Interview With Sue King (7th Dan Shihan) UKBF Regional Officer for the Liverpool City Region. Sue is one of the senior female Jujutsu teachers in the country and an ordained Buddhist.
What is your earliest memory of the martial arts?
Like most growing up in the 70’s and 80’s I was exposed to the ‘Martial Arts Boom’ that had occurred and it seemed to be everywhere!
I recall the martial art shops in the Chinatown area of Liverpool when I was very young, although it would be several years until I began my journey, it always fascinated me. It amazes me how widespread the martial arts are today.
What inspired you to take up martial arts?
I suppose you would say I wasn’t inspired to take up martial arts, it something I fell in to, I was bullied in secondary school due to my skin graphs and scars as well as my home life with it being different to other children. At the age of 15 my friends invited me to attend a self-defence class in The Ellergreen Comprehensive in Norris Green Liverpool, this is where I met my first teacher and my Ju-Jitsu journey began.
Who was your first martial arts teacher?
My first teacher was Professor Kenny Blundell, head coach at Lowlands Ju-Jitsu Academy. This dojo was steeped in history and looking back it was a little intimidating with its blood-stained tatami, weapons hung on the walls and an unusual Kamidana style shrine at the head of the dojo.
Blundell Sensei had such confidence and could command a room full of students, his technique seemed effortless, this really intrigued me and I suppose this was the start of me being hooked on Ju-Jitsu
What are some of the martial arts you have studied, and who did you train under?
After many years training Ju-jitsu, I always felt that that something was missing in my training, I began to study Yang style Tai chi with Sifu Lee in Liverpool which led me to studying Aikido with William Johnson Sensei form the Aiki Shin Tanren Aikido School but it didn’t feel like enough so I was still searching and I honestly didn’t know what for.
It was during this time I attended ‘Fighters and Fitness’ gym, now known as Kaobon were I studied Muay Thai with head coach Colin Heron as well as attending regular MMA sessions, I loved learning and was eager to train in as much as I could.
From there I was fortunate enough to meet a student of Sun style Tai Chi, Paul Evans also meeting Mike Sanchez who taught me Kamot Mindano Escrima and went on to become a very good friend. I never gave up on Ju-Jitsu, just felt that I wanted to make my style more complete. Later on in my career I began to train western boxing before I was fortunate to bump in to Mike Rowan Hanshi in 2017 who offered to mentor me and guide me with personal development.
Who have been some of your heroes and influences in martial arts?
Soke Kevin Pell of Isshin Ryu Ju Jitsu was one of my earliest influences in Martial arts and has become a good friend and mentor to this day. I recall watching the Isshin Ryu students on the tv program ‘You Bet’ and I wanted to know more about Soke Pell and his students, I have followed their school for decades.
Kenny Blundell Sensei was also a strong influence, I recall once he told me I was a jack of all trades and a master of none, that strangely enough become my biggest drive all throughout my Ju Jitsu training, I suppose he set me on the road to constantly learning to find “my style “to this day I don’t think he knows how much he influenced me.
As a senior graded female martial artist do you feel you have a responsibility as a role model for young women?
I had never really thought about that until last year as I was preparing for my Nanadan (7th Dan) examination.With my training partner I had to adapt and change technique due to height and weight difference, but then I don’t see it as gender discrimination, when we are on the tatami, we are all just students, we adapt, change & overcome, we can all learn and support each other, more than anything I just want people to understand that they can triumph over adversity, like I have, for me it doesn’t come in to gender.
When did you start teaching, how and why?
I first started teaching at purple belt when I was at Croxteth (Liverpool) Dojo under the guidance of the senior black belts. I found out this is something I enjoyed and wanted to become more involved in, once I became Shodan I taught regular classes at Croxteth and later taught in various schools throughout Liverpool for Eric Marshall Sensei, founder of Bugei Ki Ryu.
In 2011 I opened my own full time Dojo thanks to an inheritance from my father, from there I ran regular sessions on a daily basis.
I feel have always wanted to give something back to the community as martial arts has given me so much through the years and I believe children just need to be given the opportunity and time to learn and grow.
Liverpool has always been a centre for martial arts in the UK, what are the good things about teaching in the area?
I would say that Liverpool has vast wealth of knowledge for martial arts and I am fortunate that I know most serious martial artists in the city, so we tend to recommend each other for various systems, no egos or none That I have come across. Brothers & sisters in Budo
Have you competed? If so in what types of contests?
I have competed in sport Ju-Jitsu from 1993-2002, through the organisation I was with and BJJA (British Ju Jitsu Association).
I also prepared for an MMA fight in 2009 whilst training at Kaoobon. Sadly, I could not get matched up which was disappointing as I would have loved to test my skills in this environment, apparently, I had a fierce reputation!
Have other things influenced your martial arts?
I worked for a local security company for fifteen years as a door supervisor (bouncer), this really opened my mind to the realism of training and importance of pressure testing your techniques.
