Here is where societal norms, tradition and culture clash with reality. In many places in the East saving face is extremely important and affects everyday life from the smallest village to the largest city. No one ever wants to look like a fool and we want to be respected. There needs to be a balance between ‘I made a mistake’ and “I can’t/shouldn’t be wrong”. In a society where few people have any true status, just due to the vast numbers, saving or having face, mian zi (面子) is extremely important in everyday life. This happens to an extreme that most of us westerners can’t understand. It’s not a question of always being right but a matter of not looking like a fool and losing respect. As an example; a close friend of mine was visiting a factory in Japan. The foreman was explaining to an employee in English what a monkey wrench was vs an adjustable wrench. He was holding up the adjustable wrench and saying loudly “This is a monkey wrench and that, the pipe wrench (monkey wrench) is an adjustable wrench.” He was completely wrong and he looked to my friend for validation. Now the dilemma. He was trying to show his superior knowledge to a lesser colleague but he was completely wrong. Now he is asking for validation that he knows American tools and my friend is stuck because he knows the culture. If he corrects him then the foreman looks foolish and loses face. If he doesn’t correct him, he is basically lying and letting the employee take the heat. So, what do you do? Well, the damage he would do to his working relationship with the foreman is more important than the truth here. He can’t damage that, so, he lies and the foreman is happy to be validated. My friend felt quite guilty about having to lie to save his client’s relationship.
One of my jobs entailed a lot of international travel for a client. I had been to Japan and many other places with them but they decided not to travel some of us to a tournament in China. They ended up have a very difficult time. They had a show in Beijing and then in GuangZhou. I asked a production manager what happened. He told me that the show in Beijing went really well but then they went to GuangZhou it went to hell. He said,” We really liked the venue manager in Beijing so we took him with us to….” I stopped him and said, “Oh no”. He said, “Why do you say that”? I said, “You made the venue manager in GuangZhou look incompetent by doing that. What did he do?” Well, he pulled all of his equipment off the job, the entire mobile unit, leaving them with no way to televise the show. They had to scramble to put together a rag tag production. All of this because he did not know the culture and he did not know how to recover from it. Mian zi at its worst incarnation here.
This might be a trivial thing to Westerners but it’s very important in the East. Younger folks are getting away from this somewhat but it’s still an issue. I was at dinner with a Japanese colleague last March and she was talking about doing business in China. She is fluent in Mandarin. I casually asked her “how is it dealing with mian zi?” and she rolled her eyes and explained what a nightmare it is and how it messes up business.
So, how does this effect kung fu/martial arts? Quite deeply unfortunately. In the course of almost anyone’s learning there comes a time when a traditional Asian teacher might show you something that you know really doesn’t work. If you’re in private you can deal with it but if you’re in front of a group, then all bets are off. This fellow believes what he does works and he is in the superior position, he is the “teacher”. To call him out on it in front of everyone is humiliating to him and he will lose face. He will most likely never be open with you again. In demonstration he shows how he handles a hook and you know it’s not going to work. What do you do? Maybe instinctively you don’t pull the punch and tag him, then what? I’ve had this happen and I immediately have said, “my fault, I knew you weren’t ready, cheap shot, do it again, I apologize”. The second time he blocks it and the world is a happy place. Yes, I know this sounds completely dishonest but it’s culturally correct. You don’t go to your niece’s recital and tell her that her singing is terrible, though it be true, you compliment her, right? I hope? Is it a lie, yes, it is culturally correct? What do you think?
You really have to understand the cultural implications of this and not impose your view upon it as absolute truth. If you do you may never really learn what the teacher has to offer. This is especially true when dealing with the older generation who were born in the East. I had an incident many years ago where two fellows were asked if they’d like to meet another teacher that was coming to town. Sure, why not? Well, they didn’t get permission from their teacher, didn’t even think of asking. They met this other teacher and their teacher shows up, BANG, damage done. It looks like they are sneaking behind his back to see this other guy and he is furious and basically disowns them. He has lost face. They had no idea and they are now outcasts. They came to me and asked what they could do. I told them they were not going to like this but there is a way. There is a bow in Chinese culture that is particularly humbling. You bow on the ground in such a way that it is nearly impossible to be threatening or attack. Visitors to the emperors had to do this to prove their fealty. So, I told these guys, not only do you have to do this, but you have to do it publicly, you have to give him face. They showed up at his school, went to the center of the floor and dropped down. He said nothing for a while. He just walked about but everyone saw these guys prostrate themselves in front of him. He milked it and after several minutes told them to get up. After that they were his favorite students. It’s a cultural thing folks, it’s their court.
This causes a dilemma in traditional martial arts because the ‘Master’ does not have accurate feedback on his skill level. Nobody wants him to lose face but that creates a huge falsehood about the technique. I was looking at an old video where I was demonstrating a technique on a student who is truly a good fighter. Now, years later, when I saw it, it was clear the technique did not work, he gave it to me. It really annoyed me and I called him to give him grief for something that happened 15 years ago. He had no recollection of it and I know it was well intentioned but it’s misleading. To him it was an act of kindness not dishonesty. However, it does me no good to work under the illusion it works when it doesn’t and surely misleads students. I don’t care about mian zi, I care about facts but that is not the Eastern way many times.
