AN INTERVIEW WITH
MASTER / COACH
My name is Eddie Morales and welcome to Martialforce.com Online Martial Arts Magazine. The person I am introducing in this interview came up in the ranks of some of history’s best Martial Arts competitors. His persistence in training, learning and adapting has won him more than just his share of wins in the fighting arena. It won him the most valuable thing a person can have. The respect and admiration of all who know him or have heard of him, especially the new generation of Martial Arts practitioners and competitors. His story is not the average athlete wins a medal but instead it’s about a young man that would not accept failure as an option. He developed the champions’ attitude early on in life and was willing to put in the work to get to a higher level of excellence, not only in the arena but also in life. I am proud to introduce Martialforce.com readers to Master Richard Plowden. It is our hope that you enjoy reading about his journey.
Interview by Eddie Morales
Martialforce.com: Where are you originally from and where did you grow up?
RICHARD PLOWDEN: I was born and raised in Detroit, Michigan
Martialforce.com: What is your current occupation?
RICHARD PLOWDEN: Presently I am employed with Kids Kicking Cancer as a martial arts therapist. We work with empowering youth that have cancer, sickle cell and other chronic and acute illnesses via the martial arts.
Martialforce.com: How did you get started in Martial Arts and who was your instructor/s?
RICHARD PLOWDEN: My brother Raymond worked in a bank that was across the street from a Taekwondo school. The instructor, Won Chik Park had his account at the bank and convinced my brother to begin lessons. When my brother informed my dad of his plans my dad said, “take him with you.” Initially I did not do well as a chubby uncoordinated 13 year old. Later I found out that Master Park had told my brother that my parents were wasting their money on me. However my dad said that I would get it, I got my Black Belt in 18 months and became the teacher’s pet. My instructor was wonderful to me and set me on the path that I traveled. Actually he has a book called “Grandmaster” and in it he mentions my knack for competition.
Martialforce.com: You were a very active competitor in the sport Karate fighting arena; my question is, what is your biggest disappointment in sport Karate?
RICHARD PLOWDEN: Like many I was naïve when I began competing on the national circuit. I thought that eventually there would be a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow and that never happened. When Renardo Barden and Karate Illustrated were at the helm, I think that we were on a direction of growth, things were centralized. Now it is basically every man for himself.
Martialforce.com: What direction would promoters and competitors alike have to go to save the sport?
RICHARD PLOWDEN: Every body needs a “head”. For years I worked with Boice Lydell and the NBL. Eventually we did not see eye to eye on a number of things, which made me move on. However one of the things that I fought with Boice on was his dictatorship like ways, and he was correct. David Stern is a dictator with the NBA. Hockey, the NFL, Major League Baseball all have commissioners providing direction. Vince McMahon runs the WWE. Dana White is the force behind the UFC. You cannot have management by committee and expect it to work. All organizations must also have goals. A five year plan is essential for where you want to go. Most promoters won’t acquiesce to someone else to lead the sport to a higher level, they are content. As a result sport karate today is no different that 20 years ago in a positive fashion.
Competitors are like zombies. They just go where they are told by whomever they are following never once questioning if it is in their best interest.
Martialforce.com: In your opinion, at what point do you think sport Karate went wrong if at all?
RICHARD PLOWDEN: I benefited greatly from team sponsorship. From Budweiser, Atlantic, Transworld Oil. Paul Mitchell, SES, I was able to compete, make some change and see the world. However, what happened then was everyone wanted to be on a team or have a team. You have people being exploited by just getting a uniform with a team name on it and they are “down”. You have people with NO MARTIAL ARTS SKILLS running teams because they have a couple of dollars they can manipulate.
Those people are paying the pretty girl to go to the prom with them. It bastardizes the process, takes away integrity.
This has then created an environment where people can’t fight against their “team mate”. Man when I competed I tried to knock the heck out of Steve Anderson and Billy Blanks. Yes we were teammates but we were warriors first. That is what got us there. Venus and Serena Williams are closer than teammates. They share the same parents. But when they hit the tennis courts they play each other for blood! How can these soft fighters today say I can’t fight him because we are on the same team and they live in different cities and don’t even train together. Come on!
Martialforce.com: What do you like and dislike about today’s athletes?
RICHARD PLOWDEN: I think today’s athletes have a sub par work ethic and don’t value winning. I hear some guys that go to every NASKA national tournament discussing what club they are going to after the event. Where is the sacrifice? If you are not the last man or woman standing after an event did you earn a trip to the club? Billy and Steve made us raise our game. We had to train and be serious or we would be “donors”, donating our entry fees to the tournament promoter. There are too many athletes today content with just being in the arena.
