JOURNEY TO XEN-DO: Chapter one – Discovery


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

In 2016, I will have been a student of Xen-Do Kickboxing and Martial Arts London for 30 years.

That’s pretty remarkable in its own right, given there aren’t too many things you do constantly for that period of time. So it’s a special story I have to tell. And to tell it, I have to tell you something about me, because in that long period, my own history is interwoven with that of Xen-Do and you may find the context helpful.

The first thing to tell you is that I joined when I was 42 (now you can work out my age if you want to). The second thing to tell you is that until I was 42, I’d never done a stroke of exercise in my life. I’d also been a consistently heavy smoker for 25 years, between age 14 and 39 (50 a day). I used to drink rather a lot, too. When I was 25, an eminent doctor told me I’d be dead by age 50 if I didn’t mend my wicked ways. So I’d taken the first big step, giving up smoking at 39. I was still drinking, though. And guess what? After I gave up smoking, I steadily put on weight.

The result was a kidney stone at age 41, apparently the nearest thing to childbirth pain for a bloke. When the quack took my blood, my cholesterol was 9.6. For the second time in my life, I had a doctor telling me I was going to die (it wouldn’t be the last time, either, but more of that in a later chapter).

So I went on a 3-week walking holiday, and when I came back I looked for a gym. There were plenty around, especially as I lived in London’s Barbican in those days, but I discovered something pretty quickly. They were so boring! Up, down, in, out, pedal, pedal. But it taught me something. If there’s nothing to feed the brain, if there’s no connection between the brain and the body, if there’s nothing to believe in, if there are no visible goals, the exercise is senseless, and unlikely to sustain (a bit like people who go on a diet – at first they succeed, but when they stop – and they all do – they get fatter than they were before).

So instead I thought it would be a good idea to search for a martial arts club. They surely would have some connection between mind and body. Now anyone who’s done that has quickly discovered what a rubbish industry martial arts is in general. Full of charlatans and conmen, talking drivel, screaming mantras, and after your money. In my search, I rapidly got through the FUs and the DOs (as well as the DON’Ts!), Tiger/Crane combinations, bunny-hops (don’t ever do those), silly fist formations guaranteed to break your fingers, impressive war cries, etc., etc. I also learned a golden rule – when an instructor is late, pack your bags. Whether it’s martial arts, skiing or football, an instructor who can’t get there on time (meaning before you) tells you everything you don’t want to know but need to know.

Finally, I found a club at King’s Cross in Yellow Pages (there was no Google in 1986), rang them up and spoke to a guy called Meiji Suzuki. He told me someone would call me back. And they did. It was Rafael Nieto.

The King’s Cross club was in Judd Street. Now I know there’s always the temptation to rewrite history, but I swear to you that from the moment I arrived, there was something different about this place. It wasn’t flash in any way, on the first floor of a very old building, rather stark really, made me imagine it resembled an old army gymnasium. That was partly because you immediately had a sense of order and discipline. Perhaps not surprising, given that Suzuki had put together his own system, combining East and West techniques into Mu-Gen-Do (the Unlimited Way). How many people have you met who’ve had the skill, capacity and dedication to do that?

Suzuki was a 9th Dan (I still can’t imagine what that grade really means), a formidable man. Raf was his chief instructor, and himself already a World Champion. Blimey, I thought, a private lesson from a World Champion.

For less than an hour, we did a bit of skipping, some mild stretching, and a bit if kata. Raf told me long afterwards that he kept fearing I’d have a heart attack. Certainly I can remember my hand shaking so much at the end of our session, I couldn’t write the cheque (remember cheques?).

But I knew I’d be back.


by John Drewry

Follow John in Chapter two as he realises the significance of joining Xen-Do and the extent of the path his journey would take.

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.

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