50 – Australian Martial Arts Hall of Fame Inductee Grant Bannister Shares 40+ Years Of Martial Arts

Grant Bannister recent inducted to Martial Arts Hall of Fame shares his 40+ year martial arts journey.



  • The improvements in the martial arts industry in the last 40+ years
  • How to become an awardee of the Australasian Martial Arts Hall of Fame
  • The motivating factors that made Grant stay in the industry for a long time
  • Why martial arts is more than just about self-defence
  • And more

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Download the PDF transcription


People say to me, oh it was really good back in those days. I wouldn't change it. The progression is fantastic.

George: Hi, this is George Fourie, and welcome to another Martial Arts Media Business Podcast. Today I am speaking with Shidoshi Grant Bannister. Now, Shidoshi Grant Bannister has been in the martial arts industry for a very long time, so we're going to have a great chat just about where he's come from, and he's also just recently got inducted into the Australian Martial Arts Hall of Fame. So we're just going to have a bit of a chat about that. Welcome to the show, Grant.

Grant: Thank you, George, and thank you for having me, it's great. I've watched, loved your podcast, and they're really great so I feel honoured to be part of it.

George: That's fantastic, awesome. Let's start right from the beginning, Grant. Who is Grant Bannister?

Grant: I've been a working guy all my life. I was a TV technician. We've got a family of three kids and four grandchildren. I started my martial arts journey way back in 1959 under a guy called Wally Strauss. I wasn’t interested in football and this guy said, “Oh, we're gonna do Judo.” And I said, “Oh, I don't know what it is but I'll do it.” I trained for a whole year with Wally Strauss. I left my martial arts go until I was 29, I think I was when I got back into it. My journey started then and been enjoying ever since.

George: Fantastic. So, 29, and then when did you start on the path of instructing?

Grant: I started with a guy called, with San Chi Kai and Mal Lomax. Mal was very big into once you've got the knowledge, now you start teaching, which is great, I think that happens a lot nowadays. Probably less than two years after I started I was teaching, and Mal asked me to open up my own club, which I did down in Blackburn, and we went from there. Unfortunately, Mal passed away a few years ago. He moved to Queensland in 1996.

I didn't stay with San Chi Kai. Another chap and myself just started training in the garage. After a while we got more and more people coming in and all of a sudden the garage was full and we had to start looking for a hall. Then I thought, well we'll have to start putting something together, make it our own style. We called it Bukido Karate, that was in 1986. We've grown slowly from then, not in a large amount, but in that time I've probably taught thousands and thousands of students. It's been a great journey, I've had some amazing people by my side and that makes you want to keep going. People say to me, “Oh, you're 74 now, it's about time to retire, move around Australia.” But I still get a big buzz out of seeing the kids starting to show respect towards their parents and us. So it's still a journey.

George: For sure. So, 74 years old, wow, that's good going. I want to calculate the years back. So you've been doing martial arts then for the last …

Grant: Forty-plus.

George: Forty-plus? Fantastic. So, forty years, that's my lifetime right now. In comparison from where you started to where things are now, what's sort of the biggest changes and adjustments that you've had to make along the way?

Grant: Back then was crazy, everyone used to belt the hell out of each other and it was really, really, dangerous. People lost kidneys and all sorts of things. Of course, O.H and S would start to come in people realized that they could get sued so it all changed. But it was a good time, I had a great time with security and all that sort of stuff with Mal Lomax had contacts and we spent a week with Olivia Newton-John when Xanadu was opened. We had the Boomtown Rats and quite a few other celebrities. It was a good time. A lot of those people liked the martial arts and they wanted to become a little more involved in it. I think Bob Jones had Fleetwood Mac at the time, Richard Norton was bodyguard with Fleetwood Mac. They were good, fun times. It wasn't a lot of animosity amongst the crowds. Although we did have problems, but, it was just a really, really, good, fun time for me.

George: Did you pursue that bodyguarding type of role for a long time?

Grant: I think it was about four years. It was a security thing, it wasn't a bouncing thing. I think when we did the Olivia Newton-John thing, she got the keys to the city of Melbourne Town Hall and there were thousands of people there. It reminded me of the Beatles days. I was just telling someone the other day, even getting her to the car was almost impossible, it was so packed. We got down to the car and Mal said, “I don't know how we're going to get her in.” So he opened the door and I had to lean against the car and push the door open so she could get in. The next thing, I had this guy sitting on my head trying to get her autograph. I'm trying to hold the door and this idiot is sitting on my head, I couldn't do anything about it. It wasn’t all about punching and kicking and all that sort of stuff, just trying to do the right thing and trying to keep the celebrities safe from the crowds.

George: Sounds like interesting days.

Grant: It was, certainly was. Nothing comes close to that from what I've done since.

George: You mentioned that people were losing kidneys and things like that. Was it basically due to not regulations and things in place in the industry?

Grant: It was. Back then, even the bouncers in hotels they didn't have name tags, they could do a lot of damage and just disappear. A lot of them would turn up into martial arts. All they wanted to do was fight full contact. Some nights you felt you were just trying to stay alive, keeping your hands up and moving around. It was a very brutal learning curve. It slowly changed, and people say, “Oh, it's not the same nowadays, it's watered down.” But the way I look at it is, if you've got, you're teaching children and they can go out and they've got some self-defence. Dave Kovar always says some self-defence is better than no self-defence. If they've become more alert and they're more courteous to people and they can understand where the other person is coming from, they've got a lot less chance of getting into trouble.

George: Yes, that's something that Dave Kovar also mentioned on the show that was when they started with teaching martial arts, it was all about adults and there wasn't really kids martial arts. It only started at a later time. Now, in that time, do you feel there's been a bit of a shifting? If you say it's a bit watered-down, do you think the focus has changed in martial arts that it's maybe not that much, well, it's still focused on self-defence, but that it is a bit more watered down, as they say, to accommodate the kids and other people within the martial arts and also with sports martial arts, I guess?

Grant: I have quite a few conversations with Graham Slater, and he's into the insurance, obviously. But you don't want to get sued for teaching wrong techniques or dangerous exercises. When the Martial Arts Board came in in 1988, I think, they tried to close a lot of schools down because of the dangerous exercises. You don't want a child or an adult coming to your club and learning things that could damage them later in life.

Like, myself, I haven't had knee replacements but the uni closed, but everyone I've trained with has had bad knees because we used to do probably an hour of those bunny hops. Of course, the Australian Institute Of Sport, they had a good look at all this and tried to change it. Any of the cowboys that are still around, they risk being sued and the insurance companies won't stand by them if they're doing stupid things in their teaching.

George: I guess it's more of a way of the world. That's really just what's happened. Everything gets regulated to the point of, you've got to be covered and especially with something like martial arts, that's got to be the worst side effect, damage to your business and obviously the people that you damage in the process. But that's got to be the hardest thing to overcome is if you have people go through an injury or something and all the spotlights are on your school for doing potentially the wrong thing which was injuring someone or harming someone within the training.

Grant: Yes, that's correct. I think most people are more aware. We've got so much knowledge now with, you can watch YouTube or Google stuff. The only thing that worries me a little bit, I've always loved nunchaku, that's been my thing.

You really can't teach a lot of weapons now without everyone getting a license. So it's not just the teacher that's got to get a license, it's the person in the class has got to get a license. And the kids love weapons. They love wooden weapons but things like bokken, the wooden sword, you've got to have a license for a lot of stuff. Sometimes I think, yeah well, if someone had a dangerous weapon from one of the big hardware stores, you can walk out with a chainsaw or whatever, compared to a bokken, it doesn't make sense to me. I can understand why it should be regulated but sometimes I think they go overboard a little bit.

George: Yes, bubble wrap everything, bubble wrap the kids. Now tell me about induction into the Australian Martial Arts Hall of Fame and congratulations, of course.

Grant: Thank you. It was a very good weekend. I've been to three now when my friends have been inducted. It is a lot bigger than most people know about. I'd spoken to George Kolovos, I said, “You know that?” And he didn't even know about it, so there's a lot of people out there and really good leaders in the martial arts that should be recognized. The Martial Arts Hall of Fame is a good way of doing it in Australia. There was, I think there was, two or three came from New Zealand this year. So it's the Australasian Martial Arts Hall of Fame as well. It's very humbling to be amongst these amazing people. Some of them have done incredible stuff. To be a part of that was really good, it's a good weekend.

There was a guy with Taekwondo called Paul Mitchell, he actually ran it up in Sydney and put a lot of effort into it. There was probably, we trained all Saturday and Sunday. The dinner presentation night was on a Saturday night. So it was probably on the floor, training would have been close to 100 at one stage, and these are all, most of them are high grade so they do add lower grades in it to train. But the knowledge you gain from the whole weekend was just sensational. I took up about twenty of my guys and they all came back raving out it, saying that they loved the cross training of the different level. I thoroughly recommend it if you get a chance. It's in Hobart next year in August, yourself or anyone else that can get along, it's a good weekend.

George: Sounds great. Do you know what the actual criteria are to be inducted?

Grant: They've got different levels, I think you can get an instructor and there are all different levels where you get up to the old people like me. I think mine was called a Lifetime Achievement Award. There are different levels so younger guys can go into it, but usually, you've got to be recommended and, as I said, they really go into your background. You can't just go up there and say, “Oh, I'm a twenty-third degree, I think I deserve it.” That just doesn't happen. They go into your background and your qualifications and your grading and stuff like that. You can see it online if you look up AMAHOF, I think. No, www.amahof.asn.au I think it is, worth having a look.

George: Fantastic, we'll do that. Grant, tell me, you've been in the industry for a very long time. If you could reverse things, in the current situation of where things are going in the martial arts industry, what do you see is great, where it's moving forward and what do you see as you wish it was back to the roots or back in the day?

Grant: People say to me, “Oh, it was really back in those days.” I wouldn't change it. The progression is fantastic. You see even people from overseas, like Tom Callos and Barry Van Over, those sort of guys, they give of themselves so much. I mentioned Paul Veldman, he gives of himself so much. You can join the Paul Veldman's group which is MABS, M-A-B or something it's called, which is a little bit more in depth but they still give freely of their own knowledge. The beauty of that is, is what we're taught about safety and stuff like that. People get to know what is safe and what is not, and they know if they go down the path of teaching kids the wrong thing, I mean being choked out and stuff like that, then they won't be around long. If they do the wrong thing and they get sued, the insurance company doesn't stand by them, they lose their house, their assets and everything. So everyone's got to tow the line. My wife just turned up, hi.

George: Hello. So Grant, who are the students that you have trained that you are most proud of?

Grant: But Crystal Ladiges won the ISKA Women's Black Belt Division in 2008. That's the overall division that I've earned out of all the black belts. That was the ISKA World Titles. Ross Rodolico won the Black Belt Division in ISKA in 2002. Stretching my mind a little bit. We've got this other Title holder called Danny Owen, he's got a young family now, so he trains occasionally.

Graham Slater ran this competition trying to find the best martial artist in Australia. It had some strange criteria but my guy Danny Owen won it. We went out to Lysterfield, there's a big monastery out there for the Buddhists and they had a shaolin monk come out and present him with the winnings. He went and stayed with the shaolin monks for a week, just training with them exclusively. He was taken around China with every other winner from every other country with a show. It was a life-changing experience for him. To have three brilliant people like that around you, it jeers you up, it makes you want to do more.

I've got a granddaughter, she's 16 and she's the only one in the family that's trained with me and she's loving it but you can see her journey's just starting. It's a bit of a long journey.

George: Definitely so. So who has kept you going in your martial arts journey, that's walked the path beside you?

Grant: All the black belts, I've got about, probably got about 15, 20 black belts at the moment with me. The standard of these guys is fantastic. I think sometimes, people come into your club and they look at you and then they sum you up and they either stay with you or not. Sometimes they look at you, and if you're not aggressive enough they'll go to someone who's got an aggressive output. Whereas we try and be, help each other. It's like Paul Veldman's club, Kando Martial Arts, all those guys down there, I've trained with them and they're all fantastic, they all help each other and try and jeer each other up. We do the same with us. That's kept me going.

I've had a girl who is virtually my manager now, Bella. Bella's been with me since she was five. Back in those days, she's 23 now, I wouldn't take anyone under about six or seven, it was unheard of. The mother just virtually begged me to take her and she's been with me ever since and is still continuing her martial arts journey. It's people like that that keep you jeered up and keeping me wanting to go down to the club all the time, helping them and seeing them getting better and better.

George: Awesome, fantastic. Grant, last question from me, what's next for you in your martial arts journey?

Grant: There are a few things I've got in the pipeline. Obviously, the physical side is getting less and less. But I do like the lifestyle that martial arts does. It does keep you healthy. My wife just walked in and she does an hour walk every day. She's 70 years old and she walks an hour a day. The doctor said to her, she's the fittest 70 years old he's ever seen. Martial arts promotes healthy living and all that and I think we've got so much to offer the community. I don't understand why it's not accepted as much as a lot of other sports.

Another thing I've been working on ABOK with Kancho Terry Lim, which is Australian Board of Kanchos, which is like a grading panel. Now we're running into a few problems there because people are coming up and wanting to grade to a fifth-degree and they've only been training for three years, so that's a bit of a nightmare. But I've got people helping me like Bruce Haynes and Tony Ball and Graham Slater, people like that, who are on board. A lot of people go into their own styles and then they don't know where to go for grading. So we're working pretty hard on that as well. I do hope to continue my club. I'm not too worried because we've grown dramatically, I like to know the names of all the kids that come in. So it gets too big, you sort of lose control of that personal contact.

George: For sure. Grant, it's been great speaking to you and, look, I've gotta say, you're probably a legend in the industry. You're a true testament to living the lifestyle all the way, and at 74 years old and you've got no sign of stopping. Congrats to you, well done. Lastly, if anybody wants more information about you, where can they, which website can they go, where can they find more information about you?

Grant: I gotta talk to you about the website, obviously. Do it yourself isn't quite the right thing to do, I realized that. www.bukidokarate.com.au, it's one word, dot com dot au.

George: Alright, fantastic. Grant, it's been great speaking with you and I will speak to you soon.

Grant: Thanks, George, I appreciate you having me, it's great to talk to you as well.

George: Awesome, cheers.

Grant: Okay, bye bye.

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George Fourie

Hi I'm George Fourie, the founder of MartialArtsMedia.com. When I'm not doing dad duties or training on the mats (which I manage to combine when my son is willing! :), I'm helping Martial Arts Gym owners grow their business through the power of online media.