Last week the editor of Classical Karate & Jujutsu magazine attended a Dan Grading with the Shobukan Karate Organisation, a traditional Karate school with clubs across the country and a rich heritage. Simon Keegan reports
PAJ Handyside Shihan 8th Dan (Preston Hombu)
Frank Williams Sensei 7th Dan (Wigan)
Chris Ratcliffe Sensei 6th Dan (Wigan)
Simon Keegan Sensei 5th Dan (Manchester)
Chris Ratcliffe Sensei 3rd Dan (Wigan)
Senior Dan grade passes:
Eric Winstanley 3rd Dan – Grading kata Bassai Sho
Alison Campbell 2nd Dan – Grading kata Meikyo
An in-depth look at the Shobukan school:
The Kancho of Shobukan Karate is Shihan Phil Handyside (8th Dan World Union of Karatedo Federations), a 53 year veteran of the martial arts.
He has trained with almost every Japanese Shotokan legend of the last half century including his mentor Hirokazu Kanazawa and heads the Shobukan organisation from his home town of Preston.
Shihan Handyside’s right hand man is Chris Ratcliffe Sensei (6th Dan) who runs the Red Sun Karate school in Wigan having trained in the style since 1989 and has also studied under Kanazawa Sensei.
Chris runs the Red Sun with a loyal team of instructors including Frank Williams (7th Dan) who has previously trained with the KUGB and World Jujutsu Federation.
Shobukan combines the linear Japanese Shotokan with the circular Malaysian Budokan and he studied under the grandmasters of both arts.
I first met Phil Handyside in 2003 on a seminar to celebrate his 40 years training and 30 years teaching. But the reason I attended was, Mr Handyside was my teacher’s teacher and so I wanted to meet him.
Having studied for around 8 years with the Bushido Academy (and previously trained with my father) I spent the next 10 years training with Bob Carruthers, a Shotokan Karate veteran. Bob had started in Bujinkai Karate (a blend of Wado Ryu, Shotokan and Preying Mantis devised by John Smith and Danny Connor) and trained with Shihan Handyside in the 1980s running one of the style’s first branch Dojos.
Despite breaking away from Shobukan, Bob always recognised Shihan Handyside as his teacher and I felt privileged to meet him – and he made an instant impression.
His long grey hair was worn in a ponytail tied in a top knot giving him the look of a seasoned Samurai. He was wearing a hakama and as he marched in, a hush fell across the Dojo. Chris Ratcliffe was tasked with warming us up and then we went through basics, Shotokan line drills with a few exceptions where Mr Handyside taught us the Budokan method that he preferred.
I kept in touch with Mr Handyside over the years and I think as I grew up he also mellowed somewhat. Then in December 2012 he told me I was grade in front of him in Preston for my 5th Dan, the same Dojo were Malayasian grandmaster Chew Choo Soot had taught him. No pressure then…
Earlier this year I interviewed him for Martial Arts Guardian magazine and he explained his journey.
Somewhat bullied in school, Phil’s mother suggested he take martial arts classes to keep him out of trouble. Near the bowling alley where she worked there was a Judo club and so in 1963, age 13 he joined Richard Butterworth’s club.
He said: “Dick Butterworth didn’t just teach Judo he also taught the old Jujutsu style, much more combat orientated.”
Butterworth and his Judo partner Billy Hincliffe set up Preston Judo Club in 1954, having learnt it in 1947 in the parachute regiment in Aldershot. A doorman with a hard reputation, Butterworth was a no-nonsense task master.
Phil’s Judo was put to an end when his instructor injured his leg throwing him into a radiator positioned near the tatame.
While he was out of action from Judo Phil attended a demo of a “new” type of martial art called Karate. The man giving the demonstration was Sadashige Kato, a 5th Dan in Shotokan.
Phil said: “He was amazing – I’d never seen anything like it. And Karate suited my body type. In Judo I was always thrown about by bigger heavier people but Karate suited me.”
He would travel down to Crewe from Preston to train with Kato Sensei and took his first few grades with the Japanese teacher.
A local Karate instructor named Dennis Makinson took Phil under his wing and he was he says “like a father figure to me.”
Phil and a few friends while working in a mill would hire a room to practice their Karate in four hour sessions and this eventually evolved into his first club. Dennis Makinson emigrated to Australia and Phil carried on. By the time Phil was a 3rd Kyu he read about another KUGB instructor named Cyril Cummins, a 2nd Dan at the time and this man became his next teacher and taught him Karate and various weapons. Cummins was one of the first Karate instructors in the Midlands, initially beginning outside of the Union and then being re-graded by Enoeda Sensei.
In the early 1970s the Karate Union Great Britain had a mafia like grip on British Karate and Phil wasn’t attracted to the dictatorial approach of the group, or to its charismatic leader Keinosuke Enoeda and head honchos like Andy Sherry. When there was a dispute between his and another club over the rights to the name “Rising Sun”, the KUGB’s heavy handed approach prompted him to look outside the union.
And it was then he found his next teacher, the great Hirokazu Kanazawa, now a 10th Dan Meijin and a living legend of Karate and one of the few masters alive to have trained with Shotokan head Gichin Funakoshi and Shorin Ryu grandmaster Choshin Chibana.
Phil recalled: “I met Kanazawa Sensei at the railway station and my initial reaction was ‘what a gentleman.’
“He even offered to take me for a cup of tea and of course I said, ‘no, no Sensei, please let me buy you a cup of tea.’
“We picked him up in a Japanese car which he loved and he put on a great course for us.”
While the JKA/KUGB brand of Shotokan was known for its speed and power, Kanazawa Sensei had also deeply studied Tai Chi, Chinese martial arts and old Okinawan Karate styles and his Karate had a powerful internal energy.