Martialforce.com: Do you believe the practice of Kata is useful and important and if yes or no, why?
RICHARD PLOWDEN: Kata is useful as another form of martial exercise. It is another way of practicing blocks, kicks, punches, and stances, Etc/ But those people that say it will assist your fighting are on some different stuff. There is no direct correlation between good kata and good fighting. If kata helped one fight Freddie Roach would have Manny Pacquiao busting them out. Muhammad Ali would have been a kata master. We have to be done with the myths and accept things on their own merit.
Martialforce.com: On a personal level do you feel that Martial Arts played an important role with who you are today?
RICHARD PLOWDEN: Most of my identity revolves around the martial arts. Look at what I do for a living, martial arts therapy. When I went to school I got my degree in Public Administration. My goal was a life in politics. But if you want to make God laugh, tell him what your plans are. There are now seven (including my brother) Plowden Black Belts. My kids are addicted to competition, must be in the DNA. As a result more than half the weekends of my life are spent at someone’s tournament. It is who we are.
Martialforce.com: You mentioned your kids, how did they get involved in Martial Arts?
RICHARD PLOWDEN: It was a natural fit due to the fact that they were at the karate school, tournaments and events frequently. When my daughter turned five or six she asked if she could join class, seeing other kids kicking and punching. When she asked my wife decided that she too would take classes. I made a point to make sure that both kids asked as opposed to just putting them in class. I also had a rule that we would not talk about martial arts in our home. I wanted to be dad at home. Because there were already three of us training, when my son turned five he too asked to join the class. It is funny because both of my kids are addicts but it is not what I wanted them to do. I have a good friend here now who teases me frequently, "Richard you said that your kids were going to play tennis or something," and she is right, I did say that.
Morgan was an awesome softball pitcher. I took time away from hitting tournaments because I preferred to attend her softball games on the weekends. Her teams won our public school league championship every year while she was in high school. In the summers it was travel ball and I loved it! There was no time for karate. It was a given that she would play college softball. However after a year and a half at a Division 1 school she decided that she had had enough "ball" and wanted to continue college, but compete in karate tournaments. This was in January 2010 and here we are.
My son was coaxed to play football by one of the high school coaches that had his daughter in our karate school. He thought that Avery was athletic, had good size and intelligence. Again I was happy. He was fearless, fast off of the ball and I could be dad the spectator. However, he decided that he wanted to stop playing and compete on the weekends too. There was no way that I could tell either of them "no", and both are doing well in school so kick away.
Martialforce.com: What are your thoughts on cross training in regards to other styles of Martial Arts?
RICHARD PLOWDEN: The beauty of the martial arts is that it has something for everyone. Cross training is fine if you are the basic practitioner looking to sharpen skills across the board. However if you want to be elite at the tournament game, then why waste your time doing anything but honing your craft? You cannot be great at everything. You are not going to find elite MMA fighters entering the WKC Nationals; water seeks its own level. If you are in search of excellence pick something.
Martialforce.com: Who do you feel influenced you the greatest, in Karate or life in general and why?
RICHARD PLOWDEN: My parents based on encouragement and supports were my foundation. My brother Ray was my first sponsor when I was a broke college student wanting to hit some national events. He has always been my backbone. I married a woman, Debra who never sweated me about tournaments on birthdays or anniversaries and who as a Black Belt has developed her own addiction to this activity, especially since her kids need karate rehab. And my instructor Won Chik Park who opened the doors to this intriguing activity to me was a Godsend. This man would pay me as a teenager to teach classes, drove me to tournaments, and was always encouraging.
Martialforce.com: What are your thoughts on the importance of tradition?
RICHARD PLOWDEN: One man’s tradition is another’s innovation. Look at how most martial arts systems evolved or were created and it was someone attempting to do something new. Isshinryu….is that a traditional system? Tang Soo Do and Taekwondo, are they traditional? I think that the concept of traditional is really a control mechanism to keep people in line. One of my mentors and coaches Chuck Merriman once told me that there are two ways to control people in the martial arts, one through kata and the other through rank. As long as people think that they have to come to you for those two things you will keep them going. The minute that you cease to be under your original instructor you have broken tradition, but you don’t want your students to do that for you. I love my instructor. However, the minute that he moved from Detroit to Fort Worth, Texas I bought both a black and blue denim uniform. It was tradition for us to only wear white.
