This interview was conducted in October 2010
I never judge anyone until I’ve met him or her in person. In my experience a person and their reputation rarely match, the story from others is always going to be subjective and often it’s only repeated rumour and gossip. Dave Courtney is a controversial character and draws opinions from all manner of people.
The first thing that struck me about him was his genuine friendly manner and the fact that he obviously valued friendship and his long-term friends. That says a lot about him.
Dave ran a security company with over one thousand staff, minding clubs and debt collecting and has spent time in the notoriously hard Belmarsh prison. He has also been around all manner of Martial Arts and martial artists at many martial arts events and on the ‘front line’ of security work for over 30 years and therefore has opinions that are of interest to MAI readers.
Dave came to the notice of the general public and became a ‘celebrity gangster’ after he ran the security at Ronnie Krays funeral in 1995. He has certainly led a colourful life and has written six books, made six DVD’s and been in many films. These days he’s interested in deterring youngsters from a life of crime and his charity work. It was in this way that I met him through the ‘Free Spirit Live’ charity working for young people in the Medway towns.
SR Hi Dave, before we get into the Martial Arts aspects of the interview, can you tell the readers what a ‘celebrity gangster’ is?
DC First of all, there is no such thing as a ‘celebrity gangster’, the two words don’t go together, you can only be one or the other. The more famous you get, the less ‘naughty’ you can be – as everyone knows who you are! You can only write books about your life as a gangster once you’ve retired.
SR What made you give up and become a celebrity as opposed to a gangster?
DC It was doing the security for Ronnie Krays’ funeral. I was the owner of one of the biggest security companies in Europe and I thought it would be one of the best bits of advertising I could have – and it was, the problem was that it bought me to the attention of the public and the authorities as the ‘heir to the Kray twins throne’ and as a ‘hard man’. I had 1000 men working for me, but for this event I took 150 of my best and it was seen as a ‘private army’ and so it appeared that the authorities wanted to close me down. Fame and fortune don’t always go hand in hand, believe me, you can be infamous and skint!
No one is as big as the myth – and certainly not Dave Courtney! Being in charge of a large group of doormen meant that I took the credit and blame for a lot of things that had nothing to do with me. I’m not saying that I’m whiter than white, but I’m also nowhere near as naughty as I’ve read about, some of the things that I’ve read about me means that even I don’t like me!
SR Can it be that they haven’t met you?
DC I don’t know anyone who has met me and talks about me in that way. The fact that I decided to retire and that I haven’t been shot or spent a long time in prison others don’t believe I’ve finished with that lifestyle. My home and phone is still under 24 hour observation and I can understand that, but I’m a writer, a filmmaker and on the celebrity circuit. I’m now trying to stop youngsters from taking up that life – crime doesn’t pay!
SR One of the first things that struck me about you Dave is the fact that you value your friends highly.
DC Yes I do. The moment you stick your head above the parapet in life and say – “here I am” you come in for a lot of stick of all kinds, if someone claims to be my friend they often come in for a lot of stick that they didn’t need to, so I love them even more for that.
SR What kind of involvement have you had in the Martial Arts?
DC In the last 30 years, I have had every kind of martial artist and fighter you can think of work with me, for me and against me. From the football hooligans to the Bruce Lee era to cage fighting, from all the wannabe’s there’s always been the few that really stand out. Many fighters fight with a strong heart or incredible bravery, some see the ‘red mist’ and just go berserk, but there’s always been the martial artists that are well trained, cool, calm strategists with techniques that work – and they are the most scary of all!
I’ve had them work with me and as enemies – and I have to say that I’d much rather have them on my side!
In the beginning it seemed to me that black guys took up martial arts more than white. Boxing taught how to fight one man at 3 minute intervals, but martial arts taught how to fight many assailants at once! In those days whites were by far the majority and blacks were the few suffering discrimination and martial arts were a method for them to defend themselves.
SR You’ve always been seen as a ‘scary man’ though Dave….
DC You know Steve, I may be perceived as a hard fighting man by some, but the scariest thing about Dave Courtney is his telephone book. If you want to be a good martial artist I’m aware of the huge sacrifice you have to make in your life to train properly, not to do drugs, not eat those burgers and fries, not go out for those beers, go to bed early and train every day – it is a huge sacrifice. If you’re prepared to put in the effort, you’ll get the reward. I’m too weak willed to make those sacrifices, but I always had a lot of people who worked for me that did and I’ve always admired their dedication, training and ability.
