Waldemar Von Szlagowski Started the 3rd Judo Club & the First Karate Club in Australia.
Wednesday 11th February 2009 we lost one of the founders of Australian Martial Arts.
Grand master Wally Szlagowski was tragically killed by a car when crossing the Hume Hwy at Yagoona.
Daily TelegraphThis photo was taken 19th December 2008 when attending a senior Dan grading at Blacktown Dragons' Karate Club.
In developing this page about Wally my first thoughts were to create an historical account of his achievements. But in retrospect, I have decided to let the students share their experiences & I think everyone could get a better appreciation of the man we all came to respect & love.
If you were a student of Wally's or are from a club that has links with Wally's teachings I love to hear your stories. e-mail me on firstname.lastname@example.org
The Judo Days
Still waiting for input
From; Peter Laszlo (Jan 2010)
Waldemar Szlagowski – Ageless Superman
A Short history of the original Blacktown Karate Club.
I have the honour of being Wally’s first student, so some of the history may be of interest to the current generation of students.
My involvement with martial arts began in August 1959, when I was in first year high school. As a poor migrant kid, we lived in Leichhardt, and one afternoon, purely by chance, I wondered into the old Leichhardt Police Boys Club on Norton Street. I was welcomed by a huge policeman, with typical Aussie hospitality, his name was Reg Dowton, and I later found out that his brother was the famous local wrestler, ”Snowy” Dowton. Reg, who was also a wrestler, took me under his wing, and introduced me into the judo club, which trained three times a week, on thick wrestling mats and not the traditional “tatamis” , which at that time were almost unheard of, and apparently cost a small fortune.
Thanks to Reg Dowton’s encouragement, by the middle of 1960, I was competing and winning in the Police Boy’s Club tournaments. Constable Ernie Chambers, a 2nd Dan, was in charge of judo in the Police Boy’s Club movement, and he also took me under his wing, and as a result, I became involved in many judo tournaments, exhibitions and television appearances. These two gentlemen and the Police Boy’s Club movement had a profound and very positive influence on my life. God bless them, both. The Police Boy’s Club did what it was originally founded for in the 1930s – it took a poor migrant kid off the streets and made something of him.
At this point, I must pay tribute to the Boys Club movement, which produced many outstanding Judo players. These included Ted Boronowski (Olympic medallist), Danny Simmons, the Byrnes brothers, Warren Richards (“little Kano”, Olympic medallist), John Hinwood and many, many more.
Around 1961, I learned some basic Karate from an ex army guy in the Judo club, who happened to be in Japan at the end of WW2. At that time, around the end of 1961 he was almost retired, and subsequently moved interstate. Unfortunately, I lost track of him, forever. The basics which I learnt were indeed basic, and probably very flawed, but they did provide some sort of foundation and ongoing interest in Karate. I punched and struck whatever was near me, made a rough punching post in our backyard in Leichhardt, and generally regarded myself as being quite proficient.
During early 1961, Ernie Chambers mentioned to me that he knew of someone running a small Karate club in Bankstown or Blacktown, by the name of Wally, who was also a Judo player with a rather fearsome reputation.
I took the train out to Blacktown one evening, and found the St Patrick’s School hall, where, to my surprise there was a very active Judo club, with at least 30-40 people on the mats. It was run by a very amenable “pom” by the name of John Capper, who soon directed me to a middle aged fit looking guy, who at time appeared to be doing some basic Karate movement in one corner of the hall. After a short and very curt conversation, he asked me if I actually wanted to do some Karate or just talk about it. I was quite insulted, and told him that I had a good basic knowledge but there was obviously things that I could perhaps learn. What a mistake, as I later found out, many people who had the same flippant attitude, were very quickly despatched by Wally.
He suggested that we have a light spar, just to see what I actually knew. When I had a close look at his forearms (Wally always trained with his sleeves rolled up) and his fists, my stomach suddenly sunk, and I thought to myself that perhaps my self anointed skills may not be as quite as good as I first assumed.
I assumed a classic forward stance, for the first and last time, then came an ordinary, fairly slow and deliberate forward punch from Wally which I tried to block. Basically, it was similar to being hit by a 3 inch steel pipe, and I automatically retreated (very quickly) about three steps. For the rest of the session, all I can remember is continually running backwards, after many feeble and laughable attempts to block his punches and kicks. I was also on the receiving end of his fearsome circular Shuto (which I later also adopted) and my sore ribs and black and blue forearms took weeks to heal. He always connected, with an uncanny accuracy, but pulled back without actually causing any lasting damage, a testament to his skills. Never once was I able to actually move forward and attack, it was futile, and utterly impossible.
