but when I’m training I am perpetually in the present moment. When my thoughts start to drift I focus very briefly on my environment.
“The mat is blue.” has become a trigger for me to shut down the chatter and concentrate or maybe not concentrate on what I’m doing. I’ve laid an anchor and when it drops I feel awake and in the game. Today during our Sunday open mat session I found myself stalking my pad holder like I’d stalk an opponent in the ring to close them down.
My footwork is getting better and my aggression is coming back. We worked through a long 4 minute round before swapping and it was a good 4 minutes. She’s a good pad holder. I feel that around 3 to 4 weeks ago I was going through the motions with training and wasn’t really “in the room” as such. This week has felt different. This week has felt better. I’m very pleased with me.
I’ve written a lot during the course of this blog about staying in the present moment and why it matters. Mindfulness to me, is just as important outside of training as it is inside. Early today I shared an important piece of writing on Twitter about being the observer. It’s also known as the silent witness. I’ve begun to start practising walking and riding meditations. As a good friend of mine once said to me “see what you notice”. Just observe and let the thoughts wash over you into nothing. They have no power.
It’s an important skill to master because as martial artists it lets us respond rather than react. Looking at situations where we need to defend ourselves it lets us detach from emotions and deal with a problem whether it be on the street or in the ring. Some of the beauty of Muay Thai is the switch from calm to venom. Every shot and every counter attack is always in the now. As I’ve said, it’s there for us when we need it the most.
Over the course of the next week I’m going to spend a lot of my time working on presence outside of the gym. I’m not perfect and from time to time I react to day to day life encounters. I realised an hour ago that I just don’t need to. Microaggressions and antagonisms only have power if you give them power. It’s not like I face them every day but where of late I have had a rough time of it I’m well aware I can fire up inside quickly. There is no problem unless it’s a problem. I hope I have to say no more than that. The biggest goal for me training wise at present is about taking the energy, focus and peace from the gym home with me and applying it to all parts of my life. After all, as a trainer once said to me, it’s mine to keep. Until the next time, train hard and fight easy. I’ll see you on that road.
Hi. I’ve decided to sit down and get this blog of mine up to speed as just for once, I’m on lunch. Lunch for me is usually working through with coffee as my only fuel. I’ve come to realise of late I need time to rest and heal. A moment ago, I tweeted
“For the rest of this month all of July,and to a lesser extent some of August I shall mostly be reconnecting with myself and my spirit. Which is of course fearsome, indomitable, and absolutely unbreakable. I shall then be truly back in the game.Copwatch is there if you need them.“
All of this is true and all of this is so very me, but there I am focusing on the end result with no attention given to what happens between then and now. Like I just said, all of this is so very me. One of the most refreshing things I’ve had said of late was said less than 2 hours ago. ‘There’s nothing wrong with you. You just need to join the parts up.’
Focusing heavily on community activism rather than on other areas of my life has become a coping mechanism of late. As the saying goes “you can’t help me if you can’t help yourself” so with a couple of gentle nudges from friends old and new I’ve decided to attempt to switch off. Not just because it’s what I need but because it’s what I want to do. And there’s so much I want to do right now. The summer has Europe written all over it, and I’m pleased to say it’s starting next month with Spain. I’ve not seen my parents for nearly 2 years so I can’t wait.
And trust me, just like Obi Wan once said I’ll come back more powerful than you could possibly imagine. Well, refreshed and relaxed at the very least. Last weekend saw me head home to Portsmouth for the weekend and it was good to spend time with friends I’ve not seen in over 5 years. I’ve already made a note to head back down South over the summer. It kind of looks like one massive weekend at Bernie’s combined with self healing.
I’m pleased to note that Muay Thai plays a massive part of the journey ahead. It gives me focus and it’s something I love doing. Things are actually better than they were last time we spoke and in fact they’ve been getting better for a while. I’m stronger and I’m walking taller. The fighter is a natural part of me but sometimes, I don’t want to get up. I don’t want to but I always do.
My self proclaimed Wolverine like healing factor kicks in and I just carry on as normal. People tell me I’m physically and mentally very tough, I guess I am and I don’t think that will ever change but I also need to remember that there’s a young man who needs to sit down with me and fix what’s wrong. He’s angry but he’s hurting. He won’t ever stop fighting just like in the ring but he needs time to heal, and to make friends with the new me that’s coming.
And whilst we’re on that particular subject, they say we become new and better versions of ourselves when the old ones stop working. I realized this morning I have coping mechanisms so taking a bold leap of faith and on good advice I decided to put those mechanisms down. Just for a little bit. Sometimes I don’t want to get up but this time, just like the time before I am and I will. If you look close enough you’ll see the fire in my eyes.
