Doug James Interview 2003


This interview was conducted in April 2003

I have known Doug for around 20 yrs from the days we were both in TERA Karate Kai and shared some lessons with the late Toru Takamizawa.

It has been a pleasure to watch the quiet and dedicated Doug grow from strength to strength.  He is a prime example of how dedication to the Art of Karate coupled with resolve can positively affect your life and that of those around you.

From the small beginnings at Middlesbrough Budokan Karate Club in 1967, Doug has risen to be a World Class Referee and Kata Judge, Chief Instructor and Founder of an Association with 600 students, Director of an influential Martial Arts Video company, Director of the English Karate Governing Body and author and “star” of the most prolificly sold “definitive” Wado Ryu video tapes.

It was my pleasure to conduct this interview and “catch up” with an old friend.

SR  Can you tell the readers a bit about your background before you started studying the Martial Arts?

DJ  I was born in West Hartlepool on Teesside in 1946 and in my early teens played rugby for the local club youth team.  On leaving school I worked as an apprentice engineer and then moved into the drawing office and trained as a draughtsman in Middlesbrough and this is where I met my wife Rita in 1966.

SR  When, where and how did you become interested in the Martial Arts?

DJ  On leaving school, I joined a local Judo club and enjoyed the training for about a year, but stopped  when it got in the way of Rugby training and night school.

When I was about 17, I watched a Karate demonstration in Hartlepool given by Walter Seaton who was starting a club in the town,  I was very impressed but didn’t take it up due to my other commitments at the time.

SR  When, where and at what club, in what style did you first start training?

DJ  When I was aged 20yrs and working in Middlesbrough, a fellow draughtsman told me about the Karate club he attended and invited me along to a session.  It was at the Budokan Karate club within the BKA, practising  Wado Ryu, it was situated in a very old area of town above a small garage.  My first impression on seeing the facilities was – what have I let myself into? However, after  my first class I was hooked.

SR  Who was your first Instructor?

DJ  Fred Kidd, he was in his late 40’s at the time and was as tough as they come. He had received his 1stDan from Tatsuo Suzuki along with Bryan Crossley and also others from the Budokan, such as Walter Seaton, Trevor Overfield and John Sparkes. I did not appreciate it then, but I had joined a club with a lot of pedigree. Fred was from the old school of survivors, boxing in his early teens, then army boxing, then coaching after which he took up Judo and Karate.  He was a big influence on me.  My wife Rita and I called to see him three years ago, just before his passing, when he was in his early 80’s and his health was starting to wane.  We spent hours talking over old times and looking through photos and scrap books.  He even had a list of grading results from a 1968 local newspaper, which had my name listed as passing my 6th Kyu.  He gave me a copy of a 1967 group photo picturing me as a white belt and I could still put a few names to faces, two of which are still very active in Karate now – Cliff Richmond in who’s still in the North East and John Gittus who emigrated to Australia .

SR  What was training like then?

DJ  Everyone who is asked this question and trained in the late 60’s will say it was hard – well I can tell you  it WAS.  The Japanese influence was still in our training, we did basics, basics and basics, assisted stretching techniques that are now regarded as very unsafe, sparring without padding, we constantly picked up cut lips, bleeding noses, etc..  Many a day at work I cautiously walked around nursing bruised and often cracked ribs.  We knew no different of course, so got on with it and oddly, thoroughly enjoyed it (the participation, not the pain).

SR  Why did you choose the style that you did?

DJ  I didn’t choose it, it just happened to be the style taught at the club.  There wasn’t the choice in those days.  Wado was the style in the North-East, except for Sunderland where the KUGB had a club, although Colin Edwards later started Shukokai with Tommy Morris and pioneered it in the North East.

SR  Have you trained in any other styles?

DJ  Yes, with Tommy Morris, he came to the club on numerous occasions to do general weapons and Shukokai courses .  He was very impressive, dynamic with powerful punches, he was the first full time Instructor I had met, I liked his professionalism, he inspired  me to have the confidence to eventually teach full time.

SR  Have you trained in other Arts?

DJ  I dabbled in Aikido on a few courses and as I mentioned earlier had trained in Judo, but for me Karate was the Art that encompassed everything I needed from a Martial Art – technique that worked, speed, agility, power, together with self control and confidence.

SR  How did you come to train with the late Toru Takamizawa ?

DJ  After I had moved with my family (we now had two sons) to Carlisle to work from Teesside in 1974, I had started my own clubs and after two years built up a group of clubs that enabled me to teach full time in 1976.  Although within the BKA, I had no Sensei as such, and I had met Toru at the BKA North East Championships late 76, so I rang him up and asked if I could go to his Dojo in Birmingham to train with him, we later joined Tera Karate Kai with around 300 students.

SR  I remember we shared a few “private lessons” with him in those days.  How did you find his different “style” of teaching ?

DJ   His style suited me perfectly. I had trained on courses with Peter Spanton in the Budokan days and still travelled to London for the occasional private sessions, but I could relate to Toru easier. His stature helped, as I was slightly taller than him as opposed to Peter who towered over me, I don’t mean in a menacing or overpowering way, but I could identify more with Toru.  In the early days all I wanted to do was spar and enter kumite competitions, I started to enjoy Kata training under Toru’s guidance, because I understood it better, I started competing and was rewarded for my efforts ,winning the Tera Nationals in both Wado and Open categories in 1980.

