My dad passed away of lung cancer on the 02/12/21 at 4.30pm. He was at home and with my mum and was asleep and just never woke up. I had a call at 7.30am that morning asking me to come that day or the next day at the very latest. I could only get a flight on the Friday.
Before he left I had a video call with mum. She showed me his face and asked if I could see the difference. “Yes.” I said calmly. I decided to go running around lunch time that day. I checked in with mum and she said he was sleeping peacefully but his breathing was slowing down. Vs the pain he was in first thing in the morning before nurses gave him some medicine I was relieved in a way but knew what was coming. I was ready.
On my run all I could see was dad´s face. The sun was shining the sky was blue and I was grinning. All I could see was my dad. All I could hear was the sound of my feet on the road. Road work is sometimes the best work. It is therapy in motion. It releases energy and brings in something better.
I got home from my run and ran a bath- Work had been up and down all day so didn´t care stage had been accomplished. Emails could wait. Bids could wait. In my bath a small voice said gently “your dad´s gone.” I got out the bath 10 minutes later thinking how awful it would be if I missed a call whilst in the bath about dad passing. I ignored myself saying calmly “I´m ready” as I dried myself off.
Dressed and relaxed I checked my phone. Oh a missed a call. I phoned mum. She told me dad had left us. I video called her back as an alternative to voice and told her how much I love her and dad and how one day I´ll have kids of my own and how…. hanging up the phone after the call I broke down. It had been happening off and on all day.
It felt like parts of me were falling away. The gut twisting anger of the day before, the grief like waves breaking on the shore seemed to be observed by me. I felt outside of myself. This is what shock is. I thought. My plans to train that evening were cancelled but I did spend time with good friends.
I had calls off of cousins and uncles and aunts over the following days. Thursday feels like two decades ago. My gym were and still are just as concerned caring and loving as everyone else in my life. We are a family. Just like me mum and dad always will be. We are forever.
The death of my father at the time of writing is something I am still coming to terms with. We say goodbye to dad tomorrow and next year me and my mum are travelling to South Africa to scatter his ashes. This may seem too personal but right now I feel raw. Next Wednesday I turn 43 which from what I´ve been told is young ,so when it comes to many things in my life I intend to just carry on as normal. This includes Muay Thai. I need to give it a lot more of my time. The silence and flow is where the healing starts.
When it comes to community activism, police monitoring and anti racist campaigning the beat goes on. However, that particular torch is going to get picked up again in the new year. For now I need time to heal and need to support my amazing mum. All of these things would make my father proud.
I´m back home in Bristol for my 43rd birthday next week then I´m planning to spend Christmas and new years with my mum shortly after. Time as they say is the best healer but you know what, so is Muay Thai. Rest in eternal power Owen Pegram. Thank you not just for being a lion of South Africa but for being an amazing dad. Even on my best day I wish I could be half the man you were. I´ll see you on that road.
Hi. It’s good once again to find the time to sit down and write. I’ve not caught up with my writing for a while now but being honest life as always has been pretty busy. Things however are always looking up. This has been and always will be a good thing.
Although I’m not always as training as much as I’d like to right now, I’m still just as determined as I always have been to keep on moving and to keep following my heart in everything I do. Relentlessness and determination is the key to success in everything in my life. This month my dad is 91 years old so I’m looking forward to getting out to Spain to see him and my mum. He’s doing good. Like me, he supersedes everyone’s expectations and I’m sure surprises even himself.
Although everything changes with time, the light and love between me and my parents will never go out and I’m looking forward to spending Christmas with them both too. I’ve decided that in 2022 I’d like to get myself to a point where I can start fighting again. This means a lot of hard work in the gym and a lot of dedication.
But that’s ok because it’s the one area of my life where I’d like to dedicate a little more time. Everything else is balancing itself out well. I work as an IT professional and IT project manager. I’m a public speaker and community activist who helps communities hold the police to account. The rest of my life has been righting itself for some time and I’m learning how to walk tall again.
But I want to be a fighter again. I want to be a fighter who doesn’t just win fights occasionally but wins regularly. I accept a little begrudgingly that it may not happen. I can accept that but I know that if I believe in myself everything else usually follows suit. It’s just the little things that matter in training. Things that were said to me today like get your kicks faster on the return. I want to see you start doing that on the bag.
The simple things sometimes are the most important. Instead of spending all my time working on the kick, work on the speed. After all, I can kick I’ve been training long enough, it’s just that I need to kick better.
“I want to be a fighter again” ha. That’s funny. yeah, I saw what I did back there. I’ve never stopped being a fighter. I am a fighter. He just needs to step his game up if he wants to stay in the room. It’s not standards that are being imposed on me it’s standards that I’m imposing on myself. I want to pick up from where I left off not start from the beginning.
These days I sometimes find myself laughing in sparring when I get caught with a good shot or swept. I love training it’s good fun. If it wasn’t fun I just wouldn’t be doing it and like everyone else I’m learning all the time. I don’t always listen when I should but I do my best and I’ll work on the focus thing too.
As of February 2022, I will of been training for 16 years. They say the higher up you ascend the mountain of your choice the thinner the air gets. But that’s ok. I’m one of those people that looks up. Have a good week, train hard and just like the last time.. I’ll see you on that road.
Hi. I thought I should check in with yourselves as its been a while since last we spoke. Things are good with me and I hope they are with you too. I think I might be slowly becoming one of those guys who has to remind the world how busy he is whenever he can. Being honest, I forgot how to slow down a long time ago but you know what? That’s ok.