I’m also aware Steve, that there are those that train physically but don’t put in the time and dedication that you have into the mental and philosophical aspects as well as the physical side of the Art and I understand that’s why you’re still here and respected after 40 years training and at 60 years of age, and can still give me a good kicking if you wanted to.
I ‘m a realist and wouldn’t consider myself a good enough opponent to a highly trained martial artist without weighted gloves, a baseball bat and knuckledusters, luckily, most of those people are on my friends list and that’s why my phone is scarier than me!
SR You’re often seen at Martial Arts events giving out trophies etc….
DC Yeah, I’ve been to a lot I’ve given out trophies to people like Ian Freeman, Mark Epstein and most of the top MMA, Kickboxing and Muay Thai fighters, I’ve also attended many martial arts tournaments, events of different styles and seminars and given talks at their places of training. I’ve done interviews and shows with Mike Tyson, Ricky Hatton and Dolph Lundgren. You name the art or style and I’ve done something for an event for them. I don’t discriminate in any way or think that any way is best.
SR It’s never the art or style, always the individual.
DC Exactly. It’s not the ‘art’ – it’s the ‘heart’!
SR That’s the quote of the day Dave – and going to be the title of this article! In the talks that we’ve had, we’ve found a lot of common ground in our philosophy, mindset and experience strange that two people from the same roots with different paths in life can come to similar conclusions?
DC It’s because of our age and experience and we can both appreciate the foundations of what’s required to live in a ‘proper’ way. If we were both twenty five year olds we’d maybe have differences that we’d probably want to resolve physically. Age and experience has given us wisdom.
Having that age, patience, experience and wisdom and being able to teach it are two entirely different things – and that’s your gift. The work and patience required to be able to do what you do has no obvious glory. If you preach philosophy on the nightclub door you get ‘pussied off’ for it and in my day only violence was respected and acknowledged.
Over the years I’ve had dealings with all the premier ‘hard’ and ‘naughty’ men you can think of, but I’ve never connected with any of them in the way that I’ve connected with you, and that’s because we’ve come from the same roots, taken completely different paths in life yet finished up with remarkably similar views and philosophies, plus you’re the only bloke I know with more weapons hanging on his walls than I have!
SR Which brings us neatly to your new television channel and as a result the work we’re going to do together…..
DC For most people, learning the mental strength and philosophy doesn’t come into it when they first take up Martial Arts. They’re in a rush to get fit and learn how to fight. It’s some time before they realise that if they really want to learn properly they have to study those aspects. Learning the physical movements is only half the Art, often the student has to go backwards to go forwards.
SR Absolutely, they have to learn how to think, sit, stand, breathe and move before they can really know Kung Fu.
DC It’s only now that I’m post fifty years of age that I realise this. If you’d told me this at twenty five I wouldn’t have believed it!
SR At twenty five I don’t think I would have believed it!
DC No – you would have hit me!! (laughs) The security of nightclub life all over the UK has been a major part of my life and I’ve watched the ‘back street culture’ and the methods of fighting change for over thirty years, we’re currently in the process of the changing of another era. The days of the ‘Lenny Mclean’ style ‘stand up straightener’ is past and it’s now more Martial Arts influenced. It used to be how hard and how many punches to the face could you give and take and still stand…
SR When I first learned Karate people used to say “why are you learning that ‘dirty Jap fighting’ and ‘only girls kick in a fight’…. If you had a fight in the school playground the teacher used to take you to the gym and make you both put on the boxing gloves to resolve the problem… Mind you, in the fifties the Teddy Boys started to change the methods of fighting with razor blades…..
DC There’s your ten years on me! I still sing Elvis but I don’t remember him…. (both laugh) The intervention of the authorities in child discipline in my mind is one of the worst things they ever did. Banning the cane and boxing and smacking children has taken the final disciplinary measures away. As much as most people don’t want to hear it, some people need pain to stop them from being naughty, and to stop parents from smacking their children has taken all their authority away.
SR Back to the television channel Dave…..
DC Oh yeah…. There’s a new digibox on the market that gives a lot of new free channels. I realise now that my reputation is influential over the youth of today and I want to use that in a positive way, I want to say to people that I am ashamed of some of the things that I have done but I have also accumulated some wisdom in that I can tell the youth what to do and what not to do and that’s also where I need your wisdom, help and experience. I became famous because of the wrong things in my life and the art of life is dedication to the right things. The art of good management is to use the right people for the right job and I’m not the right person to teach the skills that you have – you are. When it comes to modern forms of combat and self defence in the broadest modern sense they need to learn from Steve Rowe – and I can deliver my street wisdom alongside it.
