NYR iOS app Android app More

Bear Grylls Memoir: How He Coped With Bullying

Posted: 05/ 2/2012 5:43 pm Updated: 05/ 2/2012 5:43 pm

Bear Grylls

The following is an excerpt from "Mud, Sweat and Tears: The Autobiography," [HarperCollins, $26.99] a book in which television survival man Bear Grylls divulges just how he earned such stellar mountaineering chops. But before he could lecture Discovery Channel viewers on dehydration and shark attacks on his show "Man Vs. Wild," he had to overcome predators of his own: school bullies. In this chapter of his memoir, Bear explains how learning karate gave him confidence.

I signed up as soon as I could for the karate and aikido clubs, and found that I loved the martial arts way—the focus, the camaraderie, and above all the acquiring of an art that requires the use of guile over power, technique over force.
And I stuck with it. That was the real key to getting good at martial arts: time and motivation—and I certainly had the motivation, thanks to the foghorn.

A few of my friends also signed up with me, and came along to the early classes. In actual fact they were invariably much better than me when we started—often stronger, fitter, and more flexible—but after a few weeks they all began to drop out.
It was hard sometimes on a Sunday evening, when everyone else was messing around playing table tennis or watching TV, to drag yourself out into the winter’s darkness and head off to get battered for two hours in the gym by some maniacal martial arts teacher.

But I kept going and kept going, and I guess I did a bit of a Forrest Gump on it: I just stuck at it—and I am so pleased I did.
One summer I got the chance to tour as part of the Karate Union of Great Britain (KUGB) team to Japan. It was a dream come true.

I remember being dropped off at the bus station in London by my mother, and nervously waving her good-bye. I was neatly dressed in a blazer and tie, with my karate team badge neatly sewn in place on my lapel.

The bus was filled with the rest of the karate squad, gathered from all over the UK—none of whom I had met before.
I could instantly see that they were all bigger, tougher, and louder than me—and I was pretty scared. Japan felt a frighteningly long way away.

I took a deep breath and sat down in the bus, feeling very small and insignificant.

The team was an eclectic mix of karate experts—from London taxi drivers to full-time professional fighters. (The only other Etonian who had been selected as part of the team was Rory Stewart, the MP who went on to become known for his epic walk through Afghanistan, as well as governing a province of occupied Iraq age only thirty.) This is going to be an interesting trip, I thought.

But I had nothing to fear.

The squad completely took me under their wing as their most junior member, and arriving in Tokyo as a fresh-faced teenager, away from home, was eye-opening for me.

We headed up to the mountains outside of Tokyo and settled into the training camp.

Here we began to study and train under Sensei Yahara, one of the most revered karate grandmasters in the world. Each night we slept on the floor in small wooden Japanese huts, and by day we learned how to fight—real and hard.

The training was more exacting and demanding than anything I had previously encountered. If our positions or stances weren’t pinpoint accurate, we would receive a firm crack from the bamboo “jo” cane.

We quickly learned not to be lazy in our stances, even when tired.

In the early evenings when we finished training I would walk the two miles down the mountain to a small roadside hut and buy milk bread, a form of sweet milk cake, and I would slowly eat it on my way back to the camp
.
Then I would bathe in the natural hot volcanic springs and soak my tired muscles. And I loved it all.

On our return to Tokyo, en route back to the UK, we got to witness a private training session of the top twenty karate fighters in the world. It was intense to watch. Fast, brutal at times, yet like poetry in motion.

I was even more hooked than I had been before.

One day I would be that good, I vowed.

FOLLOW BOOKS

Filed by Madeleine Crum  |