Monday, August 08, 2016



Second home, alone, Sunday morning, June long weekend 2015. The usual suspects either away or sick. Fortress of Solitude

Yesterday morning, Sunday 7th August, 2016, was my last training session at Rick Spain's Red Boat Wing Chun Academy, at 431 Elizabeth Street, Surry Hills. Sunday Jiu Jitsu.

Entrance to 431

joined the Academy in July 1989, while it was in smaller premises at 342 Elizabeth St. A couple of blocks away, if that. 

Crew at 342. I am in there, up the back somewhere

I can't remember exactly when the move was, but “a couple or a few years after I joined” sounds about right. In any case, the Academy has been at 431 Elizabeth for around twenty-five years. That's a L-O-N-G time.


Trying to grab that kicking leg once too often, getting footswept and knocked out back in the polished wooden floorboard days. HARD polished wooden floorboards. Waking up with no short term memory, asking everyone “What day is it?”. Eventually remembered everything up to the point of the actual match, but nothing thereafter until I woke up. Concussed and spaced out, Ivan Lynch proved himself a saint that night by driving me home. Otherwise I would have been a significant risk to myself and others. Quite an interesting experience, but one I don't want to repeat and definitely don't recommend.

Getting weird looks at work when I came in with a succession of black eyes, about once every two weeks over a six month period. A guy in another department told me he thought I'd been out at pubs every night getting into fights – it WAS that sort of workplace, you had to drink so as NOT to want to harm others or yourself. Nah. I don't need to look for fights, I've got friends to beat me up. My boss thought that if she got me too riled up I'd snap and kill her or something. I thought the same about her - that was one scary woman.

I had some significant issues in the beginning with flexibility and back pain, especially with kicking. If I had a hard kicking workout, I'd have back pain for days, sometimes to the extent I needed a walking stick to get around (maybe I'm getting close to that again at 61 ;) ).

I went to chiropractors literally for decades without much improvement. FINALLY got some permanent results from a really good physio – three months with him and I was basically cured.

Some would tell me that the therapy allowed me to succeed at martial arts, but more for me it was martial arts and Sifu's unwillingness to accept my poor kicking form that gave me the will to work through literally fifteen years of frustration and eventually come out the other end, not as Bill “Superfoot” Wallace reincarnated, but at least as a competent kicker who'd get one in to the head in sparring every now and then.

Like Sifu says, those who reach gold belt have all faced their own challenges, but all have found a way.

Martial arts literally helped me through a vital physical transformation. Not one an observer would notice, but from inside looking out, the change was huge.

Shakespeare Hotel, c. 2000. Cool story, bro!

Dave Bennett's gold sash grading. There wasn't a full contingent of gold and red sashes/belts like there are now. I was the ranking junior present, and it became obvious I would be fighting Dave for most of his rounds. As he and I faced off for prearranged defences against various attacks I could just about hear the gears going around in his head … hey, I'm going to have to fight Andrew in a few minutes … every body shot, kick and punch, he threw in those defences hit me with as much force as he could get away with without dropping me. And then we fought. Did I blame him? Hell no. I would have done exactly the same if our roles were reversed.

Twenty-four hour discipline camps, which sound like something that goes on at private clubs in Kings Cross. Start on a Friday night, stay overnight sleeping on the floor (no mats back then), finish Saturday afternoon. We went through a lot of training topics. Remember one time Sifu was taking us through a relaxation routine, meridian stretching, we've just sat down cross legged and closed our eyes while Sifu starts his guided meditation ... someone breaks wind at the perfect time. I'm sniggering while trying to relax for the next five minutes. Immature? Guilty as charged.