SR   What did you feel about his rejoining the Japanese hierarchy?

DJ   In 1982 we formed our own Association, The British Karate-Do Chojinkai and therefore was no longer involved with Toru, so I can’t really comment.

SR  How did you feel at his early passing ?

DJ   I knew he had been ill, we had spoken on the phone sometime before, but when I think back it was probably a year or so before his passing and I found it hard to believe when I was told. I drove to his funeral and back in one day, (around 800 miles) and then taught a Karate class that evening. Toru was an Instructor who had influenced me greatly and I shall always credit him with that.

SR  Why did you get involved with VMA?

DJ  VMA, which stands for “Video Martial Arts” started in 1988 after I had made my first Wado Ryu video in 86 and the Vic Charles video in 87, with a local video producer called Tim Eyrl.  Tim and I came up with an idea of producing a “martial arts magazine on video” and so we formed a company to do this and 15 years on have developed “VMA International” into a major producer and distributor of specialist programmes with over 120 titles and still growing.

Our Website is working very well, increasing our trade ( and we are now developing the major titles onto DVD.

We have recently re-structured, Tim and myself have moved away from the day to day operations, Stuart Eyrl who has been running the office part time,  has now taken over the retail side through our new sister company ”VMA Distribution“.  Tim is still involved with selective production projects within VMA International, with myself working in an advisory role.

SR   Why did you decide to make the Wado Ryu videos?

DJ   I decided to put  “on record” my grading syllabus for my own students and then the idea developed into a full detailed programme which was titled “Beginner to Black Belt”. It has sold extremely well all over the world for 15 years, and last year at the age of 56 I re-recorded it all again, bringing every detail up to date, demonstrating all the basic and combination techniques, Katas with Bunkai, and  pre-arranged sparring techniques myself.  This time it is over three volumes, six hours in total and going by recent sales figures this is also going to be very popular.

SR   Are you surprised that many people use them as the “definitive” version?

DJ  No, not at all.  I have spoken with Club Instructors and even Association Heads who have told me they first learnt Kata like Nai-hanchi or Kushanku originally from my first video many years ago.  My version of Wado Ryu – “Chojinkai” is my development and interpretation of what I have learned over the years.  It is up to the students to use this as a guide, pick out what they want, check with their instructor the Associations preferred way of performance and then it will have achieved its aim.  It is a nice feeling and it makes me proud to know that it has helped many people.

SR   How did you get into Refereeing?

DJ   Initially within Tera Karate Kai stimulated by Toru; and then with Barry Tatlow when he took over the refereeing/coaching role.  In 1982 when I had formed Chojinkai as an Association, I joined the Governing Body coaching programme under Brian Smith and qualified as an England official in 1983.

SR  How difficult have you found the path to World Class Refereeing?

DJ  Quite a slow process, I gained my European Judge qualification in 1986  and Referee in 1989. Around this time Terry Pottage took over the helm and I gained my World Judge in 1992 and then Referee in 1998.  That is a span of 15 years hence the “slow process” comment.  At that time there was a set time limit between qualifications so one could gain experience, however it has been very enjoyable and as long as I keep enjoying it I will continue.

SR  How did you get involved in the politics of Karate?

DJ   Reluctantly initially, I had been asked over many years by Association Heads and Referee colleagues to stand for the EKGB Executive and eventually decided to do so in 2002 as I felt I could offer a balance of opinion on the Committee.  It is now a Board of Directors as the EKGB is a Company Limited by Guarantee, however I do not see myself as a politician, rather a Manager of EKGB affairs.  When I address an issue, I will not be swayed by other ideas I think are not genuine.  I suppose that is the referee in me, striving for the correct judgement and being fair.

SR  What do you think of the progress of the EKGB?

DJ  We are moving along very well, each Director has a particular role or responsibility, mine is Refereeing and therefore I work closely with Terry Pottage.  Along with Abdu Shaher and Peter Allen we are spearheading the new Regional Structure that I honestly think will benefit everyone down to the grass roots membership of Karate, which is much needed.

SR  How do you envisage the future of English Karate generally?

DJ  Very optimistic.  We have a Board of Directors many of whom are new to the role, they are pursuing new and old ideas with enthusiasm, commitment and have the will to succeed.  “The future is bright – the future is the EKGB.”

SR  How do you see your future?

DJ  Semi-retirement – My working time is divided over three areas, my Karate clubs and Association, VMA and the EKGB Board .  With regard to Chojinkai, my role is that of  President and Chief Instructor and that will continue until I drop. The Senior Instructors at my clubs are now more involved in the day to day running, so I am aiming for more leisure time, particularly with my family.    Regarding VMA I have covered this in my comments on the re-structuring and with the EKGB, a lot depends on my re-election as it is a yearly appointment, but I would like to see the new Regional Structure along with other projects come to fruition before I leave the Board.  This year is the 30th Anniversary of my first club starting in Carlisle and therefore the start of Chojinkai as it is now, a strong group with around 600 members and a dedicated team of Senior Instructors. We have many special events planned throughout the year both training and social – which I am quite looking forward to getting involved with.

SR  I hope you have a good year Doug, thanks for the interview.

DJ  Thanks Steve.

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