In a real contest, with actual contact, I estimate, even today, that I would have lasted no more then 10 seconds with Wally, despite my “skills”, relative strength and youth. I was 16 at that time.
When we finished the session (read: I finally stopped retreating and running backwards) he did pay me a tribute by saying that despite my running away (Wally always called a spade a spade) I did actually try to use some techniques, which in effect could do little harm to anyone. He invited me to Bankstown, where he had a class at the Evening College, twice a week. I thought to myself that I must learn from this guy, and I must last the distance. This was the beginning.
One final image has stuck with me, from this faithful evening in 1961. When we finished, Wally took his jacket off, to get changed. What I saw was a physique, not huge, but all strength, arms like steel pipes, and fists made from concrete. This may sound melodramatic, but anyone who knew Wally, will attest to the truth of this statement. Strangely, or perhaps not, 30 years later, he looked almost the same.
At this point I must apologise to all concerned, as I may not recall everyone who was involved in the club at that time. I started training with Wally in Bankstown and also at Blacktown from early 1961. I was training with him, non stop, and around late 1962, the then club established a relationship with a Mr Konishi, who was master of the SeiKuKan style. As our hard style was somewhat based on Oyama’s Guju style which later became Kyokushinkai, we tried to establish a connection with Mr Oyama, but to no avail, for reasons unknown even today. At that time we had a young Japanese executive, Shohachiro, training with us in Blacktown, who was a 2nd Dan, from Kyoto University. I “found” him at the then Japanese Trade Centre in Pitt St, and he became a frequent visitor to the club, whilst he was in Australia. He later acted as a “conduit” to Mr Konishi, who later “legitimised” and recognised the club and the gradings, through Shohachiro. He kept in contact with us for quite a while after he returned to Japan, but we eventually lost contact.
We never did establish contact with Mr Oyama, but I believe that he may have replied to a letter, inviting us to train in his Dojo. At that time in the 1960s, this was financially and logistically impossible for any of us, and it was not until quite a few years later, that a number of Australians went to Japan, the most prominent being Merv Oakley, Neil Atkinson and John Taylor.
The then Blacktown Karate Club, began to grow and in chronological order, George Pandu, Rob Dobson, Vladimir Pijov, Russel Beha, Jeff Daley, Alan Thomas and others joined, and remained. My apologies to the other contemporaries, but these guys remained the most prominent in my memory. We also had the first lady student, Maria, who was excellent, and was later graded to 1st Dan by Wally. She later went back to Holland in the late 1960-s, but someone may have more recent information about her.
These guys and many others, all became supreme, very hard, no nonsense fighters, and I earnestly believe that their fighting prowess has stood the test of time and I would like to pay my tribute to all of them. Each one of us, developed our own individual style, but in essence, what Wally thought us, formed the basis and remained with us, until this day.
Around the 1960-s and 1970-s, we gave many exhibitions around the Blacktown area, alongside the Judo club.
These exhibitions were extremely high standard and the breaks, remain pretty well unmatched, even today. Three examples have stuck in mind, amongst the many others, so once again, apologies to anyone else not directly mentioned.
The first one was, of course Wally, breaking two house bricks with Shuto, and then around 14 tiles with a fist strike. In fact, Wally did break three house bricks on a number of occasions, during the usual Saturday afternoon training session. I also witnessed Wally during a number of visits to his house, doing bench press with over 500 pounds (well over 200 kilos), and those of us who trained with weights, will appreciate that this is super strength territory.
The second one was myself, and the reason I remember, because it was one of those freak, clean and smooth brakes – it was 12 tiles with Shuto. The photo made the front page of one of the Sunday papers, but unfortunately I do not have a copy.
The third one was Rob Dobson, breaking around 12-14 tiles with a flying elbow strike, very spectacular indeed.
It should be noted that these were the locally produced house bricks and roof tiles, and not the Japanese clay variety.
Wally, George Pandu and myself trained together regularly up to the mid 90-s. These were all straight, almost two hour non stop, kumite sessions. Some were fast, some were slower, some were experimental, but the bruises and broken bones attest to the fact that time did not soften the style nor the strength of the strikes.
What else can be said about Wally ? He was respected by all of us, he never considered himself arrogantly superior to his students and to other styles, and most of all he thought all of us fighting skills and humility.
His strength was legendary, but as a person, and as a friend he projected just as much power.
I am proud and privileged to have known him and to have been trained by him.
May God bless him in the great Dojo in the sky.
