Captain Caveman to Martial arts

From humble beginnings: Colin Jones started out teaching in church halls ' today NipponUK has thousands of members
From humble beginnings: Colin Jones started out teaching in church halls ' today NipponUK has thousands of members
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Most people can look back upon their lives and identify a defining moment which shaped their future.

For 40-year-old Colin Jones, his date with destiny when he was eight-years-old and his dad Joseph suffered a severe back injury.

While Jones senior lay on a hospital bed recuperating, his young son was prevented from attending his weekly jiu-jitsu class at a local sports centre.

Initially, he had been enticed to attend the martial arts class so that his dad could have a little bit of free time to go off and play badminton.

But with his dad out of action for several weeks, there was no need for the young Jones to carry on with the class.

However, they say absence makes the heart grow fonder and Jones Jr soon discovered how much he missed his weekly jiu-jitsu fix.

It made him realise that the combat sport was what he really wanted to do and, in 30 or so years since that time, he has turned his love of martial arts into a full-time career.

A black belt in jiu-jitsu, judo and karate, Jones is the founder of the hugely-successful martial arts company NipponUK, which is based in Tulketh Brow, in Preston.

Thousands of children and adults across the North West – stretching from Southport to Lancaster to East Lancashire – have been taught by Jones or the many instructors, who work for NipponUK.

Jones said: “When I was a kid, I used to go with my dad to the local sports centre. He used to play badminton and it was in the days when sports centres were busy places.

“So me and my sister Carol went and did jiu-jitsu.

“At first it was one of those things where I went to – I wouldn’t say because of parental pressure – but because the sports centre was a place where my dad went and sending me off to jiu-jitsu gave him the freedom of going off and doing something for himself.

“But I think he also understood the kind of things I could learn from doing jiu-jitsu. It was important to him that I did something that gave me a little bit of confidence and respect.

“I was only three when I first began to go and there were times when I would have sooner stopped at home and watched Captain Caveman or something like that on the TV.

“I think what changed for me was when my dad could not take us down to the sports centre any more. It was during that time that my sister decided she did not want to continue.

“I think it was that transition from it being something I always did every week to all of a sudden not going at all, which kind of struck a chord with me

“It made me realise that jiu-jitsu was something I really wanted to do.

“Previously I had probably just gone through the motions – I went because I had to go.

“I was always there but I’d never particularly been at the forefront and I was never the first to volunteer for anything.

“But when it came to the moment of not having to go, that changed everything.

“I really missed it and it became a bit of a passion of mine.”

Jones is a big believer in martial arts as a tool to improve discipline and respect among the younger generation.

He is a keen advocate of bringing martial arts on to the school curriculum.

“I think it’s good to be exposed to martial arts at a young age,” he said.

“We have a group here at Nippon called the ‘Little Ninjas’, who are just three years old.

“Some of the parents will say to me, ‘Do you think they are learning enough?’ and I will say back to them that it’s not about learning, it’s about being exposed to it all.

“As they get older, they will make up their own minds as to whether they want to take it further.

“But he discipline aspect of martial arts is very important.

“I would say 99.9% of martial arts is all about discipline and being respectful to each other.

“The children learn to bow to each other before they go on the mat, they bow to each other again when they leave the mat. It’s not about fighting, it’s about being – and becoming– better people. That is what martial arts is all about.

“My main job within NipponUK these days is trying to take martial arts into schools. I genuinely believe in it.”

Jones, who originally hails from Liverpool, believes it offers pupils a chance to try a different activity away from the more populist sports like football.

With little interest in more commonly played sports as a young boy, Jones was often left frustrated at school as he was forced to play football.

It was this experience which inspired him to set up NipponUK in 1993 and give children the opportunity to learn something in school, which he, himself, was denied all those years ago.

He said: “I always tell a story of when I was at school – and I went to a really rough, inner-city school in the heart of Liverpool called Archbishop Beck.

“There were about 1,500 to 2,000 kids which went to the school and consequently, I did not tell people that I did martial arts.

“When I went to school, it was in the days when PE was done by a teacher with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth holding a bag of footballs. I always look back at my time at school and think that I never did any other sport.

“I never played rugby or cricket – it was always football.

“When it rained, we would go inside to the gym and play indoor football.

“I always remember looking up at all the equipment and apparatus on the walls – there would be ropes and bars and other things – and thinking, ‘What’s that for?’ – it was the era of when you stood against the wall and two teams would be picked – and I would always be the last one to be picked.

“Football never really interested me, And I remember the only time my dad ever got involved with something which happened at school was when I got a really bad report from my PE teacher.

“It said that I was lazy and rubbish at sport and good for nothing.

“But that particular year, unknown really to my school, I had been competing all-around Europe in France, Italy and Spain.

