About the founder Benfell Hanshi
Michael Benfell Hanshi, 1947 – 2011
(10th Dan Karate; 8th Level Gung-Fu; 8th Dan Ju-Jitsu)
Born in Nuneaton in 1947, Hanshi Michael Benfell began learning Ju-Jitsu from his father at the age of 6. His father, Roland Benfell, started learning Ju-Jitsu in 1932 whilst he was in the boy scouts, from a scout master and policeman who trained in the London Budokwai, and continued through his war service. His father also introduced him to Karate and Gung-Fu when he was 14.
At the age of 17 Hanshi Benfell trained with Sensei Kenshiro Abbe, learning Judo, Jujitsu and Budo. At about the same time he trained with Sensei Otani learning Judo and Ju-Jitsu. At 23 Hanshi Benfell was introduced to Shotokan Karate and often trained under Sensei Enoeda in Leicester and Coventry. He also continued to train with Sensei Tatso Suzuki learning Wada-Ryu Karate.
Throughout his 20’s and early 30’s Hanshi Benfell trained in Fu-Jaw-Pai Gung-Fu (Tiger Ripping Style), learning from Master Tom Carey, Grandmaster Bob Johnson and Master Ted Harris.
His biggest influence however was Sensei Morio Higoanna from the Okinawan Goju-Ryu Karate style, training often at his various visits to the UK. Hanshi Benfell’s whole concept of martial arts changed, as he was awe struck at how much power someone of Sensei Higoanna’s size could generate (not being of particularly large frame). He was also impressed by Higoanna’s presence, passion and insights, helping him to understand what he was doing and see martial arts as they should be, not merely as a sport.
Prior to this Hanshi Benfell sought trophies and achievement (with much success). He came to see martial arts as being forever, passing on accross generations but not just for the young, like a good wine maturing with age and experience. He maintained that sports styles have lost many aspects of the arts and can therefore only offer the practitioner a little. “How many sports artists do you see punching a bag and skipping well into their old age? Whereas, with Kata and technique there is always something to practice and gain from”. He strongly maintains that we have no right to change the traditional systems and how they are taught.
Hanshi Benfell also worked as a doorman in the Coventry area for 4 years, which brought plenty of “real world” situations. This brought a rare but useful perspective with which to view martial arts, which is lacking from many practitioners, who know the theory backwards but that’s all.
This author made the mistake of asking how many styles and recognised grades Hanshi Benfell had. He presented a suitcase full of certificates too numerous to fully list here. Included were: recognition of his 9th Dan in To Te Jutsu into the World Head of Family by the Sokeship Council; recognition of his 9th Level Gung-Fu by the World Martial Arts Master Society; 9th Dan Kempo Karate by the World Nibuikai Budo Federation; Shaolin Kempo 8th Level; International Chinese Boxing Chuan Tao Kempo Federation 8th Level; 8th Level gold sash from the World & Hong Kong Federation of Chinese Martial Arts; etc. etc.!
With fellow instructors Hanshi Benfell became one of the founder members of the Gao-Shan-Pai-Wu-Shu Association. Although ceasing to be an active instructor for Gao Shan, he set up the Ryukyu Association of Karate and Gung-Fu and practiced and taught in the Ryukyu School of Martial Arts in Nuneaton (as Chief Instructor).
As a person Hanshi Benfell was modest, friendly, funny and liked nothing more than a good chat. He ran his club democratically and relatively informally, seeing it more as “our” club than “his” club. Passionate about martial arts, few lessons were ever the same and always offered students a wide variety of training whether it be insights into kata, weapons, technique, breathing or Shiatsu massage!
[The above text was written and approved by Benfell Hanshi in 2006 for use on his own club’s website. It is included here with only the tense altered to reflect his sad passing].
Michael Benfell Hanshi passed away peacefully on the night of the 13th October 2011 with his close family by his side. A true fighter to the end, he had seemed to have successfully come through his tough bout with cancer, only to tragically and rapidly lose the battle to secondary tumors. Although he leaves behind a vast hole that can not be filled, he also leaves a great legacy through the Ryukyu Association of Karate and Gung-Fu. It was his firm wish that all he had strived for should continue. So with him as our inspiration and with just a fraction of his dedication, insights and ability, the RAKGF moves forward. All-be-it with a heavier heart than before.
A poem by Hazel Maxwell Sensei (Colchester Shotokan Club)
With a broad grin and a glint in his eye, mischievous laughter as new things he made us try.
He lived for his passion of martial arts, although on occasion I’ve seen him play darts.
On courses he’d shine as he prowled the mats, he loved what he did and would tolerate no pratts.
Panel beater by day, martial artist by night, He’d wield his sword and always do what’s right.
I’ve heard tell he was a pretty slick skater, when he was young and a little bit lighter.
Small in stature but big of heart, we’d wind’im up and he’d say. Don’t start.
From time to time he worked the doors, and even strut his stuff on the dance floor.
He loved to grow veg, onions and carrots, then go for a beer and end up laropped.
Mick was my mate and very good friend, he will be sadly missed and on that you can depend.
He has left a void I know you will all feel, no one has that Mick appeal.
As we say goodbye, don’t feel sad, remember Mick as vibrant, happy and completely mad.
Bye Mick, and in the words of Pink Floyd, shine on you crazy diamond.