As a child I studied boxing, taught to me by my father who had also boxed from being a child and his father before him and his father before him and even his father before him. Boxing can be traced in my family back to the early 1800’s.
My upbringing was immersed in boxing and my father inspired me to be good at it through his teachings and his stories about boxers – and in particular our family and its famous boxers.
By the time the kung fu craze came about in the early 1970’s I was quite proficient as a boxer but became fascinated with the oriental martial arts. I joined a karate club, found that I excelled at that too and that I was naturally quite flexible so high fast kicks soon became a firm favourite with me.
Two problems faced me at the time though: one was that karate punches are quite simplistic compared to boxing and I found it hard to let my boxing go when I sparred. My instructor would admonish me ‘you’re not boxing now Higo!’ but my training was too deeply embedded in me. The second thing is that I watched my instructor sparring with another black belt and he didn’t use any karate. At any rate, certainly not the karate that he was teaching us. The difference between karate as it was taught through kata and defence and attack was nothing like how it appeared when it was used in sparring.
These two things affected me and they were compounded by two more. In early 1976 my brother and I were attacked by 3 other guys, the fight was broken up but one thing stuck in my mind. I threw a fast roundhouse kick to an opponent’s head and I pulled it short of the target! We were trained in karate not make contact with our strikes and that was so ingrained in me that I actually obeyed my training in a real fight! This started me thinking about what I was being taught and whether what I was learning was practical for self-defence. The other thing that happened was Bruce Lee. He was a terrific martial artist compared to others at the time but behind his onscreen persona he was also a well-educated martial artist who asked good questions about the efficiency of the traditional martial arts and their street effectiveness.
Lee invented his own martial arts system and after his death others were doing the same. So at my young and impressionable age I did too.
With my older brother, we put together what we knew worked into our own system. We opened our first school in 1976 and began to teach our system – which didn’t really have a name except for the working title that my brother came up with which was ‘Utility Boxing’ because it utilised more than just boxing and even weapons too. We had never heard the term ‘kickboxing’ at that time. As strange as it might seem, no one had then or we would probably have used that name to describe what we taught. Sure, there was the new ‘full contact’ karate in the USA but kickboxing was unknown and even Muay Thai was unheard of in the West.
We closed our club after about 9 months for several reasons. My brother left home and got married, my parents split up and I – being only 15 or 16 – went to live with my Mum. But I continued to train and study. I still trained with my brother at weekends and we still practised our system, without having a name for it yet.
In 1982, I was married with my own house and a good job, I decided I wanted to teach again. For several reasons I was very anti-oriental martial arts such as karate and kung fu. I was right in some ways but I was also missing a lot of what they had to offer especially from the Japanese arts. However, I wanted to bring back the original boxing as it was before it only had punches, before it was stripped of its kicks, throws, wrestling, sword, cudgel and quarter staff.
The art of boxing goes back to at least the ancient Greeks who called it ‘puxos’ which means box, the shape the fist makes when it’s clenched for fighting. The ancient Romans called it ‘pugis’ which also meant box. The art travelled with the Romans and naturally, as the Roman Empire included Britain it came here too. Boxers in the old days were known as pugilists or ‘pugs’ – the breed of dog today known as a pug is so called because of its flat nose resembling the one many boxers had.
I wanted to get back to this original art of pugilism partly to prove that the West had its martial heritage too. I wanted… well, at that time I didn’t know what I wanted, but I did know that I was searching for something more than I had and more than I could find anywhere else. I still didn’t have a name for my system so I decided to find one that summed up what I stood for. Little did I realise then, what a part of me that name would become. I had no resources but had studied Greek mythology and knew that many words from mythology have found their way into the dictionary. So I began searching in the A’s onward to find a word from mythology or that could sum up my system of martial arts. I didn’t get very far, in fact I didn’t get out of the A’s where I found the word AEGIS. I remembered this word from my studies as the shield that the goddess Athena (the goddess of wisdom) loaned to Perseus to aid him when he slew the ferocious creature, a gorgon known as Medusa. The gorgons were hideous creatures, so ugly and deadly that one look at them could turn a man to stone. After Perseus killed Medusa he cut off her head and fixed it to the front of his shield which became known as the Aegis. Eventually this shield was given to Zeus, king of the gods and over time the word aegis became synonymous with protection. The literal definition of aegis in my little dictionary was ‘anything that protects’. This was the name I had been looking for. When I opened my second academy I was teaching my system which now had a name, AEGIS, and we taught ‘anything that protects’.
I could not have known at the time how true those words would become and I taught my system for 20 years or so without really thinking about anything other than the self-defence that I started with. However, through my own studies of other martial arts I began to see beyond the purely physical aspects into the life skills that were under the surface and into its spiritual nature.
