Both seminars started fast, we lined up uneasily awaiting what was ahead. You could feel the tension crackling. Not hesitating, the instructors lived their roles as prisoners, guards or night-clubbers looking for a good time. At Casablanca night club, in Sydney, the bouncers had us line up and show IDs. Once in, I was bumped into and confronted by drunkards looking for a drink…or a fight. Brawls erupted all around me as I tried to smooth talk my way out of buying an instructor a drink. It felt so eerily similar to what I’d seen when out clubbing, I was confronted. Bad Top 40s blaring, it felt like a sweaty night out in Sydney. Over the 2 hours we endured typical party situations, from standing up to sitting down from light presses to lightning fast cupping palms to groin shots, we learnt the ins and outs of martial nightclubbing. That night I could not help but be twitchy and hyper aware as I did actually navigate Sydney’s nightlife. Having dusted myself of from the Sydney seminar it was time for round two.
Two weeks later in Melbourne’s old prison, I distinctly remember getting led into the cell thinking, ‘what have I done signing up for another one of these?’ Sure enough, minutes later, in top to bottom grey tracksuit and prisoner tags, Jake Comarmond walked in staring me down with Riley Gunner menacing in the background, it was on. I think they asked me for protection money before getting hit. Brawls broke out left and right. Guards pushed prisoners into cells, gangs roamed looking for prey, heavy metal raged in the background all juxtaposed against Rob standing in the midst, unflappable, calmly observing the melee.
But as with the Sydney seminar, I couldn’t contain my smile…which sometimes got me in trouble with wily prisoners. Although both the Sydney nightclub seminar and Melbourne prison seminar were different situations, the common elements were proactivity, aggression, and adaptability. It felt so close to the kind of thing you face in the street. Preparing you and pushing your emotional threshold for when it really matters.
This kind of realism is a credit to the instructors and Rob, they were expertly conducted and coordinated. Even in the carnage, Rob and the instructors were very careful to build each individual’s confidence up, drilling ‘grey area’ techniques, skills and positioning. Providing both the tools and just the right amount of pressure and consideration for individual skill levels and abilities.
I was first introduced to Arakan at a family wedding by a friend from the Gold Coast. I said I was looking at something different, having dabbled in multiple martial arts I had not found the one for me. None of them seemed real and after a bad experience getting bashed in Byron Bay, I was thinking something street-effective, like Krav Maga. My friend said “no way, I have something better.” I forgot about the conversation until I got a mysterious phone call from someone called Richy, asking if I wanted an introductory lesson in ‘Arakan.’ Little did I know what I was in store for.
I walked into that first lesson with an ego so big you could barely see me. Richy started coaching me on the basic strikes while Chris Munro ghosted him in the background. I confidently thought I was all that, until one demonstration hammer-fist knocked the breath out of me hard. After I recovered, humbled, I watched Chris and Richy free-spar, demonstrating various techniques. The combination of Richy’s flow, timing, speed, raw aggression, hands a like paws, and the art itself, looked like a lion or honey badger backed into a corner. It was that visceral.
Walking away winded, humbled and excited, I had finally found the martial art for me.
Since that day I have been hooked. I began weekly training with Chris Munro and Carlos Ortega in Sydney and then six months after my intro, when the time came for me to pack up my things and move to Melbourne, Arakan was waiting for me on the other side. Moving to another city is never easy but the routine of training and the warmth of the instructors made it that much easier. The Arakan culture is universal and that is evident from both my move and the seminars I participated in, where hardly anyone knew each other but the camaraderie was immediate and warm. I am still happily thumping pads with Riley Gunner, Simon Richards and Kyle Howie in Melbourne and my appetite for harder training, bigger challenges and more attackers is only growing.
Arakan has helped me with so much in my life. I have noticed a profound personal transformation as my focus, confidence and fighting skills have grown. Many times since I began, unluckily or luckily one may think, I have had to use elements of Arakan in real situations, where I once would have backed down and maybe have been the victim, I have been able to control situations and have been able to avert negative outcomes. Which has bolstered my conviction in the art. No doubt really remains. This is a huge credit to my instructors teaching ability and to the effectiveness of the art. Kyle Howie once said to me, “All you have to do is show up and let us to our job.” It is that simple.
Going back to Melbourne, walking out of the prison seminar, I felt a profound sense of gratitude as I reflected on my journey with Arakan. It’s only been a year and half but I feel like it’s been both a lifetime and has only really just begun. Limping on my way to my car, Richy turned to me and said with his big scary smile, “We are going to have to step things up for you next time Harry.” That would have used to make me nervous, but I was still smiling. To be fair, I actually cannot wait for the next one!