My level ten / gold sash grading. I slightly messed up Advanced Sil Lim Tao (there were two SLT's back in the Pleistocene era) but otherwise it went pretty well. Even pulled out a sweet seventh dummy set leg sweep, or osotogari, against young Jim Hanzaras in my last sparring round. I never thought I'd make it to gold even six months before. I spent all the next week going into the spare bedroom and looking at my certificate on the wall. Another guy who got level ten before me told me he did the same thing. My certificate was signed by Grandmaster William Cheung. And then …

Gold Sash certificate

I arrive at the school in a state of blissful, smiling beatitude one afternoon in 1996. Climb the stairs, through the door. I sense some tension and bemusement in the ether. Sifu had recently had his ankle operation and was getting around on crutches. GM Cheung had been running a seminar earlier during the afternoon, but things rapidly deteriorated into general acrimony, followed by GM Cheung leaving the academy, never to return. Two minutes before I arrived, literally. Sifu went after him, asking me as the ranking student present to take the class as he left, on crutches. So yes, boys and girls, yours truly took the first EVER class for the still nascent Wing Chun Kung Fu Organisation; Chief Instructor: Sigung Rick Spain.

A random keyboard warrior  on those internet forums I warn you about (and ignore my own advice) managed to Chinese Whisper this into Sifu having challenged GM Cheung, and the Grandmaster having broken Sifu's leg in the ensuing battle. JMFC. FFS. SMH. WTF.

Getting in before class to practice the Dragon Pole. Quite a number of repetitions of the form, in bits and sequentially. Just before class was due to start, I decide on one final run through, full power. I sweep full tilt through the bon dao / big overhead circle and take out a fluorescent tube, shattered glass and powder go everywhere. Of course, I was barefoot. Everybody gasps, then laughs. Some buds and I rush around with broom, dustpan and brush and newspaper to clean up before class start time, clock's ticking! We finish, line up, bow on, Sifu laughs and gets me to take the warm up.

Yes, I took up Kung Fu so I could hang out with extremely hot women in large groups. Shakespeare Hotel around the turn of the century

Training camps, mainly at Telford in the Royal National Park. Long run at dawn on the Saturday morning, along the fire trails. Once I missed a turnoff and went several K's too far.

Remember a guy went AWOL for reasons best known to himself, and Deb Peart, myself and a couple of others jumped in my car to look for him. Found him down at Audley Weir, bundled him into the car with one person on each side in the back seat like he was an apprehended suspect.

Woke up in the middle of the night for a comfort stop to find the camp building surrounded by grazing deer. Woke up again the next morning to watch a family of ducks, Mum, Dad and five little ducklings picking over the grass, not a care in the world. Unless another duck got too close in which case the ducklings would all try to hide under Mum while Dad ferociously charged the interloper, head low, like a tiny bulldozer.

A couple of those camps I got migraines due to dehydration and had to hide in a dark room in the afternoons, but they were still awesome. Watched Team America - World Police one night - Zac Higgs managed to walk out and miss the entire sex scene. 

Enjoyed the trip to Coffs or whereever it was as well. Sorry I can't remember, age , memory ...

All the gold belt gradings. Jon Church, Maurice, Dino, Steve Reddaway and Frances were standouts. Hit the best far armbar from kneeride I've ever hit on Juliano, I think, at his grading. Michael Pap got it on video!

Sparring group, Juliano's grading. Deb, Julius, Steve, Sam, Sifu, John, Juliano, Nick, Mike, Rosey, Jim, myself

Had fun hitting people with low ankle shoots, including during chi sao one time. Audie moving in on people like a tank. I was just recovering from having $10,000 worth of dental implants put in when I'm wrangling Dilshan, while he was being graded to gold, clinching him under the arms to stop him careering into the audience, just as policeman Pat tries to hit him with a hook, but misses him and hits me square in the implants while my hands are tied up with Dilshan. AAAH! $10,000! No damage, financial or otherwise, luckily. I said a silent prayer.

c. 2000

Seeing and learning the front stance forms for the first time. Realising that the forms aren't religious texts, but frameworks you can experiment and play with. Like finding a third dimension after living your life on Flatland.

