In 2009 I was reading Kris's books and thinking, 'Man, I'd love to meet this guy'. Now we're friends and he stays with me and Louise when he's in the UK. One of our very favourite people - hook up with him if you get the chance, you'll be so glad you did.
The audio in the player is from the 2012 film lower down the page, watch or listen
2011 written interview:
I've written elsewhere that Kris is a great ambassador for martial arts in general and Goju Ryu Karate in particular Here are a couple of friends with their thoughts:
Kris Wilder is one of the world’s foremost karate instructors. His books and DVDs have helped practitioners around the world to gain a deeper insight into Goju Ryu karate and Kris’s speciality, the enigmatic Sanchin Kata.
Kris’s contribution to the martial arts doesn’t end there. His co-authored works with Lawrence Kane offer deep insight to the martial arts both inside and outside the dojo.
If you’re looking for a wealth of knowledge delivered in a highly accessible way, I recommend Kris Wilder’s work without hesitation -
Whilst Kris's breadth of knowledge of the arts is nothing short of impressive, what really inspires me about Kris is his Depth of the arts. With over 35 years of training, Kris has certainly studied a tremendous amount, but his deep understanding of the arts he now practices is what sets him apart from the vast majority of Martial Artists.
An author, a fantastic instructor, a philosopher, a motivator, with a unique skill of blending tradition with modern day martial arts, Kris is a fine example of everything I think a Karateka should be.
He really does light the way for all of us to get a glimpse of where our arts have come from and what we can achieve through them if we are prepared to put in as much commitment and dedicated study as he has.
I have had the pleasure of sharing some time with Kris, both on and off the mat, and I take this opportunity to thank him for his generosity, his hospitality and his invitation to share the same dojo. I hope I get to repeat this many times in the future and recommend that anyone serious about martial arts also get to do the same -
Stu: Hi Kris, thanks so much for taking time out of your schedule for this chat.
Your profile as a martial arts instructor and author is very distinctive, and your podcasts are informative as well as being great fun; back in the day did you ever imagine that you'd develop an international reputation, and can I ask what you have going on right now writing wise?
Kris: As for my martial arts background being unique - well everybody has their own experience, it is just that the time, and the means that are applied on my end are different.
As for teaching martial arts for a living, no, it never entered my mind. As a kid, I wanted to be an archaeologist. Life on my parents farm had long hours of solitude that were fertile for introspection. Coupled with the curiosity of an archaeologist, well, I guess that is the formula for the way I approach the martial arts - quietly digging away. To continue the metaphor, Sanchin kata is the Rosetta stone of karate. Sanchin breaks the code and allows you to read the works of the masters. That is why I did the book and DVD on Sanchin. That kata is a magnificent piece of work. The more it is studied the more it unfolds its secrets.
The Podcast, Martial-Secrets.com, is a lot of fun. We try to make the podcast informative and entertaining. Lawrence and I enjoy doing the podcast - it is work - but it is fun work. Lawrence and I have respect for and enjoy each other. I truly hope that people can hear that come through when they listen.
The latest projects I have in the works are a couple of books. In October, “How to Win a Fight” - with Lawrence Kane - comes out. A book called “Dirty Ground” just got accepted, and I am also working on an audio book. I have six index cards taped to the wall of my office that represent the next projects, I think those cards put me out into about 2014.
Stu: I guess a schedule like that will keep you off the street and out of trouble, Kris.
You and Lawrence clearly have a great friendship going on, as well as working together on writing projects and martial matters. The podcast always puts a smile on my face for the way you guys are always willing to laugh, as well as discussing matters relating to training and also the realities of violence in the world outside the dojo. How and when did you meet in the first place, and what would you say to non karateka who would like to get a sense of what Sanchin is before considering going out and buying a book about an element of an art they don’t usually train in?
Kris: Ha, my schedule keeping me off the streets. I think there is some truth to that. I have always been a busy person, and without focus, it becomes unwieldy. I was wild as a young man, unfocused, very raw on many levels. Some things were funny, other moments, well if not for God's providence could have turned out very badly and changed my life seriously and permanently. Sometimes upon review I shudder at my actions.
Lawrence and I are friends, and I am glad to hear that comes through on the podcast. I am a fan of Lawrence. I have a tremendous respect for Lawrence as a man. In the world today he is a rarity, he is funny, his word is his bond, and he is thoughtful. I feel that I constantly need to rise to his level. We do social things together outside of the martial arts, yeah, we are friends. As for our meeting it is entirely on Lawrence, he came into my dojo, decided to stay, no more complicated than that.
