Lee Douglas, the founder of Preston’s West Coast Krav Maga, is classified as an expert in the discipline, having trained in Israel with Eyal Yanilov. Nevertheless, he admits the coronavirus pandemic has had an impact on business. “But martial artists pride themselves on being able to pivot,” he says.
Based in the old Lancashire Evening Post offices on Broughton Business Park in Fulwood, West Coast Krav Maga was founded by Blackpool-born Lee and his wife Gillian around 15 years ago and extols the numerous virtues of learning self-defence and working to achieve the fitness required to practice Krav Maga. Open to all abilities, the academy has over 200 pupils ranging in age from four to 70+ and runs classes in Preston and at the 3-1-5 Health Club in Lancaster.
Since the outbreak of Covid-19, Lee has taken his classes online, chairing Zoom classes of up to 25 students from his small home studio in an effort to keep his student physically and mentally active. “We’ve gone virtual and I’ve adapted the classes,” explains Lee, 44. “I’ve taught the kids how to make their own wrestling dummies using a pillow, four towels, and a hoodie, so we’re innovating and it’s forcing us to be a lot more creative.
“It’s all about the three principles of martial arts: maximum efficiency, maximum effectiveness, minimum effort. When the initial shock of thinking ‘I’ve spent years trying to get a full-time academy and we’re going to have to close the doors’ was over, it was more about leading by example, even if that did mean going from a 3,500-square-foot centre to a four-metre by four-metre room!”
Inspired by his brother, Lee first got into judo as an eight-year-old, eventually going on to become a qualified coach with the British Judo Association. He went on to be accepted as Uchi-deshi (an inner student) at a Budokan (a Japanese martial arts training hall) in Blackpool which allowed him to study martial arts full-time, learning rudimentary bits of Japanese and immersing himself in the traditional side of martial arts.
“Judo has flow; there’s not a lot of down time, so for people who are quite active like me as a kid, that minimal instruction, maximum doing was perfect,” says Lee. “I love the traditional side of martial arts – the angry white pyjamas – and living at a martial arts centre full-time was absolutely amazing, but I probably wasn’t ready for the reality of that amount of training.”
Branching out into other martial arts, Lee obtained black belts in kickboxing, jujitsu, and Nippon Kempo but was particularly taken with kickboxing. “While I was fast and aggressive in straight lines, the way they moved was so explosive and dynamic that I just thought ‘I need to get me some of this’,” explains Lee. Despite struggling to lay a hand on his opponents to begin with, Lee went on to win a world kickboxing title with the World Kickboxing Association (WKA) as a light heavyweight in Malta in 1999.
“That was so hard,” says Lee, whose own son competed for a world kickboxing title at the age of seven.
“Martial arts is more than just kicking and punching skills, it’s about a black-belt mindset and trying to pivot quickly to overcome life’s challenges,” says Lee, who regularly has a well-being coach at the club. “It’s three-tiered: me-skills like self-discipline, you-skills like empathy, and squiggly bits like creativity. That’s our USP: we’re specialists in that black-belt mentality.
“We reward effort,” he adds. “Everyone’s got a different reason for coming and, as long as they’re getting what they want from the training, I’m enjoying the classes.”