“So my dad went in to see my teacher and said to him, ‘You say he’s rubbish at sport? Do you mean he’s just not very good at football?’. I love the fact that 25 years later, schools have introduced a whole multitude of sports for the children to do.

“That’s what we do now here at Nippon. We go into schools teaching martial arts. We have kids doing things like jiu-jitsu, judo and kick-boxing.

“PE teachers come up to me a lot and say,’You know what? That pupil never does any other they are getting top marks in PE’.”

Jones passed his black belt in jiu-jitsu at the age of 14 and when he left school, he began working for the World Jiu-Jitsu Federation (WJF) under sensei Robert Clark.

He also worked for the Spanish Taekwondo Association as well as competing in various events around the UK and Europe.

He said: “It was a lot different when I first began to do jiu-jitsu.

“You only had three belts. You would start off with a white belt and after every few years you would pass a test and then saw a green tab on to your belt.

“Then after a while you would progress to a brown belt and then after 10 years you could take your black belt.

“I was 14 when I passed my black belt.

“I’ve since gone on to pass my black belts in judo and karate, but jiu-jitsu was always my main discipline.

“The good thing about martial arts is that your journey in life changes.

“For example, when I was eight or nine, I just wanted to learn and gain as much knowledge as possible about it.

“But when I got in my teens, I wanted to compete. I used to do a lot of wrestling and judo competitions.

“I used to love that physical combat.

“It was great for me at the age of 14 because I would be getting on a coach and going off to compete somewhere.

“And the funny thing is I would build up some really strong bonds with people who I would be fighting against.

“So from the age of 14 to 20, that is what martial arts meant to me – it was all about competition.

“But as time went on and from my 20s onwards, I discovered a real love for teaching.

“In those days, jiu-jitsu wasn’t an Olympic sport when I was competing so I never really had that ambition.

“I could quite possibly have been good enough to compete at that level – I did win a lot of medals at various competitions.
“But I think even if I have five gold medals around my neck, nothing would give me greater satisfaction than going into a sports centre and seeing kids doing martial arts with the same enjoyment as what I used to do.

“I think it’s great that you can get 500 kids all on the mat in one place and the sensei will say, ‘Quiet’ and you will see 500 pairs of feet go together and everyone goes really quiet.”

Despite enjoying working under sensei Clark, Jones felt he could make a difference by going alone.

He moved away from his native Liverpool – so as not to tread on sensei Clark’s toes – and decided to base himself in Preston and the surrounding area.

From humble beginnings, Jones began to teach at church halls and small sports centres around Lancashire – gradually building up a membership base.

He said: “I thoroughly enjoyed my time at WJD but I had lots of ideas and lots of things I wanted to do myself.

“I worked for a fantastic teacher but he was somebody who could not be changed. So my ideas were encouraged but never taken up.

“I had ideas like taking martial arts into schools, but my sensei did not think it was a goer.

“He felt that children should go to school, come home and then go to his classes at night.

“But my argument was that not all children can attend classes at night – so why don’t we take martial arts to them?

“There were other things as well that I felt I could do differently. Not so much better, but differently and so it got to the stage where I felt it was something I could do myself.”

Armed with £500 in his back pocket – handed to him by the Prince’s Youth Business Trust – Jones bought a transit van and set of old school mats.

“I had about £40 left for advertising, so I got my 
next-door neighbour, who was an arts student, to design me a flyer.

“I took it to the local corner shop and got it copied as many times as possible.

“I picked five areas of Lancashire to work in – that’s how I ended up moving to Preston.

“I promised my old boss when I left I would not set up within 30 miles of his classes within the first two years.”

Jones’ first lessons under the NipponUK banner were held in church halls in Lytham St Annes, Kirkham, Longridge, the centre of Preston and Tarleton.

“I literally just spent my time walking up and down streets, putting up posters and pushing things through doors,” Jones said.

“I was charging something like £2 per class.

“It’s funny, in those days my office was my bedroom and I remember getting these membership forms from people wishing to become members. I can remember being so impressed when I got my 10th member.

“But nowadays, the membership is in its tens of thousands, but that feeling of getting my 10th member probably gave me a bigger buzz as getting the 10,000th.

Indeed, NipponUK is now major player in the teaching of martial arts across the North West, with virtually all of their instructors being home-grown.

The company has also developed a unique partnership with Preston College to help students gain sporting qualifications courtesy of their ability in various martial arts.

Jones has also branched out into offering clubs the opportunity to take their pupils abroad.

He has a base in Spain where students can practise their discipline on the beach or on the rocks as the sun goes 

“We have another company called Nippon Retreats,” Jones said.

“And they offers specialist martial art holidays.

“We can take children or adults out of a grey climate like England or Scandinavia and they can train on the beach in a warm climate.

“When you train in a country where the climate is grey and you’re training inside a sports centre, going over to Spain is such a nice thing to do.”