I have been fortunate enough to have good influences in my Ju-Jitsu that pushed me to the best of my ability, I was always ‘little Sue, the kid from Crocky’, especially now with adding boxing to my repertoire and training on a daily basis with one of my Uchi-Deshi who gives no quarter and constantly makes me up my game and develop my style further.
When did you become interested in Buddhism, and how has it influenced you, to what degree have you studied it?
I first became interested in Buddhism in 2008, I was fortunate to meet one of the Stone Water Zen Monks who invited me to attend their zazen meeting.
At the time it was more about taking time out to meditate after a busy day but I fell in love with the form & ritual, I could see all the similarities in my martial arts training, so I delved more in to the practice and spiritual journey.
I became ordained in 2014 as I felt it would deepen my practice and make me show up to my life and its responsibilities. I now serve those in my community and sphere with pastoral advice or a general good ear if they wish someone to talk too, operating a ‘Community Hub’ within my Dojo along with private meditation sessions for those who need it.
I also personally mediate with my senior Yudansha, Zen is a massive element to our school, ‘Muga, Mushin’, which translates to ‘No Self, No Mind’ this becomes applicable in all elements of life, both in combat and personal development outside the Dojo, I feel its important for those Yudansha who wish to teach this style to have an understanding of this.
What is your teaching philosophy? What kind of a teacher are you?
This is a difficult question as throughout my years of teaching I’ve found many different methods and many different approaches depending on the person. I guess I would say I’m fairly laid back in my approach, I personally don’t feel its appropriate to teach through fear like it’s been done in the past.
My students respect me for my ability and my honesty, I always like to lead from the front and I would not expect any of my students to do something I’m unwilling to, this I feel builds a bond between them and I, I have students who I’ve taught when they where infants who still train and have become good friends, as well as constantly reminding me of my age!
I have a strong Yudansha, we’re small but I like that, we don’t have many black belts, but they are committed and assist me with teaching and various Dojo matters.
From a philosophical point of view, I want to see the best in people, I recognise everyone who walks through the doors of my Dojo have different skills, different abilities and most important, different goals, my philosophy is to teach to fit them, they are the future, they are who I will pass my skills and style through, its important to nurture all as well as being able to recognise those who are that bit special, those who I cans see ‘going the distance’ so to speak. As I said, we are a small club/association, but we train hard and we constantly develop, I suppose you could say I see my students as extended family, we have ups and downs but we are all there for one another, that to me is far more important that belts, titles and all the money a massive organisation can bring, I am also the godmother of one of my senior Yudansha’s daughter who I have no doubt will be joining me on the tatami as a new generation once she comes of age!
What are your ambitions in martial arts?
I have generally never had ambitions as such, I remember as a kyu grade I wanted to achieve my Shodan, and it just went on from there. I feel it’s very important for a martial artist to continually develop, so in that sense I guess my ambitions and goals would always change. Lately however, things have become crazy! I was presented the honorific title of Shihan by Soke Kevin Pell, this I would never have imagined would have happened, and I had absolutely no idea! I was arranged by my Yudansha and awarded by Soke Pell at his 30th anniversary event where myself and two of my Yudansha where invited as guests, it was a fantastic evening, highly emotional and one I’ll likely never forget.
I also never envisioned grading to 7th Dan, this was something that come about completely out the blue. I had been working hard developing the school and syllabus with one of my senior Yudansha, at times training up to five hours on the mat, several times per week!
This caught the attention of my good friend and one of the three UKBF directors, Mark Wood Kyoshi, he suggested that the effort I was putting into my development and the development of my school could count towards my 7th Dan, I agreed on the bases that I would perform a full matt examination, I felt that through his recent development Its become highly important to be able to show my Jujitsu under pressure and only by facing challenged outside of our comfort zone do we grow, Wood Kyoshi agreed and then that become my goal or ambition to work to.
I have recently found another lease of love and life in Jujitsu, taking my study further and further, not only on the matt but investing in study outside of the dojo, this has developed me so much and I’m proud of this, many would feel they cannot be developed at a senior grade, this could not be more wrong! I will continue to train as long as my body will allow, to be the best I can be and inspire others on my journey, knowing that sometimes I fall but I will always continue forward and try to lead from the front.
What made you join UKBF and what do you like about it?
I first met the directors of UKBF in January 2019 whilst attending a seminar in Manchester. I liked their personal approach and honesty, they stood for strong budo values which is something I hold dear and we teach at our school and they where keen to promote good old fashioned martial arts, this appealed to me.
Since then, I have attended their seminars with my students martial and have forged strong links and become good friends with many within the UKBF.
In January 2020 I graciously accepted the role of Liverpool Regional Representative for the UKBF Ju-Jitsu division.
I am truly honoured to be considered for this position and look forward to working to promote Ju-Jitsu alongside the division dead, Director Mark Wood Kyoshi.
Anything else you’d like to talk about
I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for the interview, I have strayed away from this type of thing in the past, however I feel it is becoming important to share my views and assist where I can with the promotion of Traditional Ju Jitsu in the UK. I look forward to a prosperous future with the UKBF, forging links and sharing knowledge with all members whoever they may be.