SENSEI MIKE BURLEIGH
“What is your Martial Arts background?”
My martial arts journey literally started at Karate For Kids. I joined Caroline’s school in 1998, aged six, and trained for about eight years until I obtained my junior black belt. I loved Goju-Ryu and it really is a style that’s perfect for children, because it doesn’t rely on brute strength but still has an explosive power to it. I was very slight as a child, so learning how to manipulate a situation with minimal force was amazing.
Having returned to Karate For Kids as an instructor, I trained internally with the other Senseis and then joined a new dojo in Roseville belonging to the International Okinawan Goju-Ryu Karate Federation, or IOGKF. It’s where both Sensei Caroline trained herself and Karate For Kids originated from. The main appeal to me however was the international standard. A black belt on its own is meaningless, you can buy them from a store. I wanted mine to mean something and reflects their standard. My childhood doctor trains there too, which is fun, I’m just hoping to never require his services there, haha!
“What have you done outside of the Martial Arts?”
I’m an illustrator and invertebrate-lover. I formally studied illustration at the University of Newcastle and went on to complete Honours with a project for the Australian Museum, for which I was awarded First Class Honours. Since then I’ve worked in science communication for Australian Geographic, the Australian Museum and the University of New South Wales. I’m actually currently developing a mobile application at the Australian Museum for identifing Christmas beetles. It’s due for launch for Christmas 2016, so keep an ear out!
I also have an amazing appreciation of insects and other invertebrates, which stemmed from my studies in scientific illustration. For various jobs, I’ve even kept different spiders, a scorpion, a centipede and millipede, giant cockroach, praying mantis, rhinoceros beetles and various stick insects, and was even lucky enough to inherit the entomological collection of a PhD student’s doctorate. Most people think it’s kinda weird, but invertebrates never seem to mind…
“What can you tell us about yourself?”
I live on the Central Coast with my fiancé, Emily, and our dog Pippa. Em’s a veterinary nurse, so we’re always debating whether invertebrates or vertebrates are “superior”. She’s a huge supporter of my work but a big critic too, which is hugely important. If somebody always says everything you do is 100% perfect, no matter what, it’s not very helpful to you. It comes back to karate, too! I want to know the areas I’m weaker in, or else I can’t work on them and improve. In short, if Em’s pleased with my work, that’s how I know I’ve truly nailed it.
We both worked as dog trainers for a short time too, having taken a number of canine behaviour short courses together. It’s odd when you first think about it, but the principles of dog training share an eerie similarity with teaching children. You have to have them want to participate and reward their engagement. Em also found me a job as a dog photographer, which I did for a year too. Needless to say, we’re dog people.
“What memories to you have from your own training?”
First and foremost, the stories. Whether they were crazy analogies for how to do the correct technique or grandious stories about her own Sensei, Sensei Len. If Sensei Caroline wasn’t a karate instructor she should have been a motivational speaker or comedian. Some were just hilarious, and others had morals that I’ve kept to this day.
One that stands out was a demonstration on self-defence. She called the tallest, biggest student out the front of the class, and with no explanation asked him to punch as quickly as he could. She loudly counted down six seconds, while the rest of us sat there confused, before telling him to stop. He did maybe thirty punches in the time. She then shouted out “Six seconds! That’s how long it takes for a man who’s been hit in the crotch to become incapacitated, and they could do a lot of damage in that time” And then taught us how winding an opponent incapacitates them instantly, and we practiced techniques that targeted the diaphragm. She ended by saying “After you’ve winded your attacker, then you can hit them in the crotch.”
Second was the friendship and camaraderie. I had a great group of friends at Karate For Kids, and I still am with some, but the best example was another student who joined shortly after I started. He was so shy that when he was first dropped off for he literally clung to his dad’s leg in tears, and he only sat at the back for his first lesson or two. Even though I was only about ten at the time, I still remember distinctly noting a couple of years later how he was the absolute life of his friends, and how much confidence he’d gained. He just flourished there.
Having said all that, my biggest memory is the karate itself. I didn’t realise until starting back as a teacher, but even after my long hiatus, I still remembered everything I’d learnt, save for some Japanese terminology. That was a pretty remarkable realisation and absolutely boosted my respect for Sensei Caroline a hundred-fold. I really made me think, because repetition is obviously the key to learning any skill, but our lessons never felt repetitive or dry, and we didn’t simply rote-learn techniques. Through her teaching though,many years and no practice later, it was all still there. Even if it was a little rusty, haha.