No history of Xen-Do would be complete without telling the stories of the impact Xen-Do has had on people’s lives. Sensei John Drewry has been a student of Xen-Do Kickboxing and Martial Arts London for nearly 30 years; by sharing his journey, John puts the evolution of Xen-Do into his own words and illustrates what I mean when I say my aim is to make people ‘fit for life’.

I am grateful for John’s contribution and hope you will enjoy reading this very personal account.

Dai Master Rafael NietoLondon. October 2015

John Drewry

The phone rang. On the other end was a momentous piece of news, though not entirely unexpected. Sensei Raf had separated from Master Meiji. I said in an earlier chapter how extraordinary and unassailable this team of two was. But it came at a price. As Sensei Raf developed and became Master Meiji’s right-hand man, so equality became an issue. I don’t necessarily mean in terms of skills or grade, though you could make an argument for that. It was more in terms of contribution.

Master Suzuki produced the system and maintained the figurehead. But there’s no doubt that it was Sensei Nieto who ran the show operationally, inspired the students on a day-to-day basis, dominated the instructors, and promoted the spirit of Mu-Gen-Do to an increasing clientele. Liken it, if you will, to a Chairman and the Chief Operating Officer. It was a pity Master Suzuki couldn’t, or wouldn’t, get past the traditional Japanese concept of hierarchy, and see the merits of an equal and mighty powerful partnership. But as I said before, everything has its time and its season.

Sensei Raf was keen to know if I would follow him to his new destination. My answer was an unequivocal yes, as I’m sure was the case with almost everyone else. For Sensei Raf, this must have felt like a grading – anticipation and trepidation before the event, and then whoosh!, the new belt and “what was all the fuss about?”. A new dojo at Camden Stables Market beckoned.

Although it went through some radical changes, the Camden dojo was a success from the start. It benefited from an explosion of energy and enthusiasm which breakaways always engender. What you have to be mindful of, though, is whether that impetus will sustain after the initial outburst. There was never any such hiatus. Sensei Raf was like a man unchained, and even the setbacks weren’t setbacks but exciting challenges. I remember saying to him previously that over a period of time, you’ll be surprised who’s around today and gone tomorrow. He still quotes that back at me. So I watched him go through one or two business partners, several instructors, and an exodus of senior students to form their own club. It all seemed to have a positive and focusing effect. Meantime, Sensei Raf’s son Anthony was coming into his own as a formidable fighter and support. Sensei Raf was busy fine-tuning the curriculum to good effect, the student population continued to increase, and Seymour Place was functioning well as a second dojo. In due time, Golders Green appeared, run principally by Sensei Denise Bailey, loyal instructor for three decades.

In 2005, I started feeling full up when I hadn’t eaten, with a dull discomfort in my solar plexus. The doctor sent me for an endoscopy, and as I came out of the sedation the surgeon told me I had less than a year to live (well actually, he said don’t start reading any long novels – subtle, eh?). I had a tumour on my oesophagus (probably the delayed effect of all that smoking), which necessitated chemotherapy, followed with a 5-hour operation by two surgeons, who effectively quartered me, removed a rib, removed the oesophagus and made me a new one from my stomach lining, replaced the rib and stapled me up.

Now my principle reason for sticking with Mu-Gen-Do, which became Zen-Do, which became Xen-Do, was, and is, for fitness. I know my body would miss the stretching and the stamina, the flow and the movement, and seize up pretty quickly. There is also the camaraderie and the ongoing feeling of achievement, however modest. So I will give you just two anecdotes from my 2005 operation which relate very much to my martial arts life, and provide the justification for it.

The first was when a young male nurse looked at my blood analysis and said “Christ, you’re fitter than me”. The second was that the time allowed in hospital for such a serious operation was five weeks. I was out in six days. Three weeks later, I was running my writing workshops again. I was also back at the dojo, after surgeons told me it would be six months because I’d feel too tired. So when you’re practising Xen-Do, just remember – this stuff works!

The Camden dojo was destroyed by fire (ironically, Master Suzuki’s portrait survived intact, with mayhem all around it!), and never reopened, but it didn’t appear to affect the impetus. Dai Master Raf had moved into the dreaded ‘brand territory’, where development and propagation of a consistent image became something he had to face, to finally rise above the slightly sleazy image of martial arts, and become the Virgin of the industry (no jokes, now!). This is why there is now such a good website. Equally important, when Xen-Do Baker Street opened, it opened with an image of professionalism, repeated in the more recently opened Xen-Do Goodge Street. Dai Master Raf has truly managed to combine the commercial with the aspirational, while retaining the purity of Master Meiji Suzuki’s original work.

The journey to Xen-Do never stops. Like Castaneda’s Journey to Ixtlan, you never reach a final destination, because there’s always something more to learn. Me, I’ll continue for as long as I can raise a leg. You may know that Spike Milligan’s headstone says “I told you I was ill”. On my headstone, I’d like one word only. It’s the word that says hello, goodbye, respect, but also expresses the sound of exhalation on contact, the breath of life itself:



by John Drewry

If you are thinking of taking up Kickboxing or Martial Arts then why not attend a FREE trial experience at one of Xen-Do’s four London Clubs? Choosing a Martial Arts Club is one of the most important decisions you will make so if like John you are unsure then Xen-Do’s World Class Senseis will take the time to explain our curriculum and answer your questions.

This article is based on opinion:
– the author is not a qualified doctor or anyone who can dispense medical advice.
– any opinions stated are just that and people should consult a doctor before making any dietary changes or changes of any nature prompted by the articles published by or on behalf of Xen-Do.
– under 16’s please obtain parental permission before posting anything online.
– any opinions stated are that of the author and do not represent the opinions of Xen-Do.

Scroll to Top