From Rob Dobson (March 2009)
The early 1960s with Wally Szlagowski
I joined the Blacktown Judo & Karate Clubs in the early 1960s training in both Judo and Karate. I quickly found Karate much more to my liking and dropped the Judo.
Wally Szlagowski was the chief Karate instructor and at the time was probably in his late 30s; although he was not a large man, he was all muscle and very powerful. Many of the students described Wally’s fists as ‘battering rams’. We soon found out why when we visited Wally at home and saw part of his training routine; he was doing partial bench presses of more than 500 pounds weight, which we believe was in excess of the world bench press record for his weight at that time.
Wally was a humble man and would always welcome new or improved techniques into the style. The Blacktown club encouraged visitors from other clubs and especially from visiting Japanese ships. If a visitor knocked someone down with an excellent kick or punch, you didn’t make the excuse that you were having a bad day; you tried to learn the new technique.
We always trained on the concrete outside of St Patricks hall, doing push ups on our knuckles on the concrete; it was not uncommon for visitors or new starters to tear significant chunks of skin off the soles of their feet when sparring or doing Kata's.
I recall Wally breaking house bricks; first one at a time, then two at a time and then three bricks stacked one on top of the other. When I saw him setting up the three bricks I thought that he was crazy and would never do it, but break three bricks he did!
The Blacktown club was always a tough club, the unwritten rules were that you should hit your opponent but not cause any permanent or serious damage; broken ribs were OK but not broken arms, legs or jaws. We always had bag training to ensure that we held our wrists straight when we punched and similarly so for our kicking.
We often went somewhere different to train, I remember sparring with Wally in the surf and discovered how slippery things can get when I blocked one of Wally’s punches which slipped straight off my blocking arm and onto my nose; I have a permanent reminder of that day.
Sparring was mandatory with everyone required to spar with three different opponents at each training session. We often had to spar one handed with the other hand holding our belt behind our back; we then had to swap and spar with the other hand. At other times we sparred two on one; it was initially surprising that the ‘one’ did so well and we learned to keep the ‘two’ in each others way.
Wally had a great breadth of knowledge and for example even taught us how to defend barehanded against dog attacks; we would have other sessions where we were attacked by someone wielding a chair or baseball bat – anything goes.
The most important lesson I learned from Karate, mainly from sparring, was that ‘either the problem will beat you or you will beat the problem’. This ‘never back off’ approach allowed me to progress on to a very successful career; success that I would not have been able to accomplish had I not trained under such a gifted and tough Master as Wally Szlagowski.
Wally & Rob fighting in the creek (Bungarribee Rd Blacktown)
From Kym Reid 6th Dan National Vice-President and South Australia President of IBF Australia.
G'day Bruce, hope all are doing well.
I find it even more important now to continue Wally's legacy albeit from Rob's teachings. I realized the other night that names in martial arts disappear with each generation unless their name is associated with a "movie star" legend. Here we had the legend himself and as I look back in the old magazines and tributes I find more mentioned of the days in Blacktown. I have an article in "Fighting Arts " magazine written by Peter Oberekan of his experience against a tough fighter named "Roy" Dobson in the Szlagowski club.
I have also found this article written in 2001 ( NSW AJJA Newsletter ).
Not many people in South Australia know Rob unless they fought us. Moss Hollis was also well known here but only recognized in our little pond.
You remember Rob at the training day mentioned that Wally was a father to him. I'm sure he was as important to you. I hold Rob in the same honour. Yanni who will continue the club in the next generation calls me his second dad and I can see I have a few new kids with the same feelings toward Yanni and myself.
I realize now that I must conserve the uniqueness. Not many clubs have the same character building, the right attitude, the hardness, the little known lineage, the quirky making of openings before striking or the lack of all things fancy and showy.
I hope you don't mind me using a copy of the tribute Rob wrote for you. It really does consolidate our attitude for the many instructors I have from other styles training with me. Perhaps they will understand now why I can't grade them very highly. They haven't done the journey to develop the undocumented and most important aspect of Shindo Jinen Ryu, Szlagowski Karate, Dobson Karate or Jinen Karate Jitsu; "character"
With these things in mind I hope we can conserve our heritage by gaining more recognition by forming perhaps some sister clubs, maybe have a "Szlagowski" camp (somewhere central ... SA ) to meet and share or even see if other Shindo Jinen Ryu clubs want to be involved. I would like to give Yanni the opportunity to meet Rob and yourself to share the stories and understand his heritage. If you have a training weekend I will pay for his trip and hopefully we can give a little input.
