Shape of Character You meet people every day, each person has their own back story (some good, some bad, some ugly) yet we often think we know them. The fact is, behind every person there is a hidden story which we don’t know.

I am a practitioner of 37 years and an instructor of 28 years. In 2016, I wrote an article called ‘Path to Master’ and parts of my story were touched on then, but it was still raw so I kept it hidden.

As a coach, I frequently speak to my students about things that took place in my teen years in the hope they will learn something from my mistakes (God knows I have made a few). My ethos as a person is to turn negatives into a positive and, to date, it has worked as many current and past students from nearly three decades have given testament to. To me, knowing your students have learnt from your mistakes in life is something to be proud of, especially as instructors are like parents – our job is to educate on and off the mat.

When I look in the mirror, I see someone that many respect, but a guy with a hidden past. This is due to shame from a lack of understanding why things happened to me that should not have. Those that know me will say I have had some crazy wars with Masters and Grandmasters over the years, resulting in an expulsion from one I.T.F. (which, to me, was a total joke). Yes, I’m outspoken, but this article will probably help some to understand why!

My back story is simple. I was the youngest in a family of seven – Mum, Dad and four older sisters. The family did not have much money so, in the summer holidays, we would work for the local farmer in the fields from dawn to dusk picking potatoes to make money for the family (and taking a sack or two to eat at the end of the day too). January sales to us were the local jumble sales. Dad worked on the coal lorries and later on in life became a scrap metal dealer, but he liked his daily drink and cigarettes as many did in the 70’s & 80’s, so money was often scarce. The love was good on both sides to a degree, but Mum and Dad struggled due to money issues. Many locals in our village stated we were a rough family.

Mum sadly had mental health issues, so I often found her slumped unconscious on the sofa or in bed after taking another overdose. These were not the worse time I had faced as a kid, as I had also found her a few times with her wrist cut and semi-conscious – this was not good for a young kid who just did not understand what was going on. When this happened, she was taken into mental health lock up wards and the family was split up and put into care for a few weeks, sometimes months, whilst Dad did his best to support her.  

By the time I was seven, I had experienced foster homes and instability and I was finally put into a monthly boarding school as my behavior was bad, they said (I wonder why?). I guess I was angry at the world, right? Probably due to lack of discipline, my hectic environment of the family home and what we as a family were facing regularly. At this school you were given 72 hours a month at home to reintroduce you into normal life and also shortened school holidays. There was discipline, be it extreme, but you had a warm place to live and three square meals a day.

However, no matter how good the above sounds, it would turn out to be hell on earth for me and a few others. I was put in Hostel 4 – here, I would be molested by the head of care in my bedroom within weeks of being placed on the wing, yet I fought back (even then I was a stubborn). What followed was three and a half years of hell. I was taken to a place so low I would pray to die, as I had lost total self esteem, faith in life and I felt worthless which was my attackers aim. Not to go into too much detail, but he would take his ‘favourite’ kids down to the sleeping quarters after shower time when we were in our pyjamas (which meant we had nothing on underneath).

The other kids on the wing were left watching TV in the common room, in silence through fear of his rage – no one made a sound, yet we heard everything. It would start as play fighting on your bed and, somehow, he would end up with his hands in your pyjamas. On the one occasion it happened to me when we went down to my room, I just remember thinking “Why is this man doing this?”. Without thinking, I punched him in the groin. This buckled him over on the bed and he went ballistic, but he trapped me in my bedroom. When he recovered, I faced the worst treatment ever, not for just a day but for years after that incident.

His treatment ranged from making me make my bed over 70 times the day after the molestation, leaving cuts and blisters on my hands from the iron nuts and bolts under the mattress, to no breakfast – not good for a 7 year old.