Bas Rutten once said to me that he was fortunate that he had no ‘masters’ he studied under. I asked why and he explained that he did nothing on faith, just efficacy, and could deconstruct techniques to see what really worked. There was no tradition or hierarchy to contend with or be obeisant to, just the facts. He said they entered the floor on equal grounds and never worried about offending anyone, just learning. I can see the truth in this.
I was in a situation a few years back where I was invited to a class to work with the students and demonstrate. I was blocking the punches of a fellow about 30 years younger than me and much taller. He had about a six-inch reach on me. It was casual, no big deal. He clocked me on the right cheek, so what, it happens, I wasn’t hurt. He freaked out apologizing to the extreme. He felt he had done me some big offence, he hadn’t. I told him to calm down and continue and eventually he did. Later I wondered what his view of it was. Did he lose faith in me because I missed it? Am I supposed to be untouchable? Did he fear retribution? Did he fear I lost face and he hit an older guy? So many scenarios but they don’t matter. We all get hit when practicing. Look at my face, isn’t it obvious? If you never get hit then you need to work out with someone better than you. It is likely in a traditional school that mian zi would come into play and add a whole different dynamic. Giving in to face here would damage the reality of the moment.
The thing to take away from this is the traditional and cultural restraints that some cultures have. They are not meant to be deceptive, it’s just a matter of respect. Ultimately, I fear that this does damage to the martial arts by instilling a false sense of bravado into some things that do not work. There are so many examples of traditional masters losing fights today. They did not know they lived in a fantasy world of their own making. Hopefully they will evolve and grow into today’s standards of fighting.
“There is a difference between a fighter and a martial artist. A fighter is training for a purpose: He has a fight. I'm a martial artist. I don't train for a fight. I train for myself. I'm training all the time. My goal is perfection. But I will never reach perfection.” Georges St-Pierre
Now adays there is this swirling rhetoric about MMA vs traditional arts and the validity of training in either. There is no doubt that there are a lot of traditional martial artists out there who can’t fight because they never trained in actual fighting. However, this does not invalidate their entire training. Fighting is fighting and martial arts is also fighting, done properly, and an art. I’ve spent almost 50 years in the arts and I definitely see the weaknesses in traditional training but I also see a huge problem with the aging fighters. If you just train to fight what happens as you age? We all get weaker and there’s nothing we can do about it. It takes so much longer to heal when we are older that it becomes debilitating. So you’ve trained and fought through your twenties and thirties and now your body is breaking down; what did fighting do to prepare you for the remaining decades of your life? Did it teach you patience, understanding, compassion or empathy? Did it increase your overall awareness of the world around you? What do you have now that you are aging? Did you just train to fight or did you also do extensive work on your balance, hearing and sight which are common elements in martial training. Did you develop your ability to be totally aware of your surroundings as Myamoto Musashi states, ‘seeing the world around as a cat peruses a field, seeing it all at once. “….aware of everything and no particular thing. Here’s a man who developed not only unparalleled fighting experience but was also an accomplished painter. He developed both sides of his nature.
Have you become more aware of nature and how the world around you affects you? These are things that many traditional martial artists spend a lot of time working on.
So many ex-fighters are damaged physically and mentally. Their bodies are broken and their minds have never matured past the gym or the ring. Due to the damage their bodies have endured over the years they are constantly in pain. They find relief in drinking and medications. This is true for many athletes; living with the pain of a worn body. I live it too. There are definitely those that have remained sharp and aware but it’s not the norm. If you are training as a martial artist in the sense that you are training all of your being to become more in tune and alive then this does not diminish as you age. You find new ways to express your energy and focus. You may not be able to do the feats of your youth but there is a new expression of your physicality. In the east they often use the metaphor of a lotus unfolding to express this ever-opening awareness; the flower ever spreading its pedals. This is an essential part of development in a martial art. As my Sifu once said, “what is the worth of a man if at the end of his life he can only claim that he can kill or maim but not cure or inspire”? If you’ve only trained to fight then you have nothing else as you age. If you’ve honed your mind and body to harmonize with life then you are ever opening up doors to learning and expanding. You can learn to crush rocks your entire life or you can learn to build temples with them. You need to ask yourself what your goal is and where you want to be.
Does being a fighter help you to be a better parent or spouse? What is it that you actually have at the end of it all? Where is the balance in your life? You can tear down but can you also build up?
I must say that I have met a few fighters that had great epiphanies as they aged and became remarkable human beings full of compassion and wisdom. Somehow a light awakened in their consciousness and their years of fighting taught them compassion and kindness. This perhaps was never emphasized in their training but somehow this spark ignited. I would hope that if one is training in martial arts that this would be an overt expression of the art and not a rare occurrence. So George St- Pierre makes a great statement there which attests to the quality of his character as a martial artist who can fight.
