Saturday, 23 August 2014



by Dave Wheeler
     In this yarn I will at times go off on a tangent in green italicised font like I am doing now.    
   Before recounting an amusing anecdote that occurred in the Berra related to the martial arts, I will say that I am hoping this post will be of interest to persons other than those who have an interest in martial arts. I say this because it also covers human behaviour and demonstrates how easy it is for people to be sucked in and/or delude themselves when extravagant claims are made which, like the tooth fairy, cannot be disproven but are obvious bullshit to the non-gullible.  This is how cults are established, and some martial arts schools can be very cult-like.    
    I will begin by briefly discussing the martial arts in general and I will also give a brief history of its practice and teaching in the Berra and surrounding districts. And by martial arts I am referring to activities involving training for combat with and without weapons and with and without rules. It therefore includes all the grappling and striking arts such as boxing, kickboxing, karate, kung fu, wrestling, judo, jiu jitsu, etc.
    The first martial artists in the Berra and districts were obviously our indigenous folk, the Ngambri, who have been here for thousands of years. Although I of course was not around to witness their pre-invasion activities we can say with confidence that because history tells us that there has so far been no group of people discovered that has not engaged in warfare, going back to our prehuman days, our indigenous folk within the Berra area would have been no exception.
    The indigenous Australians had the woomera and spear and other weapons for participating in warfare (and hunting) from a distance as well as weaponry for hand-to-hand combat. According to Ngambri member, Paul House, the Ngambri, like most Australian indigenous tribes, grappled for sport and recreation and/or to prepare for warfare, as did indigenous Europeans.  
      Grappling, as shown in the above photo taken in the Byron Bay area in 1890, exercises just about every muscle in the body, including the heart and lungs. It also promotes excellent mind-body awareness, sharpens reflexes, assists in balance control and teaches one how to feel the force of one’s opponent in order to use that force to one's advantage. These skills were all needed in warfare and for day-to-day survival. Virtually all tribal people grappled regularly.
   The indigenous folk in the Berra area would have been superb martial artists, because they needed to use weapons in order to hunt, just to survive. For this reason their martial skills would have been finely honed, as many of the skills used for hunting non-human animals would have been able to be used in warfare against their fellow humans.
    In regard to the efficacy of indigenous weaponry, early post invasion history tells us that the muzzle-loading rifles and pistols that were wielded by Europeans were not always enough when they confronted trained indigenous warriors armed with woomeras and spears, as was shown by activities of the famous Pemulwuy and others. 
    Some of the indigenous folk of Cape York had regular contact with Torres Strait Islanders, and possibly the New Guineans, who used the bow and arrow, but the indigenous mainlanders chose to keep the woomera and spear because they must have thought it superior for what they required. 
     I once recorded a doco which had in it footage shot in the 1920's of a tribal indigenous bloke, with scarring, throwing a spear with a woomera. My reasoning told me that because he would have, in his earlier years, been entirely dependent on his ability to throw a spear with a woomera to get his protein, his technique would have had to have been perfect. I watched the film in slow motion several hundred times and his technique was absolutely beautiful. It confirmed every theory I have in regard to how one should go about using one's body in a manner which is totally efficient and which makes maximum use of the muscles required to perform any task. This allows a person with such knowledge and sufficient practise to be able to generate maximum power, efficiency and accuracy for the movements in which survival depended.
   When it comes to the post invasion indigenous history of the Berra and districts I have recounted some records of conflict between some indigenous folk in a yarn that can be read on this blog entitled “A fight to the death at the Queanbeyan Showground,” but my knowledge on the subject is very limited and I know nothing about any conflicts they may have had with the European invaders. 
    In regard to the said European invaders, if the Berra and districts were like the rest of Australia I am sure the pale-faced folk engaged in organised boxing and wrestling matches from their arrival in sufficient numbers, although I have not seen any documents relating to what was taught and practised in that respect until the early part of the 20th century. 
   In regard to the latter, I have seen advertisements for boxing, wrestling and Jiu Jitsu being taught in Queanbeyan during the twenties, and I was told, rightly or wrongly, that the well-known Canberra botanist, the late Lindsay Pryor, fought an organised (real) wrestling bout in the Ainslie Rex during the 1930’s, and won. I am led to believe non-theatrical wrestling matches were held regularly in that time period. 
