Interview with Shihan Tony Bailey

Anthony “Tony” Bailey was urged to take up Judo by his father as a form of self-defence at a time of rising racial tensions in his hometown. Out of necessity for protection was born a life in martial arts training and knowledge expansion spanning forty years. In that time Shihan Bailey has attained Dan grade in a variety of martial arts mostly Jiu Jitsu, was a British Heavyweight champion, and is a two time Martial Arts Hall of Fame inductee. His martial skills came in particularly useful during a twenty-year role in security and bodyguard work.

Shihan Bailey currently runs the Basingstoke Jiu Jitsu club where he teaches Mizu Ryu Jiu Jitsu, a syllabus of his own creation, as well as MMA and study in the healing technique of Reiki. He also runs a private study group whereby invitees have the opportunity to study the Samurai arts.

Kung Fu Kingdom writer Ramon Youseph first met Shihan Bailey leading a team of his students in a demonstration of their skills at the 2015 Hyper Japan event in July, and he has now very kindly agreed to speak to us about his life and work in martial arts.

Ramon: Hi Tony it’s great to connect with you. Thanks for taking some time out to speak to us! First off, have you had a chance to look at the Kung Fu Kingdom website? What do you think of it?

Tony: You’re very welcome and yes I have. I think it’s a great resource, interesting articles and interviews and the layout is great too with easy navigation.

Glad you think so, thank you! So, tell us a little more about yourself. Where are you from, what is your height and weight?

I was born in Lambeth, London. My father is Jamaican, my mother was half English, half Scottish.

I am 5’ 10 ½” (the half is very important! or 1.79m) tall and weigh 16st 7lb (105kg).

How did you first get into martial arts? How old were you?

I started training in 1976 at 7 years old. At that time, we were living in Basingstoke, Hampshire; a former small town in Southern England which had been massively redeveloped and designated as a London overspill site. The town developed so quickly that by the early 70’s they had the same rise in racism via the National Front as many of the other major cities around the country at that time and that spurred my Dad to get us into some form of martial art to offer us the self-protection that he knew would be needed as we grew up.

Racism, of course, comes in many different forms and is not always easy to see. I remember my Dad telling me about the father of a family who live only a few doors away from us, very nice to talk to, always friendly and polite, who was photographed both supporting and at the front of a local National Front rally, carrying a banner and unwittingly appearing on the front page of the local Gazette. My Dad, having experienced racism of a more brutal kind when he was younger, knew that my brothers and I needed to learn how to defend ourselves and so we were all eventually enrolled in local clubs when old enough. All four of us remain connected to martial arts to this day.

I see. Where did you study?

I started at Summit Judo Club under Sensei Len Dunce and Derek Brownett and I still have an association with the club – almost 40 years later. I cite Sensei Len as one of my most important influences, I learned a great deal from him, not just from his technical teaching, but his total dedication to the art which helped to shape me as a martial artist from such an early age.

So who are your martial arts idols and influences?

On April 24th 2014, I celebrated 20 years of both the Basingstoke Jiu Jitsu Club and the syllabus we teach. At the celebration and Awards dinner, I paid tribute to those who have influenced me over the years; my father, Maurice D Bailey – who had trained as a Greco Roman Wrestler under Olympic Coach Jack Ingle in London. My father also went on to study Judo with us, as well as Wado Ryu Karate.

Sensei Len of Summit Judo Club whose teaching style, balanced training and dedication was a great inspiration to me.

Ron Peploe of Wado Ryu Karate & Kickboxing, another very dedicated martial artist who taught me, an awkward Judoka, how to strike and become fluent. Soke Brian Dossett of Aikijujutsu who broadened my horizons and taught me to have the confidence to formalise my syllabus. Ric Lovett who has helped guide and influence my studies within the esoteric traditions over the years.

Richard Hopkins, Head of WUMA who provided the opportunity and platform for competition testing and now continues to inspire others with his recent work on himself and Shike Paul Masters, Menkyo Kaiden of Tenjin Shinyo Ryu Jiu Jitsu for his breadth of knowledge both of the physical and historical traditions of Samurai Jiu Jitsu, great humility, personality and attention to detail.

