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Brian is Ju-jitsu’s world ‘gaffer’

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Brian Graham is 64 years old. He doesn't look it. He's short, stocky and powerful — and is full of energy.

He sits on the edge of the settee in his combat trousers and open neck shirt and whenever he gets up, he's quick — dashing about the room to find videos and literature.

He lives in a modest, semi-detached house at the end of a cul-de-sac in Riddlesden — a caravan parked outside on the road.

But the name Brian Graham is known the world over — from Canada to New Zealand, from Greece to Japan.

He's the guru — the gaffer as he describes himself. The figurehead of a martial arts association – The Jitsu Foundation – which has developed from a club he set up in Keighley 30 years ago and today has about 3,000 exponents worldwide.

But its history actually goes back to the mid 50s when Brian, carrying out his national service in the RAF, took up judo. He had also been keen on boxing and weight lifting.

He later trained as a textile dyer and in the late 1950s he and his wife Jean emigrated to Australia and made their home in Melbourne.

And it was in that city where his passion for ju-jitsu was fired after joining a martial arts club.

“As soon as I tried it, I knew it was for me. In half an hour I knew this was what I was looking for,” he says.

“It involved physical contact. It enabled you to render people helpless with less effort and gave me a great sense of achievement.

”I was so enthusiastic, and before long I was upgraded and eventually I got my black belt and became a teacher. It took me six years, training three times a week.“

It was at this time that Brian developed new techniques using hand holds to incapacitate attackers and produced his own style of the art.

But when Jean's parents, who had also emigrated, decided to return home, Jean too became homesick and in 1968 they sold up and came back to Keighley.

When Brian and Jean returned home they were materially well-off. They had £3,000 in the bank, the result of ten years hard work.

But Brian had left behind in Melbourne a part of his life for which material wealth was no substitute. A discipline which had given him his greatest sense of achievement.

He was not just a black belt in ju-jitsu — but a black belt in a style of ju-jitsu which he had developed himself, taking the martial art to new heights of discipline.

On arriving back in Keighley in 1968, if he wanted to carry on improving and to build up a following, he realised he would have to set up a club of his own.

Thirty years later that club has created a worldwide association, The Jitsu Foundation, scores of other clubs throughout the UK and about 2,500 exponents of the martial art.

”My task now is to travel the country and the world grading people. There are 79 clubs and I'm the figurehead — the gaffer,“ he says.

”I love it. I am very proud of what we have achieved. Wherever I go I'm treated with great respect.“

On Monday he travelled to Toronto, Canada, where he is grading exponents up to black belt level.

Brian is himself a sixth dan — a level he achieved in 1997. ”It takes years to achieve. Nothing should be gifted. It must be worked for,“ he says.

Brian got his black belt in 1964, his second Dan in 1971, third Dan in 1975, fourth in 1979, fifth in 1983 and sixth in 1997.

He says: ”I absolutely love making these trips, ensuring that people are making the grade to the standard I believe is important.“

The club he started in Keighley in 1970 – he initially set up in Broughton Road, Skipton – is still thriving, meeting in the Leisure Centre three times a week and attracting about 50 people of all ages.

The art is popular with women. ”Unfortunately, a lot give up when they start courting. But I suppose it's natural,“ says Brian.

His daughter Michelle, now in her 30s, started training as a three-year-old and became very dedicated.

She reached her black belt and even began to teach. But Brian admits that his insistence that once a month he vetted her to ensure she was keeping up the standard, and the fact she had a boyfriend, eventually led to her giving it up.

For Steven, his son, now 41, it was motorcycles rather than martial arts.

In the early days people were charged just 15p a session for seniors, 10p for children, and paid £>1.50 a year for their licence. The room was just £>1 a time.

Today the room costs £40 a week, the licence is £8, children pay £1.80 a session and adults £>2.50.

It was hard going and there was little money, but Brian managed to get support, including cash to buy mats from the late Peter Black, boss of the Peter Black factory, in Keighley.

And then with the huge popularity of the films by the martial artist Bruce Lee and the Kung Fu series on television, membership suddenly shot up.

”The club went from about 30 to 80. We were packed. Among the youngsters really coming on was Peter Farrar, a lovely lad, who sadly died later,“ says Brian.

”He was with me for ten years, and during that time he went to polytechnic in Plymouth, where he started his own club.

“A number of other students joined, from places like Bristol, Bath and Swansea. I used to travel down to Plymouth to grade them.”

It was this interest from young students that was the key to the growth of the association and other clubs in universities like Manchester, York, Birmingham and in London.

Some emigrated and took the art with them to New Zealand, Holland, Greece, Cyprus, Canada and the USA.

The Jitsu Foundation now has 79 clubs worldwide and 2,500 members.

It is the governing body, which also co-ordinates the two national senior competitions which take place in November and March, in Birmingham.

It also organises two junior events at various locations.

Anyone interested in knowing more should telephone 01225 334412.

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