    We also know that the annual agricultural shows, until about 35  years ago, had tent boxers who would take on the local lads, with me being one of them in early 1969 when I was a brainless 16 year old. 
   I can also recall being told, in or around 1968, by an ex shearer aged in his 70’s, how there were often bare knuckle boxing bouts held in the shearing sheds outside Captains Flat, right up until the beginning of WW2.   
    As to during and post WW2, much in the way of tournaments in boxing and wrestling occurred regularly at many different venues. I know my maternal uncle and his mates, being too young for WW2, participated in organised boxing bouts at Corroboree Park and elsewhere during and just after WW2. And when the Turner Police Boys’ Club opened in 1960 many wrestling, judo and boxing tournaments were held there. I can recall walking to the said club with my grandad, the late Bill Guard the 2nd, in 1961, when I was aged 8 or 9, to watch local boys box and to watch some theatrical wrestling. (Read my post "The establishment of the Turner PCYC" on this site for an interesting summary of its history).
   Up until the late sixties the only Asian martial arts styles that I know of that were taught in the Berra were Judo and Japanese JuiJitsu.  I am unaware of any of the Asian striking styles, such as the various kung fu and karate styles, and muay thai, being taught in the ACT before the late sixties, other than a style which combined some of the Asian grappling styles and some basic karate. That was taught by Peter Morton at Corroboree park, Ainslie, and probably in Queanbeyan. 
   From around 1969 onwards some of the Japanese karate styles were taught in the Berra as well as some Kung Fu styles. Two of the kung fu stylists who were teaching during the late 60’s or early seventies were Dave Crook and Bill Cheung. I will discuss those two in greater detail shortly. 
    During the 60's and early 70's the Asian striking styles held much mystique, and their effectiveness was blown out of all proportion due to few Australians knowing much about them, cheap Chinese and Japanese movies and them not being tested publicly against other styles as they are today in mixed martial arts.
    During my early youth I was told by many ignorant people that karate and kung fu masters were able to remove a person’s heart with one strike and take on multiple opponents who attacked simultaneously, which included professional boxers and top wrestlers and judoka. 
    I also read about a Japanese bloke of Korean descent named Mas Oyama killing bulls with his bare hands and another famous Japanese bloke named Gogen Yamaguchi killing a tiger, again with his bare hands. As a 14 year old I was open-minded in regard to these claims as I had never seen any karate and kung fu men fight, but when I relayed some of the stories to my dad, such as Oyama killing bulls and Yamaguchi killing a tiger with their bare hands, I saw him crack a large smile and begin chuckling to himself.
    As I have said, these people got away with bullshit partly because they made claims that could be neither proven nor disproven, but the main reason was because most people want to believe bullshit. Rather than put in the hard training and receive the pain of full contact combat, which grapplers and those who engage in full contact boxing, kickboxing and mixed martial arts receive in order to attain their real skills, it is far easier for them to delude themselves into believing that if they perform a magical dancelike style of martial arts and spar on a non-contact basis, as do most of the kung fu and karate boys, they will becoming walking death machines with secret magical martial knowledge.
    I suppose those who continue to sell gadgets to the gullible which they claim will deliver users a slim and powerful body use the same ploy. The difference however, is that those who continue to use new gadgets in the mistaken belief that they will lose weight easily actually get some exercise in the process and waste only their money, whereas I have known people who have trained in the karate and kung fu styles for many years on a non-contact basis who actually believe they are great scrappers. Letting them believe this is grossly  immoral, as it is very dangerous due to it giving them a false sense of security.
   I grew more sceptical about the efficacy of the karate and kung fu styles as I aged, but I still thought they had more to offer in regard to self defence than western boxing and wrestling, so, after having learnt some basic judo and western boxing as a kid, I began learning a small amount of karate in 1971 and did another karate style more intensely for in New Zealand for 6 months in early 1972.  
   When I reflect on what I learnt in regard to karate after having learnt some very useful judo and boxing, I see it as absolute crap, and as a fighter I actually went backwards. My hand techniques became grossly inferior to what they were when I was using Western boxing.