These, I have been lucky enough to call my teachers and as such I consider them both my influences and my idols and I always look up to them in my lifelong study of martial arts.

And you’ve gone on to study an assortment of other martial arts, can you just remind us what they are and what grade or level you’ve achieved?

I trained for a little while in Wado Ryu Karate but didn’t grade and at 16 / 17 years old, I reached Green Sash level in the Lucky Crane School of Kung Fu which specialised in Shaolin Long Fist, 5 Animal Forms, Chi Gung and Tai Chi. My grades are listed as: –

Shodan, Tenjin Shinyo Ryu Jiu Jitsu (Koryu – Samurai era Jiu Jitsu),

1st Dan Judo, Kickboxing, Aikido & Weapons, 3rd Dan Combat Ju Jitsu, 4th Dan Aikijujutsu, 5th Dan Kyūsho Jutsu and 6th Dan Gendai Jiu Jitsu. (Gendai – Modern era)

It was never my intention to study so many different martial systems, it was a means to an end. Having studied the history of Judo as a youngster, I wanted to find the link between modern Judo and its Samurai Jiu Jitsu origins, so I really wanted to study either Tenjin Shinyo Ryu or Kito Ryu Jiu Jitsu, the real foundations of Judo. I couldn’t find either, so understanding the range of techniques involved from my research, I tried to amass the knowledge by studying arts which taught the component parts of the Koryu systems I wanted to study; strikes, pressure points, throws, locks, chokes, groundwork, weapons, revival, restoration and healing techniques as well as studying works of history, strategy and philosophy.

Deep within Judo I did find Sieryoku Zenyo Kokumin Taiiku (Maximum Efficiency Physical Education Kata) – A Judo kata which consists of two parts; a solo kata solely containing strikes and physical exercises and a paired kata containing techniques from Koryu Jiu Jitsu. Also the Kime no Kata – A Judo Kata consisting of paired techniques from several different Koryu Jiu Jitsu forms. After 30 years of searching and dodging modern constructs, I finally found true Tenjin Shinyo Ryu Jiu Jitsu and began studying as a beginner under Shike Paul Masters, Menkyo Kaiden.

That’s quite an impressive list. So what is Combat Jiu Jitsu and how does it differ from other forms of Jiu Jitsu?

Combat Jiu Jitsu is to Jiu Jitsu, what Kendo is to Kenjutsu; a sport related competition fighting form under specific rules. It is similar to the MMA style of fighting, but in a Gi. The fights are usually in a ring or on a mat like in kickboxing or judo competition. The spectator sees a combination of skills akin to kickboxing and judo throughout the fight and it can be very interesting to watch.

I know you were the British Heavyweight Champion in Combat Jiu Jitsu. Can you tell us a bit more, such as when you won the championship, who did you fight, what was the match like?

Yes, that was some time ago now – 1996. Blimey! didn’t think about how long ago that was until now, 19 years. Thanks for that! I fought the title match against a fighter from Serbia who had settled in the UK. He was a couple of inches taller than me, physically very strong with good kickboxing skills too. We fought in a boxing ring, so unlike a mat you have physical barriers to contend with; the ropes and the corners and the flooring is much harder to land on, basically a canvas covered wooden platform, so you want to make sure you’re the thrower, not the one being thrown.

My early Judo skills came into their own here and whilst I was able to score many throws in the fight, I was never thrown throughout the match, which helped me rack up a sizeable points win.

Sounds like a tough match. Have you competed in any other tournaments, bouts and so on, and if so can you list for us the matches you’ve won and titles awarded?

I wouldn’t say I am a competition fighter. I wasn’t actually all that interested in competing a lot. Competition for me was always only about testing myself after injuries to make sure I could still operate effectively or to work within the confines of that ruling system for personal experience. I fought under MMA rules, kickboxing rules, judo rules, jiu jitsu rules and no rules on the streets over the years.