All the causes and commitments I believe in and work towards are still going to be just as important. I’m still intending to help people in my community fight back against abuses of power and against injustice. None of that will change, I just need to focus on me for a little while. Training is something I can put my heart and soul into, and now that I’ve found the time maybe I can start focusing on some solid goals in the gym. I’d love to fight again this year, but as Dave Wilmott said to me I need to be a new John. Being that guy sounds exciting and full of potential so maybe I can do that?
It probably seems reading some of the above that I’m currently trapped in a glass case of emotion. Honestly, I’m doing good. Moments of clarity take many shapes and I often need to write them down. This blog is for me not just you. I think sometimes I forget that too. It’s 1.30 on a Tuesday afternoon and I’m not drinking coffee I’m eating a nice lunch. Every day isn’t just a school day it’s a step in the right direction. After all when your taking steps in the right direction, all you have to do is keep walking. Here’s to training later and in the meantime, have a good week, train hard and just like the last time.. I’ll see you on that road.
Hi, it’s good as always to catch up and once again it’s good to sit down and find the time to write. The past couple of weeks has been tough for me and if you are a friend of mine and your reading this you’ll understand that the mental health breakdown that occurred the weekend before last was due to a variety of factors but it was good that it happened. Everything that happens to me is.
For those I don’t know reading this, all you need to know is I fell for a week or thereabouts. I then got up as I always have done. A week of escalating events caused the collapse but hey I’m still here, still training still wanting to fight again and still keeping focused with everything I do. I love helping others. I always have done and I always will do. It’s rewarding and I can’t wait to get back to it.
On the 25th of this month I delivered a pretty much killer speech on the Anniversary of the murder of George Floyd on behalf of the independent community police monitoring group I set up over a year ago Bristol Copwatch We’re a good team. I keep saying we’re a good team to reinforce my trust in them from the 5th of this month onwards. Being honest, I just need to have a rest for a couple of months. I’ve not had a rest in over a year. I burnt out spectacularly but like a Phoenix from the ashes I’m rising again.
Despite this and everything in between, the speech I delivered went straight for the police’s jugular and tore it the fuck out. After I finished I felt bigger inside. It was just like the first time I stepped in a ring. We’ve done a lot of important work over the past year. We’ll be here for many years to come.
Despite having a lot to deal with at present I’ve found my biggest release has been Thai boxing. Every time I train there’s noise. I start training the noise decides to leave. This week there’s less noise. There’s peace filled silence and I hope it comes with me to the gym tomorrow onwards.
A friend once said “Look how tall you walk”, you know what? I’m learning to walk taller.
Training may be therapy for me right now but of late I’ve learnt that there’s some serious baggage that’s being carried from past relationships and other issues that I really need to address over the next couple of months. Even writing these words is part of my process of self healing. I need a band aid and I think that band aid isn’t just martial arts.
I’ve been in relationship shut down mode for a while because I’ve focused my energy into community activism, training and work. I’ve let work fall to the way side because at points I’ve just not had the energy to balance both that and building a community organisation from the ground up.
I’ve spent so much time focusing on helping others I’ve forgotten to help me and have plowed ahead soaking up everything thrown at me like an unbreakable sponge. But I do break. I’ve broken before and I get up again and keep going. On this rebound, I’ve decided to work on the areas of my life that need to be worked on and enjoyed to the full before I generically carry on as normal.
My wager is that martial arts will once again play a big part of helping me recover and heal. Muay Thai has a way of bringing out the best in me. It can’t however, be all I do in my spare time. I don’t want to be alone and miss having a partner. As a paradox, relationships still terrify me as does settling down and having kids. I just want to be me and have fun.
It feels good just writing these words today. It feels that I’ve already stepped into the same room as my fear and shaken it firmly by the hand, it feels that I’ve put my arms round it’s shoulders and told it I love it but now it has to go. Just recently my head coach David told me if I still want to fight for his gym I have to be a different John. ” I want to see a different John” he said. This summer I think I’m going to finally meet that guy. The journey ahead may be a long one but it’s absolutely worth every minute. Here’s to the adventure and just like the last time, I’ll see you on that road.
Afternoon all. Despite a busy Tuesday getting the better of me earlier today I’ve finally found the time to sit down and write. That, just like training is always a good thing. When it comes to all things martial last week was a good one. Training is heading rapidly back on track and the balance I was lacking last time I spoke is starting to find it’s home again in several areas of my life. As always training is the one constant that’s there when I need it the most.
It’s been that way since when I began and I think it’ll be that way for the rest of my life. Staying focused on goals is pretty much second nature it’s just that my plate spinning skills were getting a little rusty. I spent the best part of last week at the gym, and I feel like I put in a reasonable amount of work despite some sessions being slightly shorter than I’d like.