   Classical karate as it was taught with its hard blocks and corkscrew punches was absolute garbage, although I believe it has since been drastically modified by the established karate schools, possibly as a result of what occurred when they were in the ring with boxers, kickboxers and Muay Thai fighters who had better methods and were used to full contact. Most mainstream karate styles now teach a form of kickboxing that uses realistic techniques that have been tested in MMA, as well as some basic grappling and some traditional patterns.
   I began learning a kung fu style in the Berra in the last half of 1972 after I returned from New Zealand, and the style I refer to was taught by the previously mentioned Dave Crook. I stayed with him for several years and went on to learn other kung fu, boxing and kickboxing styles until I had acquired what I now see as the most effective striking style. (I received much valuable knowledge from a Tongan ex Australasian and British Empire heavyweight champion named Kitione Lavemai, some of which goes back to pre-European Tonga).
    Unlike the classical karate styles as they were taught at the time, some of the kung fu styles had more science to them, and it made people better scrappers than they would be if they learnt nothing. But sparring non-contact with the best style that exists is entirely different from mixing it with others on a full contact basis. And as I have said, this gave many people who learnt the kung fu styles a false sense of security, to the extent that their natural timidity and/or lack of experience in full contact fighting would render them useless when confronted by a person with street experience and aggression.
    Although having said that, many of the boys I trained with in Dave Crook's kung fu style and other kung fu styles I studied were by nature tough and fit and had had their share of street brawls. Trond Holgersen, Mal Hoy, Greg Hart, Tony Quinn, Mick Riley, Gary "Kamo" Kaminov and Dennis "Spud" Murphy, who all attended Dave Crook's classes, fell into all those categories and were all able to handle themselves well in real confrontations. Spud and Tony had also practiced judo and boxing, and persons who had studied those sorts of contact martial arts would have definitely benefited from the techniques they were shown with the kung fu styles, as it meant having a greater arsenal. I am not sure if Bill McCasker had much street experience but he showed guts entering several full contact tournaments.
    There is good science behind some kung fu styles, but because it is usually not practised realistically when it comes to them entering tournaments against experienced boxers, kickboxers and Muay Thai practitioners they are usually easily defeated. When MMA came they also quickly learnt that they needed grappling skills, although that also applied to boxers and kick boxers with full contact experience. Some of the kung fu and karate men who believed their own bullshit and entered the MMA tournaments with total confidence were absolutely gobsmacked when they discovered how ineffective they were against real fighters.
    I was to eventually find however, that the essence of the kung fu styles and as such their main original objective, was far more valuable and useful to me than being able to defend myself.
   To elaborate, I find that when practising striking with legs, fists, elbows, etc, with the emphasis being on striving for total efficiency and harmony between mind and body, one can at times achieve a state of absolute euphoria when one "feels" it all fall into place.  
    This can include striking in the air by way of shadow boxing or striking a heavy bag. And when practising with a training partner in a manner in which the objective is to not damage each other but to feel one’s opponent’s force and deflect it, the process can also be a total joy. Other than bringing on euphoria, the practice leads to better coordination, a degree of muscular and cardiovascular fitness and good mind-body awareness. It also does not damage the body.
     Back to Bill Cheung, the Berra's so-called Wing Chun Kung Fu grandmaster, who was teaching Wing Chun to small groups of people in the Berra before and after I started training with Dave Crook. 
   Bill Cheung grew up in Hong Kong and learned his Wing Chun there. He was also a mate of the late Bruce Lee. Was he a genuine grandmaster? I doubt it. As far as I’m concerned genuine masters are those who excel in MMA and not those who tell us how good they are without backing up their legendary battles with hard evidence that they actually occurred. And I believe Bill Cheung is one of many who falls into the latter category. 
    I read of one scrap he was alleged to have had on a ship in which he was able to fight off an attack by a gang wielding weapons. Really; it was an insult to anyone's intelligence.
     Having said what I have said about Bill Cheung, I have been told by a few Canberrans that they witnessed some of the street fights he had while living in the Berra and that he did demolish a few people. If those stories are true however, it must be realised that it is not difficult to flatten the sort of people who are likely to attack you for no reason, as they are usually half-pissed, untrained semi-retards.