My first level master grading. Even with all the Jiu Jitsu stuff I've been through, by far the hardest grading ever. Forms, empty hand and with butterfly swords. Dummy tech. Weapons sparring, knives versus pole, with cricket helmet and gloves, pads everywhere they'll fit, a few shots still get through on the hands and hurt like ****. A LONG session of “chi sao” which consists of being punched, kicked and otherwise battered for what seemed like half an hour. I finish that “chi sao” with two black eyes, a liver shot or two, a bruise on one side of my ribs of Sifu's wrestling boot in which the ripples on the sole are clearly visible, on the other side a bruise on the shape of a palm so perfectly formed that the thumb and three fingers are clearly visible in discoloured flesh. Dim Mak, baby!

Sorry if this is a bit hard on the retinas. Note double black eyes (not fully formed yet), copious chest trauma and hand print bruise on left ribs. And can of Lynx - classy even under duress.

Then it was probably ten rounds of sparring with gold sash opponents – Nick Sid tried to armbar me on the hard floor, I escaped that but then he got me in a footlock. I was completely wrecked and unable to stand up afterwards. Half an hour later, I'm drinking beer with the people that just beat me up and feeling pretty badass.

Dave Bennett, Nick Sid, Sam Brownhill, Sifu Rick Spain,Vadim Ozieranski, bruised and battered self, Steve Reddaway. Late 1998 or early 1999

My third, fourth and seventh master levels were pretty satisfying as well. And, oh, those belts! Complex and colourful! Must have been a challenge and a half for the makers.

Red belt pic from the noticeboard

In business clothes, running into the delightful and gorgeous Guro Brand coming out of the Devonshire Street tunnel one day, and having her say to me in a loud, Scandinavian-accented voice, “Andrew! But I'm used to seeing you … without clothes!” Male jaws hit the floor for a radius of about five metres. Jealousy, fear, or a bit of both?

Starting Jiu Jitsu with John Will. I'm a student for life, resting on your laurels is way overrated. I was a Wing Chun instructor, but a new white belt in Jiu Jitsu in 1998. John really impressed me, as did Jiu Jitsu.

Started coming in to the Academy at 7 am with George Palermo, Lin and Eva to roll around like idiots before work. No idea what we were doing but didn't care, having too much fun.

Fun seminar with JJ Machado at North Sydney PCYC, with Elvis Sinosic as a blue belt, Anthony Lange as a purple belt, several now black belts I know who were then white belts, and Carlos Newton wearing a white belt but already a grappling and MMA jedi, late 1998 or early 1999.

John Will seminar group early 2016

Going to Lange's MMA, or as it was then called, Northside Martial Arts, in April 2004, with Sifu for me to demonstrate some Jiu Jitsu techniques for Anthony Lange, then have the two of them beat me up alternately for eight rounds. After which, Anthony presented me with a blue belt. I've been fortunate enough to have Anthony grade me through purple to black belt also. A teacher and friend I would not have met had it not been for Sifu and 431 Elizabeth.

Rick Spain, George Palermo, Michael Padgett, Anthony Lange and myself. Probably late 2004.

The Tasmania trip with Sifu et al last year. Really impressed to see what an amazing facility Stuart and Tracey have built in Ulverstone, with some amazingly talented students, and real depth and commitment in the school. Really enjoyed rolling with those guys and showing them some techniques. Just shows you can develop world class martial arts and an insanely great academy anywhere. Not that Ulverstone is just anywhere – it is a pretty town with a diverse and interesting population. And our trip up to the Gnomon with Stuart was quite wonderful.

Ulverstone academy. Plastic bag contains not trash, but my training gear. Minimalism.

I was awarded “Student of the Year” in 1995 and “Most Inspiring 2015” in … um … 2015. Grateful and humbled.

Upper left corner, peeps

And a couple more

The walls at 431 Elizabeth have absorbed the sweat of generations. It will take a while for the spiritual ectoplasm of the hundreds of hard training souls over a generation to dissipate. My sweat has mingled with those of hundreds of like minded souls, and the odour of my sweat after training with that of the many that have used the men's changeroom.