As for someone going out and buying my book on Sanchin, I wish everybody would buy a copy! But the fact is the book and DVD are not for everybody, they are both for people who seek experience and knowledge, that actively participate in their education; people with these qualities get the most out of the book and the DVD. You also need some foundation of skills, a platform to launch from, to say otherwise would be disingenuous.
Stu: I haven't seen the DVD yet, but I think there is something in the book for anyone who wants to know more about how to BE strong, and how to apply that in a practical sense in training. I remember the group I was in at the Coventry X-PO Sessions last year benefiting hugely from the way you demonstrated Setting into the Sanchin stance. When I read the book I had lots of light-bulb moments regarding my own physicality.
When might you come back to teach in the UK again – and, is there a question you ever find yourself thinking “why doesn't anyone ever ask me - - - -?” either in a training or an interview situation?
Kris: Thanks Stu, for the kind words regarding the last workshop I did in the UK. I am always concerned that I am communicating effectively. As for coming back to the UK, I am in if it means I can sink my teeth into that fatty, salt laden, seductress called a “Gregg’s Chicken Bake.”
The most interesting questions I get asked come from a subgroup, physically small women. These women can't just accept anything carte blanche as they must go through the world in a different way than you or me. Just saying to them; “If this happens, put your elbow here,” does not cut it with them. I always enjoy seeing a woman martial artist coming across the floor after a session. I suspect her questions are going to reflect this position.
Sanchin teaches principals, and methodologies. An example being that Sanchin kata says: “Kill the center line.” A great strategy; now I say go explore the principals and the tactics. I have been working to expand, and communicate better, what I consider the four essential themes of Sanchin kata. I want people to direct their systems, not be managed by a Tab “A” fits Slot “B” protocol.
Stu: You made me want to eat something I've never tried - Gregg's will probably want you on a poster...
There are many and various thoughts regarding martial arts practice and spirituality - some view time spent in the dojo as being purely physical, others see it as a route to a kind of better spiritual understanding of 'self' - how does that side of things work for you?
Kris: Religion and martial arts are not the same. Religion is based upon reflection on a spiritual belief, usually based on some sacred writing, plus tradition, reason and experience. The martial arts have some of those components yet they are different when scrutinized. The martial arts are a belief based on an experience. Religion is an experience based on a belief. Religion is man's understanding of an infused moment from and with the divine. Martial arts are shared education and can be a great vehicle to living a virtuous life.
Further, when doing a skill at a high level the brain shifts to the alpha state. Throw in a nice dose of post work out endorphins, and you have an altered state that can be euphoric. This altered state could be mistaken for a spiritual experience, but is not likely infused from the divine.
As a Brother in The Order of St. Francis I try to follow the words of St. Francis; to spread the word each day and if necessary use words. One place where martial arts and religion are the same is that people watch what you do and rarely hear the words. So that is my brief two cents on a very complicated topic. I think that if you asked 200 people this question you would get 210 answers.
Stu: I'm really interested in how you came to be a Brother in the Order of St Francis, and what that means in day-to-day terms. Did you know that Geoff Thompson is a big fan of St Francis? He refers to him often, while teaching, and conversationally. Can you share some of your experiences, please, Kris?
Kris: We needed a Brother for The Blessing of the Animals at our church and I was point of contact. Over the next year of conversations with a couple of the Brothers I found I lived many aspects of the life already and had many desires take could be fulfilled within The Order, so it was a natural progression. The Order brings focus to a life that may lie a couple of deviations outside the standard life; I would call it different, not special. It is an outgrowth, an external manifestation of a desire and an internal contemplative activity, both of which are graciously infused by the divine.
Yes, I am aware of Geoff's fondness for St. Francis. We easily chatted via email a couple of years ago on subjects of Francis and mysticism. It is always fun to talk with a kindred spirit.
When Br. Nicholas was a few weeks from his death from cancer we walked to the local coffee house. He had to stop often and once did so over a single yellow flower. The flower battled the puffs of wind while poking through the sidewalk crack. The simplicity of the moment was ineffable. It is difficult to share these moments as they border on indescribable, but I have seen them in places such as hospitals, cathedrals, rural churches and even over a cup of coffee. My view of life lets me see these moments, and sometimes participate. These moments are very challenging to describe, so let me just leave you and the readers with the image of a man twisted with terminal cancer spending his precious time with a little yellow flower.
Stu: Such a powerful and beautiful image.
