Wayne Bridge: Full Circle

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Blitz Magazine, Vol.29, No.3 March 2015

The mark of a great instructor is one who can present complex ideas simply. In doing so, the breadth of Wayne Bridge’s experience prompts him to quote Bruce Lee.

“There’s that famous quote,” says Bridge, ‘Before I studied the art, a punch to me was just a punch, a kick was just a kick. After I learned the art, a punch was no longer a punch, a kick no longer a kick. Now that I’ve understood the art, a punch is just a punch and a kick is just a kick.”

Bridge is a karateka whose forty years of experience have given him a profound understanding of his style, Goju Ryu Karate.

“I understand it because I’ve done the full circle.”

That circle has involved forays into martial arts as diverse as kung fu, boxing, kickboxing and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

“It comes down to your expression,” he says. “We’re operating on parallel lines to dancers. You can do classical, or freestyle. Classical binds you up to explore; freestyle is your own perception and own way of movement. Martial arts give a classical grounding; after black belt, that’s when life begins. That’s when you [have achieved] your basics. Then, you start exploring your own way of doing things.”

Bridge embarked on his own road in his early teens.

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“I started training when I was thirteen years old,” he says. “I had four [older] brothers; I followed those guys. They dropped out, but I kept going. It was always Goju. I started with Con Hardas in 1970.”

Perhaps one of the things that made Wayne such a capable karate instructor is that he asked all the hard questions any young karateka does, especially in regard to some aspects of training being less exciting than others.

“At twenty-five, kata is boring. Now, I can see that, one, it’s practice when there’s no one around, and two, it’s about your head-space. Visualization is important; it makes it far more effective. [Kata training] reinforces reason for moving. You must understand the reason for moving. If you apply visualization to that, it becomes far more interesting.”

Wayne took a step unusual amongst martial artists in Australia during the seventies – he chose to travel to Japan to get his black belt.

“It probably wasn’t that different to what it would have been here [in Australia],” he said. “Just basics, basics and more basics, and then some kumite.”

The big difference was that the grading was supervised by Gonnohyoue Yamamoto.

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“So-shihan Yamamoto is my master; he’s the head of the I.K.O. (International Karate Organizaton). He has always been the guy I’ve answered to. I stayed with his sister’s family when I was over there training full time in 1976.”

Wayne’s recollections of Yamamoto are warm.

“He’s a lovely guy; a funny guy. He’s seventy-seven now. For his age, he’s still got it. He is a tough guy. He started training because he wanted to learn to fight. He is [fundamentally] a fighter. When he was a student, he was sparring everyone from third to sixth dan, every day of the week.”

Wayne’s enthusiasm for old-school training remains intact.

“It was a bloodbath back then [in Japan]. No mouth-guards. Apparently, some students would [come to class,] see he was teaching and go home! If we had that approach today, we’d only have one or two students. Society is becoming softer. Not like it used to be.”

Wayne trained in Japan for a total of six months.

“I came back after that; I wanted to see what real contact was like.”

Mick Spinks, kickboxing, kung fu and all-around warrior comes to the telephone straight from his rehab in the swimming pool.

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“I’ve just had a hip replacement, says Spinks casually. “There’s no pain. I’ve just been kicking in the pool. I should be back to jiu jitsu in twelve weeks. I only got my black belt last year; it’s annoying. It should take six weeks to heal, and then six weeks to get strong again. Then I’ll evaluate. I’m sensible.”

“Wayne and I have been beating the shit out of each other since 1977,” he says. “We’ve been good mates since then. We had the common factor of coming from a karate background. I came from Goshin Ryu. I got my karate black belt and thought, ‘There had to be more.”

Wayne was working as a gym operator around this time and got talking with Mick one day, after watching him hitting the bag. In addition to being a karate instructor himself, Mick’s journey had led him to train with kung fu master and protean Australian kickboxing trainer, Chan Cheuk Fai.

“Wayne asked me to spar Peter [MacGuire] for his black belt. After that, Wayne had a look at Sifu Chan. He found it interesting. We were always progressive; [we were] looking for the journey, to be as good as we could be.”

“It [kung fu] was very close to high-end Goju,” says Wayne. “More circular. There was some similarity between kata.”

Mick and Wayne soon began full-contact fighting as part of their kung fu training.

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“They put boxing gloves on us in comps,” says Mick, “Which made us think we should learn to box. It made us realize how hard those blokes trained. We were fit, but not fight-fit.”

Wayne and Mick began boxing training with former professional boxer, Jim Withers.

“We trained in boxing and fitness with Jim for five years,” says Bridge. “If I wanted to do kickboxing, I needed to get fit like a boxer. It was a lot of boxing training and sprint work. [Jim] was one tough cookie.”

The boxing experiment was a successful one, opening further avenues along Wayne’s martial road.

“After that, kickboxing became a priority. I had some local kickboxing fights, and fought in Hong Kong with Cheuk Fai’s camp. Mick fought; so did Cheuk. This was in the early eighties. On a raised platform; there was no ring. The rules were similar to Thai boxing. I fought the Malay champ. I did okay; I won the gold medal for the middleweight division.”

Bridge sustained his interest in kickboxing until it was overtaken by Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

“I discovered jiu jitsu around [the year] 2000. Originally, Mick Spinks bought John Will up for seminars. I enjoyed it. I grapple as much as possible when I get the chance when I’m not working.”

Spinks remembers Bridge as a jiu-jitsu training partner in terms of his outstanding athleticism.

“[Wayne] was a hard man; a ‘robust character’. I bought John Will up [to Sydney] and we did training with him. Wayne had a really strong grip. He had thick fingers and big forearms. If he held onto ya, he held onto ya.”