Martialforce.com: You have been involved in Martial Arts for many years. What would you say is your greatest achievement in and out of the fighting arena?
RICHARD PLOWDEN: Out of the fighting arena I must say that I have been a pretty good dad. My children are my life and joy and along with their wonderful mom I must say that we have done well. Both Morgan and Richard (Avery) are awesome academically and have never given us any problems. Someone recently said that I have rare children and for that I am grateful. Inside the fighting arena I must say that winning real world titles was significant. I say real because today you have American point circuit champions given the moniker world champion and they only beat someone from Utah. If you are not competing against the rest of the world you are not a world titleholder, I am sorry. You must hear the national anthem with the gold medal on your neck. Also in one event I beat Steve Anderson, Billy Blanks and Mafia Holloway each twice in double elimination play to win the Atlantic Grand Slam, New York event. Once would have been a milestone, to defeat each one twice in the same event was awesome.
Martialforce.com: In all your years of team competition is there any moment or story that stands out in your mind that you can tell us about?
RICHARD PLOWDEN: The Atlantic Karate Team was the best collection of martial arts talent of all time. My time with Atlantic was special because of the contract, money, professionalism, coaches, team members and the overall experience. We traveled the world and figured it was us against the world. The men, women, forms, weapons and sparring were a blast. This was when teams were five men. To take the floor with Billy Blanks, Steve Anderson, Anthony Price, and Terry Creamer was a situation where you expected to win and we did every time. As a team we never lost, it was not going to happen. The crazy thing was that some days the five of us could be in the same division. Being with those guys made me a better competitor. The time went too fast.
Martialforce.com: You’re from Detroit Michigan. Who would you say were the best fighters you fought against in Michigan?
RICHARD PLOWDEN: Here in Michigan I had Danny Dixson, Craig Gilmore, Steve Echtinaw, David Hayes and David Kiss as rivals on the local level. From 1979 until I retired in 2000 Echtinaw and Kiss were the only people from Michigan to ever beat me. Steve beat me once and Kiss beat me three times. This was during a time when we had tournaments every weekend.
Martialforce.com: You have had a long and successful career as a heavyweight. Can you name some of the most prominent heavyweights throughout your career?
RICHARD PLOWDEN: Man, the heavyweight division could be stacked. I am sure that I will forget some names but at various times you would have Steve Anderson, Billy Blanks, Arnold "Zip" White, Jerry Roberts, Steve Boyles, Gerald Dawson, Andre Richardson, Terry Creamer, Don Purdue, Steve Perry, Mike Smith, Kenny Blanche, Tony "Satch" Williams, Anderson Glasper, Melvin Atkins, John Orck, Vernon Johnson, Russ Mapes, Dan Martin, Duke Roufus, Dennis Chen, Ernest "Dirty Red" Miller, Steve Babcock, the list goes on, all trying to make sure that you had a bad day.
Martialforce.com: Is there any one fighter that made you think it was going to be an extra all out war every time you faced them?
RICHARD PLOWDEN: Fighting Steve Anderson, Anthony Price, Billy Blanks and Terry Creamer were always going to be long days at the office. We all hated to lose more than we loved to win. The crazy thing is that we could fight hard and then hang out afterwards. It was a matter of who was really on that day. Harold "Scorpion" Burrage was always a challenge, he was super smart. Anthony "Mafia" Holloway had awesome kicks, slip and you would be in trouble.
Martialforce.com: In your opinion who stand out as the greatest fighter of all time and why?
RICHARD PLOWDEN: Talk about opening Pandora's box, I really think that you have to break it into generations. Raymond Daniels is the best fighter around today. In my era, you have many more competitors, everyone did karate tournaments. The best of that time period would be Steve "Nasty" Anderson. Steve would do anything to win. I watched him evolve as a fighter from one that many called a 'runner' into a strong heavyweight with a decent left leg and was super smart. Plus Steve trained hard. The guy went 18 months without losing, fighting people that I think were fantastic. As a team mate his attitude was infectious, he only talked winning.
Martialforce.com: You fought Alvin Prouder who had a strong reputation in 1984 at the Battle of Atlanta. Would you call this is a moment that stands out as a fighter?
RICHARD PLOWDEN: Looking back fighting Alvin stands out just because I think he is under rated. Alvin Prouder was an awesome kickboxer, great sport karate fighter, wonderful boxer and it was a pleasure being in the ring with him. We fought three times.
Martialforce.com: When you and a group of your teammates left the Budweiser team to sign with Atlantic, were there any bitter feelings?
