Hi, I’m Mick Gunnell, the founder of, and resident tutor at, the Meikai Dojo.
I run the Dojo to pass on what I have learned of the arts that I’ve studied, in the hopes that other people will enjoy the journey as much as I, and find some benefit in them at the same time.
I currently hold an 8th dan in Okinawan Martial Arts & Bodywork (Shiatsu & Yoga), with the Universal Martial Arts Federation (the UMAF). For those who are interested I’ve included a biography below of my time along the ‘Way’ and the teachers who have guided me.
“There are many paths up the mountain”
During the summer of ’83, aged 24, I was casting about to find a way of letting off youthful steam that didn’t wreck one’s knees as much as playing squash. In September I found my way to a Karate dojo and started training under Sensei Chris Carr and SEKU (the then ‘South of England Karate Union’), learning Shotokan Karate. I quickly became enthralled by the complexity and precision of the Art and was hooked.
I stayed with Chris for 13 years, and once I achieved brown-belt he gave me the opportunity to develop by assisting in the junior and basic adult sessions each night. Three years after starting I attained my Shodan (1st degree black belt). Unfortunately Chris eventually stopped teaching and closed the dojo due to frequently recurring injuries.
Concurrent with the last decade at Chris’s dojo I trained once a week at Sensei Dave Hazard’s dojo in Brighton. Sensei Dave is a formidable karate-ka and a highly inspirational teacher.
In September ’89 I attained my 2nd dan, and started teaching karate, 8 sessions per week, at private venues and Public schools around Sussex.
In 1996/7, I joined the Dai Nippon Butoku Kai (The Imperial Black-Belt Society of Japan), having left SEKU shortly after Chris stopped teaching. I was graded in at 4th dan by Sensei David Pasmore. As well as being a renowned karate-ka David also practised Aikido to an even higher level (I can well remember being flipped around the dojo to peals of his unquenchable laughter).
Shortly after this I was to meet Sensei Don Came, who introduced me to both the concept of ‘old style’ Okinawan karate (kyusho-jutsu/pressure-point fighting), and to the indubitable Sensei Vince Morris – who taught me how to read the ‘language’ of kata, giving me the metaphorical ‘keys’ to unlocking the real secrets of kata applications. Through all the preceding years this knowledge had eluded me and caused a great deal of frustration.
In 1989 I decided to augment my training with Yoga.
At first this was purely to learn how to stretch better, but as my practice developed I learned along the ‘Way’ that flexibility is very definitely only the surface of this beautiful art. It became a fascinating study of my internal world, both physical and mental, and how we are emotionally affected by, and interact with, external reality.
My initial yoga teachers were Janet Figg, Jean Stoker and Jo Paskins. Jean has now retired but Janet and Jo are still teaching and in their 80’s.
1996 found me floundering, having developed a severe lower-back problem and a frozen shoulder. I didn’t understand at the time, but later learned that this was ‘burn-out’, caused by too much adrenaline-based training combined with the grieving period for my mother who had passed on. I had given up my yoga practice because, at the time, I believed that it was making things worse (in reality I just needed to adjust my practice method).
After spending a lot of time and money on physio’s and chiropractors etc for my lower back, an NHS consultant told me bluntly “you are too young to operate on”. This was a really shocking bottle-neck in my career, at only thirty-five I was facing the very real probability that my martial arts days (and my lively-hood at the time), were over.
What I really needed was a paradigm-shift, a change in perspective towards training and life.
Eventually I washed up, in ’97-’98, broken, on the doorstep of Sensei Mark Bishop, Te and Anma/shiatsu master. Mark introduced me, none too gently, to the art of Shiatsu. It worked so well, especially in conjunction with yoga (which he was quick to persuade me back to), that I proceeded to introduce it to my Dojo and learn it myself, by bringing in first Mark, and then Mick Powell as guest instructors.
Piggybacking on my karate and yoga knowledge meant that I rapidly achieved Practitioner, Tutor, and Master Tutor grades in shiatsu.
This was also when I met with Pete Blackaby, a leading Humanistic Yoga teacher, who provided the context within which to make another, similar, paradigm shift within my yoga practice. When Mark left Southern England, eventually settling in France, he asked me to take over the running of his Shiatsu organisation ‘The International Shiatsu Association’. At the time the ISA boasted about 200 active shiatsu practitioners and teachers, so it was a big-ask for a relative newbie like myself. However, I directed it and held seminars, with the help of the other tutors, for about eighteen months before in turn passing responsibility on to a committee.
During the years ’05-’08 I built a private dojo at my home in Burgess Hill, in the form of a large log cabin. For the first few years I kept it for self -practice but eventually started to move my existent classes in, giving them a home.
After a good many seminars with Vince he kindly invited me to join his organisation Kissaki-kai UK, but sensing that this particular ‘next step’ was not where I wanted to go, I declined, and reset my goals to pursue shiatsu and the more health based internal art of Udundi. I do owe Vince a huge debt for – cont’
finally providing me with the pieces to complete the Karate puzzle, but having done so, I felt that I needed to move onwards and upwards to the next, and top tier of the Okinawan Martial arts Okinawan Te/Udundi, ‘Palace-hand’ – the ultimate expression and pinnacle of the Okinawan arts.
I started to study Te in late 2008,
– again under Mark and Mick, was graded into the UMAF at 6th dan, and currently hold an 8th dan (as of Sept 2019). At about 4th dan grades stop representing purely martial technical ability and start being awarded for other signs of progress, such as, in my case, studying Yoga and Shiatsu, becoming a therapist, running a dojo for many years and then building a private venue, and for keeping the open-mindedness to keep progressing up into the endorphin-based humanistic arts, rather than getting stuck in the adrenaline-based animistic ones).
The dojo (as a concept) has morphed through several names, venues and organisations over the years, but eventually I opened a permanent studio at my home in Burgess Hill.
As part of my CPD, I’ve always taken as active a role as possible, attending courses and workshops not only in my core subjects, but also in related areas such as physiology, meditation and Brief-therapy.
I believe in depth of study and dedication to one’s core arts, but also that studying outside one’s subject plays a vital role in development, allowing one to change course as the end of a road approaches (all roads may lead to Rome, but very few go unbroken all the way). It is therefore important to periodically re-assess the art/s that we do, and this can only be done if we have the courage to not be a sheep, and if we have something to compare it/them with. Therefore it’s always worth going on courses with different teachers, from different organisations, arts and countries of origin. Different arts provide a useful mirror and can fill in gaps in our knowledge that we didn’t even realise were there.
I like to keep my feet on the ground by applying modern science wherever possible. More and more, psychology and physiology are confirming what the Eastern cultures have taught for many centuries, and I think that this integration of knowledge is a vital thing for progress on both sides. Western science can help to debunk old dogma, but should tread carefully because lessons from the Eastern arts are not always what they seem, and conversely, Eastern teachings can give Western science plenty of food for thought and new areas of study. It has to be understood though that the Western sciences are only models of reality, they are not in themselves ‘Ways’. ‘Ways’ teach us something about what it is to be human. They’re different kettles of fish.
My deepest gratitude goes to the following teachers, who have put up with me, nurtured me and given me so much inspiration over the years, and who continue to do so.
Te & Shiatsu:
“Always keep a beginners mind”
martial arts maxim
20th September 2015