Shooting the Breeze with... Martial Art - Jeet Kune Do - in wheelchairs

Newport man conquers yet another challenge

Top from left, Martin O’Neil (Lurgan) Alan De Preter (Belgium) Neil Click (Longford), James Devine (Dublin)  Bottom from left, Paul Tobin (Laois), Tom Chambers (Mayo) Mark McNulty (Donegal) Colm Whooley (Dublin)

Top from left, Martin O’Neil (Lurgan) Alan De Preter (Belgium) Neil Click (Longford), James Devine (Dublin) Bottom from left, Paul Tobin (Laois), Tom Chambers (Mayo) Mark McNulty (Donegal) Colm Whooley (Dublin)

Wheelchair-bound since an accident in 1981, Newport man Tom Chambers knows no bounds. The sports fanatic has completed numerous marathons, pushed the wheels through countless races and inspired a multitude through his unyielding belief that anything is possible. The big man was always active, playing football with his native Burrishoole in his youth and later lining out across the water in England. When a car accident in 1981 left him disabled, it still could not take away his love of life and ambition to push back the boundaries time and time again.

Tom’s latest venture is more interesting than ever. The Newport man has taken up Martial Arts - Jeet June Do (The way of the Intercepting Fist ) - and has now introduced the skill to his native Newport.

Tom explains: “If you always put limits on everything you do, it will spread into your work and your life. There are no limits. There are only plateaus, and you must not stay there, you must go beyond them.

“Jeet June Do is a method of self-defence for those of us with spinal injuries and it really works. I was delighted to get involved. I have met some amazing people and I’m learning new skills all the time.

“This particular martial arts school was founded by Sifu Bruce Lee over 35 years ago. He emphasised the need to intercept your opponent’s attack before it is launched or - at the latest - while it is in motion. In order to achieve the goal of interception there are a few key principles to abide by: simplicity, economy, longest weapon/nearest target.”

Providing further background, Tom added that the Martin O’Neil began the first JKD School in Ireland in 1987. He has been active in martial arts for 27 years and is the first person in Europe to be certified full instructor in Jun Fan Gung Fu, Jeet Kune Do, by Sifu Lama M Davis II. He is ranked by Sibak Taky Kimura and Sifu Andy Kimura at advanced level 2 in Jun Fan Gung Fu. Martin became only the second person outside the USA to receive the rank of level 2 in Jun Fan Gung Fu from Sibak Taky Kimura and Sifu Andy Kimura. Taky Kimura was perhaps Bruce Lee’s closest friend during the Seattle period. Being a Japanese-American, Kimura lived a life that was marred by anti-Asian racism, which ran rampant in the United States during World War II and afterward.

When Kimura was 36 he met Bruce Lee, then 19, and signed up for marital arts lessons. Immediately his self-confidence grew and his self-defence skills improved. Lee eventually promoted him to the fifth rank of Jun Fan Gung Fu and and gave him permission to teach the system. From 1960 to 2005, Kimura oversaw the functions of the Jun Fan Gung Fu Club of Seattle. Together with his son Andrew, he now operates the Jun Fan Gung Fu Institute there.

Martial arts for people with a disability took a major step forward in 2008 when Spinal Injuries Ireland (which runs a Jeet Kune Do self defence programme ) was privileged to host a seminar in Jun Fan Jeet Kune Do, with Sibak Andy Kimura as the guest instructor. Andy Kimura, senior instructor at the Jun Fan Gung Fu Institute of Seattle, is the son of Sigung Taky Kimura, Bruce Lee’s closest friend and highest ranked student. The Jun Jan Gung Fu Institute of Seattle was founded in 1960 by the late Bruce Lee, the founder of the martial art of Jeet KuneDo. Spinal Injuries Ireland has been pursuing its goal to create a self-defence programme that ‘really works’ for wheelchair users since 2003.

Spinal Injuries Ireland’s JDK instructors Declan Breen and Colm Whooley met Andy Kimura and Alain De Preter of Antwerp JKD at a seminar in Belfast held by Martin O’Neil of JKD Ireland. It was while attending this seminar that the seed of an idea was planted. Would it be possible to get Andy and Taky Kimura Kimurato agree to hold a seminar for Spinal Injuries Ireland? The first step in this journey was October 2008 when six members of Spinal Injuries Ireland JKD self defence programme travelled to Antwerp in Belgium to train with Alan De Preter of the Antwerp School of Martial Arts. It is fair to say that Alain De Preter and his colleagues were impressed with the technical ability and passion of the group. At the end of the weekend Alain agreed to ask Taky and Andy Kimura when he was next in Seattle if they would consider putting a seminar for Spinal Injuries Ireland together.

“Taky and Andy agreed to travel from Seattle to the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Dublin where Spinal Injuries Ireland runs its JDK self defence programme for both inpatients and individuals from around the country.

“I am happy to report the programmes are going from strength to strength and I love travelling from Newport every month to the self-defence training day. Hopefully one day I will have my own school in the West,” said Tom Chambers.

On June 23 following a tough self-defence weekend by Martin and Alain under the supervision of guest instructor Sifu Andy Kimura of the Jun Fan Gung Fu Institute of Seattle, Tom Chambers received his first of many certificates in Jeet Kune Do, which he proudly hangs on the wall of his house. He is already planning his next challenge.

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