Other than seeing my business out of lockdown and towards what looks like recovery I’ve been spending a great deal of my time as always busy with volunteer work in particular support work. It’s good to help others and it’s rewarding but ok, let’s not forget to focus on what keeps the lights on too.
Being honest though, I’m very pleased with the team that’s developed over the past 12 months. I think we’re turning into a formidable police monitoring group. Good timing? maybe it’s poetic justice. It’s nice to be able to put it all down in the evenings and get myself to the gym however. Switching off often helps me to switch on and it wasn’t until last Thursday did I really feel that things are heading back martially to a place I’m really comfortable with.
It’s a work in progress and there’s a lot of improvements that need to be made but that’s part of the fun. Martial arts is a journey and self improvement is one of the rewards. Well, for me it is anyway. It’s designed to bring out the best in people.
Despite some of the ego fuelled “it’s about respect! Muay Thai is about respect!” comments I’ve heard uttered over the years it’s very clear that for me, Muay Thai is about being the best I can be and sharing knowledge. In other words, it’s about helping others. Also and most importantly it’s about remembering that when we train together our spaces are inclusive. Everyone should be welcome but that doesn’t mean we should let them become toxic due to bullying, bad or racist and bigoted attitudes and such like.
I’m lucky enough to have trained at camps that have always had decent people present, despite running into the odd ego here and there I’ve never felt uncomfortable or just not wanted to be there. It’s safe to say my current gym of just over 4 years now is my home. Settling into a new club or camp isn’t as easy for some however.
Our old gym before we moved next door. Ok, I miss the big ring. I miss those gloves too.
A few years back (2018 if memory serves correct ) I headed out to Europe for the Freedom Fighters martial arts tournament in Poznan Poland at the truly amazing social centre Rozbrat. I’d read about gyms of a similar Ilk such as White Tiger in Athens before my journey overseas and it was quite honestly refreshing to go to a show that was so staunchly anti-racist at it’s core.
For those who don’t know the issues faced in Europe with the extreme right wing be assured the same problems exist here it’s just that the NF boomer club would have you think it’s free speech that we’re all getting wrong. It’s fair to say that then like now despite many gyms claiming to be a-political in nature it’s more commonplace to find right wing view points in combat sports environments than not.
Combat sports have always been and always will be pretty macho in their nature, so you could argue that a degree of chest beating is to be expected. There’s a difference between ego and hate, which is why after visiting Freedom Fighters I took a look at Runter Von Der Matte which does an outstanding job of not only exposing fascists in martial arts but actively promoting against allowing these sort of politics to enter our world.
It’s very easy to scream “but training! it doesn’t matter!” until something that’s way beyond toxic emerges on the mat. If our spaces are truly inclusive we need to remember that those kinds of views should not be made welcome. This doesn’t mean launching moral crusades but it does mean being a good martial artist and calling it out when you see it or hear it. At the end of the day, no one wants to train in a space labelled the home of racists.
The current bee in my bonnet has emerged primarily due to the current climate we find ourselves in within the UK where a hard right government quite happily denies institutional racism exists, police are due to be given increasingly autocratic and disproportionate powers and many of us are still wondering what the remainder of the year holds.
It’s fair to say if we have a place that is truly our own where we can just train we need to make sure again that our spaces don’t become toxic environments but remain in the spirit of martial arts a place of learning, tolerance and kindness. To me, these are some of the ideals martial arts gyms should strive for and it doesn’t make us less tough for showing from time to time, it pays to be human. Have a good week and train hard, and just like the last time.. I’ll see you on that road.
Morning. Or should I say afternoon. I realised about 15 minutes ago that I write this blog of mine far less frequently than I should be. This month I intend to get it back up to it’s weekly appearance, and because I Intend to it means that I will.
When it comes to life in general, all is well. I’m struggling for balance and it seems every day of the week whether it be for 15 minutes or 3 hours or more I’m up against the police. But being honest, I’ve been up against the police for the majority of my life. In fact, between you and me I’ve never liked them. I don’t think I ever will.
My earliest memory of the police is as a young man (I think I was 5 or 6 at the time) and the police came to my house to respond to an incident of racist abuse on mine and my parents doorstep. Me and my mum had been in a car crash, it had been snowing heavily and the other car came out of the blizzard seemingly from nowhere.
My mum swerved to avoid it and we ended up crashing into a ditch. The other driver in as much shock as my mum was ashen faced with endless apologies pouring out his mouth when he realized me and my mum were ok. Weeks later when it came to insurance pay out time, he turned up at our house. He wanted to come to an arrangement privately.
