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Martial Arts, Writing

Morne Swanepoel – JKD Unlimited – Background Interview

Combat – What was your first experience of the martial arts?

MS –    I started training when I was 4 years old. My Father enrolled me into an Amateur Wrestling gym and Karate School.

So twice a week I would go train some Wrestling and twice a week some Karate. Was great to start at such a young age as by 6 years old I was starting to find some direction in my training    

Combat – Why did you start the martial arts?

MS –   Thankfully my Father thought it would be a good idea. And just like most little boys being strong and improving on your ‘play fighting’ was always a top priority.

Combat – What has inspired you to keep training all this time?

MS –    My inspiration is what I get out of it. TO be in control of my body and mind. To be in great shape and reaping the benefits of a healthy body and mind.

It has also become my full time profession and being a professional in what I do I have to keep focussed and constantly improve. 

Combat – Do you feel that instructors should encourage their students to exceed the skill level of the instructor?

MS – Yes. We are all individuals and we should be able to express ourselves freely and not be limited by style, structure or instructors.

I always encourage my students to be their best and if that means being better than me then that is good with me. I see myself as a coach to ensure that my students achieve their unlimited best. 

Combat – Should students be encouraged to look at other styles and at what level would you do this?

MS – Yes and no. It all depends on ones goal in training, which will also change every so often. For example if ones is interested in learning how to defend oneself effectively in a street confrontation then you should expose yourself to all the various ranges a street fight may occur i.e. Stand Up, Clinch, Ground and weapons. This will require drawing from several styles. On the other hand if your interest is to study the essence and system of Shotokan Karate then an in-depth study of the style is required and exposing yourself to SIalt training is not going to assist you in your cause. Students should be able to experience and study other styles whenever they feel they need.

The danger is that students might study so many styles that they land p not being able to apply or understand anything. SO determine your goal and make sure you take your limited time and prioritise your actions.

Combat – What styles have you looked at outside of your core style and why?

MS – Here are a couple of styles I have been exposed to:

  • Goju Karate
  • JKA Karate
  • Funakoshi Karate
  • Kick Boxing
  • Freestyle Wrestling
  • Tai Chi
  • Yuishinkai Kobojutsu
  • Koryu Uchinadi

As a youngster my main aim was competing. The Karate and Wrestling gave me a lot of competition time. As one grows older the focus tends to change and that is where I started exploring more the Traditional Karate & Kobudo systems and Tai Chi. My main aim in training was and is realistic Street Self Defence. I found the traditional systems did not address these points and found myself stuck in structure and rituals. For that reason I am glad I experienced Performance Orientated Jeet Kune Do which draws from various styles and encourages me to freely express myself in all the ranges of combat.

I still train Tai Chi which helps me with my focus and relaxation.

Combat – Mixed Martial Arts have come to the fore recently do you think they are evolution or devolution?

MS –    Mixed Martial Arts is here to stay like it or not. When a non MMA looks at a NHB match etc. they would think it is devolution as it seems to be the closest thing to Caveman fighting there is. Being involved in the MMA circles for more than 10 years now you won’t believe the amount of evolution that has taken place in such a short space of time. From more scientific improved training methods to more refined techniques. The Late Bruce Lee was the one who sparked this great mindset of constant improvement/evolution of the combat athlete.

Combat – What do you feel makes YOUR art unique?

MS –    JKD is a concept of total improvement of the individual. It’s all about performance and freedom expression. Working in all the ranges i.e. Stand Up, Clinch, Ground and Weapons drawing from a variety of styles and training methods. Testing the techniques against a resisting un-cooperative partner and doing away with tradition, hierarchy and rituals. 

Combat – Based on my own experience classes learn a given applications, do it a couple of times, and then move on to something else. Do you think that there is room in present dojos/dojangs to incorporate grappling as taught in the kata/patterns into the curriculum proper?

MS –    Unless the Instructor has a good foundation and understanding of grappling no. Grappling/Ground fighting more than any other range requires a lot of movement, timing and aliveness training i.e. working against an opponent fighting back. So incorporating grappling as a Kata Form for me won’t work.

Combat – There are going to be a lot of defensive martial artists out there who will not like your approach to your style, they might even decry it. What would you say to them?

MS –      Depending on their goals.

If your goal is to be a complete fighter then there is a certain direction you need to take your training in.

If your goal is to study the style or culture or History then there is a certain direction you need to take your training in.

For me my goal is to be functional & effective in all the ranges of combat for realistic Street Self Defence. Well then there is only one way. If you want to learn how to fight ensure you are fighting against someone who is actually fighting back in all the ranges.

Combat – Your style is very practical. What about the claims that pressure points are at the heart of karate, judo etc, bunkai. Does your style cover pressure points?

MS –     Again speaking out of experience training against resisting opponents and even more so in a street confrontation the chances are very slim for these techniques to work. Primarily we would always want to go for the choke as this will work against a resisting opponent and those under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

I do coach basic pressure points but make a strong emphasis not to depend on them. Again the Cage Fighting matches are great opportunities for the pressure point Masters to prove their abilities…..nothing so far.