I want to be genuine in my television channel and if there’s someone like yourself that through your hard work and dedication in those areas can deliver something better than me, then I want you to do it.
SR How is the channel going to work?
DC Advertising will pay the costs for the channel, so we have to produce the viewing figures. I want to appeal to every genre of person that finds Dave Courtney appealing and inspiring. There will be all manner of combat on the channel, including gladiators, boxers, pirates, streetfighters and so on, in a historical context and it will all show how in modern times it’s moved into the Martial Arts era. The next ten years will be very influential in how modern man will learn fighting in the ‘oriental’ way and will also learn the lifestyle and calming influence of Arts like Kung Fu.
Lenny McLean and Roy Shaw didn’t talk about diet and meditation – they just hit you! When I was a kid the hardest man in town was Mick McManus – a fat man in a pair of speedos!
So times really have changed, now it is a total lifestyle of diet, training, meditation and character building, that’s what I want to reflect.
SR What are your plans for the future?
DC I’m afraid my plans for the future mean me leaving the country because as much as I’m an Englishman and love the country very much, I’m afraid the authorities here in England don’t see me as retired and appreciate that I might be of value to them in deterring youngsters from crime. I’m very popular in the States at the moment and as it’s an English speaking country it looks like I’ll have to move over there.
What hurts me is that I have given up my previous life and am in a good position particularly with my celebrity status, to help the authorities deter youngsters from crime, it seems silly that I wouldn’t pass a CRB check, but I’m the one that can talk to youngsters from an experienced background as to why crime and violence doesn’t pay. They won’t listen to someone that has no previous experience in those areas, as it’s them that they are fighting against.
Teaching is incredible, when you see the results that you can have in the development of a young life that feeling is worth its weight in gold. There is not enough money in the world to replace that feeling.
SR You’ve brought some Doorman weaponry with you Dave, can you talk a little bit about that?
DC Weaponry is almost a naughty word when you talk about combat and it is often seen as cheating but in real life you need at least the same level of weaponry as your attacker. The doorman is law enforcement and is on the front line and needs to be prepared. The idea is that it will end the fight quickly. I’m a great advocate of the knuckleduster, I’ve had a variety of weapons used against me from the knife, cosh, extending baton, gas and electric cattle prod and none of them stopped me. Some hurt, and I didn’t even know that I’d been stabbed until after the fight. The gas hurt my eyes but didn’t stop me; the cattle prod shocked me momentarily but didn’t stop me. I’ve also been shot and I’ve got to say, That did hurt!
The only thing that stops you dead in my experience is a good smack in the mouth with a knuckleduster. I’m not pro weapon, but if you have to, do not carry a knife, because it doesn’t end the fight any quicker, what it does is to guarantee you fifteen years in prison. You have to be prepared to do the prison sentence that your choice of weapon carries. Most people carry a knife because they don’t want to use it, they want to frighten an attacker and make them run away. Once drawn, if the attacker continues to attack you have to stab, that normally wont stop them so you continue stabbing until you kill and then you are up for murder. You can’t cry ‘self defence’ if you stabbed your attacker 13 times!
When you’re inside and someone has ‘murderer’ on their door, they’re not usually a naughty person, I know ‘naughty’ when I see it – it’s in the eyes. A naughty man knows a naughty man in the same way that a heroin addict knows another heroin addict, a killer knows another killer and a gay man knows another gay. These were just people that picked up the wrong weapon on the wrong day. If you get into the habit of taking a weapon with you – make sure that you are using the one you are prepared to serve the prison sentence for.
Doorman need to wear a stab proof vest and if anything will carry or use a knuckleduster, weighted gloves or baseball bat, because for the reasons stated above, they need something that will be effective but not kill.
If all else fails, you need a good pair of trainers so that you can run away fast so that you can come back another day – and I’ll readily admit that I’ve done that on a good few occasions that has enabled me to sit here and talk to you today!
SR What about the bible Dave?
DC That comes for the luck, we all need to pray sometimes, even if you’re not religious there will always be the day that you will!
SR Only one problem Dave……
DC What’s that?
SR It’s a Gideon Bible, you must have nicked that from a hotel…….
DC Shhhhhhhhhhhhh…………… trust you to notice that! Stop it! (both laugh)=
SR If you could give one good piece of advice to the readers Dave, what would it be?
DC It’s nice to be important, but more important to be nice….. people will do more for you if they like you than if they are frightened of you.
SR Nice one Dave…