Yes, the beard is back. I’ve had a number of people ask why…Actually, for those that know me before Bushin you will remember I had one previously. While it’s never been a huge, bushy affair it was always there. For 10 years in fact I had it…almost as long as the shaven head.
When I moved to Japan in 1998 I had a reasonable head of hair…about the length of Olly’s. I went to live in Japan to study Shorinji Kempo and got a job at an English conversation school to pay the bills. My first week consisted of a training course and I met up with my teacher trainer and had a day of orientation. The next morning I decided to get a haircut. Obviously the hairdresser didn’t speak any English and my Japanese at the time was quite limited. “koko yon” (pointing to top), “koko ni” (pointing to side), I said. “Here four, here two”, referring to the trimmer size to be used. “hai hai hai” she replied. She picked up the trimmer, set it number zero and put it straight down the middle of my head. After my initial scream I decided I had to let her carry on and finish the sheep shearing exercise. At least it would be even.
The next day I went back to my course. My teacher trainer introduced himself to me again, not recognising me from the day before. I then had my first lesson. I prepared my materials and sat down in the room. The teachers were all staring at me in fear. I asked them what was wrong. They all pointed at my hair. “why you have short hair? Are you army?”one asked. In those days short hair was a rare sight, especially with foreigners. “No” I replied and recounted the story. They all fell about laughing. I seemed to have the perfect icebreaker for my job. So there it stayed until this present day.
The beard came one year later. I grew it on a trip to Thailand for a bit of fun. The Japanese immigration officers didn’t take to kindly to it though and on my return questioned my passport picture and gave me the third degree about my trip. It took me the best part of an hour to clear customs, despite my fluency in Japanese at the time. Obviously it was the fashion for drug dealers then. Again it became another story to amuse the English students with, so I kept it.
I shaved the beard off when I started Bushin at the beginning of 2009. It seemed an opportune time as a fresh start and a new beginning. I missed the beard but enjoyed the new look which allowed me to be a bit lazier about my shaving habits (which seems a bit trendy these days). But now the beard is back. I’ve grown it back in memory of my late father, Lawrence Barker. The Barker stubble is endemic and it took years for us to convince my Dad to cover the six o’clock shadow with a beard. When he first grew it, it looked more like Bill Odie’s…a huge multi-coloured badger style. Over the years it shrunk and eventually he had a goatie like mine. He kept his beard right up until the last week before he died.
My dad was a proud father. Many of you have met him from the Bushin opening demonstration. In fact the picture of him watching in the audience is my favourite one. He was always there to support me in my martial arts career, even from when I was a kid. My old training partner, Joseph Koniak, said to me only the other day how he was always jealous that my Dad would always come along to watch while his own parents were never present. Even in his final days he was still asking how the club was doing and how I was managing to run the class while still looking after him.
Dad took an avid interest in my endeavours and always asked what martial art I was training in at the time and how my club was doing. He was the only visitor who ever managed to come to my Shorinji Kempo dojo in Japan. He loved the visit and it was the first time he had been called a young whippersnapper by my old instructor, Goda sensei, who was 76 years old at the time and a 9th dan, the highest rank in Shorinji Kempo. I recently found a number of pictures on his computer of Hombu, the headquarters, which he also visited with much interest. A lot of senior Shorinji Kempo students have never even been.
Dad was a fitness fanatic and even at the grand age of 71 he was going to the gym twice a week and having a workout everyday. He would put his fellow gym-goers to shame and would probably give most of the Bushin students a run for their money. We often swapped notes on stretching techniques and various fitness torture devices.
If there is anything I can thank Dad for it’s for passing on his ability to work hard and keep going until you get the job done. To never give up, whatever the hardship. He fought his cancer all the way to the end, even though he knew it was a lost cause. He never gave up hope despite the fact it took him from us in a mere seven weeks. The bulldog barker approach. We never give up a fight. “Nana karobi ya oki” as the Japanese say…if you fall down seven times, get up eight.
I can only hope that by having a rather feeble attempt at a beard, a small part of this great man can live on in me. Everyone always says you grow up to be your parents. If I turn out to be half the men my father was I would be very proud.