Dai Sensei John Watkin 40 years a Martial Artist - IMPACT, No 6, August 1992, Kevin McMenamin.

IMPACT, No 6, August 1992, Kevin McMenamin.


Dai Sensei John Watkin 40 years a Martial Artist

Dai Sensei John Watkin commenced his martial arts career at the YMCA Central on 2 August 1952. Kevin McMenamin talks to the man who has more experience in the Australia martial arts world that almost anyone.

tile size Front Page of IMPACT august 1992
Dai Sensei John Watkin celebrates 40 years in martial arts on 2nd August this year.

KMcM: Dai Sensei, you have spent 40 years in martial arts; how are things different today than they were then?
JW: No one did martial arts in those days, we did self-defence. Anything with a Japanese name was frowned on. Horst Oelstner, 1st Dan, champrion of Germany in 1956, was attacked on Princess Bridge because he was a German, as there was still a lot of ill feeling about the war.
There have been many great improvements, particularly in judo: weight division, for one. The standard refereeing has improved enormously, and conduct of competitions is now very professional. This seems to flow through to all the martial arts.

KMcM: When so few people practiced 'self-defence' how did you practice?
JW: Mum, who was 50 years old at the time, was my throwing partner. It didn't take long for her to surpass me (at least for a while) so I had to be careful walking down the passage at home, as more often than not a hand would come out and grab me, throw me and give me a long discourse on being aware at all times. I learned this very quickly.

KMcM: In a nutshell, what, to you, is self-defence?
JW: A lot of people think self-defence is knowing a lot of tricks. It's not - it's self-awareness, and being aware of what is going on around you at all times.
For instance, if I go to a café, I feel uncomfortable unless my back is to a wall, so I'm aware of everyone and their position in the place. Having self-awareness at all times is the best form of self-defence.

KMcM: What are your current gradings?
JW: Seventh Dan Shinto Yoshin Ryu Karate; 6th Dan Karate Instructors Association; 1st Dan Wado Kai Karate; 5th Dan Judo Federation of Australia; 4th Dan Shinto Yoskin Ryu Jujitsu; 2nd Dan Tae Kwon Do Australia; 3rd Dan The World Tae Kwon Do Federation; 1st Kyu Aikido.

KMcM: That's a lot of gradings. What is your involvement in coaching?
JW: In judo I hold a National "B" accreditation; National Coaching Accreditation Scheme, Nat 2: Ministry of Youth, Sport and Recreation. In karate, the Karate Instructors Association, National B. In jujitsu, Shinto Yoshin Ryu, National B; and in Kickboxing, World Allstyles Kickboxing, Munich.

KMcM: You are also a referee?
JW: Yes, I've had national and international experience in Germany, Japan, Singapore, Hawaii and Los Angeles.

KMcM: If you don't mind my asking, do you have any other qualifications?
JW: Well, if you consider 33 years running a club; 21 years teaching in the Education Department (four years PE); and being a foundation member of FAKO, FAJKO, KIAA(president), AAJA, and Australian Kickboxing Federation (vice president) qualifications, I suppose I do.

KMcM: Your style is Yoshin Ryu. Please tell our readers about this.
JW: The school was founded by Shirobei Akiyama, a physician in Nagasaki. It is said Akiyama learned three modes of Hakuda (striking) and 28 types of Kappo (jujitsu art of resuscitating) in China, and that on his return he taught them to his students.
He was impresses, however, by his own efforts and by the shortcomings he found in 'progressing art'. He went into meditation for 100 days, hoping to come up with a solution to his dilemma. In the last day of his prayer, a heavy snowfall occurred, and many trees had either their trunks or limbs broken under the weight of the snow.
In the midst of this scene stood a single willow tree which was so pliant the snow was unable to accumulate on it. With this lesson, Akiyama invented 300 jujitsu tricks and called his school Yoshin (heart of the willow).
The next notable change occurred when Sensei Yuki Yoshi Tatsuaburo Nakayama renamed the school Shinto Yoshin Ryu Jujitsu.
He stressed kicking and striking and it became an 'atemi' style.
In 1940 when jujitsu had lost its popular appeal to other martial arts such as judo, aikido and the new karate, the Budokan required all the styles of martial arts to register their style names and seneis.
It was at this time that Sensei Hironori Otsuka, 8th Dan, decided to form a karate promotion club, which later changed to Wado Kai - Way of Harmony.
Sensei Harada, 4th Dan, started a club in Melbourne in early 1953: I trained with him until he left for Japan in 1962, and was graded to 2nd Dan by him. He asked me to carry on.