Phil recalled: “Kanazawa Sensei asked a student, Danny Fong – who had Chinese heritage – to punch him in the stomach, and after a few hits and Kanazawa telling him ‘no do it harder,’ Danny finally hit him hard but then bounced right back off him and was sent flying.
“Kanazawa laughed and said, ‘he gave me power I gave it back to him.’
“in terms of internal power he was like nothing I’d ever seen before. My greatest inspiration, a real master and a gentleman.”
Kanazawa Sensei became a great mentor to Phil and taught him a number of kata not usually expected within the KUGB. He graded him 1st Dan after testing him on the usual Shotokan curriculum including the forms Bassai Dai, Kanku Dai, Jion and Jutte.
When asked what his favourite kata is, without hesitation he replied, “Empi” not for the usual explanation of it suiting the lighter body type but for its self defence applications.
In this time as well as kata Phil also became renowned for one technique in particular – his Ushiro Geri (back kick). He recalls some time in the early 1970s seeing Mas Oyama doing the technique with hands on the floor and calling it “picking up daisies.”
One of the qualities he liked about Kanazawa and the SKI was the freedom to train in different styles and allow creativity as opposed to the KUGB’s more strict practices.
In the mid 1970s, while teaching a large class in Fulwood Phil was contacted by a Karate grandmaster named Chew Choo Soot whose style was Budokan.
Nowadays, Budokan is regarded as one of the main styles officially recognised by the WKF and WUKO, but back then it was regarded as an outlaw style.
Chew Choo Soot was a Malaysian who studied his own country’s indigenous martial arts and then discovered Karate, learning both the Shudokan of Kanken Toyama and the Shotokan of the JKA. An avid weightlifter and bodybuilder he later travelled round China and Okinawa honing his craft until he became recognised as the 10th Dan grandmaster of Budokan Karate.
Phil recalled: “He did not come across like a Karate master. He wasn’t confident and cool like Kanazawa, he had a speech impediment that sometimes made him seem nervous and he was built more like a wrestler than a Karateka, but his Karate was brilliant.”
The Budokan style was much more Chinese looking with circular diagonal blocks rather than linear movements. Phil described, “for example in Shotokan the Soto Ude Uke are done mostly linear but in Budokan they cut across and down so if you want to break a grab they are much more powerful.”
Escorting Chew on his tour of England Phil grew close to the master and aside from Kanazawa now sees him as his greatest influence. In 1979 he was asked to organise the world championships of Karate Budokan International and hosted the event at the Guild Hall in Preston.
Chew was the father-in-law of film actor Carter Wong (Big Trouble in Little China) and he was also accompanied to Britain by his senior students Wong Sek Khar (now the Soke grandmaster of Budokan) and Ng Tang Pheng who Phil also trained under.
On hearing of Grandmaster Chew’s death Phil posted on Richard Chew’s Budokan Facebook wall recalling his departure from the KBI in the early 1980s: “Unfortunately politics ruined it in those days You had to be part of certain groups to be recognised, so to keep my Shotokan grades I left the KBI.
“Congratulations to the KBI for keeping the path. I was so sorry to hear of the death of Grandmaster Chew Choo Soot. He was a good friend and teacher, I have a photo of the Grandmaster at my Dojo, and always say how proud I was at his teaching there, and is part of my history. Any help needed to rebuild the KBI I am here for you.”
In the 1980s Phil was in demand for his powerful style of Shotokan-Budokan Karate which gained the name Shobukan.
Shobukan was the name used by the family of Gichin Funakoshi’s teacher Azato, and as well as paying homage to both SHOtokan and BUdokan it is also a contraction of “Sho-shu-Bu-Kan-Ji” meaning “summoning the warrior spirit.”
The school expanded into the Wigan area and the Red Sun clubs, originally headed by Alan Power became a strong part of the Shobukan Karate Organisation.
Continuing to train under various groups like those of Dicky Woo and Paul Chadwick.
Phil regards Chris Ratcliffe as his finest student and adds: “In all the years I’ve known him, he has never betrayed anybody. He is so loyal and dedicated.”
Phil was invited to showcase his style on TV and roadshows with celebrities like Steve Davis (snooker world champion), Danny Baker and Michael Aspell and he broke no less than four world records for his lightning quick precision with the katana.
While studying Aikido he adopted the hakama that is today part of his distinctive uniform and was invited to teach on Aikido demos. He added: “The difference between me and many Aikido instructors is I did the throw for real, whereas they told students how to roll to make the throw look more dramatic. I threw them properly but still protected them.”
I was surprised to learn he hadn’t much experimented with other styles like Goju Ryu and Wado Ryu. I believe this is to his credit and shows a deep understanding of his art.
“People think Shotokan is unrealistic because it has deep stances, so they look to Goju and Wado, but really Shotokan can easily be adapted. Those long stances are only done for training.”
Today, 53 years into his martial arts studies he is still learning. I saw him a few years ago making notes as Shikon head Steve Rowe discussed the Tai Chi methods in comparison with Karate’s punches. He got on the mat and traded techniques with young students, allowing himself even at 8th Dan to be used as an Uke by complete beginners.
For me, 12 years after first meeting him he still has the same aura of a real master, but one who like his teacher Hirokazu Kanazawa will gladly pour the tea for the student and would never ask to be called master. And that is one of the qualities that makes him the master that he is.
I was recently on a grading panel for Red Sun Karate. One of the students grading, Eric Winstanley trained alongside me some 20 years ago when we were both blackbelts at the same club. To be on his 3rd Dan grading panel was a tremendous honour.