Billy Manne – My Personal Bio
My life is Martial Arts. It has been my joy, my salvation, my passion, my frustration, and my work: my pathway in life. It’s true to say that I (like many others) am defined by martial arts and BJMA is my home, while my dojo at BMMA Frankston is my sanctuary, my happy place.
My Martial Arts journey began in Adelaide, shortly after my family emigrated from Holland.
Like many children of newly arrived migrants, I was lost. So, my parents enrolled me in the local dojo at Brighton. The standard of Martial Arts I was learning was not particularly good, but it gave me a sense of purpose and empowerment, and a place to belong.
The family was uprooted again, this time to South Africa, to the violent city of Johannesburg. This was at the height of the bloody skirmishes of apartheid. Here I learnt Shokotan karate and achieved the dojo’s brown belt standard. Again, the standard was not great, but I loved my training. Even this, however paled into insignificance once I found my home in BJMA.
“Bob was to become the greatest mentor a lost young man could ever want.”
Eventually our family returned to Melbourne, and again my life was uprooted. I was searching for an answer, searching for my inner-self. Then, as a young man walking down Elizabeth St in the CBD, my search was answered when I met Bob Jones (the ‘Chief’) in early August 1970. I joined the fledging Zen Do Kai karate community, and found my lifelong home. My membership number was 68. Bob was to become the greatest mentor a lost young man could ever want.
From the moment I walked on to Bob’s Dojo floor, my life changed forever in so many ways. Training was tough and I wanted to prove myself. There were some amazing teachers there alongside Bob, Richard Norton being one. All I wanted to do was train. Nothing much has changed almost fifty years on!
That day, at the Dojo for the first time, I told Bob that I had trained in South Africa and was a brown belt. Then, I watched Dave Berry, Paul Fleming and the boys in a class. They were blue belts. I turned to Bob and said, “I might be a brown belt in the dojo in South Africa but no way am I half as good as your guys. Can I start as a white belt please?”
So, I started at BJMA as a white belt. I met so many inspiring Martial Artists, such staunch men. People like Richard Norton, Dave Berry, Paul Fleming, Dave Carpenter, Tum Joe, Peter Law, and Nicky Papas among many others. Alongside the Chief, these men helped shape me as a person as well as a martial artist.
We trained hard and practised our craft in the doorways and alleys of Melbourne’s nightclub and live music scene. Back then it was like the Wild West! In Melbourne and across Australia, there was change in the air. We still had troops in Vietnam and Gough Whitlam (the soon to be Prime Minister) was telling us it was time for change, while the notorious ‘sharps’ (sharpies) and ‘skinheads’ regularly held bloody confrontations in seedy suburban streets. Australia was growing up and the music scene reflected this. Melbourne and Australia were very different places to what they are today.
“If the technique did not work in the street, we did not want it in our style.”
Areas such as Richmond and Collingwood were full of rough pubs. There were areas of St Kilda and South Melbourne too that were regarded as no-go zones at night. Not for the faint hearted. Of course, the roughest pubs in the roughest areas, was where we worked. Every night there were fights, and more fights that we, as bouncers had to deal with. So, the young Australian Zen Do Kai style of Martial Arts developed a hard-won reputation as the style that worked. We tested our dojo techniques over and over again in many a street fight. If the technique did not work in the street, we did not want it in our style. That is something I am truly proud of: BJMA teaches Martial Arts that work. Our Martial Arts style is robust and works under pressure. BJMA is the real deal.
As time went on, the reputation of our prowess grew and grew. And with good reason! As well as being a brilliant martial artist, Bob was an extraordinary entrepreneur. He was truly before his time. We did floorshows in pubs and clubs all over Australia as the opening of clubs exploded countrywide.
The shows were dazzling. There were so many memorable moments for me but one that still remains especially vivid in my memory was at the Melbourne Royal Show. As part of the floorshow Bob wanted me to break three roof tiles. Easy! The floorshow was being held in one of the pavilions just near the entrance of the main area. There were literally thousands of people there. This is what happened:
“Guys, there is a huge crowd. It’s showtime!” The Chief was in his element! Showcasing his passion of Martial Arts in the most spectacular way— no one ever has or will do it better. The crowd came to be awestruck and they were! And of course, after the show there were literally queues wanting to join up to BJMA. The Chief and his crew were on fire!
The atmosphere was electric! The crowd was loving it!
“Billy, I want you to break these tiles. Hit as hard as you can.”
“Yes, Chief, no problem.”
So, I punched as hard as I could, and as I knew I would, smashed the roof tiles. But what no one had taken into account was that there was a concrete floor right under the tiles. I hit the thick concrete slab at full power with my hand, smashing my second knuckle to pieces. The pain was overwhelming. I stood and turned to the Chief, bowed to him and dropped to my right knee. Thankfully I stopped myself from vomiting. The crowd thought I was meant to be on my knee, and the pavilion exploded into applause, while my body exploded in silent pain. Somehow, I managed to stand up at the end of the show and took my place alongside the other guys. Now, Bob was looking at me oddly.
As we left the stage, Bob said, “Billy, are you ok?”
By this time, I really couldn’t speak but I managed to say I was “fine”.
I did not dare tell Bob what had happened because we should have checked the floor and the clearance height before I hit the tiles.
Well, my knuckle took years to heal. Yep, I learnt the hard way.
There are literally a thousand stories that I could tell about being part of BJMA, enough to fill a book. Stories about the training, the way BJMA has evolved, working with the biggest acts in the world, the wild music scene in Australia, the opening of my current dojo in Frankston almost 40 years ago and the list goes on. But the theme of all these stories remains the same: Martial Arts and my life within BMJA has defined me.
“I am a Martial Artist. It is my purpose to share my knowledge and empower you.”
We always talk about the highlights and there have been hundreds of them in my martial arts journey. Yet, it is not always the highlights that are important. Martial Arts and being part of BJMA has been my salvation and my strength during the darkest moments of my life: the passing of my parents, a marriage breakdown, being diagnosed with prostate cancer, and the partial loss of movement in my left shoulder. The strength we all draw from our training is truly priceless.
To conclude this passage in time, allow me to formally introduce myself:
My name is Billy Manne. I have been training for 61 years. It is my purpose to share my knowledge and empower you. I am a Martial Artist.