Early Karate in the West Midlands, - as I remember it.?
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The Spartan School of Karate (Bloxwich UK) – a piece of karate history
1964 – 198?
The school was formed in 1964 and was run by a Jack (John) Clarkson along with a Peter Cross, unfortunately they are both now dead.
It was part of an organisation called “Spartan Security – incorporating Spartan School of Karate”, so were their vans lettered. The main activity of the security side was repossessing TV sets and domestic appliances for hire purchase and rental companies and also providing doormen, the latter mainly at The Caves Cub which was in an old Victorian meat abattoir and storage in Stafford St, Walsall.
They ran what was in truth a bit of a con, whereby karate club members would be employed as door staff in exchange for free lessons. The security company later became the subject of a Sunday Newspaper investigative feature entitled “The Frighteners” which tended to make them a bit persona non gratis. Regardless of this, the school opened other clubs and persisted well into the 1980s.
The karate was very crude and non technical by today’s standards, but Jack Clarkson was very big on fighting spirit, a desirable attribute.
The local club and the security company were run from upstairs rooms in the old Co-Op in Bloxwich, Walsall, opposite the cenotaph, and still there (2022). I well remember a demonstration that was laid on to give the club a kick start. Chairs had been laid out around the circumference of the room and a few of the local hard cases where there smirking. This short bearded fellow strode into the centre of the room, looked around, and then banged his feet to command attention.
“Right” he said, “We will get this out of the way to start with. If anyone here thinks they can take me, then let’s get it f----g done with now”. Nobody moved and the smirks all disappeared.
The demonstration included an Arthur Wickson who went on to form the Wolverhampton Shotokan Karate Club in Hilton Road, Wolverhampton. It was one of the first of the newly formed Karate Union of Great Britain clubs, so he must have had some karate experience before that date.
I have done some research and have been unable to find anything out about Clarkson’s karate experience or indeed grade prior to the formation of the Spartan, however the club was doing their own gradings, including black belt. Peter Cross, I was told, had a blue belt in aikido, and he together with Clarkson developed a method of stick fighting based on aikijo. They had black walking sticks made up for purpose; these were similar to the modern Cold Steel fibreglass sticks. There was also some karate techniques developed based on aikido footwork, notably part tenkans and such like.
Simon Keegan in his excellent and well recommended book “Karate Jutsu” – History and evolution of the Okinawan Martial Art has a short paragraph on the pioneers of Shotokan in the Midlands where he describes a group of judo instructors teaching karate about 1963, “probably from a book”. I rather fancy that Clarkson’s training may have come from the same area. I remember the zenkutsu dachi stance being quite low, this smacks of Shotokan. Whatever, Clarkson was a hard man and tough fighter who gained my personal respect.
Later in the 1980s there was a private club in Littleton St Walsall, run by a Mick Holland, but I know little about this.
As I have written elsewhere, it was Arthur and some others from the Spartan who went on to found the Wolverhampton Shotokan Karate Club at Hilton Road. This was affiliated to the then newly formed Karate Union of Great Britain. In those days there was no Health and Safety and things could be very rough. This was about 1966.
The Old Co-Op Bloxwich, UK.
This could well be where karate in the West Midlands originated. We entered the alley between the shops and went up some wooden stairs to the upstairs rooms. There was a training area and offices.
Its now semi derelict, photo June 2022.
In 1968 the KUGB organised the first UK championships, an international championship.
Now this is from memory, and some may find this disturbing. But I think it is important to record things as they actually happened.
There was a special section “White belt Kumite” arranged, that was not in the program. I remember arriving at Crystal Palace slightly late and seeing ambulances lined up outside. As I approached someone was loaded into the back of the first, and as it drove away another filled its place ready for the next casualty. This was disturbing in itself; I was glad that I was only a spectator.
Anyway, the white belts fought ferociously, I think it was political; they were out to prove something.
This I will never forget.
A chap went down and was not moving. An ambulance crew came in with a stretcher. There were no paramedics in those days, they just put casualties onto a stretcher and then into the back of the ambulance and off to hospital.
The stretcher was placed on the floor and one ambulance crew bent over the fallen, who was quite still. He looked up at his mate and shook his head. My late wife who was sitting on my left said” I don’t like the look of this Roy”. The opponent was sitting on his heels in the traditional manner and had his head bowed and was holding his fists together.
I have no information on this but I always believed that he was dead. Hopefully not, but this is how I remember it.
To be taken as fact this really needs to be corroborated by another as memory can play tricks, but as I say, this is exactly as I remember it. and I doubt that I will ever forget it.