Until I was 40 years old I didn’t really know why I practised the martial arts. It wasn’t until I retired from competition that I realised. I had competed sporadically for many years, not really enjoying competition or taking it very seriously. I didn’t know why and even accused myself of cowardice because I didn’t compete often or try to achieve my potential through competing. I had all the techniques and strategies, I was physically gifted, fast and fit but I wasn’t motivated.
When I retired from competition I saw the truth: I don’t like sport. For years I had treated my art as a sport and yet I didn’t like sport or have much respect for sportspeople. I didn’t play or watch any sport: cricket, football, rugby, tennis – I would leave the room if I could when they were on TV. I’ve only ever been to one football match in my whole life and hated it and only one rugby match and hated that too. I realised then why I wasn’t motivated to use my skills in competition – competition is a sport and I don’t like sport. So why did I practice AEGIS? I realised I practised it for me, to improve me against me. To challenge myself, to keep fit, strong, flexible. I love to learn so I dissected the techniques and strategies so I could better understand them.
At that time I was exposed to the concept of martial arts as a life skill and I saw the truth of it. It took me a long time to understand why fighting is the last resort and not the first though. I had been taught that it was the first and that to lose a fight was unacceptable. Now my beliefs were changing. I began to understand that winning and losing are silly concepts based on egotism which itself is based on a weak minded philosophy. The only person to compete against is ourselves; today’s self against yesterday’s and tomorrow’s self against today’s.
Sport and competition are about being better than another person but that is a flawed philosophy because if Jack can beat Bob and Bob can beat Jim but Jim can beat Jack – then who is the best? The system of improvement by being better than others is silly and pointless.
Also, I realised that the rank of black belt, so long considered as a mark of mastery was not the mark that many think it is. I used to think that all black belts were alike, that is: they are skilful athletes, who are wise, educated and fearsome fighters. But I was wrong. No two black belts are the same, believe the same, have the same education (if any) or are wise. Most black belts are just people; some with great skills and some with poor skills. The rank of black belt you see is not a rank of comparison with others, it is a rank of comparison with oneself.
If black belt was about skill, not many people would have black belts. The idea that black belt is like the height restriction at a funfair – ‘you must be this tall to go on this ride’ does not work in martial arts or life. Every black belt, like every person, is different. They are small, big, fat, thin, old, young, gifted, challenged, intelligent, stupid, educated and ignorant but the one thing they have in common (or should have) is that they are all progressing. The rank of black belt should have a new definition: ‘One who is pursuing continuing personal progress’. The idea that you can set a ‘one size fits all’ standard to black belts does not stand up to close scrutiny.
We have in the martial arts a phrase ‘black belt attitude’. It is not about skill, it is about mind set, because if you have the right skill you might win, but if you have the right mind set you will always win. The old paradigm that a black belt should be physically skilled and tough does not work as a comparison with others but it does work as a comparison of oneself against oneself – and this has been one of the philosophies that have shaped AEGIS.
I now recognised the tenets of personal leadership through the martial arts and adapted the thinking of personal development gurus such as Tony Robbins, Brian Tracy, Stephen Covey, T. Harv Eker and more toward our thinking. For several years this worked but the fit was not snug enough. There were still questions, holes in the connections between what they said and its fit with AEGIS.
I pondered on what AEGIS as a martial art and life skill stood for and what one could achieve with it. I sat down and listed the absolute essentials of both the martial arts and life. I came up with 5 and the first one was attitude. Everything, success or failure, begins in the mind; every action is designed first in the mind and then implemented by the body. This is how it has always been and will always be.
Without knowing it I had come up with 5 keys to success and it began with an A. AEGIS has 5 letters and begins with an A. A link between the essentials of success and my own system was in front of me. The other 4 keys were: outcomes, strategy, action and education. I adapted these to fit the remaining letters of AEGIS and came up with the acronym we now use which is key to all success: Attitude, Expectation (goal setting) Game Plan (strategy) Implementation (action) and Study (education) giving us A.E.G.I.S, a fully integrated martial arts and personal leadership development system.
I adapted our leadership program to fit our own ideals and philosophies and expanded my keys, now called laws, to 5 key laws and another 20 sub-laws in my book Warrior Wisdom which became the core of our leadership program. I later wrote Game Plan the 25 secret strategies of the martial arts and how to use them to build a great life which became the core of our personal mastery program.
We teach leadership based martial arts through the unique philosophy of AEGIS, the only truly holistic martial arts system in the world. This short history is intended to give you a taste of what you will be learning with AEGIS, a system of martial arts and self-defence which can, not only be totally effective in the street but whose skills and strategies can also be used to better oneself and one’s whole life.
If what I have detailed here matches what you are looking for then Click here to join our programs!