RICHARD PLOWDEN: Of course there were some bitter feelings on the part of the guys that ran the Budweiser team. It was the very first corporate team sponsorship in karate history paying our expenses and giving us expense money for food. However Atlantic was a real professional deal giving us a 'salary', bonus money, and a level of care that made you feel like a pro athlete. As fate would have it some things went down that would have ended the Budweiser sponsorship the next year anyway.
Martialforce.com: What advice do you have to the new generation of fighters in regards to becoming a champion level competitor?
RICHARD PLOWDEN: My favorite word lately has been passion. Passion makes adults irrational. It is passion that makes seemingly sensible people turn into stalkers. If you want to be great, attack the activity with passion. Passion is what makes a guy that hates running do five miles and sprints. Passion is what makes individuals do workouts at 6 am. Passion makes you drive 12 hours for a karate tournament. Most of your wanna bees are not passionate. They don't want to hurt and get sore. They don't want anyone to criticize them for mistakes or a lack of training. Today’s men and women that want to be great have to eliminate the excuses and out work everyone else. My former Team Paul Mitchell teammate, John Payton, could be found training on a Sunday night at 11pm by himself. Anthony "Mafia" Holloway had a log that he put a rival's name on and would run with it. So many fighters today say that they want to win, but they don't want to pay the price.
Martialforce.com: Do you have any Long or Short-term Goals in Martial Arts that you can tell our readers about?
RICHARD PLOWDEN: I am presently the President for the United States of the World Karate Kickboxing Council, which chooses a team annually to compete in the WKC World Championships. Three years ago we were in Ireland, last year we hit Portugal and this year we are taking a team to Spain. Again with the theme of a real world championship we are trying to put together the most competitive team possible to represent America. This we do by holding regional qualifiers in various parts of the country leading to a true national championship here in Detroit. I am still presently looking for progressive promoters to host qualifiers so that most of the country is represented. This breaks away from models used by similar organizations that basically hand picks their teams.
Martialforce.com: What would be your advice and guidance for a child or adult who is interested in starting training in the martial arts?
RICHARD PLOWDEN: The Internet is a wonderful tool. Today potential consumers don’t have to just take the instructor’s word on how wonderful they are, they can investigate them. We have a local guy here that had a wikipedia page with all types of nonsense on it. Once discovered he had to change his tune. It still baffles me on how so many people bash competitive martial arts but still laude their accomplishments or embellish their accomplishments to attract customers. Please do your research.
Martialforce.com: What would you say to a non-competitor so they can understand the benefits of competition?
RICHARD PLOWDEN: I went two years in the adult black belt division without winning one trophy. Those two years taught me a ton about perseverance and myself. Competition, the reality and prospect of winning and losing is an invaluable learning tool. In life there is no way around it so you might as well enroll in a lesson in life. We talk about life skills in the martial arts and competition brings so many of those tenants up close and personal.
Martialforce.com: Who were some of the toughest competitors you faced in fighting ring?
RICHARD PLOWDEN: My friend I don’t know where to stop counting. Steve “Nasty” Anderson was the best person I ever locked up with in large part just because of his desire to win. A close number two was Anthony Price who was long, rangy and could kick or punch you. Of course Billy Blanks and Anthony “Mafia” Holloway were super dangerous. Two fighters that I don’t think get enough credit were Alvin Prouder and Chip Wright. From Chicago I fought Harold “Scorpion” Burrange 36 times, he was one of the all time greats. Terry Creamer, Tony Young and Kevin Thompson were always grand championship threats. I think that my era had some great fighters and these were a few that stand out.
Martialforce.com: Our research shows that your currently coach of a group of talented fighters. My question is, what is your team goal and can you name a few of people in the team?
RICHARD PLOWDEN: I have a good friend that told me when I opened my martial arts school in 1988, “this is what we have all been dreading”. He said that because any type of successes should be traced back to a system. Regardless of height gender, weight, body structure we have a system of martial arts that translates into competitive sparring victories. I love what I do and just want to assist folk that want to be good, reach that goal. One of my veterans Askia Allison has enjoyed some tournament wins over the years. A kid who started with me when he was five, Willie Hicks is considered a threat at most national events. I have a guy, Peter Davenport that if we could get him out more I know that he would make some noise. Another student, Jermond Wiggins is just a few mental modifications from really excelling. Today my daughter Morgan in her second year of national/international competition has had a few decent victories and my son Avery in his first year on the adult level has turned a few heads. I have a few more that need to show me a little more before I mention them in an article.
Martialforce.com: Can you tell us about this group that you’re taking to the WKC, and how did you get them together?
