Martial Arts Illustrated Magazine – Interview
Martial Arts Illustrated Magazine Interview – Bob Sykes
MAI Editor Bob Sykes interviews columnist Dean Coulson about his route into Martial Arts and his journey in his chosen profession in sports performance / Nutrition coaching.
Dean Coulson is unquestionably a great example of a healthy lifestyle. Every month his MAI columns are enjoyed by people in their thousands. MAI recently caught up with this remarkable health coach in order to discuss at length his approach to attaining a healthy body, mind and spirit.
Bob Sykes: Please tell me, Dean you and the martial arts when did it all begin?
DEAN COULSON: Now there’s a question…
For me it all began when I was 12 years old. I remember one of my friends was in the boys brigade (to this day I have no idea what that was) and he came back saying he had been learning martial arts there. I can remember thinking, “what are martial arts?” and being highly skeptical of what my friend said. But what he did say sounded fascinating and exciting. Learning how to punch and kick and defending yourself. From then on I wanted to know more, I had gone from being totally unaware of what martial arts actually were to being intensely curious.
Now I had been made aware, I started looking into how to learn more. I found something called judo and begged my dad to take me to it. Once there though, there was no punching and kicking at all, I can remember being disappointed. You see, once I had been made aware of martial arts, one name kept coming up… Bruce Lee. Now Way back when in 1986, there was no internet, so it was all about finding books and magazines. MAI wasn’t around then, but fighters and combat were and I read everything I could find.
I lasted 3 weeks at Judo before I locked myself in the bathroom at home and said I didn’t want to go back, I wanted to kick and punch. I was warned by my dad that if I didn’t go he wouldn’t take me back, but I was adamant. And that’s what happened. I regretted it, but my dad wouldn’t budge, I wasn’t allowed to go. A man of his word my dad.
It was a few years later when I was 14 when I finally started a martial art called Jintian-Do, created by two people called Ray Bilcliff and Robert Alnwick. It was a combination of Tukido and Taekwondo, with a solid punching base, kicking of the front foot a lot, It had a lot in common with kick boxing I guess. There were no forms or kata’s but lots of technique work and sparring. I loved it. At the time I started with 2 of my mates, but they fell away and I kept going. I was hooked (pardon the pun). Even when I wasn’t at classes I was training at home. I remember finishing my O level exams a year later and had a long summer of practice. I used to re arrange my mam and dads furniture in their house every afternoon and practice stretching and techniques for 2 hours LOL.
That’s when it all started for me.
Bob Sykes: I’m sure that many old school reading this would identify with what you have just said, tell me, at what point did you realise that you were on a course that has led you to where you are now?
DEAN COULSON: The moment I got my black belt in Jintian Do in December 1988. I remember feeling immense pride then and knew that it was just the beginning of my journey. I was 17 and more mature than when I first started and knew that martial arts would be part of my life until the day I die.
When I first started in the martial arts my attitude about everything changed. I started looking at how I could become stronger and fitter to compliment my martial arts training. At school I went from being a boy who hated running and exercise in general, to loving the challenge of school cross country runs. I got a weight bench for my birthday and started learning about my body. I wanted to be the best I could be in life and knew that martial arts was the template to teach me.
I knew martial arts was my path. Not just the physical training, but the martial arts ethics and values, the martial way. Self discipline and self control, perseverance, integrity, courtesy and self respect. It literally becomes a way of life. It is that point when you can never see a life without martial arts in it.
BOB SYKES: Was this one of the reasons you became focused towards the nutritional aspects of health and fitness?
DEAN COULSON: Actually no. I was more about training when I was younger and followed the mainstream nutrition advice, i.e. skimmed milk, whole wheat bread and pasta etc. The nutritional aspects started later when my wife and I found out we couldn’t have kids, we went to see our doctor and he told us…
“You cannot have kids naturally.”
That is something you just don’t want to hear. My wife and I had been trying unsuccessfully for a few years and so visited our doctor. After some tests it was revealed that the problem was mine.
Not something you want spelled out, a truth that I didn’t want anyway. However, I was unwilling to accept that as black and white. I wanted to know if there was another way. I wanted to know what had caused my problem and how to solve it and set about finding out.
After 2 unsuccessful IVF attempts I turned my attention to nutrition and health. I found that a lot of the mainstream advice on diets and health was wrong. I started reading about and studying nutrition, I contacted nutritionists, we went to see one and realised that we you eat has a massive impact, not just on fertility, but our health too. It’s not just about the food, but the chemicals used in crop spraying, what actually is in our water supply, what we cook in etc. etc. I sought out nutritionists who were experts in this field and as a result now have a healthy 11 year old son.
This was all down to nutrition and yes, it is THAT powerful!
Now I see nutrition as PART of health, not all of it. There is so much more to it that the majority of people do not realise, however nutrition is a vital part and it is very powerful.
