The History of the Academy of Combat

1975, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1985, 1987, 1989, 1994, 1995, 1996,1997, 1998, 1999, 2003, 2004, 2005, TODAY
A Biography of Dr Geoff Aitken
Zen Do Kai
The Academy of Combat is Founded
In order to completely and fully record the history of the Academy we must start with the history of its founder Geoff Aitken.

A Biography of Dr Geoff Aitken, Shihan

Geoff began his martial arts training in Christchurch, New Zealand at the age of 21 years. As a young person Geoff had grown up in a poor socio-economic group in which school and peer group bullying was common place. He had heard of Karate and Judo but did not have the money to take lessons. After leaving school, spending a bit of time in the army and then on the streets and a period as a biker Geoff had learned the hard elements of street savvy and survival.

After leaving the bikes and getting settled into a good vocation as a fitter-welder Geoff, at 6'3” and only 168 lbs, decided to pursue his life-long desire to get into body-building and martial arts.

That was 1975 and there was not a lot available in Christchurch, New Zealand. He practiced an early derivative of Kyukoshinkai, Mas Oyama Martial Arts, for 3 months but found it boring and with his experience in the street, quite unrealistic.

At that time a Hawaiian/American opened up shop in the city advertising an old form of Okinawan martial art called Okinawa-te. The system looked interesting and appeared to have a little more flow than the traditional Japanese systems due to some Chinese Kung Fu influence that the instructor had been exposed to via Kam Yuen (the man behind the Kung Fu TV series).

Geoff took to this system with a real fervor, training every day and developed very rapidly, however, as with most traditional systems back then ranking was slow and the actual pragmatic content was soon learned. The influence of Brue Lee had shown that there was a great deal to be gained by incorporating the principles of other fighting systems and experimenting with the concept of keeping that which works and discarding that which does not.

During this period Geoff worked the doors as a bouncer at some of the toughest bars in Christchurch learning street smart skills and what did and did not work. After 6 years of training and having only reached brown belt Geoff decided enough was enough and that he would stick to lifting weights, training in Boxing, which he had also been learning for about 6 months and just mix that with the kicking skills he had learned from Okinawa-te.

So it was in 1981 that Geoff headed to Australia and finding it hard to stay away from martial arts found himself at the Zen Do Kai school of Malcolm Anderson up in Brisbane.

Zen Do Kai was a system founded by Bob Jones who had branched away from a very competent Goju Kai trainer, Tino Ceberano. Bob had wanted to pursue a more realistic approach to martial arts that had grown out of the Bruce Lee influence in the US and had seen the rise of Western Kickboxing.

The Zen Do Kai system was very influenced by kickboxing and street-wise tactics that had come out of Bob's experience as a doorman in Melbourne. It had attracted a strong group in Australia of martial artists looking for a pragmatic fighting system.
Geoff quickly took to this system under Malcolm. Malcolm had also told him that he should have been a black belt a long time ago and instructed him in the technical requirements to allow Geoff to grade for 1st Dan Black Belt in December, 1982 which he passed easily and in fact continued to spar in the same grading against students doing their 2nd Dan grading.

In 1983 Geoff headed home to New Zealand and after several requests from friends decided to open a school. This proved a great success with the school soon growing into several schools. Zen Do Kai had also started up in the North Island of New Zealand and yearly Summer Camps were under way where practitioners could get together, train and learn cutting edge techniques from around the world.

In late 1985 Geoff got a call from the Auckland Zen Do Kai instructor and then WKA Commonwealth welter-weight kickboxing champion, Tony Renata. Tony was promoting a kickboxing show in Auckland and the opponent for his main fight, the New Zealand Heavy-weight title defence of his fighter had pulled out. Geoff took the fight on a days notice and although not winning went the entire 5 rounds and lost on points decision. However, this sparked a love of kickboxing and the desire to get it going in the South Island.

This dream was realized early the following year with Geoff introducing kickboxing into the South Island, promoting the first ever kickboxing fight-night at the Papanui League Club. On the same night Geoff fought for the WKA South Island Heavyweight title winning by K.O in the 5th round with a right hand to the jaw.
On the same show several of Geoff's students fought other fighters from around the south Island who had come from various Karate clubs to have a go at this new sport.
The following year, in 1987, Geoff defended his title by K.Oing his opponent in the 3rd round with a vicious uppercut/hook combination.