I remember a memorable silver medal at the National Championships in Blackpool whilst sustaining a broken nose and a broken finger in the final, but that’s par for the course in a contact sport. I can fight for real and have had to over the years to protect myself and others and from early on, I understood the difference between that and competition fighting. Competition experience helped shape how I viewed my techniques in the real world of self-defence, but nowhere near as much as being in the middle of real, unplanned, uncontrolled violence on the street. That changed my viewpoint on what works outside of the comfortable confines of the dojo and how to adapt techniques for better efficacy.

Interesting. Do you think it’s important for a martial artist to compete in martial sports?

Many people who study traditional style martial arts don’t compete and that’s fine if they’re getting what they need from the training but the difficulty comes when they believe their techniques will work for real ‘when the time comes’ having never tested them before. That’s a bad time to find out your techniques don’t work quite the way you expected.

The techniques need testing under pressure so you can find out how you react under pressure as well as how to fine tune what you do to make it more effective. It doesn’t mean you have to go out and get into street fights, but it does mean, if you expect to be able to rely on your techniques to work for real, then you should find a legitimate way to test them and yourself to see if they stand up to that test. Competitive fighting is one way of doing just that.

I see what you mean. Earlier you listed the wide range of martial arts you’ve practice yet you very much favour Jiu Jitsu. Why does it hold such appeal for you?

It suited me well from the judo background I had. I found the varied technique range of Jiu Jitsu and the training and opportunity to use them against ‘non-compliant’ opponents, gave me the availability to have a kind of technical panacea which would prove to serve me well in later years. Grappling is in our blood, what with my father having been a Greco Roman Wrestler, but being comfortable trading strikes with a Karateka or grappling with a Judoka or in the middle of a scrum of streetfighters only felt comfortable because of that varied technical upbringing.

Changing the subject a little, on your school’s website (the biography) it says that you worked in security and as a bodyguard for over 20 years. What led you to choose that profession and is it something you still do today?

Actually, it was just something I fell into. I did it as a favour for a friend and I just kind of kept doing it. I never intended do it as a profession, but I found I was good at it and enjoyed learning about people, noticing body language, recognising trigger and flash points for violence and the opportunity to put into practice, the techniques I had learned from martial arts. Bodyguarding was a natural progression once I had worked for a number of years, but I am now in my 2nd retirement – I retired once for a whole month before they enticed me back!

Care to share some stories, how you handled potentially dangerous situations? No doubt your martial arts background proved invaluable in what is a dangerous profession.

One of the places where I used to work the door had regular ‘Metal Nights’ which were frequented by several big biker gangs. I remember one night at this venue which was not a ‘Metal Night’, yet a small group of Hells Angels were present, and on observing them for a while, I noticed one in particular was looking for an opportunity to start trouble. Now, from the outset of running the contract, I had set us a remit to work proactively to stop trouble before it started by observation and de-escalating strategies and if it came to physical ejection, to use all means available other than punching, which was saved as a last resort, not first resort as it had been with many door staff over the years.

On this occasion, I went and spoke to this guy to tell him that I knew what he was doing and the two people he was observing were brothers and not drunk rivals about to fight, so there was no need or excuse for him to ‘get involved’ with them. Not realising until then that he had been under observation himself took him a little by surprise and he backed off.

Much later, a fight broke out and surprise, surprise, it was these Hells Angels at the heart of it. One of my guys was already dealing with it when I got to the dance floor but was not doing so easily against this man mountain I’d spoken to earlier. I honed in on him, grabbed him whilst keeping my back to the bar so I wouldn’t get bottled from behind. I was grabbed at the front of the throat by another guy who was the sergeant-at-arms. I knew he wasn’t going to be able to choke me, but I also knew he’d grabbed me with his left hand because he was going to bottle me with his right.

