Without Writing

The art of writing without writing… about fighting.

The Case of Harry Cook, and Abuses by Authority Figures

There have been many scandals associated with martial arts teachers in the past. Most have simply been exposés of teachers’ lack of credentials, but in the odd case there have been more serious issues unearthed. Such is the case with one Mr Henry Wilson “Harry” Cook,  who was for the majority of his lifetime one of the most prominent and most feted Karate teachers in the UK.

Harry Cook: Self confessed paedophile and rapist. Who’d have thought?

Harry Cook has, over the past six months, been remanded in a prison in Durham, and has- bit by bit- admitted committing 14 counts of sexual assault- primarily against minors- over a twenty year period. He has, as of 31 October, been charged with 29 counts in addition to these, including charges such as sexual assault and taking and possessing indecent images and videos of children. In other words, he is a self-confessed paedophile and rapist of children.

Source: http://www.hexhamcourant.co.uk/news/news-at-a-glance/more-sex-charges-1.892605

It’s difficult to convey to those who aren’t familiar with Mr Cook how far his fall from grace has been. He started training in Karate in 1966, and not only progressed to the rank of 2nd Dan black-belt in Japan under famous Karate teachers Higaonna and Kanazawa, but was an author of multiple books on Karate and on the martial arts in general, and was also a regular contributor to prominent karate magazines for many years. Awarded his 7th Dan by his peers, for many impressionable exoticists he represented the ultimate “man of budo”.

It’s no exaggeration to say that large sections of the Karate community had a reverence for Cook that bordered on hero worship. And now that he’s fallen foul of his own despicable secrets? You can almost feel the anguish.

But what of his reputation among real martial artists?

Not great.

The ever outspoken Steve Morris has written about his impression of Harry Cook in the past. Here is an excerpt from one of Morris’ interesting articles regarding the Japanese martial tradition of the modern age:

“Many martial artists today (I do not include those involved in the combative sports of MMA, boxing, Muay Thai, judo, wrestling, etc.) have much in common with the samurai of the Tokugawa Era. This is not surprising, as much of the method, rationale, and moral principles they have been taught were drawn from traditions of that period. These people were raised in a relatively non-violent, non-threatening environments and the majority of them can’t fight, yet nevertheless they engage in practices and boast of grades, titles, and accreditations which are meant to suggest that they can. They are always referring to fighting ability, deeds, and morality of the samurai of the past, as well as to the contemporary masters whom they believe also possess these qualities. And they are forever going on about the importance of moral behaviour and decorum within the dojo, life, and even in a fight.

This is true of none more than Harry ‘the moral educator’ Cook, who never misses a chance to take a dig at my character. When reading a Uechi-ryu forum in which the membership (none of whom know me) assassinated my character, I couldn’t help noticing that, after my corpse had been kicked around metaphorically by everyone present, Harry Cook jumped in to concur with what they’d said, and concluded with some cute quote about morality. Cook reminds me of one of Nitobe’s pious samurai, who were always ready to provide a haiku for any occasion! But at least Nitobe’s samurai made up their own haiku. Cook just seems to have a handy quote for any occasion—doesn’t this guy ever think for himself?”
– Steve Morris

I recommend that you read the full article:

Without giving too much away, I agree with Morris. I also have personal experience of Cook. I met the man at a seminar/convention several years ago, and was appalled at his arrogance and offensive and insulting attitude towards other teachers and other arts, especially considering his own, obvious, physical ineptitude.

Needless to say, Cook’s bellyaching about how martial artists should conform to some budo-based “moral ideal” is disgusting and insulting in equal measure, considering how rapey he turned out to be.

Mr Cook was and is, in my opinion, a man who exemplifies all the worst qualities of a teacher of the so-called “martial” arts, possibly even more so than Sid Sofos (the former benchmark):

1. Cook doesn’t know how to move, let alone how to fight (I tried to find youtube footage to support my claim here, but it appears that everyone’s deleted their footage of Cook following his shocking admissions of guilt… you’ll just have to trust me on this one :p)
2. Cook peddled ridiculous robotic dance moves as if they constituted the ultimate method of combative training.
3. Cook spent a great deal of time disparaging other, better teachers of better arts… and other arts themselves.
4. Cook abused his position of authority in literally the worst way, in order to sexually assault vulnerable people who- presumably- looked up to him.

