This Interview took place in 2003
Ray Fuller was there at the beginning. He was one of the very first Karateka in England, starting with Vernon Bell in the famous Horseshoe pub in Clerkenwell in 1964 with Mick Randall (now MBE). Ray was there for the founding of the KUGB and in 1975 formed Thames Karate, which is still a member of the English Karate Governing Body today.
Ray has without a doubt led an eventful life. Well known as a spirited Karateka and for his uncompromising attitude to traditional Shotokan Karate, Ray has headed one of the largest groups throughout the major Karate years. Many strong Shotokan leaders today can trace their roots back to Rays instruction.
In the last few years Ray has been stabbed, fallen down the stairs damaging his hip and when in hospital discovered he had bone disease. He has scars measuring over 3 foot in length, has overcome the bone disease, has gone from crutches to sticks and is on the mend. With the death of the great Enoeda Sensei and Jimmy Patterson of Thames recently, at 70 years of age Ray’s instruction is in demand more than ever.
Because Ray is one of the great characters of English Karate, he has some funny and interesting stories to tell. We have had all the historical aspects of Shotokan and Karate in England over the past few fascinating months from some the top English Karate Governing Body Instructors and I hope that you’ve all enjoyed learning about the background to your Art, Ray will now “colour in” that background with some human interest stories….
SR Ray, what were you doing before you started Karate?
RF I was in the Army, in 2 Para. I was in the Suez crisis in the Sudan as part of the Reconnoitre Squad, there were only 8 of us. I was a wireless operator in the desert working as a look out to inform the authorities if the Sudanese and Egyptian Armies joined forces to attack us.
SR How did you get involved in Karate?
RF There was a television programme called “Whickers World” on at the time hosted by Alan Whicker and they featured this strange Japanese art called Karate. I was boxing at the time and was continually getting injured and as these Japanese guys didn’t get hurt, I thought I’d give it a go. I looked around and discovered that a man named Vernon Bell ran the only club in the country. So Mick Randall (featured in the November edition of MAI) and myself paid him a visit, filled in all the appropriate forms, paid our dues and turned up at his club over the Horseshoe Pub in Clerkenwell on a freezing January night in 1964.
The club was called “Yoseikan” which is a place in Japan and not a style. We had Mount Fujiyama as a badge but the style was still Shotokan. We had to watch a couple of times before he would let us join. I think the first few sessions we spent punching the wall! It wasn’t cheap either!
SR Who else was around at that time?
RF Let me see…. It was so long ago…. There was Jimmy Neal, Terry Wingrove, John Chisolm, Eddie Witcher, Mick Peachey, Rob Williams, Brian Harper, Royston Williams and Aurthur Nightingale to name a few.
SR Who were the first Japanese Instructors you trained with?
RF There was Hiroo Mochizuki, but we’d only just started then… and then Tetsuji Murakami the Japanese Instructor who lived in the South of France, he was good!
SR Mick Randall was saying that you used to train together a lot at work…
RF That’s right! We had a great Dojo in the basement of the building that we worked in. I think we spent most of our time training. Then I got the sack because we were training on the roof and a nurse from the hospital opposite saw us training and called the police! It was in all the newspapers… “Karateman Gets The Chop!”
SR When did the Japanese Instructors come over?
RF The others are better on the dates than me, but after Mochizuki and Murakami, Vernon Bell brought over Kanazawa. Eventually Kanazawa got fed up with the structure and left with Mick Randall and myself and we formed what was to become the KUGB. Enoeda came over and then the other Japanese followed – a good book to read for this history is “The Kanazawa Years” by Mick Randall and Clive Layton.
One thing that annoyed me, was one Japanese Instructor who came over as a purple belt; and I used to take the class when the senior Japanese Instructors didn’t turn up (which was quite often). He went to Japan and came back 6 months later as a 3rd Dan! He then wanted to take the class! I politely (Ray Fuller style) told him that wouldn’t happen – and when some of the other students, particularly a very large Polish gentleman threatened him, he decided that perhaps it wasn’t in his best interests!
This Polish guy was great, one day he was performing his kata and disappeared in to the kitchen doing knife hand blocks, he then proceeded smash the kitchen up in his frustration, we heard bangs and crashes as he hit all the pots and pans… and then came out of the kitchen finishing his kata!!! Kanazawa just stood with his mouth open!
SR What was the difference between Enoeda and Kanizawa?