That was to be Geoff's last fight as he was thrown from a horse shortly after, suffering a severe shoulder injury that left him without a jab for 2 years. In addition Geoff had returned to school that year to prepare for university another dream that he had since child-hood. He received the Academic Student of the Year Award from Hagley Community College and the following year started studying at Canterbury University, Christchurch.

Geoff continued to train and develop schools and students. Geoff and his Zen Do Kai schools hosted and attended many great martial artists training workshops, such as Dan Inosanto (JKD), Larry Hartsell (JKD), Bill Wallace (kicking specialist), George Dillman (pressure points), Bobby Taboada (stickfighting), Fanta (Muay Thai), Ray Sefo (Muay Thai), Lolo Heimule (Muay Thai), Chai Sirisute (Muay Thai) and Wally Jay (Ju Jutsu). Kickboxing grew stronger and stronger and Geoff continued to promote fight-nights providing platforms on which his students could develop their kickboxing skills.

In 1989 western style kickboxing was superseded by Muay Thai (Thai Kickboxing) and Geoff along with the rest of his students quickly implemented this as a separate discipline within the Zen Do Kai Organization of the South Island.
The Zen Do Kai Organization in Christchurch, which took on the family name of Knights of Valhalla, grew to 15 schools with many talented black belts being produced and Geoff achieving the rank of Shihan, 5th degree Black Belt.

Hiriwa Te Rangi one of Geoff's Thaiboxers defeated Australian Grant “The Bomber” Barker for the WKA Commonwealth Heavy-weight Kickboxing title and Simon Swete took the NZ super heavy-weight title.

In 1994 Geoff began to experiment with combining the grappling techniques of Wrestling and Judo with the striking aspects of Thaiboxing and used the name Shoot-fighting, a name he had seen John Will Australia use to describe an approach that he was taking. The Zen Do Kai Organization had also started experimenting with the concept producing Shoot-wrestling, Shoot-boxing and Shoot-karate.

However, Geoff was continuing to find that his experiences and principles were leading him in a direction that was quite different to the Zen Do Kai Organization.

The Academy of Combat is Founded.

In early 1995 Geoff decided to leave the Zen Do Kai Organization and strike out on his own. The Zen Do Kai Organization in Christchurch was left under the control of his higher Black Belts who elected to stay with the organization.

With 5 of his most loyal students Geoff and his partner Leonie started the Academy of Combat and Team Valhalla (the competition team name). Geoff handled the curriculums and teaching while Leonie managed the Academy and dealt with all the administration.

It was decided from the outset that the academy would teach 3 separate systems to allow specialization in each system. These were Thaiboxing, Shoot-fighting and Weaponry / Combat (a hybrid weapons and empty hand system with JKD concepts as the underlying motivation).
The Academy's student numbers grew rapidly and the systems grew in technical strength from continuing study.
The Thaiboxing school hosted Chai Sirisute as a teacher, attended workshops, competed regularly and Geoff and several of his students traveled to Thailand to learn from the Thais.

The Weaponry/Combat school drew from Balintawak, Pekitit Tirsia and Modern Arnis for the stick and knife fighting aspects, Japanese Kenjutsu and Iaijitsu for the sword and Muso Shindo Ryu Jojitsu for the Jo. The empty hand tactics were developed from Escrima, Silats, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Wrestling, Aiki-jitsu, Thaiboxing together with the vast amount of fighting knowledge that Geoff had learned prior to this time as a martial artist and bouncer and utilizing the JKD conceptual philosophy.

The Shoot-fighting school evolved rapidly learning elements of Western wrestling and Russian Sambo together with Judo and Thaiboxing. However the biggest influence came early in 1996 when Geoff stumbled on some video footage of the Gracies in action. Brazilian Jiu Jitsu was establishing itself as a dominant no rules fighting system against all-comers.

Then in 1996 Geoff met Steve Da Silva a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Blue Belt taught by Rickson Gracie. After training with Steve for a week the commitment was made to learn Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Later that year Geoff flew to Las Vegas to train at the School that Steve Da Silva and John Lewis had set up under the guidance of Andre Pederneiras who had formed Nova Unaio Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Geoff learned a lot of techniques and training drills, brought them back to New Zealand and started training his students in what was now the first school of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu in New Zealand.