My mum firmly declined the offer and my dad backed her up, I heard raised voices and the door slammed. The remorseful motorist had lashed out calling my dad “a black b*******” . My parents naturally called the police. When the police came they took details of what had happened and left. Unsurprisingly, nothing ever happened. No charges were pressed. The white abuser of course, had committed no crime.
When I was 16 stop and search entered my life, Hampshire police racially profiled me and stopped me at one point nearly every day. I lived with my parents in Gosport a small town just outside of Portsmouth and our neighbourhood although pretty friendly was blindingly white. In fact, my dad was the only black guy living on the street with me and my mum. I could walk to the shops and be stopped by the police. The shops were 10 minutes away.
Eventually I made mistakes. I ended up getting caught up in drugs and the stops continued. From the age of 16 to around 27 I was regularly stop and searched by Hampshire police. I went through the criminal justice system, my best friends told me I’d end up in prison one day and in the end I did. The sentence was described as disproportionate and so I appealed and got an early release and a 18 month community order was put in it’s place.
The police, courts and prison system didn’t fix me. I fixed me. In the end, it took one last appearance in court and the threat of 6 months in Cardiff nick to make me see the damage I was doing to myself and my family that caused me to change. When I found Muay Thai I had just come out of an intense relationship was still being stopped from time to time and was looking for something that turned out to be Thai boxing.
My last ever stop and search in Portsmouth was when I’d been training for about a year or so. The cop, of course knew me by my first name. The last time we’d met he come bowling up to me full of confidence with another PC on a busy Saturday night in Southsea, he had uttered the immortal “alright John, not seen you in a while?” which was right up there with “you know the drill.” This time not seen you in a while seemed genuinely surprised to have bumped into me. So surprised he had to circle back round in his area car. Just to make sure it was his target.
The road I was walking down was of course a known area for drug dealers and users. This warranted a search. Looking me up and down, not seen you in a while said casually “you look in good shape. Keeping fit?” I smiled to myself before replying. “I do martial arts. Thai boxing.” The look of surprise then bitter disappointment on not seen you in a while’s face when his search turned up no results still makes me bigger inside. The last thing he said to me before he drove off to bother somebody else was that he’d see me again soon. We’ve not seen each other since that day in 2007.
It’s unlawful for a police officer to consistently target someone because they are “known” to the police. Having been on the sharp end of this type of abuse I know how damaging it can be. I guess it’s why serious violence reduction orders are so troubling to me. Being caught in a cycle was something that only when facing prison for a second time did I feel compelled to break. Until that point I felt like events were spiralling out of control. I’d felt like that for many years before and I spent most of my time angry and self hating. Whenever my friends asked me if I was ok I’d just lie and say everything was fine. When I found Muay Thai I was just a shadow of myself.
I think I remember talking to my first trainers about being stopped by the police a lot in Portsmouth at one point. I can remember it was still happening during that first year of training. It’s hard to talk about sometimes because people look at me and we both know what it is and why it’s happened and it feels like the elephant in the room.
The sense of guilt I inflicted on myself created trauma that still catches me without an umbrella Sometimes I forget that my dad once told me to not trust the cops. They don’t like us mixed black boys. My mum told me the same and in the end it became my truth.
Muay Thai took a broken young man in his late twenties and helped him heal and gave him direction again. Healing is a long process and like martial arts is a long game. When I first walked towards a boxing ring after the MC had called my name and the name of my gym I felt like Rocky. Years before even sparring had seemed daunting but it turned out that when it came to fighting what I wanted, was well.. what I wanted. It’s nice when that happens.
These days, older and marginally wiser I help people fight for their rights and take their power back. The community organisation I’m a founding member of, Bristol Copwatch is an independent community funded police monitoring organisation. There’s a lot we do and it’s worth visiting our site if you want to find out a little more. I’ve put some good energy into the project and we’re building an amazing team and helping a lot of people out here.
It’s difficult for me to witness the violence of the riot police at several points this year then sit down with someone who just wants to complain about about one cop (as an example) whilst listening to the trauma that one cop has created, knowing that the problem extends way beyond one officer and is reflective of the entire institution and criminal justice system.
It’s difficult but it’s vital because when it comes to the work we do out here, it’s not about me. It’s not about them. It’s about you and what you need. The desire to help others is the trait of any decent human and what makes a good martial artist. You see, just recently I knelt down in front of the young man who used to get stopped for having a nice mountain bike and ended up getting profiled.
I said “son, you might never see justice. But helping others means you will. This isn’t all you will ever be. Pass it on.” So the boy held the twenty-somethings hand that got dragged through the system and he said “you might never see justice fam but helping others means you will. This isn’t all you will ever be. Pass it on.” And so today, once again the twenty something reminded me. Have a great week, train hard and just like the last time… I’ll see you on that road.