Many martial artists go through their entire training career with having never truly tested in a real fight. They spend their lives in blissful ignorance and a false sense of security believing in their ability because it has never been actually challenged. They have a very strong belief in their teacher and the effectiveness of their art. Some believe that their skill level is so advanced that they cannot spar because they would kill their opponent. That may seem farfetched but I have experienced that first hand myself. “Dude, I’d spar with you but my level is so advanced I might inadvertently kill you”. Well if you are that advanced then maybe you should have more control pin head. Maybe they’ve sparred with folks in their school or style and done well and felt that proved their skill. This is fighting the familiar and does not really reflect the real world. So, there are many folks out there who, thankfully, have never really needed to use their art and may never need it. As a result they will never really know if it works but they absolutely believe it does.
Then there are those that have been tested. Whether it’s a street fight or just sparring someone from another style who just doesn’t care if they hurt you; it’s a rude awakening. I had an acquaintance who was a black belt in Korean karate. He was very diligent in his practice and had a bit of an ego. Actually, he a bit of a jerk. He went to a party where there were a lot of bikers from a well-known gang. He decided that he was so bad ass that he would dump a beer on one of the guys head. He was taken out in a stretcher. He told me that he was stunned that nothing he did worked. They didn’t want to spar, they wanted to destroy. Another time a jujitsu instructor was giving a seminar at a local school. He started hitting on one of the women there who was married to the owner’s son. The son told the jujitsu guy to knock it off. He didn’t and challenged the son. Not thirty seconds later the jujitsu guy was laid out in the middle of the room. The owner’s son came from a special forces background along with his martial training. You never know who knows what.
My experience is that one of several things happens when you get your butt handed to you in a fight especially when you went in over confident.
“I’ve spent years training in this art and it just doesn’t work, I’m done!” That’s the end, they stop training. I’ve seen this happen many times. I get the frustration and the humiliation here but failure should cause you to succeed not recede.
“Well if I’d know he was going to do that then I’d……”
This is a total BS line that people tell themselves. I can’t stand it when people say this; it’s beyond disingenuous. They did not know, yep, absolutely! You cannot know what’s going to happen in a fight. You did not react intelligently, you got beat, period.
“I’ve only being doing this 8 years, after 10 years is when you can fight. Come back in 2 years”. Yeah, that never really works. I actually had this happen decades ago. A fellow I was working with was bragging about his art, (we all do as beginners) and I asked him to spar. He said, “No, I’ve being doing these 81/2 years I won’t be ready till 10.” So being the schnook I am I waited till ten years and asked him again. He declined. I was just busting on him. Another part of the 10-year argument is “My teacher could beat you but I can’t yet”. Maybe…….
“I do this art for the spiritual practice, not fighting. I will continue to do this as a spiritual endeavor and I will obtain a ‘higher’ fulfilment than just the folks who practice this as a fighting art.” Okay, it is a martial art and yes you can certainly develop an acute awareness along with a fighting skill BUT you should be able to fight! If you want to develop spiritual awareness join a temple not a martial arts school.
“He beat the hell out of me, how do I beat him? What do I need to do to gain that skill”? This is the minority version but it’s the most important one. It’s what I went through. Shame, disgust and depression…. had I wasted my time? Is my understanding so wretchedly bad? Can I actually learn to do this? This is a very difficult time in a martial artists life. You may have studied a total BS art and now you know it or you just never developed the heart to bring it to a fight. Either way it’s an existential awakening to your vulnerability and the horror of a real fight. Like I’ve said many times; real fights are chaos. If you were beaten in a legit full contact sparring match you can often get someone to help you through this. They observe and show you the fallacy of your ways. If it happens on the street and you survive you can seek those who have had similar experiences and they can help you train. Back in the very early years of my training I had a personal vendetta with another fellow. For a myriad of reasons we did not like each other and it eventually boiled over into a fight. He was a street fighter from a very tough area and made no bones about his desire to hurt me. He dropped me in seconds. He attacked, attacked and attacked….he was relentless, I drowned in his punches trying to block them. Thus, the beginning of my coming aware that being defensive is futile. A year or so later we fought again, this time bashing each other for several minutes. It was brutal. I reached a point where I hit him with all I had left and he didn’t fall. He dropped me but it was a battle of attrition, not a slaughter like the first one. The third time I fought him I had his number and the fight was short and I walked away unscathed. Each time I learned, became more confident and decisive. I also realize I may have gained some skill but I was still very lacking in many areas. This was just the beginning of my journey.
After decades of martial arts, I’ve found that those who have learned from their defeats have a very different view than others. Some of the great fighters I’ve known have been the humblest. They will tell you about the liver shot that took them down or the scrawny guy that just wouldn’t quit. They know they can lose and take nothing for granted. Some are arrogant but many are not. They don’t fight for stupid reasons. Their egos are not fragile and they’ve got nothing to prove so their minds are clearer. It’s good to learn what you are truly capable of doing. The question is can you deal with failure? What will you do when you get back up?