    Anyway, while training with Dave Crook sometime in 1972 or thereabouts, Dave told us he was putting on a demonstration at a fete at a primary school. It may have been Holt primary school. He wanted me and others to participate in the demo, but unfortunately I had a previous engagement, which was unfortunate because I would have loved to have attended because of what occurred at the said fete.
   Although the description I am about to give of what occurred I stress is secondhand, I am convinced it is true because I heard it from several witnesses directly after the event, and the descriptions were uniform. But to try to ensure my memory was not playing tricks on me I rang on the 6/8/2014 one of my old mates who I trained with at the time who was at the demonstration and witnessed what occurred, and I asked him to relay to me exactly what happened as he recalled it.
    The bloke I refer to is named Mal Hoy. He is now a 63 (in 2014) year old with a bricklaying gang. Mal is a very honest down-to-earth sort of bloke who during his youth was naturally very tough and athletic and I am sure his background would have meant what he learnt in the way of martial arts would have worked for him, which is not something I could say for many of the clerical workers who were dedicated to the practice but had never been in a scrap in their lives. 
   The latter types often lose control of their bowels when confronted by real violence and would burst into tears if they received a hard smack to the head. That could not be said for boxers who can often take several hard whacks to the head and shake them off and continue to box on and win. They are physically and psychologically prepared for violence.
    After talking to Mal, what I am led to believe occurred during the demonstration was that Bill Cheung approached Dave Crook and the lads who were giving the demonstration, and after jumping the rope surrounding the demonstration, yelled out something like, ‘This is not kung fu! This is not kung fu!”
    I was told Bill had with him a very large bloke whose apparent job was to fight Dave Crook, who is not a large bloke, with the presumed objective of proving that Bill's brand of Kung Fu was superior to Dave's. 
    If this is what occurred Bill was using flawed logic. If he wanted his student to challenge Dave Crook why couldn’t he have found one of a similar size to Dave and given some notice? Other than that, Bill was a similar size to Dave, and if he was a real master why couldn’t he have challenged Dave himself? Surely a genuine master would not employ a student to do his fighting for him?
    Apparently the audience started abusing Bill and his minder mate, with one person reminding him that he was not in a kung fu movie. Bill and his big mate decided to leave, with Bill apparently telling Dave Crook that they would visit his club and sort things out, or words to that effect, which many presumed was a threat.
    I was also told that as he was leaving he remembered that he had lent Dave a pair of Butterfly swords, which the Wing Chun boys train with, and his last words were, “Give me back my butterfly swords!”
   The next week we were expecting a visit from Bill Cheung and his mate but unfortunately it did not happen. What a pity.

   Above is a photo of butterfly swords. I once saw an idiot (a so-called kung fu master) do a demonstration which involved having someone slice a watermelon with a butterfly sword while the melon rested on the "master's" stomach. The master was supposed to be able to protect himself from the damage of the blade with his "chi,"but after the slicing had been done and the master rose he revealed to the audience a pronounced red cut mark right across his stomach. 
   If what occurred is as I have described, and I sincerely believe I have described what happened accurately, I regard it as being piss weak on Bill Cheung’s part and very childish.
   I have nothing against people who dress up in medieval costumes and pretend to fight each other with swords, because most will readily admit they are just big kids playacting. This is not the case with some of the kung fu and karate men who live in fools' paradises by deluding themselves into thinking they can really scrap. What they do is the equivalent of someone claiming to be a tennis master teaching people how to hold a racket and hit a ball against a wall but never in their lives having played a game of tennis against a decent opponent.
   It’s a pity such so-called martial arts masters cannot just be honest with themselves and practise their styles simply for the sake of their health and the extreme pleasure the process can bring them. There is no need for them to attempt to convince themselves or others they are real warriors and on a par with grapplers, boxers, kickboxers and mixed martial artists, who have all experienced real contact fighting. 
  Hopefully the reader may be able to vicariously enjoy some of the pleasure I have received from the martial arts after reading the following rave then watching the embedded youtube video.
  The embedded youtube video below combines footage taken in Holt, Canberra, in 1976, that shows two of my mates, Trevor Crook and Bill McCasker, and me mucking around doing some half-paced sparring. The rest of the footage is of me shot forty years later. 
   The bloke singing on the video is the previously mentioned Dennis “Spud” Murphy, a good mate and ex Berra boy, who I trained with in martial arts in the Berra and London and who I also went to school with. The organist was my dad, the late Roy Wheeler. 
