A new martial arts teacher has entered my tranquil life as Kempoka. One who is very close to the origin of Shaolin Kempo. I am very happy to have met Sifu Olaf Bock. What this is all about, who this gentleman is and why I am so excited about my new disciple status, I will try to clarify with the following interview.
By the way, if things are a bit quieter on these pages at the moment, it is because of the time I am NOT sitting at the computer, but rather trying to make progress in the art of fighting with more or less success. Therefore, I would like to express my regret to all regular readers of these lines about the long waiting time. Most of them will understand, since we share the tendency to hang around in sweaty clothes on spiky mats or in draughty halls.
Thomas Kuclo, a friend of Kempoka’s from Bad Bentheim, drew my attention to Olaf Bock and his “Kadertrainig”. He is one of the rare birds who also likes to think outside the box of his own training plan and who is intensively engaged in the basics and history of Kempo (Shaolin-kempo-karate.de). Some time ago Thomas had already sent me an invitation to the mentioned training. Sounded very interesting, even if I don’t see myself in a “squad”. Sounds so elitist and performance-oriented … But the references to a very original Kempo sounded so exciting that I absolutely wanted to dare the way to the Westerwald. And in the winterly February of this year it finally suited, I met with Thomas and Master Olaf in his Dojo to practice “classical Shaolin Kempo” at a 9th DAN.
Name: Olaf Bock
Style: Shaolin Kempo
Grade: 7th DAN Shaolin Kempo, 9th DAN Shorin Kempo Ryu, 6th DAN Kick Boxing
lives in: Westerwald
trained: among others Betzdorf-Scheuerfeld (Westerwald)
Olaf, you’re surprisingly young for someone so highly graduated. When did you start Kempo and martial arts?
I started at the tender age of 9, 1972, with boxing and karate in my old home in the Sauerland, in Attendorn. I first came in contact with Kempo when I watched a documentary about a Dutchman on television, on the regional program of the WDR, which fascinated me completely. I really wanted to get to know him. That was Gerald Meijers, who at the time was coaching the group around Klaus Poensges. I simply found that cool. That was about 1975.
Did you get to know the grandmaster himself?
Yeah, later. But I didn’t train under him. I trained under one of his direct master students. Through a former acquaintance from Kamp Lintford I met Ludger Ingelhardt. He was training Kempo with a certain Cor Brugman in Doetinchem in Holland. That was in the early 80s. At that time I had just become “mobile” with my first car and just drove there.
Just went there? How far is that from where you live?
About 200 kilometers. So it wasn’t any further than when you drove! The atmosphere, the spirit, the training and the person of Cor Brugman immediately captivated me so much that I became a student there.
As a Sauerlander in Holland? Were many Germans there?
(laughs) Nope, I was already the only one back then. The “German”. So I left almost every weekend on Friday after work and returned on Sunday after the last training. For many years …
What fascinated you so much that you took on this distance?
Cor Brugman was clearly number 1 in Kempo, Holland at the time, and when it came to Kempo, there was nothing better. And I just liked the way he taught. Cor was only 30 years old at the time, so he was in his prime. He was 6 then. DAN. And he was one of Meijers’ master students. Once a month the greats of Kempo met in the Doetinchem Dojo to exchange ideas and to train together. Because the efforts to harmonize the different Kempo styles already existed back then. Such calibres as Jan Bruger, Camine Tundo, Rene Kraft van Ermel and many others entered the hall. Furthermore there were good contacts to students of Jimmy Bax like Rene Scharff, or Harry de Spa and Theo Theloesen and later also to Tjebbe Laeyendecker. From all corners of Holland came the active people, some of them even people who had trained Kempo in the military in the fifties. Despite his youth, Cor Brugmann was an institution even then. And I was allowed to train with and at him! That was of course great for me. And then I was also on the road a lot with Cor himself.
Kempo only happened on weekends?
No, of course I trained during the week too. Back then there was a small group in Siegen. And in 1984, I just had my first DAN, the idea came up to start my own group. Of course this had to be approved by Cor. The relationship between student and teacher was always seen very strictly by Cor. Without his permission this would not have been possible. And with Cor, and also with me, the DAN grades from 1 to 4 are still student grades. Only with the 4th DAN may one teach oneself, open one’s own dojo. Cor was always present at the exams of my students in the first years, I could not do that on my own. But this form of discipline and hierarchy fascinated me back then. For example, I never called Cor by his first name in the dojo, I would not do it today.
So you have been teaching since 1984?
Right, back then with a group in Hachenburg. I opened the dojo in Betzdorf in 1991/92 and led it until 2008. With quite some success, because there were always about 25 to 30 people in training. And that here in the country. And with my understanding of training. This was closely based on the Dutch way of teaching. Blood, sweat and fear were just part of it. That’s how the Dutch trained back then. Hard and physical, lots of full contact, lots of fighting. But Cor always kept an eye on what his students could achieve.
How did your training in Doetinchem continue?
I became one of Cor Brugmann’s master students quite quickly. At that time I was present at all demonstrations, was practically his figurehead. And I was and am 100 percent loyal to Cor. Because he was by no means a comfortable person, he always liked to speak his mind straight. That made him, and that made me, not only friends. At some point I took over the training in Doetinchem and S’ Heerenberg, because Cor had quite some health problems. And until 2006 I was in charge of the cadre training there, partly with Cor, partly alone. In 2007 Cor officially appointed me as his successor. So I have seen many developments of Kempo in Holland, a little bit the development from Karate Bond Nederland (KBN), then through Shaolin Kempo Bond (SKB) to Kempo Associatie Nederland (KAN). And the video of my exam for the 3rd DAN was watched a lot in Holland for a long time.
When I search the internet in Holland for the roots of Shaolin Kempo, the names Brugman rarely appear and Bock rarely or not at all. How does that happen?