"Winning is great, sure, but if you are really going to do something in life, the secret is learning how to lose. Nobody goes undefeated all the time. If you can pick up after a crushing defeat, and go on to win again, you are going to be a champion someday." Wilma Rudolp
I was flying back from working fights in Vegas recently and reflecting once again on the role of sparring and martial arts, particularly kung fu. I have often stressed the importance of it and how it trains the mind for the type of stress that only real fighting brings. You don’t need to be bashing each other’s brains out to get this but you do have to bring on real pressure and threat, though controlled. I have tried many times to bring this home to people but just always seem to fall short. But here I am on an airplane looking at the cockpit door and voila! It hits me. Not the door, the idea. If you were on a plane and it was in distress who do you want to take over for the pilot, another experienced pilot or someone who trained in a flight simulator? Does this make it real enough for you? Perhaps the person who trained in the flight simulator will have enough tools to pull it off but the experienced pilot will definitely have the ability. Kata and point fighting and all the other variations are simulators and have little bearing on real life emergencies. The pressure you feel when completely overwhelmed cannot be imagined. The absolute urgency of the moment numbs the mind and if you’re not trained for it you freeze or panic.
I was driving in a blizzard in Iowa the week before that fight. It was a nightmare and I’ve never seen anything like it, ever. Wind blowing at 45 miles an hour creating what they call a ground blizzard, pure whiteout across the plains. I was in the passenger seat trying to navigate for the driver who was awesome. In the back seat was one of the ring judges from the night before. He was clearly panicked and kept talking and asking questions when we inched down the road, cars strewn about. It took close to 3 hours to get to the airport and would have normally taken 50 minutes, literally a straight drive up Route 29 north IA. When we stopped, I said to the driver, “That was a horrible nightmare, absolutely terrifying! You were great”. The fight judge looked at me and said, “What, are you kidding me? You were quiet and calm the entire time navigating and now you say it was terrifying?” I replied, “Yes it was but it does no good to be anything but absolutely still under such great stress, a busy mind is an impediment. I’ve been in extremely stressful situations before so I know how to handle it. Sorry, but your constant talking and questioning was a complete distraction”. The driver dittoed it. He said nothing.
The point here is that only real stress can prepare you for these situations. A flight simulator will definitely teach you technique and some skill but that resides in the cognitive part of the brain. Stress forces us to the more primitive part of the brain and we must unite the two. Someone who trained in a flight simulator will be much more qualified than someone with no training at all but still will be greatly disadvantaged in a real emergency. You really have to grasp this with your whole being and realize the truth of it. Many martial artists believe that when the time comes the ability will arise from the training; it’s nonsense. You see videos all the time on YouTube where an experience martial artist, with no real fighting background, gets absolutely crushed in a real match. Like I’ve said for years and will keep saying, you can’t train to swim standing next to the pool and you can’t train for the ocean in a swimming pool.
Please think about it when you go about your training. It can really make a difference in a life and death situation.
Spoiler Alert: they run out of gas before hitting the ground and the plane stops! Gotta love Bugs!
A few years ago I was having a conversation with Eran Bert, who is an Israeli martial artist who trains the military and elite body guards in Israel. We were talking about the distinction between sports fighting and real life and death attack. He made the comment that in real life confrontations ‘you don’t win fights, you survive them.’ This really made me think. This is a very important distinction. A fight in the ring ends with a decision or a KO and the goal is to win. If you don’t win you go home to train again. In a life and death battle you either survive it or you die. There is no sense of winning and losing, no title, no purse, no fairness, rules or glory. That you survive and continue to live is the single and primary goal.
This really changes your perspective in training. He told me that statistically it takes 12 blows to ‘soften’ an opponent before the final strikes. The adrenaline is so high and the endorphins so strong that the body can take a tremendous amount of injury before it fails. People who do not train for this level of intensity will not succeed in battle. It’s really a scary premise when you think about it. After a long talk about the statistical odds in a real fight I said to him, “You just don’t want me to sleep at night, do you?” He laughed.
The reality is that this brings your approach to training to a whole new level. I am talking martial arts here, not sport fighting. Here you use whatever means necessary to win; there is nothing ‘fair’ or clean here. I’ve spent thirty years of my life around the world’s best boxers and martial artists and have total respect for them. This does not mean that sports fighters are not tough or skilled, they are, but their skills are honed for a specific type of battle within a framework. This is not to imply that they don’t also train for real battle; they may or may not, but in sports fights there are weight classifications to balance out the matches. You don’t see a heavy weight fighting a light weight. What I am trying to convey here is that if you do not face this reality in your own training you may be woefully inadequate in actually surviving a fight. If you are attacked on the street and you are 5’3” and 123 lbs and your attacker is 6’2” and 190 lbs you don’t get to call off the attack to make it fairer. Sports fights are competitions among equals. Muggings are not.
This does not mean that you have to be brutal and vicious in your training but you do have be intelligent and effective. Special Forces go through rigorous training without killing each other. There is a way to do this in a controlled environment. It is my contention that most people that train in martial arts in the US really don’t want to confront the harsh realities of violence and what it takes to survive. They want to be comforted and assured that what they practice in the school will give them a guaranteed win in a fight. I’ve seen instructors tell their class ‘this works, you will be safe with what we are teaching’. I’ve observed many classes in different schools where the students, especially in women’s self-defense classes, think they have power and skill but they really don’t. What they are being taught might work in the controlled environment of a class but not on the street. It’s hard to entice new students without promising these salves of safety. On the other hand, it is dangerous to have a false sense of security. Years ago, I was invited to watch a women’s self-defense class at a local university. The teacher brought in volunteer male students to work with the women to make it more realistic. I thought this was a noble but flawed idea. Every technique the women used worked on these guys. From breaking holds to delivering blows, they all worked. I was asked what I thought about the class. They were practicing breaking grabs and choke holds at the time. I asked if I might try something and the teacher agreed. I took out a twenty-dollar bill and laid it on the floor in front of the guys and said, “Whose ever hold cannot be broken can have the $20”. Not a single guys hold could be broken after that. I explained that their incentive was merely beer money while on the street the incentive was to not go to jail; a much greater incentive. The women were disheartened and the teacher annoyed but so what? Would you rather be informed or deluded?