Right now I'm in the middle of reading Fr Omer's biography of St Francis - is there a particular author who you'd recommend to anyone interested in learning more about the saint and the man? And, what books would you want to have on the fabled desert-island with you, in the event of finding yourself shipwrecked?
Kris: Yes, that is a nice book, an excellent place to start and I would recommend the book you are reading; St. Francis of Assisi: A Biography by Omer Englebert, to anybody looking for an introduction to St. Francis.
Martial artists will say, “I look at the students to see how good a martial artist the teacher is.” So, if somebody is interested further in Franciscan Spirituality, I say, go look up Padre Pio, Br. Giles, St. Anthony of Padua, and of course St. Clare of Assisi, and see how Francis' legacy behaved. Some (not the mentioned) even fought amongst each other over the length of the habit - so not that far afield from martial arts eh?
The old Desert Island question -
I suppose; Prayer of the Cosmos, by Neil Douglas-Klotz, The Upanishads, The New Testament, The Apocrypha, The Essential Rumi, Everything G.K Chesterton and John Polkinghorne have written - that should keep me busy and balanced.
Stu: Is it a strange thing that we, as a species, keep returning to a kind of feudal thinking when we might have picked up some better tricks along the way? Whether it's in the fragmentation and evolution of a martial style, or in disagreements over the length of a habit - or is it simply the way we are?
Kris: As humans, it is important to belong; being a lowly member of an organization is more important than not belonging. Once you belong, an organization will decide your value, if you go-along and get-along, no problem. If you create waves, the organization will assess your value. If you have high value you will be remediated, if your value is low, you are let go. I know of no aspect of our lives that this pattern doesn't play out.
Stu: Before we get too far away from the Desert Island, would you mind mentioning some of the music you listen to? We hear the occasional reference to Motorhead, on the podcast, and I'd really like to get a rounded out sense of your music tastes.
Kris: As for my musical preferences, I listen to the crunchy stuff, Motorhead, Helmet, Fu Manchu, Kyuss, Clutch. It has it's place, but it is not a way of life.
Songs about violence, I don't really care for so I edit those out.
The Blues are a favorite; Buddy Guy, Champion Jack Dupree, Sheila Wilcoxson, J.J. Cale.
Classical - Arvo Pärt, and The Tallis Scholars. I think Nick Lowe is brilliant.
I love tight pop songs, and for the record, The Archies, Sugar, Sugar is the worlds greatest crafted pop song of all time.
I find monastic chant – well that is a different experience.
Stu: Speaking as someone who - until embarrassingly far into my twenties - used to regularly accidentally surf across my room on my favourite records – are you download or vinyl?
Also my dear friend Dave Kean, a diligent Goju-Ryu student, would love to know if you'd recommend your top five martial art training books – it's a safe bet he has all yours already...
Kris: Digital v. Vinyl? I sold off my records years ago and am totally digital when it comes to the music.
As for recommending books regarding the martial arts, there has been plenty of that. Everybody seems to have a list of must reads regarding the martial arts, and that is good.
I say, read outside of the martial arts, along with the martial arts readings. Seek information on psychology, brain behaviors, personalities, organization, marketing. Whatever turns your crank, never stop learning and be broad. I was reading something on cooking v. baking, and it made me ask the question of myself, “When it comes to the methodologies of the martial arts am I a cook or a baker?” For the record I am a cook.
Stu: I'm fortunate to have two of my favourite motorcycles already, but there's still something missing: a classic Triumph twin from the old factory in Coventry. Not a show-piece, just a rider which I can tidy as I get to know it and I'm saving a small amount every week without really thinking about it until I have enough to buy one. What might you buy on the same sort of funding basis? We're talking around $6000 or £3800 or so, here.
Kris: Recently I bought a Chrome Messenger Bag that I wanted for about two years - outside of that, I really can't think of anything. I just don't want for much.
It may sound, trite or even cute to some, but I take more enjoyment out of say, your joy over your motorcycles, than actually owning one myself. I like the feeling that people give off when they are enjoying something. It hasn't always been that way, by no means, no not at all! But well...no real mystery here. I guess to explain more would not really add to the conversation and complicate things. We can just say, happy people make me happy and I don't need much.
Stu: If you had the same amount of cash to initiate a worthwhile project with - something to make an ongoing difference to the lives of others – what would that project be?
Kris: Open a small contemplative venue is what I would do.
Stu: Thank you so much, Kris, it's been a real pleasure.
Kris: Thank you Stu, It has been flattering.
Kris on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/user/wskadojo/videos