    You can see the said embedded video below by clicking on it, and you can watch it on a larger screen by clicking on the broken rectangle that appears on a corner. 
    The second part of the youtube video shows me in recent times, 40 years after the first part of the video was filmed, in which I shadow box and hit a punching bag to music in 3/4 waltz time. I find it interesting to see how my technique has changed significantly over the years to the extent that I was previously insufficiently loose in my movements. 
   How I hit the bag should not be viewed as an instructional clip for boxers or other martial artists; it's all about how one can enjoy oneself by committing acts of violence on inanimate objects. And in doing so while striking a punching bag my objective is to strike with maximum power purely for the sake of feeling the enjoyment of the process, particularly when I can feel harmony between mind and body.
  If my objective was only to train for most combat sports I would keep my hands at a higher level and my shoulders would vary between being hunched and not hunched, although some people prefer to drop their guard if their objective is to attack their opponent's hands prior to either grappling and/or striking. 
     But, I just wish to feel good, and I find that by lowering my hands and hunching my shoulders I can generate greater power, particularly with uppercuts, and when I feel a strike achieving maximum power the enjoyment I receive is proportional to the power that is generated.
   My basic message is that our species has a genetically-based propensity for violence as it was often required to assist survival and gene reproduction in the environment in which we evolved, and some people have a greater tendency for violence than others. Also, some people get greater pleasure from perpetrating acts of violence than others. 
   With that being the case perpetrating acts of violence can bring on a state of absolute euphoria in some people if it is performed with the right knowledge and technique, particularly if there are no victims. And obviously only my punching bag suffers when I attack it, and I am led to believe punching bags are not sentient beings.
   Also, unlike piss and other drugs that produce feel-good brain chemistry artificially, the sort of feel-good brain chemistry that can be produced by attacking a punching bag in the way I recommend has no apparent negative side-effects, and like all forms of exercise is good for one's physical and mental health. 
    I am playing a waltz in the background, as it assists in bringing on the euphoria. I find its melody and rhythm beautiful, and by combining the pleasure of the music with the pleasure of perpetrating an act of controlled violence in which there are no victims one achieves double pleasure, which can amount to euphoria. If you wish to try hitting a bag and don't enjoy waltz time try your own music and see what works best for you.
    Much of what I have just raved on about can be fitted into some of what I have discussed in “  Rationalist's Guide to Life," which can be downloaded free of charge or a need to obtain personal information from this site.



  1. I also trained in Kung Fu for a few years in the early seventies at Dave Crook's club. As a boy I trained at the Turner PCYC in boxing and judo and in my later teens did some boxing at a Queanbeyan gym. I was inspired to take up Kung Fu by the Bruce Lee movies and also as an option to going to pubs getting blind drunk knowing that it was only a matter of time before I ended up dead or in jail.
    I learnt a lot from doing Kung Fu in particular kicks, blocking and evading punches, self defence including when on the ground, flexibility and general fitness. However I found the footwork and punching style of a boxer superior and moved on.
    I agree with Dave Wheeler's comments about some Kung Fu masters deluding themselves into thinking that they are invincible. Whenever Kung Fu practicioners go up against boxers or Muay Thai fighters they almost always get smashed. If Bill Cheung was such a great fighter why wouldn't he challenge Dave Crook himself instead of putting forward his student.
    Karate and Kung Fu are useful for self defence but if one wants to learn how to fight then best to take up MMA, kickboxing or Muay Thai. Unfortunately, in the 1970's these styles were not taught in Canberra. The corkscrew punches from the waist that some karate styles practise are dangerous in that they are slow and leave the head wide open.
    All martial arts are good it is just that people have to be aware of the limitations of the particular style they train in.

  2. Interesting stuff. I trained with David Crook in 1977 and 1978.

    1. Sorry I didn’t publish your comment earlier Andrew. My email is supposed to tell me if I have a comment waiting to be published, but the system failed me. I was doing other styles at the time you were training with Dave Crook, although Bill McCasker was probably still training with him in 77 and 78. You may have been around during the period I write of in the story I did about making an arse of myself at the tournament in the Civic YMCA.