Hidden away in beautiful Wiveliscombe is the UK's chief instructor of a Japanese-inspired martial art, Seigokan Karate. Reporter MICHAEL MARSH talks to the man behind gripping Somerset's young and old.
AT just 5ft 3in, Richard Marsh may not be the tallest of men – but what he lacks in height he certainly makes up for in passion.
The UK’s Seigokan karate chief instructor is on a mission to tear youngsters away from their games consoles and get them active again.
But, while teaching children key life skills, the 35-year-old also has his hands full with an influx of people from three generations looking to check out the latest craze.
“People get a lot from karate,” Richard tells me sitting in front of the coal fire at his Wiveliscombe home.
“You take your core values you learn on to the street and use them in everyday life. It can give you confidence, fitness and teach you self-defence. It also gives you the values of respect and how to treat people.”
Some 150 people have joined Richard’s school, Seigokan England, which has classes in Wiveliscombe, Taunton and Minehead.
From a girl with one arm to a 64-year-old man, fascinated folk are keen to find out more about the traditional Japanese karate form.
That, Richard says, is one of the main reasons he dedicates most of his waking hours to something he admits he couldn’t live without.
He said: “Why I do this is not for the money, it’s about the communities and families and bringing people together. I’ve got a lot of families now – it’s mainly dads with their kids but we have a few wives getting involved as well.
“Some of the children become obsessed with it but they learn the responsibilities and roles of helping people.
“No matter who you are or what you do you have weaknesses or something you’re not happy about. It might be that there’s something you need to address and that can be achieved through karate.
“It gives people the chance to be the person they want to be but did not realise they could be.”
But, when he’s not setting the next set of students on the right path, Richard, who only got into the sport at 14, is up to, frankly, nothing.
“He never unwinds,” shouts through wife Shelley.
Long gone are the days of hobbies and socialising; the self-confessed, teetotal Jack Russell-like character is too busy fitting in valuable family time with Shelley and his two boys.
Richard said: “It’s hard to juggle. I put my son into school in the morning and I might not see him again until the following day; it’s hard on the kids and Shelley.
“Most of my hobbies have gone by the wayside. I used to enjoy golf, surfing, rock climbing and all that but now it is karate or family. They’re the most important things.”
The former student of Taunton’s Ladymead School has his step-dad to thank for getting into the sport two decades ago – but his life could have been so much different.
On the brink of his black belt, Richard gave up the sport when discovering Taunton’s nightlife before returning five years later to see it through.
“It’s the best decision I made,” he reflected. “It is a big part of your life and losing karate was a big thing for me.”
Instead of dancing the night away in Taunton’s nightclubs of old – Kingston’s, Night Owls and the Ivory Club to name a few – Richard can be found getting the latest hairstyle at Ashley’s on Station Road.
“The quiff was inspired by TOWIE [The Only Way is Essex],” he admits. “We don’t watch much TV but it’s funny watching their lives on that show.
“It’s a way to take my mind off things especially after a hard karate session.”
Richard says he’s looking forward to the future after securing a special needs learning support role at a school in Bridgwater.
After drawing on his own experiences, he’s hoping to inspire the next generation of martial arts exponents and says the next person to surprise themselves could be you!
He said: “We are not all built to be champions; sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. But, if you never take part, you’ll never win.”
To see if karate holds the future for you, visit seigokanengland.co.uk