Cor was always an excellent martial artist, but a miserable diplomat. He always said what he thought. And even though I didn’t always agree with everything, I was always 100% loyal to my sensei. So Cor caught a lot of headwinds, and I was equated with Cor. At that time in Holland it was said “There is no Cor without Olaf, and Olaf not without Cor”. And besides, I am still “the German”, not all Dutch people like that. But I still have very good contacts also in Holland and Belgium.
And in Germany?
There I accompanied the Shaolin Kempo from 1992 to 1998 quite actively. I quickly got in contact with the German Wushu Federation, also on the advice of Cor, and then I was also the national coach in Rhineland-Palatinate. Who else, at that time there was only Olaf Bock in Rhineland-Palatinate. Again and again, martial artists from Germany were guests in Doetinchem for some time, for example from Kleve, Emmerich, Duisburg or Münster. In 1998, however, I stopped doing so, because I didn’t feel like the ever-increasing number of club-meisters and know-it-alls anymore. Then people approached me and wanted to explain to me how I should teach Shaolin Kempo, or that there are no changing heights in the forms, or or or or …
That was quite different, much more respectful in dealing with the teachers as well. Example exams: At Cor no one would have thought to ask about their next exam. The candidates were selected by the teacher. There were also no fixed time slots for this, the teacher decided that himself. For some of them faster, for others later. And that was not questioned. There were also no fixed examination regulations. This only came up in the mid 80s. And the date of an exam came spontaneously for you as a student. If you were lucky, you knew it a week or two before. The motto was “The exam is part of a normal training. You must always be ready.”
If you visit the website of the Kempo in Betzdorf, you will find the hint that you have been very active abroad, especially in Eastern Europe. What is that all about?
At an American Kempo tournament in Ireland in 2000 I met two Hungarians. At that time they were looking for well-known stars of the scene to lead seminars in Hungary. At that time there was no real scene. So I actually went to Budapest on invitation in 2001. And stood in front of more than 150 participants from all corners of the country. Among them was a German-speaking Romanian from Transylvania, who also wanted to invite me. Quite officially, as he said. And indeed, shortly afterwards I received a highly official letter from the local Ministry of Sport inviting me to a five-day seminar. So I went there believing that I would be a part of a big seminar. Until I realized that I was going to run the seminar all by myself. On the first evening we were 40 participants. That’s not too bad. On the second day there were 80, on the third day 160, then finally over 200. It was amazing. And suddenly I was one of the most famous martial arts trainers in Romania.
In 2002 we founded the International Kempo Federation (IKF) in Budapest. The aim was actually only to hold an international competition in Bucharest in 2003. This too has become a kind of snowball, bigger and bigger, more and more important. Jeff Speakman then became my successor as chairman, I am still honorary chairman. And still in contact with the Kempoka in USA, Romania and Hungary.
But at some point you disappeared and were hardly present. Why?
As I said before, I am not interested in club-melee and association disputes. And that became more and more strange, also envy. A number of, let’s say, discussion-worthy new “styles” developed, whose leaders then liked to adorn themselves with high graduations and celebrated themselves. I remember quite a few incidents until the recent past. Many are likeable representatives of their art, but I am conservative. How can you be graduated higher than your teacher? And how can there be more than a 10th Dan in Shaolin Kempo? Meijers is still alive. I’m still 7th Dan in Shaolin Kempo, and have been for over 14 years. My teacher Cor Brugman is an 8th Dan. In 2008 I left the scene, also from the IKF, trained only for myself, no longer taught any students. I just didn’t feel like it anymore. In 2010 I started a new job in the justice department, where a lot of energy went into it.
And what about your 9th DAN in “Shorin Kempo”? Isn’t that just a new name of the well-known Shaolin Kempo?
No. I have long wondered why Faulhaber chose the name Shaolin Kempo. And unlike most Kempoka, I followed that name. I have studied the Japanese, Okinawan roots intensively. And studied the Bubishi, among other things. There I came across the name Shaolin Kempo. It expressed that the art of Kempo or the White Crane style was native to China and came to Okinawa. And finally expressed itself in the original Goju Ryu. That’s where Grandmaster Meijers excelled. With these insights I founded Shorin Kempo Karate as a martial art in its own right, which has its roots more in the Chinese crane style. This is expressed in many of our movements, including the classical Shaolin Kempo – in hand positions, standing heights and the like. How, on the other hand, people nowadays come up with the dragon as a symbol or name is a mystery to me, because the roots are definitely in the crane style and not in the dragon style. Since 2013 Shorin Kempo is recognized in Japan as an independent martial art. And meanwhile I am the founder of the style and hold the 9th DAN in Japan. But as I already said: If it is about the original Shaolin Kempo, as I show it to you, then I have the 7th DAN.
You’re teaching again today, you accepted me as a student. What’s that all about?
That’s right, I stopped my ostrich attitude in 2016. At some point Cor said that I was the only one who could still teach the original Shaolin Kempo in its complete form. And I should please be very careful about what happens to “our” Shaolin Kempo and pay attention to it, otherwise it would disappear. I have taken that to heart. After some hesitation I have therefore activated my small group in Betzdorf again and I also teach once a month in a cadre training, as I used to in Doetinchem. But no more dozens or hundreds of students, just a small and selected circle of people who are really interested and who are also behind it. And getting to know Thomas and you shows me that knowledge is still welcome. There are people who want to know more, who ask themselves: What is behind the martial art Kempo? I want the students to question what they are doing, so that they understand and don’t copy.
I am interested in the individual people. That’s why I also choose who really becomes a student. But of course all those who are interested in the original Shaolin Kempo are welcome.
Mehr Infos: https://kempo-karate-betzdorf.jimdo.com