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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

Here’s a dilemma for you to consider. How difficult do you make each grade? If it’s too easy, not only is nothing really achieved, but students get a false impression of how good they are. On the other hand, if it’s too difficult, do you have too many students giving up? One answer to this second question, of course, is that’s precisely why you should make it as difficult as possible. So only the very best get through. Survival of the fittest. There was a mantra in those days that belts weren’t awarded, you had to wrench them out of their hands.

Why does the club exist?

But this dilemma promotes another dilemma. Why does the club exist? To produce a rarefied team of champions, warriors, or to expand a commercial enterprise dedicated to recruiting and retaining increasing numbers of students? And if you go the latter route, yet another dilemma: does that put you in danger of losing the plot altogether and just becoming a body of money-making clubs: in other words, does too much commerce eventually destroy the rock, the foundation?

I mention all this because the 90s was a period in Mu-Gen-Do when these questions would gradually and inevitably evolve. Take Black belt in those days as an example. One of the qualifications was that you had to have fought in at least three competitions. But what if age was against you? No Black belt? How rigid should that be?

Sensei Raf takes the lead

Nothing stands still. But it took that decade to pass before such questions really became manifest. So in one way, the history of the 90s appeared to be one of stability. But looking back with 20:20 vision, the undercurrents were forming. Meantime, students came and went. So did instructors. Dai Master Raf, however, grew exponentially in this period. He can speak for himself, of course, but I’m telling you simply what I observed.

When I first met Sensei Raf (as he was then), he was employed as a fireman, so in between shifts he was at the dojo. As Master Meiji Suzuki took more of a back seat, still judging the gradings, and still the founder in residence, Sensei Raf moved into pole position as his recognised Master, and his job at the dojo became full time.

Personal reflections

The 90s was not a good decade for me. The growth of my business in the 80s was impeded by the recession in the early 90s. Gradually I had to wind it down from a 100+ strong agency to a consultancy with a handful of people. It took a slow and painful 10 years. I lost my Barbican apartment in London and my ski lodge in Switzerland. I got thyroid cancer in 1991, and although it wasn’t life-threatening, had to have the offending lump surgically removed. With staples all around my neck afterwards, I looked like an ageing punk for a short while. I got involved in two huge cases in the High Court, winning one and losing the other. Though in truth there’s only ever one winner in those situations. That’s right, it’s the lawyers. In this troublesome decade, without Mu-Gen-Do I think I might have sunk without trace.

Master Meiji Suzuki during this period set up an injuries clinic at the end of the dojo (who better to treat injuries than someone who knows how to inflict them?), and overall Judd Street seemed to thrive. It is worth saying at this juncture that both Masters Meiji Suzuki and Rafael Nieto represented, between them, the most formidable team imaginable. There was the po-faced founder alongside his charismatic chief instructor, delivering an unbeatable product.

History records many cases of powerful characters ending up in the same place at the same time, and the unstoppable synergy that is created. But it also reminds us that there is a time and a season for everything.

Master Raf on the path to Xen-Do

Towards the close of this decade, I could discern Master Raf’s itchiness for something more. Perhaps this was the fundamental difference between him and Master Meiji Suzuki. The Japanese mind, having created a fantastic system, rigid in its defence (for sound reasons). The younger, British (well, Spanish really) mind still looking for fulfilment. This is why the concept of the Martial Arts Foundation got born. The idea that a corporate body could unite martial arts as a more credible industry, with all its different facets, into a set of shared standards and principles. Something which could widen public interest and respect. One of MAF’s culminations was a fantastic show called Power & Beauty, which we staged at the Cafe de Paris. Packed to the rafters, the audience experienced a range of disciplines in a ShowTime environment. Master Meiji Suzuki supported MAF, but his persona at the Cafe de Paris was that of an onlooker. You could feel the magnets pulling apart. At the same time, the Judd Street premises were under threat with an expiring lease.

At the end of the day, the Martial Arts Foundation didn’t work. In fairness, it was a first prod into the unknown, an aspiration with fine principles, but not enough ‘Foundation’ about it. So the dust settled, as it were. But nothing ever quite returns to the same position. The itch was still there. Meantime, I started making money again. As the 21st Century started to unfold, the unknown beckoned, and there was dynamic anticipation in the air.


by John Drewry

Follow John in Chapter four as he tells the exciting and informative story of the path to  Xen-Do we know today.

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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