Colin Johns — Hard As A Rock-Breaker

Colin Johns doing Double Forearm Break

©Marc Wickert
previously published in Fight Times

As a teenager, Colin Johns attended a karate demonstration at the Adelaide Town Hall, and ever since, his life has been a trail of dust and rubble. "I didn't know anything about karate. I didn't even know what the word meant. But I saw these guys there, and one of them broke a house brick with his hand. The experience stuck in my mind, and I thought, 'I'm going to do that one day'." said Johns.

After the tournament, Colin began breaking every lump of wood he could get his hands on. Conveniently, his brother was a cabinet-maker and had his workshop at home. Colin would have competitions with his mates at the workshop, setting up lengths of timber on bricks and seeing who could break the thickest pieces of wood.

"In 1963 I started work and I would break fire bricks during my lunch hour. I'd put up money and challenge my work mates to breaking competitions. I made a fair bit of pocket money doing that." Colin then saw an advertisement in an Adelaide newspaper for beginners' classes in karate, which meant his having to travel twenty-five miles from Reynella, three nights a week, for six weeks.

"I enjoyed the beginners' classes and decided to take up martial arts in earnest. After six years of training under two Japanese instructors, Sensei Masao Tada, and 6th Dan, Sensei Tsujimoto, I finally studied under the great Tino Ceberano, and achieved my Shodan (black belt) grading. My certificate was signed by the founder of Go-Ju Kai Karate, 10th Dan, Gogen Yamaguchi.

Tino Ceberano with Colin Johns

"I remember Tino Ceberano's daughter, Kate, being eleven or twelve at the time, and she was going to sing on the Mike Walsh Show. And Tino said she was going to be a rock star one day. I thought, 'Sure. All dads think their kids are going to be famous.'"

After winning two state titles (1975 & 1977), Colin moved from Adelaide to the NSW country town of Dubbo where he owned and operated a service station. During this time a youngster by the name of Grant Baker approached Colin for work as a petrol-pump assistant. Grant eventually travelled to Sydney to play rugby league for the Cronulla Sharks, then took up kickboxing with Sifu Mick Spinks, before becoming Australian and Commonwealth kickboxing champion.

In Dubbo, Colin Johns taught Go-Ju Kai Karate before moving to the Gold Coast where he founded his own United Martial Arts (UMA) style of karate. "Over the years, I believe I have formulated a method of extracting the best from my students, and our tournament record attests to this." Colin is a strong believer in the benefits of traditional karate, and feels that through adhering to traditional styles of instruction, students will also be taught the benefits of respect, honesty, perseverance, pride and etiquette – qualities he considers may be lacking in today's society.

"The UMA style of karate does not have a restricted tunnel vision approach to training methods. In fact, we keep up to date with the latest safety-training procedures, and utilize a wide variety of techniques from other arts. But I believe it's important to remember that basics are the foundation on which to build your martial arts. Kata is an extension of basics, and sparring is an extension of Kata. However, without sound basics, kata and sparring will never satisfy."

Colin Johns with Tino Ceberano and United Martial Arts Students

Colin Johns with Richard Norton

During the 5th Dan's thirty-three-year karate career, Shihan Colin Johns has managed to accomplish a ten-tile elbow break, a double-forearm break of two eight-tile stacks, house brick breaks with knife-hand strikes, and a number of ice breaks.

"My most difficult feat was a front-kick through four inches of concrete. It wasn't the most spectacular break, but it was certainly the most challenging."

Despite all the dynamic breaking feats Colin has accomplished over the years, the fifty-five-year-old instructor has suffered no injuries. And he believes this to be the result of adhering to safe training techniques, such as ensuring not to hyperextend in practice, and strengthening his wrists through regularly doing push-ups on his finger tips.

Colin Johns showing push-up technique for strengthening wrists

"I've had a few cuts and bruises, from time to time, but nothing long-term. And you build up to the big breaks: you don't decide one day that you're going to be a karate expert, then go home and try to break a stack of bricks.

"As part of my students' black-belt gradings they have to break boards, and I set the breaking standard to suit the person. The men have to do two separate breaks – one being a compulsory break and one being of their choice. The women break junior boards. But some people like to do more. I have some black-belt students who love to do breaks and have done demonstrations with me. It's the accomplishment of directing all that power and focus, in one split second, to breaking the boards and bricks that is so satisfying."

Colin's twenty-five-year-old son, Wade, is another keen karate practitioner and world champion at team kata. He was also an Australian board-breaking champion five years ago. Wade met his wife, Cheralee, at Colin's classes. Cheralee Johns (formerly Cheralee Lawn) was Australian Karate Champion for many years.

"Between them, they have won enough titles to open a trophy shop. My daughter Sophy has her black belt, and my wife Rosslyn is my greatest supporter, and has attended every demonstration I've been involved in during our thirty-three years of marriage.

"I'm very proud of my family. We don't act like mother and father, son and daughter. We're like mates – hard working and honest with each other. We're very close, and it's all due to traditional karate with traditional values," says Colin Johns.

Colin Johns breaking concrete slabs with palm strike

Article written by Marc Wickert

Marc Wickert is one of the world’s most respected martial arts journalists.

For years his articles have been published in America, Europe, Australasia, and on the acclaimed website.

Having interviewed some of the most elite combatants of the No-Holds-Barred inner sanctum, and a hybrid fight system’s instructor in his own right, Marc Wickert is also author of the now-famous self-defense manual – The Book.