The information below is provided by his student and inheritor Kym Reid (Jinen Karate Jitsu S.A.)
In the very early days Wally Szlagowski taught techniques he knew to his first student Peter Laszlo, Peter then optimised these techniques to suit his own unique physical attributes such as size, strength, speed and co-ordination as well as his psychological approach. In doing this Peter used all that Wally had taught him and then added new techniques or enhanced some of the original ones.
Both Wally and Peter taught Rob Dobson who in turn optimised these techniques to suit his own unique physical attributes and psychological approach. To this mix were added techniques learnt from visiting students of other styles and from Japanese sailors etc. There was a very rapid improvement in the standard of the Karate throughout the 1960s, not just at Blacktown, but over the whole of Australia and if you watched the newsreels of the era, the same applied to much of the western world. It is said by many ‘Old Hands’ that they considered the standard of Karate today as no better or in fact not as good as it was in the late 1960s and 70s (mainly because of the erosion of standards caused by ‘Political Correctness’ and threats of litigation).
Rob started learning Karate at Blacktown around 1962. Rob was a ‘natural’ at Karate and developed very quickly into a formidable fighter. In all of the interclub competitions held in those days, Rob never looked like losing a single spar, if you look at some of the videos from those days, you will see Rob’s lightning fast kicks, usually landing in some place other than where his opponent was blocking. After a number of years of outstanding performance Wally called Rob aside and said that as the ‘Top Dog’ (in Wally’s words) he should take the lead role in instructing the other students.
Rob took on this lead instructor role in Blacktown until he completed his University studies in the end of 1969, when he had to move to Adelaide.
About this time (1966) Rob had started his 4 year Bachelor of Engineering degree at the University of NSW. He took leave without pay to complete his first year studies. Also at this time he was approached by a business man by the name of John to teach Karate at a number of locations around Sydney. John had seen Rob fight in a number of interclub contests and considered him to be “Australia’s unbeaten Karate Champion” (newspaper advertisements). So during the 1966 to 1969 period at the peak, there were six clubs under Rob’s instruction, this dramatically increased the number students studying Szlagowski Karate. In those days the Blacktown club had 10 to 15 students of a Saturday afternoon, but with the new clubs set up under Rob’s instruction the total number of students was closer to 100. Although not all of these clubs survived as viable entities, the keener students followed Rob to one of his other clubs.
These students visited Blacktown to undertake their more senior gradings. Many of the Szlagowski “old timers” started at clubs other than Blacktown or Bankstown. One of the best attended clubs over this period was the club at St Barnaba’s church hall (Barney’s Club) in Broadway Sydney. This club was close to Central Railway Station and convenient to transport to all regions and also close enough to the docks to invite visiting Japanese sailor Karate practitioners to train with the club.
In 1967 Rob was awarded a cadetship with Weapons Research Establishment (WRE) in Salisbury S.A. (now Defence Science and Technology Organisation, Salisbury). This meant that he had to spend the long Christmas vacations working in Adelaide. In the 1967 November-December time-frame he met Graham Tuffee (graded first Dan under Moss Hollis) who was at the time running a Karate Club at the Salisbury Youth Centre. Rob was invited to be a guest instructor in Graham’s club for the duration of his stay in Adelaide. Rob visited a number clubs in the Adelaide area in the few months he spent there and concluded that Graham was one of the most proficient practitioners in that region and graded Graham to second Dan.
At the end of 1968 Rob again moved to Adelaide for the long vacation and again trained with the Salisbury Karate Club. At the end of 1969 Rob permanently moved to Adelaide. Graham handed the Salisbury club over to Rob as head instructor and for some time continued to train and instruct also.
In his late teens and early twenties Rob could lift more than his own body weight above his head with one hand and was considered to be very strong by his contemporaries; this strength added a lot of authority to his techniques.
While studying for his engineering degree at the University of NSW as a Cadet of the Weapons Research he began to apply the principles of Engineering and Physics to his Karate techniques, his University training also taught him to challenge the status quo and to examine each of the Karate techniques to see if they could be improved or optimised. Some examples of changes he made are:
- Many of the traditional Karate techniques had the upper body and the lower body effectively locked together, Rob changed his style so that the upper body and the lower body became far less inter-dependent, which allowed for a much larger range of combinations of hand and foot techniques.
- Traditional punches started with the fist down near the hip, which didn’t make much sense as the force must react through the shoulder. Rob changed to hold his fist much higher at the start of the punch.
- Some of the traditional stances had a body weight distribution that meant no kick could be executed without a major change in body position; this slowed down kicks to the point of being ineffective. Rob changed his stances to facilitate rapid kicking.
- Small cylindrical shaped punching bags were introduced into all training. These could be struck on the front and the sides, thus allowing practice of a much larger range of techniques than a flat surface. Heavy punching bags were removed as they did not represent any realistic target.
In those days Karate in Adelaide was not up to the same standard as it was in Sydney and Rob’s contributions had a very beneficial effect on the standard’s of Adelaide Karate.
Rob taught many gifted and talented students in S.A. of whom he is justifiably proud. Of these Kym Reid has been carrying on the tradition / heritage in S.A. for many years (decades in fact) and more recently David Gooding who has been teaching in Brisbane. Others are Max and Brian
One of the things that concerns Rob is that the frequency and severity of violence today, largely fuelled by drugs and alcohol, is far worse than it was in the 1960s and 1970s, yet the sparring in Karate clubs is not as realistic as it was back in those times. The logical conclusion in his opinion is that Karate students of today will be much less able to defend themselves. That was not a criticism of the Karate instructors, but of the legal system which has put barriers in the way of ‘realism’.
Rob now resides in Canberra enjoying retirement and is currently producing a manual for 4 Wheel drive vehicle tyre specifics.