It was winter 1952, when Kevin was introduced to George Palmer, a friend of his father's and a 3rd Dan ex British commando. Sensei Palmer trained Kev, in a system that was a combination of Judo and Jujutsu. He was 5 years old, and it was cold. That was what he remembered. This however, marked the beginning of a lifetime in pursue of martial arts.
Training took place in a hall in Fitzroy for 9 years, until Sensei Palmer relocated to Queensland. Kevin went on to train in the same style, under Max Comp, a 5th Dan ex German Policeman.
In 1964, Kevin enlisted with the Australian Navy. He was 17. Training with Max Comp ceased, as it was too inconvenient to get to the classes. Kevin took up Shotokan Karate, under the guidance of Sensei Paul Guerillot, a 2nd Dan ex French paratrooper.
During his 9 years service with the Navy, Kev was required to travel quite extensively. Although this meant that he wasn't able to train with Sensei Guerillot as often as he wished, he was exposed to many varied forms of martial arts through contact with other Navy recruits. As expected, the recruits came from diverse backgrounds; and for want of a better training environment, they had to train with each other in spite of their assorted styles. While stationed in the numerous bases around the globe, Kev scouted for training halls that taught Shotokan. If Shotokan wasn't on offer, he would train in a different stem of Karate; and if Karate wasn't available, he would take up whatever martial art that was. Tai Chi, Wing Chun, Muay Thai and Taekwondo, were some of the styles Kevin trained in.
It wasn't until 1968, while stationed in Tuson, Arizona, that he got his first taste of Kyu Shin Ryu Ninjutsu. He was training with Tony Redman at the time, who was with the US army Green Beret Special Forces. Both had trained in Shotokan, but were despondent about the direction the style was taking. At the time, many forms of martial arts were standardised for sporting purposes, and Kev felt that it would mean losing tradition and diluting the art. Through Tony, Kev learnt that Kyu Shin Ryu, was a style that wasn't going down the same path and which had values that did not conflict with Kevin's own. However, it took 3-5 years before Kevin made the full transition from Shotokan to Kyu Shin Ryu, as his loyalty to Sensei Guerillot was strong.
Kev's formal training in Kyu Shin Ryu began in a dojo outside the Yokohama naval base, under the tutorage of Sensei Noda. After Kevin left the Navy in 1973, he travelled to Kyushu. During his stay on the island, he underwent extensive testing, which was administered by Grand Master Seito and Master Tononaga. It covered overall proficiency in Kyu Shin Ryu and Kobujutsu (ninja weaponry). Upon completion of the 3 day trial, Kevin was awarded 1st Dan, a teaching certificate and promoted to the office of President of Kyu Shin Ryu in Australia.
To understand the magnitude of that gesture, you need to know that in those days, it was rare for foreigners to be accepted in to the inner circles of a style which is deeply ingrained in Japanese history. 3rd Dan was the highest ranking offered to non-Japanese until late 1970s.
Upon his return to Melbourne, Kev spent 12 months establishing a dojo in Caulfield. In 1975, it opened for business and recruited students to Kyu Shin Ryu Ninjutsu. However, the majority within the martial arts association, advised Kevin, that Kyu Shin Ryu will not be accepted as a legitimate form of martial art, for it did not comply with their regulations. Students of the style were victimised and banned from training and competitions held by the association, and the school was forced out on its own.
Kevin returned to Japan in January 1978, to consult with Sensei Noda and the school in Kyushu. He was advised to close the school, only to reopen 6 to 12 months later, under a different name. So it was under the banner of Vital Karate, that Kev discretely taught Kyu Shin Ryu. Although there were some controversy and suspicions, it was more difficult for the association to openly persecute the school. More students signed-up and the school grew under the false name. 12 of the best students were hand picked by Kevin and trained privately. It was only within this exclusive group, that it was acknowledged that Kyu Shin Ryu Ninjutsu was taught.
It wasn't until 1982, when the ninja boom hit the US, that Kev was given permission by Sensei Nakagawa to openly teach Kyu Shin Ryu. (That is why Kev sometimes joke, that we owe much to the Ninja Turtles).
Kevin operated under Kyu Shin Ryu Ninjutsu for the following 5 years. In the meantime, the most influential instructor in Kev's life, Sensei Noda passed away. Younger instructors who had less affinity with Kev took over. Nevertheless, when Kevin decided to sever ties with the school in Kyushu and form Kevin Hawthorne Ninja Schools in 1987, it was not without regrets.
Kevin Hawthorne Ninja Schools went from strength to strength in the past 15 years. The school currently has in excess of 700 members, and has graded 2,614:1st Dan, 571:2nd Dan, 123:3rd Dan and 3:4th Dan black belts. Kevin himself has achieved 6th Dan