Whilst keeping hold of the big guy, I ducked under the other guy’s left arm to come up away from the incoming bottle. I came up to find he wasn’t there anymore. Almost as if it had been choreographed, my younger brother who was working with me, had simultaneously come from a different angle and took the guy out at the same time as I moved. We took them all outside en-masse and just as they were about to kick off again, I reminded them that, despite throwing many punches at us and an attempted bottling, not only had we not taken a single punch, but we had taken them all out without throwing a single punch at them, even though it was always available and if they would just stop to think about the level of skill required to do that, they’d realise they’d gotten off lightly.

They listened, the sergeant-at-arms apologised and paid respects and they all left. The following week, at the start of the night a car pulled up, rammed full of people and the sergeant-at-arms stepped out. I thought, ‘damn not right at the start of the night!’, but he told everyone else to stay in the car. He came up, apologised again. Gave thanks for being treated so professionally and asked if they were allowed back in. I told him I didn’t have a problem with them coming in as, if I wanted them to leave, I would make them leave, but that the Manager had said he didn’t want them in again after the previous week’s shenanigans. He apologised again, said he understood, got back in the car and we never saw them again.

Given that situations can be tense like the one you just described what advice would you give to anyone wanting to work in security or become a bodyguard?

Make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons. I gained a great deal of experience and understanding from doing this work and it helped shape my martial arts no end, but I’ve also seen people wrongly do the job just for kudos amongst their friends or to pick up girls in nightclubs etc, you have to be in the right mind-set to start with, otherwise not only will your career be short, but you could end up getting yourself or a member of your team seriously injured.

Remember, just as you will rely on others, others will be reliant on you doing your job well, so working with good people is key for everyone. Find a reputable company. Speak to the people who work for that company before being trained by them or becoming an employee, but above all, always go to work switched on and stay switched on. Then you’ll make it back home in one piece at the end of your shift.

Good advice Tony thank you. Let’s talk about the school you founded, the Basingstoke Jiu Jitsu club. How did that come about as I heard it used to be called the Fujiyama school?

When I branched out from Summit Judo Club to start my own school with all the training I’d done in Jiu Jitsu; despite there having been seven different Judo Clubs in the town, there weren’t any clubs which catered solely for Jiu Jitsu, so mine became the first. Mount Fuji (Fujiyama or Fuji-san in Japanese) is the highest peak in Japan at 12,388ft high (I know, I’ve climbed it a couple of times). This volcano has been an iconic part of Japan’s history in art and literature for hundreds of years. To me, it is Japan and represented both the heights I strived towards in my own technique, as well as a rather tenuous link to the Summit Judo Club, the foundation of my training. Later, it was decided to emulate local martial art club traditions by renaming the club the Basingstoke Jiu Jitsu Club to better represent the fact that it was the first or, at the time, only Jiu Jitsu club in the area.

I understand you devised your own syllabus we well, can you tell us more about Mizu Ryu Jiu Jitsu and its principles?

Mizu Ryu is Japanese for The Water School. Many martial artists come to recognise the power and beauty of water through various analogies or allegories during their study. I wanted the name of my school to reflect not only the surface level of simultaneous hard and soft; strong enough to erode rock, soft and still enough to reflect like a mirror, but also the fluency and flexibility of our mental capacity to change and adapt to many different situations. The motto of our school is: –

‘Water adapts to its receptacle, as should we to each opponent, each attack and every problem we encounter in life.’

The physicality of what we do has been tested in live situations. I have used every single one of the core techniques of our syllabus in real fights when working on the door for over 20 years. I didn’t plan to do it, I just found myself in situations that warranted their usage.

The core part of our syllabus emphasises that physical practicality whilst maintaining mental fluidity. As a martial artist, to change our responses to each changing attack first relies on learning different answers -enough for each eventuality. But in doing so you fill your mind with so many answers that you become slow at processing them and slow to act, so practice is needed to process and act faster and to learn to recognise certain body language triggers earlier. Eventually you become so skilled at recognising these triggers that you beat your opponent to action as you know what they are likely to do just before they do it. This is also due to you limiting your opponent’s field of ‘free choice’ by answering their physical question with a technique which falls into a strategy you are controlling.