In August of that year Geoff and Leonie promoted the first no-rules mixed martial arts match in New Zealand. This was a feature fight on the Academy of Combat's Thai boxing card at the Pioneer Stadium in Christchurch.
Although several local martial artists tried to get the fight stopped before it took place the match went ahead. The police attended and video-taped the match to see whether it was in any way illegal and would be permitted in the future. The decision several weeks later went in favor of continuing the matches. This was a monumental decision for mixed martial arts in New Zealand and placed us at the cutting edge of the sport in the world as one of only a handful of countries that allowed this form of competition.
Later that year Peter Williamson ran an entire event in Dunedin in which one of the Academy's fighters, Cole Grosvenor, won his division with tremendous displays of Jiu Jitsu technique.

In 1997 Geoff went back to Las Vegas to train at the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Black (BJJ) academy and competed in the Joe Moreira Nationals in Los Angeles getting a silver medal in his division and receiving his blue belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu from John Lewis. In this year Geoff also completed his Doctorate in Clinical Biochemistry (Molecular Biology) at The Christchurch Medical School for his research into Natriuretic Peptides and took up a position as a research scientist.

The Thaiboxing school continued to develop and reap competition successes with Mark Hamilton becoming the NZ Heavy-weight Thaiboxing champion defeating Auckland Aumatagi from Lolo Heimulue's Lee Gar stable in Auckland.
The shoot/fighting jiu jitsu team competed in the 1998 NZ Sports Jiu Jitsu Championships winning several gold and place medals. Geoff himself at the age of 44 won all of his divisions against fighters much younger than himself.

In 1998 Geoff met John Will, a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Black Belt from Australia, trained by Rigan and Jean Jacques Machado. Michael Gent the head of Kokyru Ninjutsu in NZ had invited him over for a seminar and he took the opportunity to develop a group of schools in NZ that were interested in developing BJJ in NZ.

After several training seminars over a year John offered Geoff the opportunity of associate school membership, for the Academy of Combat with the Will-Machado Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Organization, which Geoff accepted as he had found John to be one of the best coaches of martial arts he has ever had the privilege to be trained by. It has also enabled Geoff to train with some of the finest Brazilian Jiu Jitsu exponents in the world today: Rigan, Carlos and Jean Jacques Machado, Dave Meyer, Eddie Bravo and Bob Bass an association that has produced a very strong BJJ foundation at the Academy. In addition 1999 was the year that one of Geoff's students, James Tung, won the Middleweight NZ Vale Tudo Title in Auckland.
In 2000 Geoff and James Tung went to the 2nd Will-Machado Australasian Nationals in Melbourne. James won his division and received a Gold medal with Geoff getting bronze for 3rd in his division.

In 2003 the Academy hosted the first NZ Will-Machado BJJ Nationals in which many of the students picked up gold medals, Karen Lynch won the NZ WKBF and NZ TBANZ woman's lightweight titles. In the same year Scott Benson won his Blue belt weight division at the Will-Machado Australasian Nationals in Melbourne. At the end of 2003 the Academy moved location due to the sale of the building in which it was housed. Increased parking at the new location (only 1 block away from the original) enabled the academy to continue growing.

In 2004 Scott Benson took the NZ welterweight WMTC Thaiboxing title and Karen Lynch won the 1st Womens World K1 Kickboxing event in Rotorua, NZ defeating all her opponents by KO, one of the them an Australian champion and another a 2 times world champion. Scott Benson also took out his weight division at the Will-Machado Australasian Nationals in Melbourne again and Geoff was awarded his Brown belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu by John Will.

In 2005 the Academy introduced children's classes for the first time in its history. This has proved a great success with kids as young as 5 years enjoying a fun-filled atmosphere as they learn martial arts. Scott continued his Brazilian Jiu Jitsu wins taking his weight division in the purple belt division of the Will-Machado Australasian Nationals in Melbourne.

On Sept 16 Geoff received his Black Belt in Machado Brazilian Jiu Jitsu from his coach and friend John Will at the Australasian Will/Machado Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Champs in Melbourne. Geoff is the first resident home grown Kiwi to receive a Black Belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu

This was the greatest moment of my 30 plus years martial arts career, a journey that has spanned over 12 years of which I have loved every minute and still enjoy every day

Currently the Academy is continuing to grow and although from its history one might draw the conclusion that it focused on competition that is far from the truth. Geoff and Leonie are dedicated to developing the confidence and self esteem of all of it's members for whatever reason they have chosen to practice martial arts: for their confidence, coordination, self defence, fitness, or as a way of life that promotes health, well being and enjoyment of life.