There is a smell in here that will outlast religion

It has been a haven. When I was between contracts I'd often do a lunchtime Jiu Jitsu class, stay at the kwoon and do some software development in the afternoon, and wait for the evening class to arrive. It's always been a peaceful place for me, despite the furious and violent activity that takes place there regularly. A perfect place functionally – the stairs are hard to drag equipment up and down (like we'll be doing next weekend), but great for bear crawling up backwards. The building's a bit basic and grungy, perhaps, I remember pigeons coming in through the open windows looking for nesting sites, but I like a place with a bit of character as opposed to the slick but soulless gyms with steel, glass and mirrored walls. It feels like a place you could live in, which is what a number of people have done over twenty odd years, starting with Dino.

Getting huge air at 25th Anniversary Open Day

I've owned three residences, but never felt the need after I moved to revisit. After my mother died, I spent lot of time at her house in Longueville and took long walks around the suburb re-exploring childhood haunts, which was bittersweet ... though way more sweet than bitter. But after the place got bulldozed and rebuilt, there was not a lot of point looking back.

Will I miss 431 Elizabeth St. Yeah, I probably will. But the Oversoul of the academy is in its members; and the members are moving.

Oversoul, Alex Grey

Thanks to: Sifu Rick Spain, Amy Spain, Stuart Clayton, Tracey Clayton, Maurice Llewellyn, Rick Marrandino, Alf and Rachel del-Brocco, Rod Smart, Steve Reddaway, Vadim Ozerianski, 

The speech without end, Crowne Plaza, Coogee, maybe 2000?

Dave Bennett, Nick Sidoropoulos, Rich Frost, Nancy Woo, Sam Brownhill, Frances, Renee and Charlie Straumetis, Karen Vegar, Deb Peart, Giordana Cocco, Lin Donevska, Eva Sklavos, George Palermo, 

Rigan Machado seminar at SPMA, 2004

Amalia, John Kopasaki, the Lolesis, Geoff and Jackie Costello, Audie Peonidis, Michael Banks, Marlon Lambert, Juliano Fares, Nick Ariel, David Taylor-Smith, Glenn Taylor-Smith, Koz Choukori (sp?), Joe 90 Edgington, John Cha, Walid, Mayur, Jim Hanzaras, March D'Altilia, Henry Cho,

You guessed it, Shakespeare Hotel. 2012?

Barwin Yee, Matt Klein, Russell de Lacey, Peter Koulesz (sp?), Becky Bowcock, Libby, Marco Clerici, Pete McKay, David Rose, Julius, Simone Lai, Duncan McNally, Adam Washbourne, Ethan Kemp, David Stevens, Jodie and Yovanka, David Hillston, Matthew Brennan, Tass Elliott, Evan Elliott, Nick and Damien Hudson, Geordie Oakes, Dilshan Rain, Leonard Kent, Brent Duggan, Danielle Gregory, Chris Hoy, Ivan Lynch, Kamahl, Yuki, Anna Sordo, BJ Olsen,

Last Sunday Jiu Jitsu at 431, August 2016

James Gordon, Skye Nevin, Ange Baker, Will Geertsma, Jamie Craig, Carlos and Carla Cassano, Annette O'Farrell, Steve Kuo, Raph Revello, Graham Levy, Rob Bottkos, Ronnie Rowley, Stu Sutcliffe, Ian Drabble, Danny Nader, Felicia Mapossa, Mikey Archeur, Rhiannon Thompson, Peter Farquarson, Brice Lis, Michael Padgett, Reze Bertram, Phil Strickland, Zac Higgs, Robbie Dean, Benni Ben, Terje and Guro. Louis, Laurie Beaudaire, Sam Lightfoot, Taliesen Hollywood, Spud, Pat, Graeme Regan, Wilson Lo, Andy Cohen, Oliver Nunn, Everyone else I forgot, if I left you out tell me and I'll put you in, sorry in advance.

And … to absent friends. Jon, Barbara, Leeroy. RIP.

See you in Redfern! The best is yet to come! It's going to ROCK, mofos!

The shape of things to come - Redfern Kwoon