Honorary Black Belt: The Journey of Tony Gee

The Journey of Tony Gee – Honorary Black Belt

Dai Master Raf

In 1980 I had just joined the London Fire Brigade and served at West Hampstead Fire Station. The shifts that were then in place working 40 hours in 4 days and then having 4 days off meant I had a lot of spare time on my hands.

I had been training since the age of 10, firstly in Judo at school and then in gymnastics. I started training with a very dedicated instructor – Mr. Somergi who was in fact a 1956 Hungarian Olympic champion.

I remember going to the first class, turning up, changing, and sitting in the changing room when it became apparent I was the only one there. Mr. Somergi walked in to check how many he would have in his class, looked at me, and walked out again. I presumed the class had been canceled as I was the only one that turned up and I got changed again. Mr. Somergi walked back in and in broken English said “Your class will be harder and longer as you will be training on your own”. I spent the next 3 years in the gym with infrequent visits to the classroom. After a while, I even helped teach judo during the lunch breaks.

I lived in Kings Cross with my family and travelled to school in Chalk Farm. One day, on my way back from school, walking past Judd Street I heard some loud shouting and followed the noise in through some large blue double doors and up a dark set of stairs to yet another set of double doors and, the rest of my life, unknown to me at the time, started to take shape. The room, I now know is called a ‘dojo’ was full of all these men in white pyjamas shouting, punching and kicking, I realised that I had found home! For the next 30 years I trained at The Tonbridge Karate Club under the instruction of Sensei Meiji Suzuki.

In the late 80s I was training at the Tonbridge Club covering for one of the instructors who was on holiday and Tony Gee approached me and asked if I would teach him. I realised Tony was a very good boxer but needed help with his kicking routines. I carried on teaching Tony until he became too sick to carry on.

I decided to award Tony an Honorary black belt not only because I witnessed how he struggled and fought to train until the last possible moment and as a thank you for all the help that he gave me assisting me teaching, but because, under different circumstances, I have no doubt Tony would have taken black belt and been a formidable martial artist anyway.

I lost touch with Tony for many year and I am very grateful to Victor Necchi, a mutual friend and student of mine who stepped in and bridged that gap.

Honorary Black Belt
Tony, with a copy of his book on the London prize-ring ‘Up to Scratch’, when it was originally published in 1998.

Tony Gee…..

My honorary Black belt was awarded to me in recognition of the standard that I achieved (under very adverse circumstances) during a period in the 1980s and 90s, and for the assistance I gave then to Sensei Rafael Nieto in teaching, before my severe ill health curtailed my martial arts career, rendering me unable to take a black belt grading and (eventually) leaving me essentially bed bound. The level of fitness I achieved as a martial artist, however, together with the discipline, determination and fighting spirit instilled in me from those days, has helped me in no small measure to cope with my condition and circumstances. (Martial arts, if one is lucky enough to have quality instruction, are so much more than beneficial fitness training – they are an excellent preparation for the vicissitudes of life ).

I began training with Sensei George McKenzie at Sensei Meiji Suzuki’s internationally renowned Kings Cross club when Sensei Raf was then a rising star in the Mugendo system. (The Mugendo system was a very innovative one for its time, and indeed could be said to have been ahead of its time; it ultimately led to the founding of Xen-Do.) Seeing Sensei Raf train one day when I was working out at the dojo, I asked if he would spar with me, and then, when Sensei George was away, enquired whether he would consider instructing me.

Having a strong interest in boxing, I had always found that punching came naturally, but kicking (for which he was particularly renowned) did not. However, under his expert instruction, the latter improved considerably. I was one of Sensei Raf’s first pupils, and remained with him for a considerable period (during which he won a world title) , until shortly before the time I was forced to give up martial arts entirely. Towards the end of my training with Sensei Raf, I had progressed to a level where I was able to help with the teaching of some of his pupils, a role which I enjoyed immensely.

My interest in boxing ultimately led to my embarking on an in-depth study (with the emphasis on primary sources) of the bareknuckle period of pugilism and the publication of my book on the London prize-ring, Up to Scratch. In addition, I wrote a number of articles for the biggest academic project ever undertaken in the UK, the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, and also the now sadly defunct British Boxing Board of Control Boxing Yearbook, as well as advising various museums on fistic iconography.

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