In those days, there were no quilts – it was two sheets and a blanket. He would do a coin test each morning, where he would toss the coin and if it did not bounce, he just lost it. He would toss my room many times over the years out of anger (tossing a room was when your bed was turned on its side and stripped, clothes pulled out of the cupboards and your desk items pushed on the floor) and him poking my chest with his finger as hard as he could many times, leaving bruises. He’d also belittle me saying “You’re a nasty little parasite, waste of life”, spitting in my face as he shouted at me. The chest bruises would last for days.

We lived in fear on the wing, waiting for his day off on Wednesdays when we could breathe. His treatment ranged from moderate to severe. He would inspect our rooms every morning, us stood in fear by the open doorway (a curtain), hoping our rooms met his requirements. On many occasions, he would lose it for the slightest thing i.e. slippers not straight, pencils on the desk, books not straight, chair not pushed in. The punishment could be tossing the room but, on bad days, you were dragged down the wing by your hair and stood with your nose against the wall with a few slaps across the legs added for good measure. Some of us cut our hair to skinhead, yet he simply changed tactics and pulled us by our ears, side burns or took the nerves on the back of the neck with thumb and first finger squeezing so hard your body crippled.

No matter what I done, he just vented his anger towards me due to fighting back that day. I have to say, within weeks of going there, I thought maybe I should have just let him do what he wanted but I am glad I did not, as some I grew up with sadly took their own lives due to it being too much to live with.

If I was found out of bed at night, he would slap my legs and put me against the wall for a few hours until my back and legs ached in pain, yet other kids were sent back to bed with a warning. One time he caught me out of bed at 11pm heading to the toilet. He waited outside the toilet and took me to the hallway outside the night staff room which was pitch black, no slippers on cold grey tile where I stood freezing, nose against the wall. I was there from 11pm until 6.30am, he said he forgot I was there. This was also when I had my first real ghost encounter.

The last part of my back story – it was a Sunday afternoon, he is sat in his chair reading a paper and the other kids and I are being quiet. Some are watching ‘The A Team’ (this sends me crazy on the TV now due to the memory). Anyway, a few of us are under the snooker table. A new kid called Brian and I are playing with our toy cars. Brian pushes the toy and it hits his foot, literally the slightest hit – he goes ballistic, standing up screaming at the top of his voice “Who done that?”. I look at Brian and he is in tears, as were some of the other kids. By now, a few years have passed, I am about 9 and a half and I am hardened to his bullish behaviour (and, sadly to say, I had already given up on life). I was numb to pain by this point so, when he hits me, I just shut down.

I said it was me. As I sit under the table, he grabs towards me, missing, but the second time he has me in his hands. He tries to pull me out from under the table, but the top of my head smacks on the metal rail of the table. I lose consciousness, he stands me up but my legs are giving way – this just angers him more. He slapped my legs so hard time and time again. I was left with welts and bruises and I just refused to cry. He is spitting in my face with anger, yelling at me that I am a vile little boy. My reply was simply “You can’t hurt me”. He was pissed off. By this time, I would never cry in front of him, but I’d sob into my pillow at night until I fell asleep.

After tea, I am in the shower and he comes in – he looks panicked. Looking at my head, I have a massive bruise and lump on the front of my head, but my legs feel like someone has cut them with a razor as the water trickled down my body into the exposed welts.

He comes in the bedroom after my shower and smothers my legs with cream where the welts are. He tells me if anyone asks, you fell over. I knew the drill – ‘little boys must not tell lies’. Regarding my head, he must have come into my bedroom from his flat that was connected to the wing every hour, shining a torch into my eyes to check my pupils and asking if I was okay.

After this, on my next visit home, I am told by him ‘You know what happens to little boys that tells tails’. I told my mum again about his treatments (like I had on a number of occasions since being there) – she simply slapped me and told me to stop lying, so there was no let up. I think this is why we had such an estranged relationship. If only she had listened, we would have had a healthy relationship – instead I resented her.

Within weeks of being placed on Hostel four and the treatment starting, I made a friend with a girl called Heather. She was about the same age as me. We would always hang around together, she would speak to me about what was going on and just seemed to understand and know what to say.