The club badge is being developed and incorporates a Japanese dragon ( had to trim off some toes ) and my old club logo and colours. My syllabus is being put together with my old syllabus and an explanation on what I have picked up along the way that influenced our style. The unchangeable unique features will be documented and the history shown including our discovery of the Blacktown Dragons, the training day, the names etc. I want this for my kids and for Yanni to give them a network to refer to. I think I will start by contacting Howard High and work on from there. Any stories that had an influence on Wally's or Rob's philosophies etc would be greatly appreciated.
Cheers for nowKym Reid. 6th Dan
PS I look forward to getting you involved in the IBF. You'd make a great events co-ordinator and it's another way of showing the proliferation of the Szlagowski ites.
Brian, Kym, Rob & Grand Master Wally Szlagowski
From Ken Chamberlain 3rd Dan
I first met Wally Szlagowski around Feb/March 1974. I had commenced training in Nov 1973 after bumping into Alan Thomas at Blacktown Railway Station, where I mentioned I intended to enrol in the Tae Kwon Do Club, which had just opened.
While Alan was 2 years older than me, I had known him from school and through rugby league. He said he and Barry Clarke had started a karate club at Doonside on Sunday mornings. I knew Alan had trained in this mysterious thing called “karate” for some years and the Clarke's were well known footballers in the area.
While a big fan of the new TV series “kung fu” my only interest in martial arts was to train in the off-season so I would be fit when trying to get graded with the Penrith Rugby League Club. I had been doing some weights and jogging but otherwise the gyms and fitness avenues of today were nowhere to be found.
Seemingly Karma entered when my brother (who was great mates with one of Barry’s younger brothers-Steven) mentioned on Sunday morning (after the Friday I had spoken with Alan) that he and Steven had met Barry the previous night and were off to train in Karate. “Me too” said I, so the three of us went (slightly late) to the hall where we saw Karateka in action for the first time. Being late we were told that Barry would take us through a brief warm-up.
Thus I had my introduction to knuckle push-ups, stretching and strange attacking techniques which form part of the world of pain for novice Karateka (and even veteran ones as I was to discover). For a 19 year old Sunday mornings usually meant recovery from Saturday night, not shaking while doing push-ups or bending so your hamstring could pretend it was made of rubber (Note: my what ? said I, only wingers have hamstrings and I am a forward).
Barry’s brother lasted only the first lesson, my brother made one more but I was hooked from day one. During the course of my early training I had heard about this fearsome place called “the park” where fearsome people attended with the most fearsome referred to as “Big Wal”. Apparently for about 2 hours every Saturday these people engaged in stuff that would normally get you arrested in the street.
At this point Alan Thomas was the most fearsome bloke I knew. Built like a rock he was hard and tough and scary. In early 1974 I was “lured” to the park for the first time and discovered that yes Alan was scary but others such as Little Ian Sainsbury were also very scary. Then I saw Russell Behe who was much much scarier than anyone I had ever seen.
To give some context to the above, I had grown up in Blacktown (a rough tough area) I had for a decade played rugby league in the forwards (which is supposedly where the tough guys play) and I was known to be able to handle myself in a fight. One of my friends I rumbled with growing up was Shane Dawson, who as Shane Patrick, won the Australian professional welter-weight boxing title in 1974. So all in all I figured I could engage in combat and go ok, except for the above said scary guys.
So one pleasant summer’s day in 1974, as a newly graded 5th kyu (beginner’s first grade at that time) I was at the park watching scary people when I was introduced to a chap called “Big Wal”. Apart from a good set of shoulders, forearms bigger than Popeye and fists like a mammoth’s foot (all signals I generally didn’t appreciate enough at the time) the chap before me was not overly “big” nor scary to look at. HOWEVER, I hadn’t seen him in action. He seemed an absolute gentleman actually.
So the gentlemanly chap (GC) asked if I would like to a have a spar. While uncertain as to his age (I later worked out Wal was 46) it was clear to me that at 19, I was a lot younger, a tough forward etc etc and so without apprehension I readily agreed to spar the GC. You fool you fool I say to myself after about 30 seconds when the 3rd or 4th or 5th shuto has come toward my head, collarbone, ribcage or face.
Apart from running, the only defence I had learnt was forearm blocks. The GC proceeded to redecorate every inch of my forearms, upper arms and shoulders into hues of yellow, deep purple or black and various colours in between.