Training of late hasn’t been going too badly. Some weeks like this week, I’m there all the time other weeks not so much. I balance it out as best I can and put as much time in as I possibly can. Its hard to stay motivated sometimes and I need to get my teeth into running again. In fact, I’m off for my second run of the week in a moment. Well, when this blog is finished at least.
It’s almost funny that I give myself such a hard time about training and running on the days I miss it but it’s always rewarding when I put in the time again. Martial arts gives me a lot of focus and although I analyse myself just as much as I did 5 years ago these days I’m very comfortable in my skin.
In a brief moment of revelation yesterday at the gym I realized that my technique isn’t actually that bad anymore (I don’t to be honest think that it ever was) and watching a video of myself sparring showed me what I need to do better without me cringing inside. I’m improving and I’m feeling a lot more confident about fighting again. I’m also happy to accept that to get where I really want to be is going to take work and small steps forward are better than big leaps into disaster.
I’ve spent a lot of time watching varying training videos and some of the shows that are appearing online when I’m not at the gym. It’s good to see that things are slowly creaking back to life and I’m also looking forward to catching a show later this month that one of the guys from my gym is fighting on. Fight nights are always good fun and if I’m not in the ring I just enjoy watching the fights.
I feel a lot more motivated with my training than I have for a while and as always I’m enjoying the journey. Personally life is good, and although things with my family life are tough at points at present I’m spending as much time with my parents as I can. I accept there are something I just cannot change and I love being in their company. Besides, when I’m out in Spain I spend some of my spare time running and shadow boxing. That fixes a lot of stuff.
So anyway, time once again is slipping away from me. Between now and when I hit the gym for an hour or so I want to have got a 7k run in the bag as well had a half decent lunch. You know it almost feels like Thailand today but not quite. Muay Ties videos will have to do in the meantime. Here’s to a great week ahead of training and just like the last time.. I’ll see you on that road.
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. 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.
Evening. Or should I say morning. I have to admit in terms of eventful months I don’t think things could of got more eventful than March. As always, despite it being a little later than anticipated its good as always to sit down and find the time to write. I think this happened this evening after literally an entire month off blogging.
For one reason or another, I just felt a need to put this blog of mine down for a little while and focus on other areas of my life, and of course navigate the monumental events that have occurred in Bristol of late . Briz has of course been all over the news recently, and in the wake of the recent uprising and Kill the bill demonstrations I’ve literally felt pushed from pillar to post.
I handle stress well and I attribute that ability to over 15 years of martial arts training. After a point you learn to switch off outside distractions in your environment and stay focused on the here and now and what you need to achieve. This is something I have learnt to do in and out the ring. In the ring, the noise of the crowd disappears and all that matters is the person in front of me I’m fighting.
In fact at points the people even my friends giving me encouragement sound like they are almost in the next room. All that I can hear with crystal clarity is my corner. All I can see is the person I intend to walk through. Like Masta Ace says in the amazing track ‘fight song’ “You might slow me a little bit, but you won’t stop me, You might stand in my pathway, but you won’t block me” it’s a mentality and determination that’s deep in my inner and absolutely will not let me back down or give up. At my weakest moments I always have something left.
And being honest, in March there was plenty of weak moments. I did have moments where I wondered if I was really coping. At 42 years old that’s a scary feeling. I guess it’s one that forces you to put yourself under a microscope and assess what’s working and what isn’t working very quickly. There have been points through the thick of it all, the sheer weight of it all it has really made sense. And at those points I’ve known I’m walking in the right direction. The really beautiful thing during the intense month of March (end of year returns, police monitoring and media appearances, interviews, Open University, work and endless cat memes ) was that despite everything I just kept training. I just kept running.
In short I just kept going, and the best bit was when I was training I was switching off. The chatter at points disappeared all together because I had something positive to focus on. I had techniques to improve. I had strikes to make stronger. Elbows to sharpen. I could imagine my shit day looked like the bag in front of me. As always my art was there for me when I needed it the most.
The energy I’ve learnt to take home with me from a good run or a nice bit of shadow or some bag work when the opportunity emerged I’ve learnt to apply to the rest of my life in everything I do. Everyone at present is going through a lot and many of just keep fighting. We don’t give up or roll over because we’ve never been losers. We are what winners look like and we always have been winners. We fight many battles and we don’t always win but we fight.
Bristol has a spirit, soul and energy I love and I think I’ll stay forever. Seeing a ground swell against government and police repression is an inspiring thing especially when you understand why it needed to happen. It’s fair to say that most people out here feel the same as me, and for those that don’t I forgive you. Just don’t spend your lives living small and afraid to speak out.
When I look at the month ahead it’s already a daunting prospect. It’s an exciting time for many reasons and although I’m loving media attention due to my unexpected new found PR skills (I never saw that coming. Someone told me yesterday to get an agent?!) I also want to be that shy kid again, the one who would stand there open mouthed if I could go back in time and tell him him one day he would be me. I think despite the tough times, I’m walking in the right direction, and that means I’ll just keep walking. I feel less fragmented than yesterday just because I answered a calling and sat down to write. Isn’t that something?
Of course, training is going to be as with all good things a constant in my life in the month ahead. I keep wanting to ramp it up but I need to just ease back into it when classes start again. I train virtually all week anyway when the gyms open as normal so pushing myself will be something I’ll enjoy. Besides, I’m getting better at what I do. It’s giving me confidence and self belief that’s beginning to seep into many areas of my life. And despite everything, I’ll never stop proving me wrong. Have a good week, as always train hard and I wish you the utmost success in all of your fights. It’s not just good to be back it’s fantastic. I’ll see you on that road.