We became soul mates and were so close, but life decided to give me the first taste of pain as she got a clot on the brain and passed away. I was broken for months and would cry for her. I think I never got over this, as I think about her everyday (even now). I am also sure she stood with me in that hallway on the night I was left for 7.5 hours as, at first, I was petrified being in the pitch black hallway, then this figure appeared and stood by me all night and I seemed to become calm and relaxed rather than scared.

Now aged ten and a half, I was involved in a motorbike accident that nearly took my life (was God warning me?). I was off school for a few months, had over 300 stitches on my stomach and a number of operations due to complications and infections in the stomach. I had about 9 months speech therapy, balance and                            co-ordination sessions, as the accident did serious damage. When I return to Hostel 4, the deputy head seems to take me under his wing, keeping me away from my attacker. I was put on gardening duties with him and spent hours digging, planting and cutting every night – on occasions when the wing master started again, somehow the deputy head was there, taking me off punishment he put me on and taking me out of the situation, so the last few months was calmer but he was always there to remind me he was not far away.

I’d seen the deputy head and him go head-to-head a few times. I believe he knew what was going on but could not do anything, as the Headmaster and a few others were alleged to be involved in the same paedophile ring. I know this, as a teacher came forward a few years back and explained a few teachers challenged what was going on but were sacked for doing so.

All of this back story explains why I am what I am today – argumentative when I know I am right and firm. The lack of discipline at home as a kid and after leaving my tormentors grip meant I needed to find it again and I did at 12 years old after another situation unfolded. This lead me to the TaeKwonDo path I now walk.

Looking at things now, the cleanliness of me personally and my home always being a super clean all come from the wing master that instilled that process of fear to live tidy always, or face his actions.

There are some real issues when a person is abused, from not being able to trust others resulting in not being able to form friendships to opening up and talking, crying or showing emotions and many other issues.

In my relationship, I am not a controller, nor have I ever been violent towards my partner or kids, but I am a clean freak who has to have control of everything I do. When I got with Tracey in 1994 though, she will say I used to flip out and go into some real depressed moods and even I did not know why, but it all came out years later. Thankfully, age has improved this and she knows how to deal with it when it happens.

Yes, NO kid should have gone through half of what I (or, rather, we did) – fact! I am sure many who know me will say “You sure as hell done good now”. Now I am driven and determined. This article covers how the situation of the early days shaped my character, but I had to find my resolve and resilience to get to where I am today.

I have no shame, as I had no control over what he done to me and the others. This is the case of most abuse survivors – he was put into a position of trust and he abused it, but I have all the power now. When my students talk to me about the issues in their lives, I feel I am able to guide them to the best of my ability. There have been some sad stories but, thankfully, I have been there to help overcome them. My tormentor took his life on the day of sentencing when I was 38 – this sent my life into a nose dive. Six people went forward after this leading to a big case, but many (like me) remained silent in the shadows. Those six had a lot more done to them in the case of sexual abuse, which I feel so sad about.

After my attacker passed, I closed my clubs for the Christmas recess at the time but, to me, I had closed my clubs forever. Somehow, him killing himself sent me over the edge as I had lost my chance to see justice done. I felt so empty and lost in life, it was a truly dark time yet I just did not know why. I lost my mojo but, on Christmas day, I got a book from my partner Tracey and I realised after reading it, I was not practicing TKD to protect myself from him – I was, in fact, doing it to enrich my life and help others in one way or another. I came back to the art and it felt like a brand new chapter had started – I was now doing TaeKwonDo for the right reason.

I have never been so open as I am here. I became stronger in character through what happened and through finding TaeKwonDo. The point of this article is simple – no matter how many times life has kicked you, never give up. You trip over, don’t just lay there – get up, dust yourself down, set a goal and aspire to reach it. ‘Indomitable spirit’ is a great tenet and can help in all you do. The key to success is to be focused and stay committed. We can’t change our past, but we sure as hell can change our future.

The past is called the past for a reason.

Master Snow

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