Lloyd Byfield Trained with the Shaolin Monks

5 February 18 interview: Nathaniel Benjamin
photos: Curtis Powell

At the age of 55, award-winning martial arts enthusiast Lloyd Byfield spent six months training with the Shaolin Monks in China. Fresh from his travels, we sat down with Lloyd while he explained what he has in store for his new martial arts school for children in Notts...

How did you fall in love with martial arts?
As a child I used to watch loads of kung fu movies like The Grasshopper with David Carradine, and Bruce Lee stuff. I ended up joining a kung fu club when I left school in the early eighties, initially studying a style called fong yang khong chang at the YMCA in Nottingham. I was flexible and enjoyed performing kicks, so taekwondo really appealed. I worked in Boots’ warehouse so trained in the evenings and eventually achieved my black belt.

Can you walk us through a typical day in the life of Lloyd Byfield in Shaolin?
I was up by 5.30am for training at 6am. I would train with my instructor until 7am; mostly technique training. We would then break for breakfast until 8.30am and start training again until about 11am. Then it was lunch, rest, and reconvene for training from 2.30pm until 5pm. Foreign students would then finish for the day and meet up for a tea ceremony and meditation, whereas the Chinese students would continue to train until 8 or 9pm. I befriended some locals, so on certain days I was able to go sightseeing.

How did you mentally and physically prepare before you went?
I cut out a lot of the bad stuff that I was doing food- and drink-wise; I knew it wasn’t going to be an easy transition, so I went on a fairly strict diet and dedicated myself to the gym. I ended up losing a fair bit of weight and got myself into the conditioning that was expected for my trip. If I hadn't done all of that, I would have really struggled in China. It was very intense.

How did life in Shaolin differ to life back in the UK?
The Chinese really embrace the spiritual side of things, and have a uniquely wise outlook on life and values. It was quite humbling going back to basics while I was there; their positivity and teachings are something I wanted to bring back and share. Food-wise, we mostly ate the same for breakfast, lunch and dinner – a lot of fresh rice and noodles – very different to what I was used to, but my waistline wasn’t complaining. Then there was the meditation. I found this really important; it helped me to relax, focus and reflect. I’ve continued this; I think it can benefit everybody.

What was your most memorable moment?
There were a few actually. The first was stepping off the plane and seeing somebody waiting for me. After taking that long trip into the unknown, it really meant a lot. The second was walking into the Shaolin Temple for the very first time; a really emotional experience, I couldn't believe I was finally there. Lastly, a few days before we left, there was a monk ceremony with lots of chanting; the atmosphere was absolutely incredible.

You received a very prestigious martial arts award on your return...
I wasn't expecting it at all. Shortly after I got back, I received a call from Paul Barnett from Martial Arts Illustrated magazine and he told me I was nominated for an award to recognise my efforts in China and my many years of being involved with martial arts. To receive this award was a great honour and really humbling; it was great to see some old faces too.

You recently opened up a martial arts school for children, could you tell us more?
It's called the Nottingham Kwondo-Roos. I got the name from watching a David Attenborough documentary about the little joeys growing and transitioning into adult kangaroos. I was fascinated by all the training they had to do from such a young age. The vision I have is to teach taekwondo to young people – from children up to teenagers – and make the experience enjoyable and affordable while helping them develop skills, build confidence and grow to black belt level and beyond. I’d love to take them to China one day.

Are there any legendary sparring stories you’d like to share?
In the UK, we have a lot of non-contact sparring. In China, I really don't think that exists; not from what I witnessed anyway. I was sparring with a man in his twenties who’d been training since he was three. I quickly realised the difference in the levels of sparring; it is 100% heavy contact and it really took me off guard. Even though I may have walked away with a black eye, I definitely managed to hold my own. I didn’t realise the extent of my injuries until that evening when I blew my nose and my eye almost popped out the socket. That’s a fight I’ll always remember.

Is there anything else you wanted to add?
My aim is to one day take the Kwondo-Roos to China, I would love for them to gain the life-changing experience that I’ve had. Your dreams can be anything you want them to be; you’re never too old to pursue and achieve them, as long as you have the willpower and determination. If anybody wanted to take the trip to China, I have a lot of contacts over there who can assist, and I’m happy to help anyone who’s interested.

Kwondo-Roos sessions take place every Monday and Wednesday, 5.30pm - 6.45pm, at Bakersfield Community Centre. Contact Lloyd on 07496 511 774 or lloydbyfield30@gmail.com for more details.

Tell us what you think