RICHARD PLOWDEN: Three years ago I got a phone call from Mike Bernardo out of Canada, one of the greatest weapons competitors ever. Mike told me about a group of guys from around the world who were forming the World Karate/ Kickboxing Council and asked if I wanted to head the American team. For me that was a no brainer. This phone call came in January and the first world championships were to be held in Ireland in November. Without a ton of time I called a couple of friends, set up three qualifying events and then began to solicit support from competitors. Last year we expanded the number of events and set up a true national championship in Detroit, with growing support, and we took a stronger team to Portugal. As word got out with what we were doing more seasoned competitors began to inquire. This year Jadi Tention, Ross Levine, Carlos Tearney, Reggie Perry, Jeff Gears, Askia Allison, Bobby Wallace, Troy Binns and Abdul Aziz are just some of the people that are going to Spain to assist us with our gold medal haul in Spain. We might win so many medals that a visit to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is in order. I tell people that the WKC is not a circuit, it is a movement.
Martialforce.com: What is it about you that make these young fighters want to join your team?
RICHARD PLOWDEN: Well some of these guys are veterans that have been around the block. But veteran or young people that converse with me can feel my passion and the fact that I sincerely want this crazy activity to grow. I have been involved with projects before but I look at those as test pieces to get us where we are today. This next year is going to be pivotal in the growth and development in this game of kicking and punching. We have to admit that we are a dying breed, those of us involved in sport karate fighting. However where there is a void there is opportunity. Our landscape is ready for a revolution, a movement to take things to a higher level.
Martialforce.com: In regards to Martial Arts, where do you see yourself in 5 years?
RICHARD PLOWDEN: I would like to think that the next five years will see me make a significant contribution to the growth and development of this activity. We have to be the change that we want to see.
Martialforce.com: What are your thoughts on Mixed Martial arts practice and events?
RICHARD PLOWDEN: I respect Dana White and the Fertitta brothers and what they were able to do marketing wise, especially after the Spike Television deal. However I hate “mixed up martial arts”. It is not martial arts. I was at a show here locally where a guy was drinking before he fought, got knocked out and could not comprehend the fact that he should find somewhere and train. Street fighting should be enough he thought. Art Dore years ago founded the Tough Man Contest. All that MMA is to me is a slicker well financed and package Tough Man with Butterbean and the like. Marketing is the key. In 1977 Gary Dahl made 2 million dollars packing and selling rocks to the American public. We all have rocks around us, but Dahl convinced some people that “Pet Rocks” were different. If you market and package it, they will come.
Martialforce.com: You have traveled a long successful journey with its ups and downs in the Martial Arts world. My last question is, if you could go back and do it all again would you change anything, do you have any regrets?
RICHARD PLOWDEN: My competitive life was awesome. Sure I wish that I had won every match, but that is not realistic, is it? I would go back and not change a thing. My post competition life saw me coaching a team sponsored by a local company here, Simplified Employment Services, SES. We would take a private gulf stream jet to tournaments. Who would change that? As part of SES I became involved in the NBL working with Boice Lydell. From this experience I could literally write a book, but I learned a ton, good and bad. Boice is a bright guy. A group of us left the NBL to form the World Sport Karate Federation and again, this was a classroom experience I learned a lot, positive and negative. These experiences including those as a competitor have prepared me to lead the movement that is the World Karate Kickboxing Council USA. We are not a circuit, not a league, not an association, but a movement. There is a lot about American sport karate that is stale. You have circuits providing points for black belts that are not point chasers. You have organization touting a "world championship" and most divisions only have Americans and Canadians in it. That is not a world title. You have one of the world's largest tournaments with a television contract, but the finals and televised show highlights forms and breaking, no sparring but sponsors still send fighters and fighters go on their own. Make a stand! The key is purpose. We have to give competitors a reason to hone their skills. I understand forms competitors and trickers, but they are performers. Give them an audience, and they are content to do their thing. Fighters don't need an audience necessarily but don't treat them like second class citizens when most people think martial arts is about combat. I am a professional wrestling fan. A fellow martial artist, Eric Bishoff is a major pro wrestling executive. In his book he said that when building an organization you can be less than, the same as (which most sport karate organizations do), or different than. With the WKC-USA and its professional arm we are rolling out soon, we will be different than. I am cultivating a wonderful relationship with the factors of production, the competitors, particularly fighters. I have their ear. Showing them a different way is next, one that benefits them.
Martialforce.com: Thank you sir for accepting this interview.