KMcM: When did you start your own club?
JW: In June 1959 I started a judo club in the Collingwood Technical School. So as not to be confused with the jujitsu club I called it by its English equivelant - Willow Heart School of Judo®.
Since that time I have represented my club in many countries: Japan, Singapore (twice), Malaysia, Germany, Los Angeles and Hawaii.

KMcM: Who else have you trained under?
JW: It has always been my policy to train with anyone who would teach me, and I have been honoured to train under many fine instructors.
The Sensei Jack Cox, YMCA Central, one of the 'original' instructors.
Many of my early teachers were from visiting Japanese ships, people like Captain S Terauchi, Yamahiko Maru; Doctor Takayasu Katsu; Captain T Kuwahara; Minoru O'Hara, ship's clerk; Captain J Kato, Massashima Maru; T Hayashi, K Line; Joshia-ki Shinojima, 8th Dan, and his two assistants, Natsume and Iwatomi, both 6th Dan; Sensei Inokuma, Olympic gold medal winner; Ang Teck Bee, President Singapore Judo Association; Tak See Ma, Hong Kong University Karate Club; Professor Wally Jay, 10th Dan; Motokatsu Inoui, 10th Dan, Ryukyu Kobujitsu; Sensei Inoui, 9th Dan, Hontai Yoshin Ryu Jujitsu; Cultural Deligation: Sensis Sato and Murato.
One early teacher I must not forget was ship's bosun Matsumura, 4th Dan. He was responsible for the first Black Belt grading in Victoria.

"Many of my early teachers were from Japanese ships" John Watkin mid-way through a Jodu Throw
John Watkin performing a sword demonstration with an unknown assistant at HMAS Cerebus.
"The first outside instructor that I employed was Constantino Ceberano" John Watkin performing a shoulder throw


KMcM: I believe one of the instructors you hired for your club was Tino Ceberano?
JW: The first instructor I employed was Constantino Ceberano, yes. He was persuaded to instruct, in five judo clubs, his style of karate - Goju Kai. Under Tino I had some notable pupils: Paul Jolly (Jols Martial Arts shop); Robert (Bob) Jones - now Zen Do Kai; Max Fabris; Warren Ross; and Ross Warren (dec).

KMcM: Looking back on your long career, what are some of the milestones?
JW: Winning the judo teams title was one; also winning the individual Australian judo and karate titles in one year.
Another thing I'm quite proud of is teaching judo to three generations in one family.
Also very satisfying, to me, is having adults stop me in the street and thank me for the good times they had as children in my club.

KMcM: Dai Sensei, I believe you have another career as an author. What have you written so far?
JW: I have written a style handbook for judo and karate, and am currently in co-authorship with P Hamling on a jujitsu book for world publication. I have also produced 10 wall charts of judo throws and katas, including one sword kata.

KMcM: I believe there is going to be a party to celebrate your anniversary.
JW: Bob Todd and I both started judo in 1952 under Jack Cox. He is now president of the Judo Federation of Victoria, and I'm president of Karate Instructors Association of Australia. The party is for the both of us.

KMcM: Once again, thank you for speaking to me, and congratulations on your 40th anniversary in the martial arts.
JW: I hope that the next 40 years are as plesant as the past, Years ago, when people would beat me, I always came back that I would outlive them - and it has come to pass.