Interview with Sue King: The Inspiring Journey of a 7th Dan Ju-Jitsu
Name: Sue King
Association: Muga Mushin Ryu Ju-Jitsu, member of the British Combat Association
Grade: 7th Dan
Country of Residence: Liverpool, UK
Q1: How and why did you get into martial arts?
I stumbled into martial arts by accident! A group of friends were attending a local self-defense class and asked if I wanted to join them. Initially, I went along to be with my friends, not realizing how transformative this decision would be. At that time, my life was largely consumed by caring for my father after our family faced a devastating tragedy. A fire had taken the lives of my mother, youngest brother, sister, her fiancé, and a family friend, leaving me with first-degree burns over most of my body. My father, already seriously ill in the hospital, was left disabled due to medical negligence, and I became his primary caregiver.
The self-defense class was an escape from my daily responsibilities and a chance to find a sense of normalcy and excitement. Although my father was initially reluctant, worried about my safety and the time away from him, he soon noticed a positive change in me. Martial arts gave me confidence and helped me overcome the low self-esteem caused by my physical scars and the isolation of caregiving. It ignited a passion in me that continued to grow, shaping me into the person I am today.
Q2: Can you tell us about your first Ju-Jitsu lesson?
My first Japanese Ju-Jitsu lesson was at Ellergreen Comprehensive School in Norris Green, Liverpool. Starting with friends gave me the confidence to face this new and nerve-wracking environment. The class, led by Prof. Kenny Blundell, began with warm-ups and break falls. Despite being a sports-minded child, I found the session both exhausting and intimidating. However, by the end, we were accomplishing feats we never thought possible, which gave me the courage to continue.  We learned techniques like front and back strangle escapes, which are still taught in many schools today. These initial experiences have stayed with me, and I ensure that new students at my dojo, whether adults or children, leave having achieved something new. This transformative experience is something I aim to impart to everyone who steps onto the Tatami.
Q3: Apart from Ju-Jitsu, have you studied any other martial arts
Yes, I’ve been very fortunate to train in various other martial arts. I trained at ‘Fighters and Fitness’ studio, now known worldwide as Team Kaobon, where I studied Muay Thai with head coach Colin Heron for eight years. During this time, I also attended regular Luta Livre and MMA sessions. This training enhanced my striking skills and helped me develop techniques that required live, resisting opponents. Additionally, I have trained in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, judo, kickboxing, and boxing, which broadened my grappling and striking capabilities, providing a well-rounded approach to combat sports.
I have also studied Yang style and Sun style Tai Chi in Liverpool with Sifu Lee and Paul Evans. These practices enriched my Zen meditation and provided balance to my martial arts training. Moreover, I trained in Aikido and Aiki Jitsu with William Johnson Sensei from the Aiki Shin Tanren Academy, achieving the grade of 5th Dan. The fluidity of Aikido has strengthened certain aspects of my Ju-Jitsu.
Meeting Mike Sanchez was another stroke of luck; he became a good friend and persuaded me to train and eventually grade in DPKFS Escrima, where I achieved the rank of Guru 3rd Dan. This training gave me a deep appreciation for Filipino Martial Arts. I have also trained in Combatives with Dennis Martin and Simon Squires, allowing me to pressure-test my techniques. Dennis Martin currently trains at my academy, and I frequently seek his insights given his vast experience in martial arts.
I constantly like to challenge myself—”change begins at the end of your comfort zone,” right? My training helps maintain my fitness and supports my mental health and well-being. All these experiences have been invaluable in enhancing my Ju-Jitsu practice and style.
Q4: You competed in sport Ju-Jitsu for many years. Can you tell us about your experience and achievements?
I competed for ten years, though opportunities were limited, especially for women. Most events were in-house or BJJA-sanctioned competitions. As a coach, I believe in leading by example, so I participated whenever competitions were available. I enjoyed the striking elements, but the bouts varied with different referees. I regret not taking competitions more seriously; I often placed in the medals, but I have to be honest and say I really didn’t like hitting people.
During my time at Team Kaobon, I prepared for a charity MMA fight in 2009 but couldn’t get matched with an opponent. Despite this, today’s competitive scene is much better organized, offering various disciplines like MMA, Thai K1, BJJ, and judo for a well-rounded experience.
