Unlike a lot of students, I didn't begin karate lessons until I was 18 years old. My main reason for doing so was that I felt the need to learn some form of self defence as I had been bullied quite a bit during my childhood and did not want to meet the same fate as an adult. People often ask me why I never started earlier, what prevented me from joining a martial arts school and learning to defend myself. The reason is a simple one. I was afraid that if I joined a karate club the instructor would ask me one key question - "why do you want to learn karate?" I could have told him to make myself fitter, to beat up those who had beaten me as a child, or because I like the outfit. No, the real reason I never joined was that the only honest answer I could give was that I wanted to be like Bruce Lee. Funny eh? To me, however that answer was not a sufficient reason to learn what I regarded as a Martial Art.
By the time I was 18 and a little wiser, I wanted to be able to defend myself but I also wanted to focus my mind on something that was different from football, running etc. Having been diagnosed as Epileptic at the age of 13, my parents looked at my decision with mixed feelings. My mother was afraid I would take numerous blows to the head and it would affect my epilepsy even more. My dad, a practical man, told her that was the reason I was taking up karate, so I could learn how to prevent someone from hitting me in the head. Logical when you think about it. After trying a few classes in Tae Kwon Do and Shotokan, I realised it was karate I wanted to learn and through a work colleague I found a Shito Ryu Shukokai Karate Club based in Edinburgh.
A few months into my training I was introduced to Kata (Forms) and these instantly appealed to me. This was what I had been looking for, something that would allow me to focus my mind and my breathing, two factors which I personally think affect people with Epilepsy. Unfortunately when it came to sparring, my mother's view proved to be right and my dad was wrong. Well, he was wrong until my instructors made me practice more and more on my blocks and I eventually took only the occasional head knock.
The club I joined was a good one, St Ann's Karate Club, not very intimidating when compared to names like Fighting Tigers Karate Club or Sakai Karate. I think in those days the easiest option was to name your club after the venue in which your dojo was located. Could have been worse I suppose.
In the early years my progress through the grades was made easier by the fact that I had good instructors and good fellow students. There was etiquette but no egos and that put everyone at ease. It made everyone, including instructors more approachable and friendlier and this paid off when it came to getting students to put 100% effort into their training
Working hard under good instructors helped me progress through the ranks without missing a grading, every four months I'd sit a kyu grading, then when it came to Brown Belts (3rd - 1st Kyu), six months apart and then one year from 1st Kyu to being eligible to sit my Sho-Dan (1st Dan) Grading.
19th December 1989 was the date for my grading and I made the biggest mistake of my life, I invited my parents along to watch the grading. Unfortunately my dad could not get the time off work and it wasn't until I noticed mum sitting there that the nerves went into overtime. My instructor, Stevie Nelson saw it early and reminded me of what I was hear to do, and strangely enough the nerves changed to determination.
My panel, Sensei Steve Nelson, Sensei Davie Nelson, and Sensei Kenny Grant, all respected instructors, all senior Dan grades with the Amateur Martial Association and all watching me!
To this day I still maintain that it was the hardest 4 hours of training and grading I have ever undergone. Every time I felt I had nothing left, my training partner, usually Derek Spratt, would try and encourage me and get more out of me, usually with the comment "is that all you've got". In the end it proved to be enough, and all the blood and sweat had not been in vain. I was awarded the rank of Sho-Dan (1st Dan) by the panel and recognised by the Amateur Martial Association as a Black Belt. It was the highlight of my career thus far and what I had been aiming for since day one. My mother was over the moon but kept comparing aspects of the grading to "something out of a Vietnam war movie".
Since that day in 1989 I have continued to pursue knowledge about my style of karate and what additional work would be needed to make me not only a better martial artist, but a better person. I have been fortunate to meet and train with many people over the years, and each of them has always left their mark on me, and not necessarily a physical mark at that (lol). Karate for most is a hobby, for the minority it is almost a way of life, and it is this minority that have great insight into what they do. A good friend of mine, the late Sensei John Horan, once told me that getting a black belt was the easy part, wearing it is the difficult part.
