For those who saw my talk at @media will know that I have a dark secret. It’s something I’ve never talked about on this blog and I’m not sure why. It’s a secret that I learnt not to talk much about as it could get you in trouble. So here it is:

I have a twenty year interest in martial arts. I’ve also trained in many, many styles and achieved a black belt in one. I was an instructor, competed at national level and I’ve got a pretty good right hook.


Why am I telling you this? You may well ask.

Out of the closet

When I arrived to the hotel in London on Wednesday evening, Jason and I popped out for a beer (mostly so I could introduce him to the delights of Bitter). Following a swift half, we met up with Jon, Drew and Colly where we were collectively discussed our presentations. It was then I revealed my dirty little secret and I would be talking about it tomorrow in reference to Typography. Of course I was met with quizzical looks. So, here’s the full confession…


When I fourteen, I was mugged. I wasn’t beaten up or anything, but my ego was badly bruised. Back then, I was a slight little chap and I’m sure I had the word ‘victim’ plastered across my forehead. Anyway, the next day, I enrolled on a karate course. It was a traditional Shukokai karate class which was fortunate as that particular style of karate focusses on being loose, accurate and above all, fast. Suited a little runt like me. Right from the start, It was something I felt very comfortable with. I attained a purple belt before the teacher moved on and joined the police leaving us all in the lurch. It was another five years before I put on a belt.

Freestyle karate

In 1995, I was nearing the end of my graphic design course in Salford university and a good friend of mine at the time said he planned on going to a local karate school and asked if I fancied it. Too be honest, it was ages since I’d attempted to get my leg up that high and I didn’t know if I had it in me. Throwing caution to the wind however, I signed up. It turned out the instructor was an old student of the class I attended five years previously. I managed to coax my best mate Phil along with me and soon it was pretty much all we did. Work and train.

We progressed very quickly that summer. By the end of it we’d graded up to Blue and Green belt and it was a lot of fun. I then went off to university, leaving my training partner and martial arts behind for a further two years.

The university years

Like most students in Fresher’s week, I enrolled in some sports clubs. Most of them were martial arts. I tried Judo, Ju Jitsu, Shotokan Karate, Kick-boxing, Kung Fu, Tai Chi and Shootfighting. They all had interesting aspects but more typical student pursuits took hold (drinking and chasing girls) and martial arts in my life once again hit a dry spell.

Getting serious

On completing university and returning home it was back to the karate club I’d left. The style being taught had changed from a loose traditional Shukokai base to a freestyle mix between Sport Karate and Kickboxing. It was this style I eventually gained my black belt in after ten years of sporadic training. Then things started getting serious.

A black belt is a big aim in training for karate. I had worked damn hard for many years to get mine. Then things start to get a bit more internally focussed. You train for you, not the next belt. After ten years of belt chasing, this was a bit of a change in mind set and, in truth, I never adapted.

I then took the natural step to being an instructor. I’d like to think I was a good one. At its peak I ran a successful night class with over twenty regular students ranging from six years old to fifty six. I had fun but, after a year or so, I started to get bored.

Phil (my training partner and best mate of over seventeen years) and I both started to look to external martial arts sources for our inspiration. Phil looked to MMA (mixed martial arts) and continues to run a successful gym in his spare time. I dabbled in Capoeira for a while before meeting the girl of my dreams (who I’m now married to) and setting off to see a bit of the world with her. It was once again a good few years since I put a belt on.

Beating up your boss

Ever wanted to hit your boss? Well, when I worked in London, I did (all in good sportmanship you understand). During my stint with I taught kickboxing to the staff of the London office for two years. I had a ball. That was the last time I wore my belt and the last time I trained. It was over six years ago.

Why stop?

That’s a tricky question. There are a few things though. First of all there are no clubs near where I live which teach what I want to learn (although that could change with a boxing gym due to open just around the corner). Secondly, I want a life.

Training in any martial art takes dedication. To be really good at it takes a little more; it takes obsession. In truth, I would never want to train as much as I once did. It consumed my every thought. Ironic really when you consider most martial arts are about balance and harmony at their core.

I’m still deeply interested in martial arts and I hope I’ll train again one day, but until that day comes I’ll continue to watch the boxing and borrowing UFC dvds from Phil at every opportunity I can.

So, there you have it.