RF Enoeda was strong, but Kanazawa was clever! I remember once at Chiswick, John Chilsolm, who worked at Elstree studios had invited some film stars down for a visit and Kanazawa and Enoeda put on a demonstration…. It was classic! Enoeda performed Jitte and Kanazawa Gojushiho Dai, they then broke some wood and had some comedy photographs taken with peter Sellers. Enoeda has now unfortunately passed away and Kanazawa has aged, I went to see him recently at a course run by Roger Carpenter and he remembered me as the “Kumite man”! We had made arrangements to see Enoeda, but unfortunately he passed away before we could get the chance…..
SR Did you ever meet Nakayama?
RF Yes I did and was lucky to have had some private instruction from him at Crystal Palace. He was an old man by that time – and one thing I didn’t like, was there were about 6 Japanese Instructors behind him poking fun and laughing at him, I thought that was very disrespectful. Sensei Nakayama also awarded me a special certificate and silver tie pin for my services to Karate.
SR Who was your favourite Japanese Instructor?
RF It has to be Yoshikazu Sumi, he had a great spirit and a real sense of humour!
SR You have some great stories about some of the Japanese Instructors in the early days, that I feel puts the personal touch to them, but not everyone may feel this way so I’m going to extract their names and personal references but tell the stories…..
RF As you wish Steve. We had a club at the Budokwai in Fulham and all the instructors used to call me “Lay” because they couldn’t pronounce the “R”, one day one instructor said “Lay… me hungry”, so we went to an Italian restaurant. It was packed, but some people had just vacated a table so we went over to it. The instructor called over a waiter and said “Please clean table” The waiter said “If you want a clean table, clean it yourself!” The instructor did no more than whip the tablecloth straight off the table and everything that was on it went crashing on to the floor! The Italians chased us off with knives and god knows what!
I can remember being in France and pushing the same guy around drunk in a wheelbarrow… when a cameraman tried to take his picture on the Eiffel Tower (he hated having his picture taken) he hit him and then threw the camera off the top of the tower! He was arrested in the end on the return journey because he refused to do his seatbelt up claiming that he was a Kamikaze pilot! We had to bail him out of Richmond police station!
SR He does sound like a funny guy….
RF One day he decided to tie a bicycle inner tube to a door handle as a training device for punching, as he stretched it to it’s limit, we watched it gradually slip off the handle and BANG! It hit him in the ear knocking him down to the floor! I had to run into the toilets to laugh…. He’d have killed me if he’d caught me! I could hear him saying “who laugh?”
One of the funniest occasions was between this instructor and another that had just arrived in the country.. We were having a drink after training he asked the new arrival “have you come over for the Derby?” The new arrival said “no…” and he said “Oh…. It’s just that you look like a horse!” The new arrival threw a roundhouse kick straight into his head!
SR How did you get to form Thames Karate?
RF The KUGB were just too expensive! As all our clubs were around the Thames area so it was an obvious name; we formed the group in 1975.
SR What are your plans now?
RF I’m lucky in the fact that I don’t have to do Karate for money, I’ve worked all my life and have a good pension. I couldn’t live on the old age pension. I worked on building sites as a foreman painter, which is another reason I had to learn Karate, I had to look after myself – you get some stroppy people on building sites sometimes.
SR Have you ever trained in any other Martial Arts or styles of Karate?
RF No – only Shotokan all the way through. It’s not the style or Art but the person.
SR Do you think that Karate has changed over the years?
RF Shotokan hasn’t changed at all – I started 42 years ago and it’s remained unchanged. I trained with the Russian Squad just before their revolution – and they practised their Shotokan exactly the same as us! Wherever you go it’s the same, so the Japanese must have done a good job spreading it worldwide.
SR How do you see your future?
RF As you can see I’ve been through a hard time over the last few years. But I feel lucky. The stabbing was bad, falling down was bad, but if that had not happened, I would be dead from cancer now. My legs are improving; I’ve been stitched up, had chemotherapy, lost some hair from it, it then turned grey, but it is now growing back thick and dark. My good students are still with me and I’m happy to be still here and training.
Thames was a founder member of the English Karate Governing Body and will stay with it. We may not be big on sport, but we intend to make sure that we get heavily involved in the Coaching, CRB disclosure, Child Protection Policies and make sure that Thames stays where it’s always been, right at the front!
SR Thank you Ray.
RF Thank you Steve.