THE FIRST OF MANY
By Niall Connolly
Karate, to Tommy Jordan, is more than a ritualistic pot pourri of physical exercise combined with ludicrously complex self-defence techniques and beautifully balletic Kate or form movements. It is a highly effective means of developing both mental discipline and pragmatic self-protection capabilities.
Karate originated as a method of self-defence and, I believe, it should be taught as such,''he says. A lot of students are lulled into a false sense of security simply because they are training in karate club. The realities of street confrontation are often ignored.
Karate is also, he stresses, a route to self-discipline and control. Uncontrolled anger is the enemy of the martial artist.
Tommy Jordan, the tall, slim (almost thin) chief instructor of the Irish Karate Association, does not conform to the archetypal image of the martial arts practitioner as visualized by the civilian world. By profession a dental technician, he applies a rich mix of practical experience and sound philosophy to this most abuse of the martial arts. And, believe me, the detractors far exceed the advocates when it comes to karate.
He began his long and illustrious karate career under the tutelage of John McSweeney in 1962.Mcsweeney had just arrived in Ireland to study for a degree in Economic Geography at Trinity College, Dublin, and had immediately set about creating and launching the Irish Karate Association. Tommy Jordan, who had daddled tentatively at Judo, became a very early and very enthusiastic student of Kenpo style, which McSweeney taught.
I suppose you could say I was a bit fanatical,'' he offers, as he recounts those long, strenuous training sessions.
I used to knock off work at six o'clock in the evening and I began training as soon as I could get to the club at Fitzwilliam Street, the club didn't actually open up until seven o'clock, but John gave me a key so that I could spend an hour training on my own. I trained five nights every week and on Saturday afternoons.
I can see why he believes he may have been 'a bit fanatical.'as his training progressed and his knowledge and understanding of this art developed, he began to realise that his height/weight ratio (very tall, very light) would have to be utilised in a manner that would cancel, or, at least, minimize the advantage which a stronger, heavier opponent might enjoy.
This he achieved though a systematic training regime, which taught him to ''use every ounce of body-weight when punching. He augmented this carefully planned facility by developing remarkable kicking abilities. In fact, his emphasis on kicking reached such porortions that John McSweeney was obliged to call him aside during a training session and advise him against such overdevelopment of one aspect of his fighting ability.
I used to block punches with my feet and counter with kicking combinations.'' He grins wistfully as he recalls those early days when Irish Karate was in its infancy.''McSweeney said I was like a Savate fighter.
Did he ever consider taking up weight lifting with a view to padding out his spare frame? Yes, I seriously considered taking up weight traning to increase my body weight and bulk, but I decided against this for fear of losing the speed and flexibility I had already developed with my punches and kicks.
Did he supplement his basic training with any form of special regime, which might have yielded a plus factor in area of free fighting?' '' I built up my knuckles by pounding on plywood over a long period to build up the bones rather than concentrating on adding welts to my hands.''He is careful to emphasize that this form of training requires expert tuition and should not be practiced by unsupervised enthusiasts. Tommy Jordan is a cautious, methodical man.
In 1963 Tommy and John McSweeney were invited to demonstrate karate on the Late Late Show.with a series of self-defence and breaking techniques, they awakened the nation to the existence of this almost mythical martial art. The reaction to this demonstration was, to say the least, phenomenal. Karate in Ireland was born.
Although he never (as is generally the case with genuine adherents of karate or with those who actually understand the deep-rooted and time-honored philosophies on which it is based) laid undue stress on the importance of grades, he was award his 1st Dan black belt in April, 1965. While a degree of ambiguity surrounds this segment of karate history, it is almost certain that Tommy Jordan became the first native karate black belt in Ireland albeit by minutes!
When McSweeney returned to the United States in 1965, Tommy continued to teach at the Fitzwilliam Street headquarters of the Irish Karate Association. His fellow-instructors were Maurice Mahon, John Conway and Jim Rice.During this period, one of their students Ronnie Gurey left Ireland to live in Swindon and was eventually responsible (if that is the relevant term) for introducing Kenpo Karate to England.
In 1966, hardly a quantum leap from their modest, unpretentious origins, the Irish Karate Association sent a team to compete in the United States.When one hears that the legendary Tae Kwon-Do instructor, Jhoon Rhee, refereed some of those contests one is forced to admit that the rather tenuous element of continuity has been maintained by the developed hand and foot pads for use in full-contract competition (although he initially intended the equipment to used in non-combat training situations).