It is not just what you eat (or more appropriately ingest) it is about how well you digest your food to get the nutrients you need, it is about proper hydration, breathing correctly, emotional balance, getting enough sleep, rest and recovery, how you are handling stress, how you move as well as what you let into your head.
BOB SYKES: What does your actual training schedule consist of?
DEAN COULSON: Being a nutrition and performance coach, I base everything around strength and conditioning, that’s my base, THEN I get my martial arts training in 2-4 times per week depending on my schedule. So 5-6 days a week I am active, 7 if you count a mountain bike ride or hiking on a Sunday, but that’s more to mix things up and get out with the family.
I think a lot of people make the mistake of just partaking in a sport and think that its enough. I disagree. To excel in your chosen sport, adding a strength and conditioning base to it will make you better at that sport. Iron out the weaknesses in the chain and see how much stronger you are.
Kickboxing for example benefits from more stability and balance in the shoulders and hips, strengthening the posterior chain (the muscles you cannot see in a mirror, i.e. neck, shoulders, back, glutes, hamstrings) allows for more snappy, powerful kicks. Your body will not allow you to put more speed or power through a joint if it feels unstable, so I make sure you have a program to address this. I work on joint mobility and soft tissue work daily to help address this.
So a typical training week for me would be 3 or 4 strength and conditioning sessions and 3-4 Martial arts sessions, whether that be training with the great Master Kenn Forrest at Emulous sport kickboxing or on my own. Having trained with Master Geoff Thompson for 5 years in his real combat system, the other sessions are in reality based training.
So Monday/Tuesday, Thursday/Friday I would do a strength & conditioning session in the morning and train kickboxing Tuesday and Thursday evening, with the reality based stuff slotted in usually on a Wednesday and Saturday.
The biggest thing to remember with all training is not to train hard, but to train smart. I accumulated way too many injuries training hard, but once I educated myself I realised you do not have to beast yourself all the time. Get to the gym, get the job done and get out, rest and recover. Spending hours and hours training without the proper rest and recovery leads to over training and/or under recovery.
BOB SYKES: How important a factor do you feel recovery to be ?
DEAN COULSON: It is very important and at least as important as the training you put in. The training is a stimulus, the rest and recovery process allows your body to repair and grow stronger. Not giving your body a chance to heal will hinder recovery and can lead to over training, under recovery and injury.
Preventing injuries and over training aren’t the same thing although they are usually very closely linked and one will follow closely behind the other.
Over training can occur even when joint by joint and muscle by muscle, you still feel okay. Rather than a specific injury becoming obvious you gradually or suddenly build this level of systemic fatigue which just will not go away.
You’ve gone beyond your body’s ability to recover and the harder you try to force yourself through training, the worse it gets until you reach a point where you’re training or performance levels drop. Your body always knows best, we have just become accustomed to not hearing the signals.
It is important to learn to listen to your body and get 8+ hours of sleep, practice good nutrition and hydrate to aid the process.
If I am not feeling it on a particular training day, I will back off from training and do stretching and joint mobility work and probably go for a walk instead.
Every 4 weeks or so I take what you call a deload week, where training volume is decreased to allow recovery. No one can go flat training week after week, month after month. Proper deloading allows you to let your body recover from a neurological, muscular and joint perspective so that training doesn’t become an impossible chore due to overtraining.
One part of recovery most people forget and don’t even entertain is mental recovery. Relaxing, meditating, going for a walk etc. Anything that allows you to slow down and BE in a relaxed state. The physical aspect of training and recovery always seems to be the main focus, but the real winners also work with their mind too. It is well known that modern life works at a fast pace and I feel it is imperative to remove ourselves from it every day for an hour to just be with ourselves and reflect.
BOB SYKES: Where do you see yourself developing over the next few years or so?
DEAN COULSON: My self development is based on what I have learned in my profession in sports performance, nutrition coaching and martial arts. But it is the martial arts that holds everything together for me. I am a spiritual guy and know that all the answers lie within us all if only we had the courage to face it.
I will continue to focus on my health and when I say health, I mean every facet to it. Nutrition, exercise, rest & recovery, movement and stress management. The latter is where the magic is though. To find out who you really are and show up in the world as that person.
I realised that true happiness comes from working on yourself first, the internal self. Not the pretend bollocks with cars and houses and gadgets etc you know all the external stuff that people think will make them happy, only to find it doesn’t, not really. My aim is to live my life as authentically as possible and I can only do that by removing anyone from my life or anything that does not resonate with me, my message and my values.
For me, working on the self is the most important thing anyone can do, but few do the work because it is a scary place to be. But that is where your truth lies. As they say, the truth will set you free and I believe that.
That is why I have set up my lean warrior program, to help people remove the excess in their lives to find their true essence (LEAN) and then help them find the courage to face their true selves (WARRIOR), So they can live a happy fulfilled life.
BOB SYKES: Thanks Dean, I wish you well for the future
DEAN COULSON: Thanks Bob