Combat – There is a lot of judo in karate bunkai. Would you recommend that students also study judo to get a better understanding of their art?

MS –      Speaking from a performance background Judo is a great art that everyone can learn from. If there are a lot of Judo techniques in Karate Bunkai then the best way to understand it more is then obviously to train against a judoka. This means sparring trying to apply the techniques against a resisting opponent, which will help one understand the techniques much more. 

Combat – What is your favourite technique/pattern?

MS –    Training in all the ranges and being free from patterns I would rather say my favourite ranges are Clinch & Ground. My most favourite technique, the ones that work 🙂

Combat – What is your greatest personal achievement to date?

MS –   Being endorsed by my Coach and mentor, Burton Richardson, as one of the world’s leading MMA Street Fighting Coaches in the world today.

Combat – What is your current fight record?

MS – Not actively competing anymore

Combat – Do you feel you learn more when you win or lose?

MS –     Always good to go up against someone who is better than you which usually leads to losing. This way you will always learn from your mistakes and push yourself harder. On the competitive scene it is obviously important to win as well to keep the motivation and the mind focussed.

Combat – What is your opinion on the standard of judging on today’s circuit

MS – Depending on the type of Tournament and style etc. For example I find it unfair for judges to score participants at a all styles Karate Tournament (especially forms) if they have no background on the style 

Combat – Who do you most look up to/want to emulate?

MS –   There are a few people here. First of all the people I look mostly up to are my parents and my main coach, Burton Richardson.

Then there are several great fighters and coaches who I find inspirational and who influences my training etc. i.e. Frank Shamrock, Rickson Gracie, Baret Yoshida, Randy Couture etc.

Combat – Should children (for argument’s sake, under-16s) be awarded black belts?

MS –    No as I feel the maturity level is not where it should be to understand and take the responsibility.

When I was a little boy I looked up at a black belt as somebody who is a leader, a person I could trust and even more somebody that will whip anyone’s but. Giving a 12 year old kid black belt doest comply with the above.

Combat – Do mixed classes (adult and under-16s) discourage some people from starting?

MS –     I would think so as the training methods and techniques should be different for under 16’s and adults.

The Structure of the classes will be different as well where the youngsters will be exposed to a lot of game playing where as the adults will be able to focus and concentrate longer.

Combat – Do you think that Grappling/MMA are institutionally sexist due to the very nature of the training?

MS –      Initially I think ladies are aware of the nature of grappling etc. I think the worst thing a lady can do is to just train against lades unless it is just for sport etc. For realistic street Self Defence one needs to understand that you need to mix it up with techniques, training methods and partners

Combat – What do you consider to be the core aspect of your martial art?

MS – Functional & Realism. The understanding of aliveness which entails timing, motion and resistance. Constant evolution to ensure progress and improvement.

Combat – Do you consider conditioning to be a vital part of your training?

MS –     Conditioning is about 80% of our training. For the street and for NHB matches that will be your best weapon, your conditioning.

Combat – How do you condition yourself?

MS –      Lots and lots of sparring in all the ranges. I supplement my conditioning then with a mixture of exercises such as: Swimming, Cycling, Hill sprints, Sprinting, Stepping, Lifting Weights, Isometric and plyometrics etc.

Combat – TCM or WM?

MS – Combination of both. I feel we need to give our bodies a chance to try and ‘cure’ itself before running to the doctors.

The last resort will be antibiotics which thank goodness I have not taken for about 10 years now.

Combat – Are pressure points valid or do you consider them to be ineffective/pointless/so full of mysticism that you don’t bother.

MS –      I enjoy studying pressure points but will not make them one of my strongest points for realistic Street Self Defence.

Combat – What is your definition of a practical martial art?

MS – I think I have painted the picture several times with some of the previous questions.

  • Something that works under resistance i.e. opponents fighting back.
  • Something that works for all kinds of attackers/fighters.
  • Something that one can start applying in short space of time and not when you reach your 10th Dan level.


For me it comes down to two quotes;

  1. If you want to learn how to fight ensure you training fighting against someone who is fighting back’
  2. ‘ Knowledge is not power, the ability to apply your knowledge is true power’


Combat – What Dan grade do you presently hold?

MS –      I have been graded up to a 4th Dan Level and been offered a 5th Dan for payment. That’s when I saw the light and realised performance arts are the answer.

Combat – At what level do you think Dan grades should stop?

MS –       I am not really interested in Dan levels, I should think that working up to 10th Dan should be the ultimate.

Combat – Thank you for your time Morne.

MS – A pleasure and I look forward to coming to England again to teach.

About mattsylvester

Father of two beautiful daughters and married to the beautiful Karen, Matthew has been reading and writing fantasy and science fiction since he first read the Hobbit at the age of 7.


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