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“I’ve probably known Wayne since 1976,” says Peter MacGuire, Bridge’s long-time friend, former student and current business-partner. “I was sixteen. My father bought a leasehold of a pub near Botany Bay around the end of 1972. I moved there that year; I’d just turned thirteen. I met Wayne a couple of years later, he was three years older than me at school.”

Even as a teenager, Bridge’s reputation as an athlete preceeded him.

“I rode motorbikes; Wayne was a very good moto-cross rider. I knew him from there.”

Another common theme was Bruce Lee.

“I started training in the mid-seventies with a few other people, because of the Bruce Lee boom. I never really enjoyed it; the classes were too crowded. It was hard to see a good example. Those schools were money-making machines.

“I started training with Wayne in 1978. Here was a guy who had done it for seven or eight years, but had spent six months living in Japan. At that time, that was unheard of. Yamamoto said Wayne was the youngest [live-in student] ever.”

Bridge distinguished himself from other instructors immediately.

“His knowledge was far-superior to others,” says Peter. “He should have been graded – then – to 3rd dan. [He was] very well-versed in traditional basics [and an] incredibly fit athlete.”

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The breadth of Wayne’s knowledge remains tempered by the notion of simplicity.

“I do take students to other areas,” he says, “but it’s still got to come from a place of getting the basics right. You have to work at the level of their thinking. [As an instructor, you] can’t show too much. Any technique I show, I show in terms of what can come from it. It’s like opening the door to a house. You show [students] everything that stems from it.

“I don’t see a lot of difference between the different martial arts,” Bridge continues. “The big difference is in how you teach it, how you put it together and how you implement it. You have to be strategic about that. Fundamentally, it all comes down to how you train.”

The notions of ‘how’ and ‘why’ are integral to Bridge’s approach, subjects he broaches with each student during their initial inquiry.

“I ask them about previous experience; what brings them in, what their motivation is. Then I explain what it is we do, and give them a free class to check it out. People come for different reasons. The theory is that I show you stuff that works.”

Practical effectiveness is something that has permeated his training, courtesy of So-shihan Yamamoto. It is not simply the basis of technical instruction, but the basis of the classes themselves.

“I noticed that when we were doing classes originally, a lot of the time was taken up with fitness and flexibility work. It was forty-five minutes before we could start technique. Now, we get them fit and flexible outside of class. That way, classes are more like a seminar.”

From that point, the progression is simple.

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“Get the basics in line, get the movement right, get the dynamics right, and then get into close-range stuff, like submissions, and so on.”

As with most ‘modern’ arts, kumite is the place where a student’s style coheres. Bridge’s metaphor relating to dancers resurfaces.

“You find your expression through freestyle sparring class. [As an instructor, my job is to] keep Goju technical and traditional. Yamamoto wasn’t just a stylist; he was a fighter. And I like that. It’s got to be effective and efficient. Con [Hardas] and Yamamoto were both like that.”

While it’s best to keep training ‘old-school’, the level of intensity in terms of contact is different in a modern context. How hard is ‘hard’ depends a lot on the students themselves.

“It depends on who we’re teaching. If it’s too tough too quickly, you won’t keep them. You have to temper [students] over time. Initially we don’t do a lot, but we’re working toward that stuff. Start with the basics, slowly increase the contact, then make it realistic. Sometimes we have a freestyle class and I mix kickboxing in. We use it to get skills and basics up.”

While this is true, the ultimate expression of a martial art is in its capacity as a self-defense tool. Bridge has tested his knowledge through fifteen years experience of working in the security industry.

“Whatever karate you do,” he says, “We’ve all got knees, elbows, and four limbs. It comes back to the situation. You rely on your reflexes; your mindset. You get people who are technical, but aren’t fighters. Under pressure, they’ll melt. A positive mental state is the way to make it happen.”

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Developing that positive mental state is a codified process.

“We think about it in terms of zones. Yellow is eye contact and conversation. Orange means you’re getting ready to switch on. Red is when you’re in it. At that point, you focus on programming your outer boundaries, based on [the assailant’s] reach.”

That actual willingness to fight is a more difficult skill to train, however.

“Some people will never will have that animal side of them. Krav Maga is a great self- defense art, but if you can’t be an animal to save yourself, you’re better off lying down.”

When asked if that ‘animal’ can be coached, Bridge’s answer is brief but enigmatic.

“I could bring it out, but it’s not very nice. It takes a while to get that. Some people you can’t teach, while others have it naturally.”

Wayne has now spent over forty years on his martial path, and in that time, he has succeeded in keeping his body in excellent condition.

“Another thing you learn as you go along is that if you don’t manage and rehabilitate correctly, you end up a wreck. I’ve done the right thing, and I’m ok. Except for old age. I’m a little stiffer; I don’t bounce as easy! When you’re young, it’s all about technique and fitness. As you get older, you have to work more on stretching and keeping the body mobile.”

This too, comes back to Bridge’s underlying principle.

“I’m fifty-seven. Efficient movement and effective movement is still a way of life. It’s all about putting your own sparkle to it.”

“Goju was the basis of my beginning,” he continues. “When I return from my adventures, I have a better understanding of what I started with; much more than if I’d just stayed on the one track. That said, you can do whatever, but you still have to have the basics.”

As the man said: a punch is just a punch, and a kick is just a kick.

“Do you mind if I thank a couple of people?” asked Wayne. “I have to thank Gonnohyoue Yamamoto, Mick Spinks, Jim Withers, Chan Cheuk Fai and Peter McGuire not only for their knowledge and experience, but more importantly, their friendship.

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