Q5: As the founder and head coach at Mushin Combat Academy, can you tell us about its beginnings and why you decided to pursue martial arts full time?
In 2008, after my father’s passing, I used his inheritance to take control of my martial arts destiny. I wanted to create a safe space where children could gain confidence and learn life skills, especially those with limited access due to home pressures. This was my way of giving back to the community, a value I hold dear not only as a martial artist but also as a Buddhist monk.
In 2011, I founded Mushin Combat Academy, leaving my full-time job at Taskers Sports. Initially, the gym promoted other systems through competing, but I later realigned it to focus on my vision of a dedicated Japanese Ju-Jitsu school. Today, Mushin Combat Academy embraces combative and holistic values like meditation and mindfulness. I am supported by a strong Yudansha and recognized by the British Combat Association, a very supportive organization.
Q6: As a high-achieving woman in martial arts, are there any women you’ve looked up to over the years?
This is a tough question because there were no female role models in my early training years. The few that I knew of had retired. Ju-Jitsu was a male-dominated martial art, but this never deterred me. I trained mostly with men who supported and encouraged me. I admired UK female Judoka like Nicola Fairbrother and Karen Briggs, but Ju-Jitsu had few notable figures back then.
My peers and regular training partners, many of whom are men, have pushed me to excel, and I am now the highest-ranking active female jujitsuka in the UK (not my words). While I didn’t have female role models, I hope to inspire other women and girls to achieve their goals through dedication and determination.
Q7: What advice would you give to other women in martial arts who want to start teaching and open their own academies?
Follow what ignites your passion. We all have strengths and weaknesses, and through support, we can adapt and overcome challenges. It’s important to try different things and give it your all. Don’t fear failure; it’s a natural part of growth. Resilience is crucial, and martial arts teaches us to never give up. Be your own hero and do your best.
At Mushin, we support each other regardless of gender. Stay focused and driven; only you can achieve your goals, even if it means going it alone. I’ve been called the “black sheep of Ju-Jitsu” and the “jack of all trades,” and these labels have fueled my journey. If I can do it, so can you. Follow your dreams!
Q8: What’s been your biggest achievement and challenge within martial arts?
My most significant achievement is self-discovery. Relearning and adapting my style gave me the confidence to try various martial arts and take a three-hour 7th dan Ju-Jitsu test with a challenging training partner. Receiving the Shihan title from Soke Pell is an unforgettable memory that I will cherish.
The biggest challenge has been gaining recognition as a serious Ju-Jitsu instructor in a male-dominated sport and the broader martial arts community. I actively strive to promote both the physical and mental aspects of martial arts. This journey never ends, and I’m dedicated to showing that we can triumph over adversity regardless of age, gender, background, or social standing.
Q9: What does the future hold for you and Mushin Combat Academy? Any plans?
Mushin will always be a community interest company dedicated to providing a full-time dojo for children and adults. It serves as a community hub where people can train and grow together. My ordination as a Buddhist priest enables me to offer pastoral services alongside physical training, making our academy truly unique. Our Japanese Ju-Jitsu classes are flourishing, attracting both hobbyists and serious practitioners. As we move forward, Mushin will stay committed to traditional Japanese Ju-Jitsu while incorporating modern training practices. Due to media coverage, including radio and BBC interviews, our children’s classes have reached full capacity. We are now looking to expand in the coming years to accommodate our growing community.
My journey is never ending, from a life overshadowed by personal tragedy to becoming a 7th Dan Ju-Jitsu instructor teaching throughout the UK and abroad being an influential coach is a testament to the transformative power of martial arts. It’s not just about mastering techniques but about resilience, self-discovery, and the relentless pursuit of growth. Through Mushin Combat Academy, I have created a sanctuary where students of all ages can build confidence, learn invaluable life skills, and find a sense of community. My dedication to teaching and commitment is to empower other to continue to inspire and pave the way for future generations. My story is a powerful reminder that with passion and perseverance, we can overcome any obstacle, triumph over adversity and achieve greatness.
yours in Budo