On their return from North America, the Irish Karate Association applied for, and received, recognition and grant aid from the Government. This fact mayhelp dispel the legend that karate never enjoyed State subsidy. The IKA were, they hoped on their way; karate was receiving the recognition it so richly deserved!
With a Wado-ryu group in Belfast and a Shotokan body in Dublin, the Irish Karate Association formed an umbrella organization called the All-Ireland Karate Federation (AIKF). Under the auspices of this new governing authority, Ireland's first karate competitions were held in Moran's Hotel, Dublin.
On the subject of competition, Jordan says: ''the only way, at present, to promote karate is through competition. However, it isn't a great spectator sport and I can't see it becoming one. The majority of spectators at karate competitions are practitioners themselves. Unfortunately, the AIKF didn't last long: Tatsuo Suzuki wouldn't recognise any of the students in Northern Ireland if they belonged to the AIKF,'' Jordan says with a note of regret.
In 1968 the Irish Karate Association applied for membership of the European Karate Union (EKU). When they were admitted to membership, they made application to the emerging World Union of Karate Organizations (WUKO) and were privileged to become signatories to the formation of the authority.
Jordan continued with his karate career. He opened clubs in Dun Laoghaire, Co. Dublin, and at Blessington Street and he extended his teaching to members of the armed forces at Dublin's McKee barracks. No doubt the might Rangers can trace the roots of their unarmed combat systems back to those embrionic days.
On the unification of karate styles in Ireland, a subject that is close to his heart, he says: ''I believe that Official National Amateur Karate Association of Ireland (ONAKAI) was the best effort made to unite the martial arts in Ireland. He believes that the abstruse obstacles and impediments of ONAKAI, coupled with a lack of commitment on the part of the Sports Council, were responsible for the apparent failure of that body to achieve its aims. Given that commitment and given more goodwill and enthusiasm, he feels that ONAKAI would have eventually incorporated most karate styles in this country. Unfortunately, I don't believe the same of the recently formed Irish National Karate Association (INKA). Only time will tell.
In his forthright way, Tommy Jordan says that he believes the emergence of Bruce Lee, and the cult following that this film star created, did more harm than good to karate. Black belts sprang up everywhere that gained the respect of their students through fear rather than through teaching experience and example. This resulted in a lowering of the karate standards, which had existed prior to the Bruce Lee era. A legend bites the dust!
When it comes to his own philosophy on modern karate he says: ''I believe students should be taught to use weapons which can be utilised easily and efficiently such as, palm-heel, back-knuckle, finger-thrust, half-fist and elbows. There is too much emphasis on the use of the reverse punch it takes months to develop the reverse punch to the point where it can be used effectively. Students should be encouraged to practice these strikes when sparring because in a 'real' situation these are the most useful weapons. His professional calling (dental technician) comes to the fore: ''A lot of instructors, as well as students, are not aware of how important it is to wear a mouth guard. This device helps to protect against fracture of the mandible or damage to teeth and facial tissue.
The correct thickness of protective material between the teeth will absorb the shock of a punch or kick. And, by the way, it should never be possible to knock a properly constructed guard from the mouth. He gives practical expression to this advice by molding and manufacturing precisely fitting mouth guards for his students. Jordan is a pragmatist.
He has some harsh words for those who lay too mush stress on bowing: ''You can show respect for the instructor, club and fellow students without bowing like Noddy every time you enter or leave the area. (Different horses for different courses).
He continues to teach, he insists, the style, which McSweeney originally introduced to Ireland. When Ed Parker decided to make alterations to the Kenpo system, Jordan refused to make such a transition and continued to improve and streamline the older style. He is even more traditionalist when it comes to the thorny subject of grading. I have been told that some grades are awarded like pope giving his blessing to the crowd in St.Peter's Square. In the IKA a first brown belt grading would involve six forms (Kata), 180 techniques on each side and six three-minute fights. Jordan drives his students as relentlessly as he drives himself.
One of the highlights of Tommy Jordan's colorful and successful martial arts career came two years ago when his student arranged a celebration to commemorate his 21 years involvement with Kenpo karate. It was the biggest surprise of my life, '' says the man who has provided his own share of surprises in his time. It is difficult to synopsis the achievements of Tommy Jordan, but if anything can adequatey describe the man it would be: He is a traditional man defending an honorable tradition. We wish him luck!