“The Mad Scotsman” and “The Burmese Strangler” are fun nicknames that I’ve given to two great gentleman, Alan and Noel. Alan is the 80 year old Scotsman and Noel is 78 years young and was born in Burma.

I first met Alan in 2009 through a Senior Citizens self defence course that I was teaching at the local community centre. Having practiced Karate back in the 1970s, he decided that he needed to get out of the house more often. He enthusiastically participated in the self defence class. During this course, he asked if I taught martial arts. I told him that I taught a Filipino Martial Art called Modern Arnis and that it involved sticks. He mentioned that he might like to try it. I invited him to come to a class.

He is an incredibly quick learner and came to every class. Alan became an Arnis addict in no time! His enthusiasm was quite contagious among my students and they loved working with him. He attended a number of seminars taught by Master Chuck Gauss.

Joel and Alan
Joel and Alan working a technique at one of Master Chuck’s seminars.

After awhile, circumstances changed where he had to leave the classes and switched over to weekly private lessons. Along the way, he told a former Karate classmate of his, Noel, about me and encouraged him to join our weekly private lessons. Noel visited for an introductory lesson in February of 2013 and quickly became interested and signed up on the spot.

Since then, Noel and Alan have come over for their weekly semi private lesson every Wednesday without fail. While we have done Modern Arnis, we have mostly focused on a Karate kata called Naihanchi Shodan and some of the applications. The focus has been on self defence applications. We practice this kata at the beginning and at the end of each private lesson. Psssst….there’s a lot of overlap between this kata and Modern Arnis. 🙂

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Along the way, we have gotten to swap tales about our lives and these two gentlemen have had most interesting lives!

Alan was born in Scotland and lived there until the age of 10 when his family moved to Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) for employment reasons. He related how there were only two seasons in Rhodesia; the wet season and the dry season. He lived there until the age of 21 when he was advised that “things are not going to be good here in the future” and decided to move to London where he met his wife. They settled in Canada 50 years ago.

Noel was born in Burma to a British and Burmese parents. He has related what life was like in Burma under the brutal Japanese occupation of Burma during World War II. After the war, he attended a British boarding school in India. From there, he moved to England where he lived for awhile. Like Alan, he moved to Canada sometime in the 1960s.

I’ve joked that they’re both children of the British Empire!

It’s been fascinating to hear their life stories as we work out and go over the various applications of Naihanchi Shodan.

Alan and Noel
Alan and Noel working on a technique called the elbow body lock. Hint: this is an application of the first move of Naihanchi Shodan.

However, the most impressive thing about Alan and Noel is the sheer joy that they bring to the private lessons.

It’s Christmas morning for these guys EVERY Wednesday! It is not unusual for them to arrive 10 minutes early so that they can get going!

Remember when Don Ameche performed the famous break dance scene in the 1985 film Cocoon? Believe it or not, Ameche did 97% of the moves for that scene. Alan and Noel have the same enthusiasm and energy! Lots of jokes and laughter as we work through the techniques. I often tell them “yup, you’re ready to take on the biker bars!” to howling laughter. Yet, at the same time, they are serious about learning and practicing the various techniques that I have taught them.  They are perpetual students infected with a thirst for life long learning.

Very often we talk about various topics, often the hot news item of the week, their karate days in the 1970s, their past lives, life as senior citizens, and “what if” mugging scenarios. All in good fun!

For them, it’s more than martial arts, it’s about friendship, camaraderie, and having fun.

Many of us can learn from these two gentlemen’s joy of learning and participating in these weekly private lessons. I look forward to their dose of “being like kids on Christmas morning” every week and for a long while!

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