Essentially over the next 10 minutes I discovered a world of serious pain. What had gone before was kid’s stuff compared to where I was at now. In a short space of time I could not lift either arm, I tried to make my shoulders lift but they refused to cooperate. However the most serious injury was that I knew the GC was playing with me. I could tell through pained eyesight that he was not intending to hurt me and was delivering blows at much reduced power and speed. I now knew why he was called “Big Wal” and I also knew who was truly the scariest person in the park.
I eventually attained the rank of Sandan and am honoured and humbled that each of my black belt grades was overseen and signed off by “Big Wal”. In the subsequent years I always enjoyed a chat with Wally who had an incisive mind and a sharp wit but combat with him remained scary. The legendry power was startling and the angles of attack so well constructed that each session was a new lesson in just how little I really knew, even after a decade.
Regrettably a lot of footy players and other rough tough guys can be bullying types and use their size and power to intimidate people when mixing in society. I learnt a very valuable lesson at age 19, one which will stay with me all of my days, courtesy of a gentlemanly chap called “Big Wal”.
Many of Wal’s comments and approach to karate became my life influences. Some examples are:
When asked about all the 8,9 and10th Dan's running around after being in the martial arts for 7-10 years (our system at the time having Wally as a 5th Dan being Grandmaster rank after some 30 years or more) Wally commented “the belt does not get any blacker”;
The style practiced an “open door policy” i.e. anyone who entered a training hall or came to our “park” would be welcomed to engage in Kumite. These could be most robust encounters but the philosophy also said be prepared for the unexpected;
To defeat an opponent using your style is good but even better is to adjust to their style and still achieve victory;
In practicing kumite it was advised always start high and then if appropriate go low i.e. commence as if the opponent is the most dangerous you have ever faced, if you discern you have their measure you can ease off HOWEVER if you start less forcefully then it is most difficult to regain ascendancy;
Talk is cheap.
Merv Oakley (6th Dan Shihan)
Merv Oakley (6th Dan Shihan)
14 September 2009
Blacktown Karate Club
Attn: Bruce Freeman
REUNION NIGHT - 25 SEPTEMBER 2009
Thank you for your invitation to the Reunion Night for
Wally Szlagowski’s students and colleagues.
Unfortunately I will not be able to attend.
I learned of Wally’s recent passing with much sadness. I am proud and pleased to see that his legacy continues to survive in the attitudes, knowledge and expertise of his students.
I convey my condolences to Wally’s family, friends and members of his karate club.
It was my pleasure and honour to join both he and Serge Dubrovich in 1964 as founding members of the Australian Karate Federation.
I remember Wally as a fine gentleman. He was an accomplished and dignified practitioner of karate and judo.
He is among those whom I consider to be true pioneers of the martial arts in Australia. He held the principals that were conveyed to us as young practitioners true and dear to the end of his career. He did not allow his integrity and beliefs to be affected by the many compromises that afflict the teaching of karate and judo today.
In 3 December 2006 it was my privilege to join Wally as recipients of Lifetime Achievement Awards in recognition of our respective services to martial arts, awarded by Blacktown City Council. It was a great pleasure for me to reunite with Wally on that day and in retrospect I am particularly pleased that I had that opportunity. It causes me some introspection to observe that of the 3 recipients of awards at that event, I am now the sole survivor.
I take this opportunity to honour Wally for his services to the martial arts in Australia, particularly karate, to thank him for his friendship over many years. I encourage his students to cultivate and continue his legacy.
With sincere regards.
6 Dan Shihan
Merv OakleyGoju Karate-Do
Bruce Freeman kindly forwarded to me a copy of your letter, dated the 14th of September. I am currently working overseas, but it was a pleasure to receive such fine words about Wally, who was indeed a very special person and a much respected practitioner and pioneer of Karate in Australia.
As you may recall, I was Wally’s first serious student, dating back to 1961, and of course, you and I have met on a number of occasions during the sixties.
I trained with Wally up to about twelve years ago, until the various injuries acquired with Karate and other training, finally took their toll.
Your kind words and memories, are much appreciated, and indeed, we have now witnessed an end of an era, which began fifty!!!! years ago.
Probably the ultimate value of Martial Arts, and Karate, is that the true experts were always able to recognise, appreciate and respect the differences in styles and personalities and yet they all headed in the same direction.
Wally was a true gentlemen in every sense of the word, I feel
extremely fortunate and privileged to have known him, and to have been able to
call him a friend.
May He Rest in Peace.
|Harumi Matsuoka from Tokyo and Valdmir Slagowsky The TAISEI MARU, a Japanese training ship, spent six days in Sydney from the 4 - 6 August 1955, Note incorrect spelling of Wally's Name|
Blitz Martial Arts Magazine No 11