Karate a way of life for Bergvliet martial artist

Michael Britton

Bergvliet karate master Michael Britton, 70, is the quintessential cool dude – dope and totally lit as the young crowd would say.

His calm demeanor and laid back nature, the perfect vessel to carry an adventurous spirit that lies within, one he’s carried with him his entire life.

A published author and playwright, his 10th offering, a book on philosophy, is due to be released shortly, just in time for Christmas.

But he’s not some self-styled guru, just a man with some common sense and a zest for life.

Introduced to karate in the late 70s when a friend looking for a training partner invited him to tag along, he earned his black belt 40 years later, in 2018, at age 68.

For Britton, the occasion marked the beginning, not the end of a life-long journey practising and mastering an art he considers much like any other art form, whether it be martial arts, music, theatre or dance.

Much like actors who perform the same piece night after night, he said, they always do it as if they’re doing it for the first time, even if they’ve done it for a year.

“That is when art comes alive and that is what karate does for me. It takes me to that place of being in the now,” he said.

“I found that karate for me is an art form, it’s about finding the moment in the moment, being in the moment because it’s all about the now. You haven’t got energy to expend on what you’re going to be doing tomorrow. You have to be fully focused on what you’re doing now,” he said.

“Grading to black in this style is a six-hour long test of your physical and mental strength, and of your spirit. You get a two-minute break every two hours to grab a drink or eat an energy bar. You’re pushed beyond physical exhaustion, to a place where muscle-memory takes over and it is the strength of your spirit that keeps you going,” he said.

“I have trained in four different styles of karate, starting as a white belt each time and getting to brown belt in all of them. I also spent about six months doing Kung Fu (when I couldn’t find a good karate dojo) and used to do Tai Chi as well. The underlying philosophy of karate does, to a degree, inform my personal philosophy.

“Funny enough,” he says, “I never saw karate as a sport, even though there was always attention to the sporting aspects, such as speed and reflex training.

Presumably a tad slower than he was 40 years ago, Britton seemingly lost none of his agility when demonstrating the kata that helped him earn his black belt. Graceful and nimble, sharp and light-footed, like a seasoned gymnast executing a set of movements in a way that can only be the result of years of practice.

“A kata represents a set of formal exercises that you get graded on in competition. The way you do it, the crispness, the stability, whether you get a move right or wrong. It’s half a point here, half a point there. Ultimately that could be the difference between winning and losing,” he said.

“Before my black belt grading,” he said, “I was in the dojo at least three times a week, training for anything from 90 minutes to two and a half hours each time. This excluded practising my kata on my own, and the strength and fitness work I did outside of the dojo. Currently, my 90 minutes in the dojo once a week is barely a maintenance programme.

“So that’s where I am now, still at the beginning of my journey, but I’m loving every minute of it,” he said.

Michael Britton’s The Socratic Way of Questioning is available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle.