The late Russell Beha was one of the early (late 60’s) members of theoriginal Blacktown school. A very, very powerfull man, the memory of him still sends a shiver down my spine. If ever I had to fight him for real?? – Well, to survive - I would like to have a shotgun in my hands. - J.Cook.
Russell was one year ahead of me at Doonside High School. I only knew him well enough to say hello to then but this is probably all he needed to take an interest in me when I switched over from Judo to Karate at the St. Patricks Church Hall in October, 1969.
I watched Russell conduct an exercise session with the Karate Class and then work out on the punching bag. I was so impressed with what I saw I asked him if I could join the class. Russell was 2nd Kyu brown belt at the time.
Russell was a big guy. Probably about 6 feet two and 16 stone plus of hard natural muscle. Despite his size he was agile and flexible and could easily do the front splits. When he worked the bag the whole Judo Class stopped to watch. I have never seen anyone work a bag like Russell, and I have been around. He would buckle it up with fast powerful punches and well executed kicks. His round house kick would arc in on a high flat plain and he would drive
the ball of his foot deep into the bag, Crash. Still sends a shudder through me when I think about it. Probably the best way I can illustrate Russell's ability with bag work is to jump ahead 5 years. Russell came with me to a Boxing Gym in Goulburn Street, Sydney. Russell worked out on a heavy bag just using his hands. No one in that Gym, and there were several good boxers there, including one current Australian Champion, wanted to get in the ring with Russell after watching him pound that bag. He was that intimidating.
Russell was a good no nonsense Instructor. Some people mistook him as being a gentle giant. He was easy going but had a mean streak in him. This was evident in of the first training sessions I had with him. One of the guys was clowning around, deliberately doing the exercises wrong, laughing and he said to Russell, “Speak up, I can't hear you" Russell glared at him and said, “You will hear me when the fighting starts.” He said, “What?” Russell said, “You
heard.” Complete silence. That guy left after the exercise session. Never sawhim again. I learnt early never to upset Russell.
When Russell was teaching at the Blacktown Club he was the full package. He had command over a wide range of physical exercises to put the class through, including deep stretching, had well developed techniques and Kata came alive when he performed them. All grace and power, All like. You knew he was serious when he made that " Gatz " sound, which I interpreted to mean, " that one finished you."
The thing with Russell is that he was always thinking how to introduce training methods an changes to technique application to make his fighting ability more effective. He would readily share these ideas with those who trained with him. Training with a single hand weight to teach one side of the body to be completely relaxed while the other side explodes into the attack was his idea. His extended push up was designed to develop core strength years before its importance was realised. I went to the Blacktown R.S.L. pool with him once and I thought it was to have a swim and relax. No way!. I spent a couple of hours with him doing stretching and slow techniques under the water. Fell over when I got out of the pool my legs were so rubbery. What did he want to do? Have a beer? No. Let’s go and work out on the bag. That was Russell, God bless him.
Russell never opened a Club of his own away from the original Blacktown Karate Club. Perhaps he thought he could not improve on this Club. Everyone has their own teaching style and Russell preferred to work with a small group of students privately. Most of my training happened in my back yard at Blacktown. He would discuss anything new he was working on and then it was straight into the fighting. He did this from my 5th kyu onwards. Sometimes he
would bring other students along and give all of us a hard time. There are 3 special occasions when Russell gave me encouragement to continue my training. I was there the day Russell got graded to Black Belt. He gave me his Brown Belt to put aside to wear when I got graded to Brown Belt. When I got graded to Black Belt, Russell took off his Black Belt and gave it to me wear. In January, 1982 I had just been released from hospital after being seriously ill. I had lost over 30 kg of weight and was very week. For 3 months Russell would come and see me,
at least twice a week, and you guessed it, his solution was to go out into the yard and start light training. I got well enough to go back to the Park but I doubted myself. He simply said, " Don't worry, I will be there."
I knew Russell for 16 years between 1969 and 1985. He visited and taught at Clubs I had in Sydney, Doonside, Merrylands and Burwood. I am only one of the many students that had the experience and privilege of knowing him.