In the more difficult stage, the training starts to take another leap, learning to put all the answers that you have diligently practiced to the back of your head and allow yourself to merge with the movement of your opponent. Allowing your body to choose the best available technique to fit the current circumstances can lead to a winning strategy without consciously processing every bit of detail: you become as fluid and free-flowing as water. This can then be emulated in our lives outside the dojo so that we learn to overcome and adapt to changing circumstances in our everyday lives as well as when facing an opponent, proving the microcosm of the dojo is as the macrocosm of life. As the Hermetic saying of Western Esotericism goes; as above, so below.

That’s interesting. You also offer Japan tours. Can you tell us more about them? How often they take place and what they consist of?

The tours started running in 1999, every two years. There are 3 different types; 1. is mostly training based, 2. is half training and half sightseeing and 3. is fully sightseeing. We normally base each of the tours around two main cities; Tokyo and Kyoto, spending roughly half the trip time in each city with trips to other cities in between.

I am a lifetime member of the Kodokan Judo Institute in Tokyo and I have been allowed to teach students there as well as use the dormitories or private rooms for lodging, but mostly, I book us into Ryokan – traditional Japanese inns with tatami mat floors, shoji screen doors and futon beds. It’s a great traditional experience and it helps to keep the costs down as they are cheaper than western hotels. We visit many of the iconic places of interest; Shinto Shrines, Buddhist Temples, Castles, parks, Geisha entertainment, mountains and natural wonders as well as high street shopping, markets and nightlife. I organise it all myself from the flights, transfers, accommodation, guided tours, training and travel. It takes many months to organise everything as each trip is unique and customised to those going.

Sounds like a great trip. Your school offers more than just Jiu Jitsu classes but also the opportunity to learn Reiki. Is this just at a basic level or can students become fully fledged healers?

Yes, I teach Reiki at all levels from Beginner to Master Practitioner / Teacher Levels. Level 1 is an entry level and level 2 is the minimum requirement to operate as a practitioner by the main insurance providers. Level 3 and 4 are normally taught as RMT – Reiki Master Teacher degree.

And you teach both Western and Usui Reiki. How do these two differ from one another?

Reiki, as a Japanese system, was around in several different forms and names a long time before it was called Reiki. In fact, when Mikao Usui the founder, taught Reiki it wasn’t called Reiki. In his day, he would have known it as Teate – Hand/Palm healing, but as a modern construct combining meditative and ritualistic elements from Shinto, Buddhist and Shugendo practices, it became known as Reiki later.

Western Reiki is the name attributed to the altered format which was first propagated outside Japan to the West, mainly America, by Mrs Hawayo Takata and Usui Reiki is the term used to describe the unchanged original version which had all but died out in Japan. One of the main differences is within the connection rituals performed by the Master / Teacher on the student who is learning to use Reiki. One system has had things added to it, making it a more complicated system, the other is simpler and has remained deeply connected to the original roots as taught by Usui-san himself.

Fascinating. Lastly, you also run a private study group teaching traditional Samurai warrior arts although this is by invitation only: what are the criteria for the invitation and can you tell us more about what is taught in the group?

Yes. I have a Shodan in Tenjin Shin’yo Ryū Jiu Jitsu and head a Kenkyūkai (study group) for Tenyokai International in Basingstoke. It is a Kōryū (old school) Samurai era form of Jiu Jitsu and as such, we protect the teachings by only offering places to those who have the dedication for the training and no need for belt driven advancement. (Koyrū Jiu Jitsu was formulated before the coloured belt system was invented.) It’s like a living history group, steeped in tradition and dedicated to maintaining the teachings as they have been handed down, unchanged, to preserve the school’s place as an important part of Japanese heritage.