Eran asked me why I don’t have many students and I replied, “It’s not because we are violent here, we are not at all, but I will not sugar coat reality and they don’t like that. I will not guarantee they will be safe but they will increase the odds of their safety’. His response was, “If you were in Israel you’d have a full school every night”.
I am well aware that my style of teaching causes consternation here. It’s strange because there is no violence here but telling people what really happens in a fight is not something they want to hear. Many people come to me to learn forms or secret hands that they think will protect them. They are disappointed that I don’t entertain these ideas. Some have come through my door with years of martial arts yet have no ability to stop the simplest combination of punches. “This isn’t how we did it in my school” is often their refrain when they can’t handle it. I do not condone bullying or ‘bad ass’ attitudes here, but I do condone reality checks. Can you take pressure and can you handle chaos? If not here, where will you learn it?
My parallel life is in music. If you want to join a band and say I can play guitar, good, let’s do a song together and see if you can hang. Everyone thinks they can but can they really? I’ve been around professional musicians for years. Now and then someone will show up who has played as a hobby or was in a high school rock band but that is the extent of their ability. Regardless they are full of confidence. They will ask to sit in on a jam and when the playing starts, they will invariably and immediately flounder and get lost asking, ‘what key is this in? what are the chords’? Only to hear from my friends “I thought you said you could play”? There is nothing cruel about this or condescending, just facing reality. Real musicians will immediately discern what keys it is in and the chord pattern without being informed. They can anticipate what is coming and meet it head on. This has happened before, they are used to this, it is ingrained in their playing. On the odd occasion the guest can really hang the response is simply an accepting smile or simply ‘cool man’. There is no difference between this and real combat. You will get no clues, cues or retakes. The attack will happen and your response has to be quick, effective, immediate and fierce. If you do not train for this you will not be ready for this. There is no magic!
Practice what works.
My teacher told me size doesn't matter........now I'm wondering if that's true.
After almost 50 years in martial arts I can tell you that I am vehemently against sparring……when you first begin training. Why? Because until you learn to control your flinching and fear reflexes you are not really gaining anything you're just doing everything you can to protect yourself and not get hit. You don’t learn in this situation. I’ve seen many schools start sparring within one or two days of enrolling. This is insane. You don’t start football on the gridiron or swimming by jumping in the ocean. You start in a controlled safe environment as you develop the tools to swim or run the field. If you were put in the ocean the first day you’d be in panic mode from the start. I spend a lot of time with my students when they first begin lessons teaching them to watch an attack with no interception. Hands up in front of them or by their sides and just have someone throw very controlled punches at them slowly. If the student is flinching then he is overwhelmed and fearful. We do this until there’s a comfort level involved. The student learns to watch the punches without fear. After they accomplish that they learn to evade by just moving their body, no blocking. Slipping a punch, moving side to side or tucking back just a few inches to watch the punch miss them. Again, being aware of flinching. When the student is comfortable with this then they start moving about, learning footwork to avoid being hit. Eventually they bring their hands into play to intercept and counter but not until they are able to calmly engage in the play. From here on you can step up the intensity to heavy sparring.
Sparring is absolutely necessary to learn how to fight. Shadow boxing, kata, whatever, do not teach you to fight under pressure. The stamina a real fight takes up is remarkable. You would never attempt to swim in the ocean, like a Navy Seal does, without the rigorous training to prepare for this. You cannot practice tennis against a wall and expect to play against a real competitor. You would not just train batting with a pitching machine and expect to go against a Major League pitcher; it would be suicide. So, you can in no way expect to be able to fight without sparring in real time. There is nothing like being cracked one and trying to continue to fight. Most people when struck become very self-aware and lose sight of their opponent. Then they are prey to their attacker. I was taught years ago that you need to get hit really hard and realize that it didn’t kill you to harden yourself in a fight. I personally thought that was BS when I heard it but reality opened my eyes later. I got hit many times when I first sparred and if it hurt too much I stopped the bout to recover. There was a safety net in it. A year or so into it I was sparring a guy who was a real bully, like something out of a bad movie. He hit me pretty hard and knocked me down and I stopped the match. I was weak, had no stomach for it and somewhat of a coward. Later he was sparring another guy and was pummeling him. You could see the glee in his sadistic eyes as he hit this guy. The other kid wouldn’t quit, had real guts, but was getting creamed. I went into a rage and stepped between them. The bully lit up, ‘back for more? Great!” I didn’t care what happened to me I wanted to crush him for being such a cruel person. We had a bloody bash but I bested him. He was stunned. This happened because I did not care what happened to me, I was fully determined to flatten him at any cost. This was the turning point for me in martial arts. If the first time you face this is in a life and death situation on the street you are most likely doomed. The skill doesn’t magically arise in real life as many schools teach. You have to earn it. As the saying goes ‘it’s not what you do when you get knocked down but what you do when you get up again’. To this day I do not enjoy violence at any level but I know what it takes to win a fight. I am not a fool thinking I am unbeatable; I am not young. I once told Renzo Gracie that I submit to gravity now at my age. I would have never understood what it takes if I had not sparred. RESPECTFUL sparring/training is absolutely necessary to condition the mind and body in a fight. I know nobody really wants to hear that but it’s true, not just for boxing but for all competitive physical endeavors. Practice what is real.
