John The Greek and the Wigan Bouncer
by Raymond Wylie
I have practiced martial arts for many years and have tried everything that was available to me, from Tai Chi to Bando. During this time I have inevitably met highly skilled technicians with specialised skills. I am a great fan of the book “secret fighting arts of the world” by John.f.gilbey were he details the experts that he knew. This is what I shall attempt to do also.
Some of the masters, for I shall call them that, defy classification. Their method and approach is just so singular and different to anything that is practiced elsewhere.
One man that I recollect was the Wigan Bouncer. He used to regularly attend a Goju-Ryu club of which I was a member. He was employed of an evening, in a rough nightclub in the northern town of Wigan. A tremendous fighter, he commanded the respect of everyone in the club although he had never won, or even competed in a tournament and had not even started Karate until he was 28 years of age, then, approaching 40, he was awesome.
He was a heavily built man with a huge barrel chest and hands like shovels; the interesting thing about his method of fighting was that he hardly ever threw a punch.
The only punches that he used were the hammer fist or the one knuckle punch the rest of the time he would use open hand strikes, his favorite was the ridge hand, I once asked him why, and he then proceeded to demonstrate for me by hitting a heavy bag and sending it bouncing to the ceiling. The ridge hand had focus, he explained.
He always trained with his best friend, a bodybuilder, and together before and after the class, they would work on techniques using boxers hook and jab pads or, more often than not trying the moves out on each other. They were always light, gentle even, but they knew exactly what they were trying to accomplish and would spend ages refining or experimenting with different moves. Then after a few weeks the moves would appear in their punch pad routines or disappear entirely. There was nothing in his routine that could ever be described as flashy; everything was simple in conception and practise. A palm heel to the solar plexus followed by a ridge hand to the neck or side of the head then a vicious elbow jab, and a foot sweep to finish. These were the type of moves that he thrived on, he had numerous combinations of two or three open hand strikes followed by an elbow strike or head butt, then finished with a simple trip or foot sweep.
Continuous sparring with karate men of all grades and styles also refined his technique. The club at that time had a kick boxing section, and the kick boxers, like the rest of us afforded him tremendous respect for his skills and abilities. Here he learned how to combat the weakness of his style. He could not move anywhere nearly as fluidly or as quickly as the kickboxers, and did not try to, but his hands made continuous circling moves horizontally and vertically these he would punctuate with quick grabs and pulls to control overpower or throw his opponent. He would push and pull his opponents guard away in a very aggressive and intimidating manner, all the while lumbering around like a huge hungry bear, and throwing his fearsome open handed strikes, or low level kicks to ankles and knees, the groin he saved for fast slapping attacks.
One cold November in the Pub, after training, I asked him how he had come to develop such a distinctive fighting style. It was like nothing I have ever seen before, he replied that he had been a municipal bus driver and of a night he had to sometimes deal with drunken men getting on to his bus, very often they were alcoholics and he told me that sometimes they would head butt the steel door rail when they got on, they were so lost to their addiction. He knew that a punch would never work on these unfortunate souls, but he assured me that his method had never failed.
The Sensei at that club had a passion for knives and was an enthusiastic collector of samurai swords
This rubbed off on many of the members, and one of the Sensei’s friends would come down and sell knives. There were all sorts of collectible blades unheard of in England at that time, Gerbers, Randalls etc. The Wigan Bouncer proved as individualistic as ever, in his choice of knives by purchasing two German Paratrooper’s knives. Thick sturdy bladed, and with deep green handles and scabbards. He would hold them in the ice pick grip and use them in much the same way as he spared, although he only ever shadow boxed with them.
He afforded me the greatest respect one day, by stealing one of my moves and incorporating it into his repertoire. The move was a variation on a low cross kick. One night during sparring practise he threw me a sly wink as he proceeded to use the kick on some unfortunate kick boxer.
John the Greek
Was an entirely different kettle of fish. I trained with him some years later and in a different club. The club practised hapkido and one of the instructor’s friends was a high grade in another Goju Ryu club, he used to come down to train with us, eventually he persuaded some of his contemporaries to train also. On a Saturday morning there would be a whole group of people from different styles and systems all training together.
This was how I met John, for convenience everybody called him John the Greek, nobody could pronounce his surname ( it had lots of “ous” in it) and for another he was extremely Greek. Small, swarthy, and with a large black moustache.
Ordinarily, I would not mention John in the same sentence as the ” Wigan Bouncer”
I trained with John for over a year and he was never very good, he could not punch powerfully, or kick hard or spar well. He was a very pleasant person and well liked.
The club closed and a few years afterward I bumped into one of the Goju guys that I used to train with on the Saturday morning. In the local hostelry, over a few pints of best mild, we talked and reminisced over the good old days and some of the people we had known. John’s name came up and I said that he had not been very talented, to which my companion almost choked on his beer. He related this story to me.
John and his wife operated a Social Security Hotel; all the clients were receiving some form of state benefit, though this proved a lucrative concern, it was not without its hazards. John had taken up Karate so that he could deal with some of the more troublesome clientele. Many of his patrons would go out drinking and return late, after the hotel had shut its doors. Trouble would ensue when they tried to gain access and they would become abusive and violent. I raised my eyebrows at this, how could John a small untalented karateka deal with this? My friend then related that John had one good technique, which he could do lightening fast. He would hold his hands up to cover his face when the fight started, protecting himself as best as he could, letting the blows rain into his arms rather like a boxer, then, when his attacker paused or there was a lull, or opening, he would spin around very quickly and elbow the man either on the chin or the side of the head. He could deliver this blow from either side and lighting fast. My companion said that very often an ambulance would need to be called and they would take his opponent off on a stretcher. What works on the street, sometimes cannot be used in the dojo. That is one; last ditch technique, to keep in your toolbox.
Some years later while training at my Gym, I tried to punch a heavy leather punch bag. It was so hard that I nearly broke my hand, I remembered John and set to with elbow strikes, and had it swinging like a hammock in a gale. I noticed that when you use a circular elbow strike if you miss your target but keep turning then you will automatically come into the correct distance for a perfect back elbow.