A Biography of Dr Geoff Aitken, Shihan

Geoff began his martial arts training in Christchurch, New Zealand at the age of 21 years and has now trained for over 37 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 fighting 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 only the classical systems of Karate, Judo and Boxing. The influence of Brue Lee, that showed 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, was causing many students to question their respective systems and seek out new approaches.

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 in the classical systems and learning little that was really practical, 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 karate.

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.

The Zen Do Kai system was a pioneer of the use what works concept and 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.

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.

Returning tohome to Christchurch, Geoff immediately introduced 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 & Kheosod (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 1984 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. Travelling to Thailand to train and learn this incredibly powerful fighting system.

Aaron Hamilton, one of Geoff’s students,  who was to become a New Zealand champion stayed in Thailand for nearly 2 years continuing to learn and train from the Thais.

Geoff’s fighters started wining title after title and continue to do so.

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.

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 continually travelled to Thailand to learn from the Thais.

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 Tong 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.

And to finish the year Karen Lynch got second place in the World WMC Amateur Muay Thai Championships in Bangkok, Thailand. She fought the final against one of the best woman Thai boxers of that time, Jacqueline Fuchs from Switzerland, losing on points but fighting 2 weight divisions up from where she normally fought.

James Tong one of Geoff’s most accomplished Muay Thai and MMA student’s moved to Australia and became Queensland champion within 6  weeks after which he moved to Thailand and ultimately became Phuket champion.

Geoff was presented with his BJJ Black Belt in September of 2006 by John Will and the Academy has become one of the top Muay Thai, BJJ and MMA schools in the country, both for the quality of martial artists and fighters that it produces.

The Academy fighters continue to fight and win in National and International events, and there is always some of the students traveling to Thailand to learn and train with the Thais. This is the culture that Geoff has set and learned by, in his own training and the development of the Academy.

 “My personal philosophy is that I want to teach, high quality martial arts systems that work, to anyone who wishes to learn, although I focus more on teaching average people Martial arts for fitness, health and a great addition to their lifestyle, I am teaching them the same fighting systems that I teach my fighters who have triumphed in the National and International arena.” Dr Geoff Aitken, Ph.D.

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