But what can we learn from this spectacular fall from grace? People seem to be content to dismiss this as an isolated abberation, a total surprise, and all they’re planning to do is stop mentioning the name of Harry Cook in polite company.

Not good enough. There’s a bigger problem at work here.

The problem here wasn’t just Cook in isolation. There will always be predators and psychopaths trying to gain positions of power and authority in order to abuse the young and the vulnerable. No, the part of the problem that enabled Cook to victimize with impunity was the culture in which parents trust people like Cook, people whose credentials are worthless, and whose character is dubious at best, with their children.  And for no good, logical reason.

Nor was this an isolated case, as some have been quick to maintain. Martial arts teachers are in a position of power and authority, and due to the subject they are pontificating on, they are given license to make physical contact with their students in a way that regular teachers can not do without triggering alarm bells.

As another sad example, the great Geoff Thompson has spoken about his childhood abuse at the hands of his Aikido teacher.

And children aren’t the only issue: Adults too need to look very carefully at which teachers and gurus they are giving headspace to. Children are perhaps the most vulnerable to abuse of any section of society, but abuse comes in many forms, and many degrees of severity.

To me, Cook was always abusing all his students. Obviously not sexually, but certainly intellectually and morally.

Why did people allow this? Why do people appear to be so bloody eager to be intellectually abused? I may have theories… but I doubt I’ll ever truly understand on a gut level.

3 responses to “The Case of Harry Cook, and Abuses by Authority Figures

  1. Peter 2011, December 5 at 5:23 pm

    I don’t do Karate and only came across Harry Cook having previously read Steve Morris’ blog. I had no opinion as I have never looked into anything relating to Cook however this has been an enormous shock. A 7th Dan! Behaving in this Fashion!! FFS!!!
    I shall now read your hexham URL to learn some more on this topic.
    In the area of Trad JJ, the rule is that anyone teaching children MUST have the parents in attendance and provide seating. This provides confidence, transparency and more.
    Wow, what a post. Thanks for your efforts.

    • withoutwriting 2011, December 6 at 3:41 pm

      That is an excellent rule Peter, any school that doesn’t abide by it is a suspicious one, in my view. A school that doesn’t allow spectators should be avoided by all potential students.

      An additional step to take would be government regulation of an “instructor’s register” of some sort, on which a teacher could be checked for dodgy past conduct. At the present, presenting a CRB check to parents of the children one is teaching is entirely optional, and in my experience nobody ever asks to see the things anyway.

      Sadly I doubt any of these measures would have stopped Cook in his tracks, and wouldn’t work to safeguard children from people like him, because- judging by the unsubstantiated reports I’ve read regarding the specifics of Cook’s conduct- Cook’s real trick was to gain the trust not only of the youngsters he was manhandling, but also the parents of those youngsters.

      The only way to protect children… or ANYONE from such people is to live by the famous skeptical motto: Nullius In Verba. On the word of no-one.

      There’s no need to place ANY trust in teachers at all. Teachers of anything, in fact. A real teacher’s job is to help you find your own path, not to pontificate on what they think you should be doing. And if you don’t place some kind of special trust in a martial arts teacher… more trust than you’d place in any other casual acquaintance that is… it’ll be much harder for the bad apples to abuse you.

  2. john Watson 2012, May 14 at 10:06 pm

    I recall when Mr Cook broke away from the K.U.G.B. to form his own Association, Seijinkai. I wondered why leave such a respected association, or was he pushed. In the early days, I was tempted to join his organisation, but very quickly found him wanting, I found him to have many suspect character traites. Including a suspect promotion by a few of his peers. Gut instincts had come to my aid and fortunately I did not join his organisation.
    Steve Morris, said it all.
    Harry Cook, you have let all Martial Artists down, shame on you.
    A complete waste of rations.

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