Life

Lurgan Bruce Lee Martin O'Neill on how martial arts saved his life

With over 40 years experience of practising Bruce Lee's Jeet Kune Do martial arts behind him, Lurgan blackbelt Martin O'Neill tells Joanne Sweeney how his new book can help improve body and mind

Senior Jeet Kune Do instructor Martin O’Neil pictured with student Olivia Beatty. Picture by Matt Bohill
Joanne Sweeney

A CO ARMAGH man who uses the martial arts teaching and techniques of the legendary Bruce Lee to maintain his physical and mental wellbeing is hoping that his new book will help others do likewise.

Martin O'Neill from Lurgan believes that his book The Jeet Kune Do Mindset: Martial Arts Ways For A Better Life gives readers a step by step introduction to Jeet Kune Do (JKD) for self-defence – but also to the ethos and mentality of the martial arts founded by the star of action movies such as Enter The Dragon and Fist of Fury.

It's the first self-published book from the 62-year-old retired social worker, who says he's delighted to have written it after nearly four decades of practising martial arts.

"I wanted to write the book as I felt that I had something to say having so many years of experience in marital arts and also from what I’ve been through and what I’ve seen in my life," says Martin, who was trained in the US by Lee's former training partner, instructor Dan Insanto and his best friend and former assistant training instructor, Taky Kimura.

"I wanted to say how martial arts had impacted on me in my life and how I believe it could be used by others to help them in their lives.

"I have been stabbed, bottled, punched, kicked, concussed and have been given black eyes along the way – but I've lived to tell the tale and to relate some of my stories in the book, along with advice on good training methods and practical self-defence techniques."

The books offers tips on improving your health and wellbeing and how to live a more fulfilling lifestyle. It also has a section devoted to a 12-week training programme designed to get people into shape by using martial arts.

Martin, who has been a black belt for over 30 years and still teaches classes in Lurgan, stresses that there's so much more to JKD and martial arts than just being able to defend yourself.

"I think that JDK is much than just a physical thing," he says.

"Some people just use it for the physicality of it but what attracted me to it was beyond the physical – it was the philosophical ideas and the emotional wellbeing that I derived from it, and the way that Bruce Lee lived his life.

"People like me remember when we were teenagers back in the day and Bruce Lee shot onto the screen and became a superstar. I think he reached a lot of young men by the way he stood up to bullies and tyrants and never gave up. He certainly touched a chord in me.

"So I became interested in martial arts as a young teenager and I had that iconic picture of Bruce Lee on my wall from Enter The Dragon. I became interested as I really lacked confidence after getting a scholarship to Belfast grammar school. I lost my way very quickly and lost my confidence and left school at the age of 15 feeling a complete and utter failure."

Martin has worked with young people across the religious divide to help them cope better with life by using martial arts techniques and also with disabled people by adapting JKD techniques for wheelchair users.

In 2008, he had a heart attack in the middle of training session and almost died: an emergency triple bypass heart operation helped save his life.

"I’m definitely alive today because of my martial arts as if I had not have been as reasonably fit and strong, I wouldn’t have survived. It’s also down to the love of the love of my wife and family who supported me.

"It’s hard to pinpoint what the main benefits of JKD are but I think when you boil it down, it’s the benefit of having a good workout on your body, the camaraderie with your friends and to be challenged in a good and positive way.

"I think what we do help to build people and their confidence up and helps increase their self-esteem. Ultimately, I think it’s about love and the love of humanity and all the good things about human relationships."

Martin's five simple tips for self defence

1) Street violence is fast, horribly unpredictable and not like the movies. Be aware of your surroundings, use attack recognition signals and your gut instincts to avoid trouble.

2) Don’t get too drunk or use drugs and go to a party with people you don’t know – stay with your friends and don’t get separated from them.

3) Order a taxi in advance to get home safe and don’t wander around the streets.

4) Be assertive, say no to unwanted sexual advances.

5) Get some training in basic self-defence and keep it simple. Don’t think "it can’t happen to me". When a threat evolves into an attack you must immediately fight back hard, hitting finger jabs/claw hand to the eyes, throat hits, groin smashes with open palm/knees, elbows to the jaw. Hit 'through the target' and don’t use fancy moves as they won’t work.

:: The Jeet Kune Do Mindset: Martial Arts Ways For A Better Life by Martin O'Neill is available from Amazon.co.uk priced at £5 and on Kindle.

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