As I enter my 21st year as a martial artist, I look back with pride and in depth at my life, I realise that he was right. I compare then and now and realise that I received my black belt too early, three years serious training was not enough. It was sufficient to demonstrate that I could perform the required techniques, complete the necessary Kata and fight my way through the Kumite. But did I understand all that I had been taught, did I appreciate the skills and knowledge that had been passed onto me? NO, only now can I honestly say that it was another 2 years before the light bulb went on and I realised the depth that there is in Karate.
I now find myself back at the beginning, as student once more and not an instructor, going full circle you might say. I have found some positive influences in my martial arts training, people who know how to get the best out of me even when I think I have given my all. People like Sensei Harry Cook who's knowledge, especially in Kata and bunkai Kumite, are renowned the world over. Sensei Julian Mead, under whose tutelage I am studying Ryukyu Kobujutsu, a very intense, dedicated and patient man, especially when it comes to trying teach me the Sai. Finally, Sensei Mick Bazylewycz and Sensei Derek Spratt. Two men who have known me for years, who have been there as friends and there as colleagues.
People often say that martial artists are weird, when they are at gatherings etc they all stick together. My feeling is that it is because we all share a common bond much like that of a family. What other discipline or activity (for want of a better word) would you find were it's participants have been involved in it for 20, 30 or 40 years?
Today I still try and put as much into my training and my teaching as is humanly possible, and most of all I enjoy what I do. I have seen students group up and become adults, I have seen a club that I hold dear have it's ups and downs. Today I am proud of all my students and what we as a club have built. There will come a time when the mantle must be passed on to the next Sensei, and I am happy to say that I would be proud to have anyone of my assistant instructors fulfil that role.
The true meaning of SENSEI is "one who has gone before", that is exactly what my colleagues and I have strived to do.
Karate Grading History:
1989 Achieved the rank of Sho-Dan (recognised by Amateur Martial Association)
1993 Achieved the rank of Ni-Dan (recognised by Tosa Kochi Karate Do and Scottish Karate Governing Body)
1996 Achieved the rank of San-Dan (recognised by British All Styles Karate Association)
2003 Achieved the rank of yon-Dan (recognised by Scottish Karate Confederation & SKGB)
Kobujutsu Grading History:
2005 Achieved the grade of 4th Kyu (recognised by Ryukyu Kobujutsu Association Great Britain)
FAREWELL MESSAGE FROM SENSEI STEVE MCKENZIE - FEBRUARY 2008
After many months of deliberation and after discussions with Carolyn Fisher and Jim Bailey, I have decide to retire from active participation in karate, primarily teaching and organisational aspects.
I have enjoyed learning and teaching over the last 21 years, and have made many goods friends in the process, and I hope we can still remain in contact even though I am taking a step back.
I do intend to keep up my training on a personal basis and will make the occasional trip to the club and to various courses, commitments and invitations permitting.
Takumi Karate Do will now be handed over to the more than capable hands of Carolyn and Jim and I will always be available to them should they need me. I will still be around during the settling in period and will continue to maintain the clubs website and will update as and when information is passed to me.
I hope everyone will continue to support the club and its activities, so that we can make sure that the clubs keeps going for years to come.
It has been a pleasure teaching, training, eating and drinking with all of you and I hope we can continue to at least some those activities over the months and years to come. I would also like to thank all you who have supported me and my exploits over the last 21 years and I can honestly say that nowhere else have I encountered such camaraderie and friendship, than when I was training with fellow martial artists such as you.
For those that are interested, I will be having a fair well drink on Thursday at the Southsider, after my last class, and all are welcome to come along and make sure I am gone (lol).
Would the Scottish contingent of the TKGB please direct all enquiries to the Secretary, Ken Fanner on firstname.lastname@example.org
Steve McKenzie (Yon-Dan)
Senior Club Instructor – RETIRED!