Film Star and Bodyguard – Richard Norton Interview P.1!
He’s worked with names such as Chuck Norris and Jackie Chan, and was the bodyguard to The Rolling Stones, Fleetwood Mac, James Taylor and many others! He’s also a fantastic martial artist and someone that those interested in the martial arts can hope to aspire to be like in our own training.
Also a really nice guy who took the time out of his massively hectic schedule to give me the interview! Here’s part one of my interview with Richard Norton for The Martial View!
Thanks for taking the interview Richard! Your career in the martial arts has been a shining example to those involved in martial arts. You’ve worked with some famous names such as Jackie Chan and Chuck Norris, and protected the likes of The Rolling Stones and Fleetwood Mac! Can you remember what initially led you into starting martial arts, and how you felt walking into your first class?
Yeah, I’ve often been asked this, and looking back it certainly wasn’t due to the fact I was being beaten up or that it was a rough neighbourhood that I lived in. I was certainly attracted to martial arts from a young age, but who knows why! I remember seeing ads on the back of comic books talking about Judo, and there was just something quite mystical about it and I was intrigued by this oriental art. Then, as it happened, there was a kid who moved into a house opposite ours where I lived in Croydon, which is a suburb of Melbourne, and as it turned out, he was disappearing 2-3 times a week. So one day I said, “Oh Morris where are you going”? So he told me he was learning Judo and I was like, “Wow I want to come too”! So I went along the next night and was absolutely awe struck and loved the idea of it! Now one initial problem I had was that I was quite skinny and small as an 11 year old and started of being a bit like cannon fodder for the older kids in the class! The Sensei, John Burge, was wonderful and very caring though and kept inspiring me to keep at it. I used to practice in the back yard with my mates as I was always very physical as a kid, wrestling and boxing, as most kids do I’d imagine, and now we added Judo into the mix. Then one day, another school friend, John Rowe, who was also in our Judo class and who was learning Karate out of the book, `This Is Karate` by Masutatsu Oyama, excitedly told me that there was a karate school opening up near where we lived. So off I went for the opening night. The style of Karate was Goju Kai and was being taught by Sensei Tino Ceberano. I remember the class did a demonstration of basic H pattern Kata, or forms and a bit of Jiyu Kumite, which was light contact sparring. Well, I remember that being an incredible light-bulb moment for me and I decided right then and there, that Karate was what I wanted to do with my life. So that was when the whole journey of immersion and passion for the Martial Arts started started. I still think back to those early days and truly believe that martial arts were what I was meant to do with my life, esoteric as it sounds. Pretty much everything good I’ve experienced in my life, from travelling the world as a personal Body Guard and working on movie sets for over 35 years, has come as a result of just wanting to be the best Martial Artist I could be. My entire life has revolved around the martial arts; I mean where a lot of other people get jobs and set patterns in their life and then discover and try and fit their respective training in, the opposite was true for me; I made my life fit around the dojo and training and that’s how it all started and continues to this day.
So from there I presume you just developed your Karate further and then this led to the Zen Do Kai system? Can you talk me through this?
Yes, Zen Do Kai started through an association one of my oldest friends and mentors, Bob Jones, who was also a student of Tino Ceberano and Goju Kai Karate Do. At the time we met, Bob owned a security company and was involved with providing security personnel for most of the clubs and bars of Melbourne was already incredibly skilled in reality based fighting and the ways of ‘street’ combat. It was Bob who wanted to initiate his own style of ‘Combat effective’ Martial Arts and wanted me to partner up with him. So that led to the formation of the Zen Do Kai Karate schools which started in 1970. It was still based in the Goju system, but our motto was ‘The Best of Everything in Progression’, so I would say it was one of the first eclectic type of schools in Australia where aspects of different styles of Martial Arts were incorporated, rather than being purely based on one system. If we thought a technique from another style had some combat effectiveness, we integrated it into our Zen Do Kai system. We had boxing, Judo and wrestling along with the Goju karate, so it was in fact a very early version of MMA. Remember, MMA means ‘mixing Martial Arts, not just the sport version we know of as ‘The UFC’. A lot of the early students in our school were professional bouncers and incredibly tough and seasoned street fighters, so it suited us to pressure test different MA techniques and try to discover what was real or what was just theoretical. Not taking it away from the esoteric or theoretical aspect of some of our martial arts, but it was important for us and our students to know what combat techniques would work in the real world and not just in the safe confines of the Dojo. So it was obviously through Bob and Zen Do Kai that that I got involved in doing security work on doors, which led to personal bodyguard work.
Obviously self-defence is a tricky concept and lots of school claim to teach self-defence but are criticised for teaching unrealistic techniques that only work in a dojo setting, or criticised for having no real life experience to draw upon. What are your thoughts on the principles of effective self-defence training and the teaching of self-defence?
I understand the dilemma of a martial arts instructor with no reality based experience trying to teach actual reality based street techniques when they’ve never had a real fight in their lives and I would of course never encourage anyone to go out and involve themselves in street violence, just to get that experience. But having said that, I think that if you are really learning reality based self-defence, it’s important to learn from someone that really been on the front lines and has life experience, as it is different from the Dojo environment. In the dojo, you’re in a cotton wool sort of environment; there are rules and protocols that protect you, whereas in the street there are no such parameters. The fear that a life or death street encounter brings is obviously quite confronting, and as a result, I think it is essential to learn such street techniques from someone that understands the effects of fear and adrenaline, accelerated pulse rates and how all of those factors affect you physiologically and dramatically change your bodies ability to deliver complex moves learnt in the Dojo. So you need someone that can talk the students through these pre fight feelings, so at the very least, if, God forbid, the student is involved in a street altercation or whatever, he can maybe can maybe recall these lessons from a street experienced instructor and realise what’s going on, physiologically in his body, before the actual physical part even kicks off. I mean anyone that’s experienced real combat knows that quite often the legs start shaking, the heart rate goes up and you at best lose cognitive ability and fine and complex motor skills and go straight to gross motor skills. All of that is important to understand when you teach as so many of the complex moves we learn in traditional arts are okay in traditional and safe sport environments, but won’t necessarily work when you are really confronted with violence and basically scared shitless. You need to get to the fundamentals, the one or two strikes you can use in a pre-emptive situation that will hopefully allow you to survive a street fight. A friend of mine, Sensei Paul Cale, who has incidentally come under Team Norton and who is one of our most decorated military vets, having had multiple tours of Afghanistan etc and developed his own combat system, called Kinetic Combat System, says it drives him nuts seeing the amount of ‘Combat Instructors’ who advertise themselves as teaching the military, special forces etc. As he says, most of these ‘Reality Based Experts’ have never ever been in the service, let alone eve a real street fight, and yet they’re teaching real world knife and gun weapons defence. So, even for me, if I wanted to further my realistic defence in terms of lethal weapons, I’d go to someone like Paul, as I know he’s been there for real. I mean teach knife defence now, but I’m very honest and say that I believe that these techniques will be effective in reality, but it’s still theory to a huge extent, as how the hell would I know when I’ve never been in a real knife fight. Bit different when the blades are real and not made out of rubber. Lol