When I found out that he went to karate classes, I was intrigued. He used to show me his moves while I kept nagging my parents to allow me to go "Karate? What do you want to do karate for?". Finally, after weeks of begging, my father relented, and gave me the £1 for my first class.
The Roe Street Mission was a dark, dusty place. We would wait outside for our sensei, Brian, to arrive and open up. Once inside, the warm-ups would begin. But when his back was turned, we used to take it in turns to spin each other around by the ankles and let them go sliding on our backs along the polished wooden floor. Fantastic fun!
Then the classes would start. I don't think I was the best student Brian had ever seen. But I worked hard - press-ups on the knuckles, sit-ups, crunches, stretches - it didn't matter. I was so small and light, they were all easy. The sparring used to frighten me, but I gradually got used to it.
But good things don't last. Firstly, Paul's family moved across town, which may as well have been across the world for a seven year-old. Then we moved further away still. My peers changed for the worse, and my life changed completely. I looked at local judo and karate classes, but they did not have the spirit or character of Brian's class. I gave up martial arts completely.
A lot of water has flown under the bridge since my first Karate classes. The Roe Street Mission is now a fully-renovated, beautiful silk museum with a posh cafe and shop. It took twenty years to discover the richness of Chinese martial arts and taijiquan. I am now a taijiquan teacher and a father of two.
If there is anything that I have learned about martial arts from this meandering journey... there are a lot of things that make up a good class. It can be great friends to train with like Paul or charismatic teachers like Brian. But for a martial art to really catch you, to inspire you to improve, it has to be the content of what is being taught. It took me along time to find the right content, so don't be disheartened if you don't find what works for you immediately. There is a martial art for everyone. Just keep searching.
To those who have found it, you know how it feels. This article is in response to another teacher in London who has obviously found his content. You can view it Here. Thanks Neil for sparking off the memories.