I've been practicing staff in the Dojo for weeks now, this lion is toast!
Every few months I get contacted by someone who wants to learn from me remotely on Skype, Messenger, WeChat or some other digital platform. They come from as far away as India and Australia and everywhere in-between. I recently got contacted from a guy in Dubai, it amazes me. I understand the desire to learn this art and that there are so few people who teach it so it seems this is the only way. This is very problematic. I know there are teachers that have online correspondence courses and it's a big deal to them but you really have to think about this intelligently. People engage your brains and intellects when it comes to topics like this and exercise rational thought. It has to do with the mystification of the arts. Tell me is there any western sport that you think you can learn online? Can you learn to box, grapple, play tennis or bowl online? How about soccer or baseball? You will undoubtedly say of course you can't learn theses but when it comes to martial arts....well that's a different story; but it's not. You can learn to play the guitar on line or paint and even speak a different language but you cannot learn something that requires reacting in real time to another person's weight, speed and mass. You can learn dance moves but you won't learn to dance with another partner. Three dimensional spatial learning can only be done in real time and real location. If you have a very strong foundation in fighting you can perhaps learn techniques to incorporate in your training but you've already got a foundation. I was working with Raul Marquez (Former-junior middle weight world champ, ex Olympian boxer) last week and I asked him to go over some pad drills with me and if he had some online and he replied, "Dude, you've just got to come to my gym in Houston, it's the only way to learn them. Come down, ok?" Yes, you can learn forms; the bane of Chinese martial arts, but you can't learn any real time application.
The obsession people have with forms amazes me although I do confess that in my youth I was a bit fascinated with them thinking, "If I only knew the 108 I could beat anyone". That train has long since left the station. Can you imagine a boxer wanting to learn a form with the proper focus, direction of qi and breathing and thinking he can fight? "Hey Floyd I'm coming after you, I learned the Heavenly Fist Boxing form online and I'm gonna own you". Of course this doesn't exist in boxing but when it comes to gungfu folks think they can learn Som Bo Gin or 18 Point or whatever and they magically have something of value. They don't, they have a dance. I'll bet on anyone with a real year of boxing or Muay Thai and put them against anyone who's done forms for ten years. There is nothing that can replace real time training and conditioning, nothing.
I had a fellow recently send me several letters about spending a week with me training. I agreed it was possible and he kept pushing me to set the dates. In one correspondence I said, " If you're coming for forms you're coming to the wrong place. It's application here not imitation". I never heard from him again. It's not that I don't know the forms it's that I don't stress them. They are like recipes for the different moves so they get catalogued and preserved. I know there are those of you reading this that are appalled thinking this dude really doesn't get it because the 'xyz golden bell form' will make you invulnerable in a fight. Well, nope and wearing an amulet around your neck won't stop a bullet or keep tigers away. But you know a story of your master's master's master that could break bricks with a dandelion and couldn't be cut with a knife. I suggest you read the history of the Boxer Rebellion and enlighten yourself.
You can't learn any contact sport online. You can learn to parrot it, imitate it but you can't learn to apply it or fight with it. You cannot stress your brain to react to a larger, quicker guy rushing you and have the proper reaction. I actually had a fellow come to me after years of training online with another mantis person and he wanted to show me his skill. He asked me to throw a punch at him and I did, without malice but with intent, and he shrieked, jumped away and shouted, "Man, you're trying to hurt me"! Duh, I am. I didn't touch him and didn't intend to but he wasn't used to aggression. Can you imagine learning baseball online and then facing a 93 mph fast ball? You'd be crying for your mom. I've said it over and over again; you cannot learn to swim standing next to the pool, you have to jump in. You can't learn from some video correspondence course. You have to touch hands and mix it up real time, free style to see what reality is. Sorry folks it's true.
