JOURNEY TO XEN-DO: Chapter two – At The Foot Of Everest



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

Imagine standing at the foot of Mount Everest and looking up. Over six vertical miles of rock, stretching through the clouds so you can’t see the top. An impossible climb. This is how I saw Mu-Gen-Do. It was like a mountain for several reasons:

The System. Solid as a rock. Devised by Meiji Suzuki and carefully constructed from his own personal skills and experience, combining East and West fighting techniques. Not as pretty as some of the more showy stuff out there, but totally practical. Today, that rock is still there. Over the past 30 years, and especially the last ten, it has been refined and improved by Dai Master Rafael Nieto, but its base is unshakeable. The disciplined routine continues to be stretch, warm-up, hand and foot techniques through each grade, combinations through each grade, pre-arranged sparring, no-contact sparring, contact sparring (in other words, you’re knackered by the time you fight!). When you examine other martial arts clubs, see how quickly (if at all) you can discern that rock, that mountain.

The Champions. The dojo seemed to be full of them. Suzuki called them his Warriors. I remember some of the names: Rafael Nieto, obviously – Chris McNeish, Dwyer Evelyn, George Mackenzie, Keith Wilson, Sensei Denise Bailey (she’s still with Dai Master Raf, and frequently my Sensei). These were formidable fighters, I had the honour to spar with some of them. I was rubbish, of course (still am, never was a natural fighter), but sparring with people of their calibre was instruction in its own right. They never punished you too much, always making allowance for your grade, encouraging rather than bullying (the quickest way for a bad dojo to lose potentially good students is to beat them up).

The Belts. Whoever first invented belts was a genius. I’ve never met anyone who didn’t see the merit of them, as a visual demonstration of achievement. I’ve always thought what a good idea it would be to have belts in many other walks of life, not just martial arts. How about nurses, teachers, schoolchildren, employees? But in a good dojo, it isn’t just a static qualification. There’s something more important than that. Florence Nightingale, the famous lady with the lamp, knew what it was. The woman who invented nursing in the middle of the 19th Century soon fell out with the profession she created, and certainly wouldn’t survive in today’s target-obsessed PC world. She knew that first and more important than registration or academic qualification was character. A belt expresses and recognises your character as well as your grade. I remember seeing the negative side of this in my early days at the dojo. A big guy was taking his 1st Dan, and in those days you had to fight 7 consecutive opponents as part of your grading. Boy, did they give him some problems (there’s a video somewhere), but he held his own, and was so impressive he sailed straight past 1st Dan and was awarded 2nd Dan. Skipping a grade proved to be a mistake. His character wasn’t ready for that jump, his personality changed, he became overbearing and unstable, and left the dojo within a couple of weeks.

I always found it a strange experience, grading. You train and work hard for your next belt, and as the grading day looms, you get tense and perhaps a little nervous. Then the day arrives, and the event itself goes whoosh! like an express train, and you’re through it. You put on your new belt, look up, and there in the distance is the next one. Just like climbing a mountain stage by stage.

It took me seven years to get past running out of oxygen in the middle of a class and staggering into the changing room, wanting to die. It took me the same seven years to be able to turn my hip over correctly for a hook kick. It took me fourteen years to reach what was then Blue with three stripes, the grade before 1st Dan.

I remember Dai Master Raf being impressed to hear that my doctor reported a two-inch expansion of my chest. I realised that Mu-Gen-Do was intertwined with the rest of my life. It’s easy to measure when that happens to you. You start feeling guilty when you miss a class.


by John Drewry

Follow John in Chapter three as he faces his mid life crisis and describes how this and the evolution of Xen-Do merge.

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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