Most Koyrū contain kneeling techniques as much of life in Japan of the Samurai era involved kneeling whilst in the presence of others, so self-defence began from the knees. There are a great many techniques from standing, plus some weapon work, allegory and philosophical training within the oral teachings. The techniques are based on 2-person katas which start with learning basic grip releases and progress to much higher levels of Jiu Jitsu technique. Tenjin is well known amongst Japanese martial historians, to be highly proficient in the use of Atemi – strikes to vulnerable points and the correct use of Ki (Qi or Chi) within the techniques.

That sounds great. OK Tony let’s move onto your training regimen; what does it consist of, how do you maintain flexibility, power and speed?

I tend to do my own training separate from the teaching. I do spar with my Jiu Jitsu and MMA guys every week to help correct and guide them as much as it helps to keep me in contact with that physicality of technique. Occasionally, like an 18-year-old Army recruit I was teaching recently, they also need to see the old man can still dance! My flexibility was terrible as a pure Judoka but only when compared to a kicker. As I moved solely into Jiu Jitsu, it took ages to change my musculature to allow for strong, fluent, flexibility within the kicks and punches. I did a lot of stretching for the legs and hips and because I changed my flexibility back then, it’s easier now to keep it topped up with far less effort. I use punch/kick bags for striking, cross trainers and skipping for CV work.

Do you have a favourite piece of exercise equipment?

People! Nothing can beat the awkwardness of striking, picking up, moving or throwing a lumpy, hard boned real person, although I do find you have to change the person inside the kick bag every so often for freshness.

I see what you mean. OK then, I notice you work extensively with weapons? Do you have a favourite?

I started learning with a heavy Bo staff when I was about 14 years old and bought my first Katana sword when I was 16. I think my favourite would have to be split between the Wakizashi (short sword) and the Sai. They have a dynamic range which allows for much Jiu Jitsu technique to be used alongside the weapon itself.

So, to wrap up do you enjoy martial arts movies -if so which are your favourites, say a top 5?

Oh, that’s difficult! Well in no particular order: 1. “Seven Samurai”, 2. “Crying Freeman”, 3. “Enter The Dragon”, 4. “The 36th Chamber of Shaolin”, 5. “Drunken Master”.

That’s a good list, some classics in there. Do you read any spiritual or philosophical literature? Do you have a favourite?

I’ve studied quite a few texts over the years and found affinity with Zen and other literature such as the “Tao Te Ching”, but one of my favourites has to be Sun Tzu’s treatise on strategy; “The Art of War”. It covers so many different aspects of strategy and can be used in everyday life situations, not just being limited to winning on the battlefield.

And would you care to share with us an inspirational warrior quote or nugget of wisdom -something that defines and moulds you?

Some years ago, I received this teaching from Soen Ozeki, Chief Abbott of the Daitokuji Zen Buddhist Temple, Kyoto and I’ve never forgotten it:

Every day in life is training, training for myself.

Though failure is possible, living each moment equal to everything, ready for anything.

I am alive.

I am this moment.

My future is here and now.

For, if I cannot endure today,

Where and when will I?

Some serious food for thought there. Thank you Tony for sharing that and for taking the time to talk to us. It has been a real honour.

You can find out more about Shihan Tony Bailey via his website:

Twitter: @MizuryuSensei

Ever since he first saw the great Bruce Lee in Enter The Dragon on the big screen whilst living in Iran, Ramon has been fascinated with martial arts, and at age 6 attended classes in Kan Zen Ryu Karate under Sensei Reza Pirasteh. When he moved to the UK, martial arts came calling in his early teens in the shape of the mysterious art of Ki Aikido which he studied for five years. Since then he has practiced Feng Shou Kung Fu, Lee Style Tai Chi, Taekwondo, Kickboxing before returning to Aikido, studying under Sensei Michael Narey. As well as Bruce Lee, Ramon is a big fan of martial arts actors Jackie Chan, Cynthia Rothrock, Jeff Wincott, Richard Norton and Tadashi Yamashita to name a few. Ramon is an aspiring writer and when he is not honing his craft he likes to go out running, hiking and is still trying to count to ten in Japanese.

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