A friend of mine ,who was a police officer in Philly for 30 years, once told me he hated guns and I asked why. His response was, "because they have no loyalty, they serve whoever holds them. My gun taken from my hand can be used to kill me. At least with martial arts my skill cannot be used against me; it's mine alone." So there hasn't been an easy technique that almost anyone could use and have it be effective, that is, until the ubiquitous use of the rear naked choke hold. It is easy to learn and fairly easy to apply against the uninitiated. But without the proper knowledge of its usage it is deadly. Because it cuts off oxygen to the brain it should only be applied for a few seconds but in today's undisciplined world of training many people don't realize or care how deadly this technique can be. A sheriff's deputy was just found guilty of murder in Texas because he applied it for a full three minutes and killed a man. How could anybody think that you could possibly not kill the person doing this? Where did he learn this technique and how was he so woefully ignorant of its effect? Where was any discipline displayed in the execution of this hold? Would you hold a person's head under water for three minutes and not expect them to die? It shows a total lack of knowledge or a complete disregard for human life to do this. Over and over this is happening in the public arena. A young woman was recently arrested and faces 7 years in jailed because she choked out a bouncer in a bar because she thought he smacked her butt. He didn't, her girlfriend did, now she faces the consequences. It's a deadly weapon in the hands of the unskilled. I could easily see high school kids doing this to one another in a fight and then being destroyed by the consequences. Bryant Gumbel's Real Sports on HBO did a show on the misuse of this in abusive relationships by UFC fighters. It's terrible how this hold has become so common place in American culture. Gene LeBell, one of the gods of real wrestling and grappling, will not perform this technique in demonstration on people over 50 citing that the consequences are too dangerous.
The lack of skilled training and discipline in today's martial arts is creating an environment where we are bound to have tragic events occurring regularly. This lack of knowledge is no excuse for taking someone's life and the devastating effects it has on their families. Unfortunately you can't legislate intelligence. I fear for the future regarding this.
Below are the links to real stories about this.
I know of the criticisms that MMA fighters have with traditional martial arts. They think they are often ineffective and silly. That too often is a valid argument but there are those who train to fight in the traditional arts and do it well. One of the comments I hear is that there is no art in martial arts; it's not art, it's fighting. No, fighting is fighting and martial arts are martial arts. When you just train to fight you ignore things like culture and respect that are essential to martial arts. Respect for the teacher means a familial respect, he's your parent in the art, you treat him and the other students with respect as family. It doesn't mean you can't beat him but just beating someone is not the only theme in a traditional school; developing a relationship with the world is. My teacher, Sifu Mark Foon, once said to me, "It is sad that at the end of a man's life he can only say he learned to kill but never to heal. What worth is he?"
I have been around people that live, eat and breathe MMA/martial arts and develop no other skills in life. If your school only emphasizes fighting then that is the only skill you have. How long will that serve you in life? How does that teach you how to get along in a relationship or at work? When your body starts to fail with age what have you left to live for? It's like a model who thinks her youth and good looks are going to last forever. When the inevitable changes of time come they have nothing left to fall back on. If you've been taught to develop your mind, body and overall awareness you begin to mature with age rather than to just fail with age.
The McGregor/Nurmagomedov fight to me epitomizes this stark contrast between just fighting and an art. Disclaimer: I'm a mick by ethnicity, I speak some Gaelic and I play Irish instruments. I should, by all appearances, support McGregor but I don't. He does not display honor and respect in or out of the ring. Nurmagomedov does. I know trash talking is a huge part of MMA and boxing but it thoroughly disgusts me that the arts have become so vulgar and vile. Of course what else should I expect from them but it's way over the top. When does McGregor turn it off in real life, when does he treat the world around him with respect? I don't know much about his personal life but there are so many fighters from different areas who are often abusive and mean spirited at home. I was working an MMA event and the fighters were leaving the building. There was an area roped off for the crew for pizza after their 15 hour day. Some of the fighters removed the rope and started taking the pizzas. I walked up and told them to stop, it was not for them. One shouted, "You gonna tell an MMA fighter what to do?" The others all started laughing. I answered, "Yes, get away from the tables." One guy picked up a piece of pizza , shoved in his mouth and went nose to nose with me, slobbering pizza. I did not back down. The promoter saw it and grabbed the guys. I was told that the head of the league later suspended these guys. Amazingly rude behavior entitled because they're tough? So they are the same as a gang, MS13, Hells Angels? Might makes right? What defines what is and is not acceptable behavior? What motivation do these guys have to develop anything other than rude behavior? I think the ideals of civility and respect are lost in MMA for the most part. It's just fighting with no other character development.
I saw a documentary of WW2 pilots recently. One of the pilots told a story about being in a dog fight with a Japanese Zero pilot. He damaged the Zero badly and it was falling. The Japanese pilot looked over at him and saluted him as he headed towards his death in the ocean. He respected his opponent even though they were truly mortal enemies. One of the greatest displays in respect over the years in sports is the Army/Navy game. Two opposing armed forces going for the big one. I used to watch it with my dad who has a WW2 Navy lieutenant and frogman. It was a great time between he and his friends, mostly army. The teams respected each other in success and failure. Where is that today?
I have been in martial arts for well over four decades. In my job I have worked with professional fighters for close to thirty years ranging from boxing on Friday Night Fights with Teddy Atlas to the World Series of Fighting with Bas Rutten, HBO Boxing, Showtime Boxing and others. I've trained in kung fu , karate and aikido along with some boxing. Guys like Teddy and Bas are a delight to be around and kind to everyone around them. Years ago Teddy said to me, " the difference between boxing and MMA is that the boxers respect each other and the MMA guys hate each other." I don't think that is entirely true but I get his point. I think the younger fighters coming up are very one dimensional. I worked on one of the very early UFC fights. There was a fight between a Japanese man and an American. The Japanese guy lost but at the end of the fight bowed to his opponent and said, " thank you for showing me my weaknesses, I will work on them". I was totally impressed by this act. It's been a long time since I've seen anything like it.
