15 June, 2010


Adopt, adapt and improve! Refusing to be wrong-footed by my failed first attempt to reignite the mission, I rip the shiny leaflet from the fridge, scattering magnets assunder.

From 7.15 to 8.15 beginner adults are welcome to a free trial of Karate / Kickboxing to improve discipline, co-ordination and fitness...Right Then! 15 minutes to get to Lancaster boys school, which is fabulously just across the road from my house.

This could really work for me, 10/10 for convenience...

I arrive just as the junior class is finishing, a good turn-out of kids in shiny uniforms and belts of many colours, there don't seem to be too many midget masters so far but then I spot the club tee-shirt: John Gannons Karate School. And I nearly walk away.

The constant reader knows that my last experience of a Gannon was not great, and I've heard rumours that the Gannon schools might all be McDojos. But having already missed out on one chance tonight I'm buggered if I'm going to miss this one, so in I go.

John is finishing up with some juniors, handing out grading invite letters and sorting out paperwork, he doesn't really register my presence above a curt nod and I assume this to mean that I should just join in.

Most surprising is that about 15 seniors turn up to train, on a sunny world cup evening! There must be something about this club and I'm ready to find out what it is. The warm- up is aerobic followed by stretching and then straight into basic technique, blocks and punches, followed by kicks. I'm not given any instruction, just expected to copy what the others do, so I quickly lapse back into my shotokan ways.

This is a very informal gym, it's not a dojo as there is no etiquette to speak of and no japanese or korean to master. Whilst that's not to my taste, it's a valid and modern approach and it attracts the kids. I was mightily unimpressed with some poor practices though, like students wearing outdoor shoes in the training area, not removing watches, rolling up sleeves etc, all of which could cause injury.

When demonstrating techniques John is very accomplished. He has excellent flexibility and style and has a power and precision in his attacking and defensive moves. He can also do a few things that I have never been able to master (flying kicks for one) so I'm very hopeful I could learn something from him. The downside is he doesn't really explain the application of any of the techniques, so many of his students are poor copies, and whilst he occasionally pulls up some the black belts on lazy technique, the lower grades are pretty much left to flounder.

Like any club, the quality of the students varied greatly. I saw three black belts, one of whom was brilliant, one who had great attitude but poor application, and one who was frankly rubbish. As there was no heirarchy on the order of the class I couldn't really work out which stripey belts were high and which were low, certainly there was little to choose between them, but this is not wholly just a criticism of John, but also of the unavoidable lazinees of your average teenage karate-ka.

It does suggest however that the youngsters don't have to work too hard to grade. At the very end of the class the group as a whole went through some patterns. These seemed to be exclusively from Taekwondo and not Karate so I'm not sure why the club calls itself a Karate club. I know I'm old-school and lay a huge importance on patterns, so I may be biased, but there was very little quality there, and some of the younger (14years?) seniors, were had very weak stances and dance-like moves.

Also my personal feeling is that £30 to grade is alot compared to other clubs, what are the belts made of? Platinum?

But John is a really impressive practicioner, just not necessarily an excellent teacher. I didn't get a chance to see if John's school had any genuine afilliations, licensing or insurance though, so I would advise checking that out if you go. Best of all - he doesn't play music whilst you're warming up! All in all you could do worse than attend this club and if informality and self discipline are your thing then gambatte kudasai!

Next in the crosshairs (I hope) will be something shiny and new to play with: Tetsudo.

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