This is the Way for men who want to learn my strategy: Do not think dishonestly.
The Way is in training. Become acquainted with every art.
Know the Ways of all professions. Distinguish between gain and loss in worldly matters.
Develop intuitive judgment and understanding for everything. Perceive those things which cannot be seen.
Pay attention even to trifles.
Do nothing which is of no use.
I am always amazed at the BS people buy into whether it be religion or martial arts without giving it any critical thought. Martial arts, particularly Chinese ones, are rife with these characters who create their own narrative over whom they studied with and the secrets only they were entrusted with. I've seen this so many times in my life it's unbelievable. So since we can't get rid of these jokers let's take a look at how we can create our own mythological stature and become the god we were meant to be.
There are certain guidelines you should follow to do this and here are the main ones:
1) You were trained in secret.
2) You are the only one who understands this and any other student will be jealous of you so your teacher kept it secret.
3) You are benevolent because you will pass on this great wisdom that you have received.
4) You alone control its dissemination.
5) The way you received it cannot be traced back because the mysterious teacher disappeared or the venerated master died.
6) Your timeline cannot be traced or substantiated. ( Don't screw this one up because it will really bite you in the arse)
If your starting a religion or a cult you start with : I was meditating in the (pick one) forest, desert, ocean , under a water fall, temple... when I was approached by (pick one): a mysterious stranger, an angel, overcome by a piercing light, who (pick one): infused me with wisdom, gave me a sacred script that only I can read, taught me the true secrets of life, showed me a vision of (pick one): heaven, the future, the universe, my path....and told me I am the only one who can help you so now I will share it with you ....at some cost of course.
So the martial arts version goes like this:
As a kid you were either intuitive, rescued from a fight or amazingly brave and then one day someone approached you and said, "Go study the way of" (pick one): the samurai, the mantis, the dragon, the Eight Immortals, etc ...because you are special and can grasp it. Then you were singled out by either: the mysterious master who wandered out of the woods or jungle or you were pulled aside by a famous master who said, "Ah clotheshopper you alone of all of my students understands what I am teaching and I will secretly impart them to you because my long time students will become jealous of you." So the students that spent years at the master's feet got nothing but you, in your divine greatness and penultimate humbleness, were given all of the art it in a few short months: in the broom closet or wood shed. If this didn't happen in a temple then you were hiking the mysterious Fa King Jok mountain where encountered 3 monks as you ascended and each imparted to you their unique wisdom with the one at the top being the most developed. Of course they've been standing there for years just waiting for someone to come along. Just waiting and waiting and Godot never showed up I guess. God knows how they lived, especially the one at the top where there's no vegetation but maybe they got Uber meals to deliver, you never know. These monks are resourceful dudes.
Now it's your turn to reveal it to the world but you've got to time this so the real master can't refute it because he's either; dead or moved back to Tibet and is in a meditative state or a demented coma. Now no one can prove this didn't happen and it doesn't matter that you can't prove it did. Oh and you've been approached by either the special forces, the police or some international security agency to teach their members. You declined because they are not spiritual enough or you accepted to teach the elite in private, perhaps in the Fortress of Solitude when Kal-el isn't using it. Bring a coat I hear it's really chilly there.
When you impart this to others please clasp your hands and have a huge benevolent grin on your face, talk about how you used to fight but don't anymore and how you just want to pass on your great knowledge. Don't forget to include how you are sought after from far and wide and how precious your time is.
In one such case that I was personally involved with the 'Deemed Master' said he was having phone conversations with the grand master up until his death where he promised to meet him in Nirvana in the future. At this time the master gave him the lineage and the 'direct transmission' of the deepest state of the art. Problem was that this knucklehead did not know that the grand master was unable to speak at the time this supposedly happened. I know this because I and others were at his bedside. Another time a Chosen Master had a time line of all the people he studied with and his secret time in the temple posted on his wall with the time he spent at each. He had forgotten he told me he was 27 years old. This was a big mistake because when I tallied his time line he was in the Special Forces when he was six years old and partook in a great wrestling tournament when he was eight. He promptly walked away when he realized the corner he was backed into. Remember I used his chart and timeline that HE had posted. Simple arithmetic is such a wonderful skill to have. Stay in school kids!
Once at a meal with another of a group of "The Masters" one was talking about his time in some of the classic tournaments in NYC in the mid 1960's. I'm no spring chicken but at the time of those tournaments I was 13 learning how to defend myself from the dreaded Nun Yardstick style from which I still have scars today (literally). One of the fellows at the table asked this fellow how old he was, two years older than me, and the questioner mouthed to me 'do the math'. I did. There was no way he was in NYC at that time fighting adults when he was 15.
Regardless, study this model and prepare to present yourself as the new, improved, blessed master of The Spinning Gold Mantis, The Iron Monkey Paw, the Descending Eagle, Fire Fist Nun or The Southern Mantis Buddha Palm because no one can prove you aren't and you can't prove you are......unless of course you, the student, actually do some research instead of believing these hucksters. Yeah, like that's going to happen!
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