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Friday, July 20, 2012
Monday, September 21, 2009
Years before The Ultimate Fighter and pay-per-view MMA specials, talk-show host Jerry Springer pioneered “reality” fighting entertainment.
While Jerry Springer’s talk show environment is obviously somewhat contrived, his guests’ fighting technique is in other respects spontaneous and natural. So how do the lessons taught in the average martial arts dojo compare to combat performances on Jerry Springer?
Dojo Fantasy: There are no rules in a real fight.
Jerry Springer Reality: Violence is a form of communication.
Analysis: Most animals naturally distinguish between fighting and killing. The purpose of fighting is not to maim or kill the opponent, but to establish a social hierarchy. Understanding this distinction is crucial for successful self-defense.
Jerry’s guests know they are playing a game: they pull their punches, and sometimes even smile and laugh during one of their pre-arranged scuffles. This is not to say such grudge matches are completely safe; however, failing to honor the unspoken rules of limited engagement can result in severe punishment, from the other principals, the crowd of observers, and society at large.
Dojo Fantasy: A fight consists of a series of offensive and defensive techniques, executed in turn.
Jerry Springer Reality: Everybody attacks, all at once.
Analysis: The best defense is to attack the opponent’s potential, whereas the worst defense is to resist the opponent’s attack. In this respect, Jerry’s brawlers show more intelligence than the average dojo strategist.
You rarely see guests attempt to block a punch or kick. Instead, they tend to stand far enough away that blows cannot reach them, while waiting for an opportune time to rush in for a clinch. While inside, they manhandle each other for a few seconds, waiting for the bodyguards break it up. Finally, they repeat the entire sequence again, and then go to commercial break.
Dojo Fantasy: A fight starts and ends with two participants.
Jerry Springer Reality: If you stand (or lay) still for even one moment, you will be surrounded, and you will be finished.
Analysis: Despite the constant guests’ constant squabbling, serious injuries appear to be rare. This must be in part due to the show’s large and ever-present security team.
After the producers encourage and facilitate each fight, the security team is expected to allow it, and then stop to it before it gets too ugly. And at this task, they are remarkably effective. Two or three security guards surround each of the freak show fighters, and pull them apart.
The take-away lesson is that you should never walk down the street without a team of security guards. If you can’t hire a bodyguard service, do the next best thing, and never allow yourself to be surrounded by hostile strangers.
~武德为首, Martial Art Virtue comes first
Saturday, September 19, 2009
- Call ahead. Schools sometimes shut down for special occasions, have instructors call out sick, or run into other logistical issues that make it difficult for them to accommodate visitors. Some schools just like to know you're coming. Before you make the trip, make sure it's going to be worth it.
- Watch a full class. It's worth watching from the outside before you dive in. You may see things from the outside that you won't notice on the inside.
- If you can, take a free lesson. Just as there are things you cannot notice without watching, there are things you can't feel until you experience them. Yes, this may require two trips. It's worth it.
- Watch the students move. It's very easy to get wrapped up in watching the instructor's performance, but remember that you are not the instructor. While the instructor may be amazing, if she can't impart that amazing skill to any of her students, she may not be the instructor for you.
- Pay attention to the instructor's teaching style. Is it inspiring? Abrasive? Gentle? Strict? Abusive? How would you feel about learning under this kind of coaching? (Note: strict training does not equal bad training. Some people learn very well in under tough, strict, coaching. Just know if you are one of them or not.)
- Ask questions. Not just of the instructors, but of the students, and the staff. Now is the time to get down to brass tacks about whatever concerns you have.
- Sign up sight unseen. Experience as much as possible before you sign on the dotted line. A good sales person will sell you on the first school you visit, but make sure you check out all of your options before you make a final decision. Buyer's remorse is awful when it's over something like a gym membership.
- Challenge anyone. Asking questions is fine, and appropriate. Telling the instructor about how you think you could beat him up, or how his technique isn't as good as that guy you saw on youtube is needlessly antagonistic. If you like what you see, great. If you don't, keep it to yourself, be gracious, and leave.
- Just watch the instructor. Again, the instructor should look good at what they do (barring some sort of physical impediment). Watch the students. You may want to move like the instructor, but the students are the ones you're going to move like first.
- Interrupt the class. Save your questions until either before or after the training session. If someone comes to speak with you during the training session, that's fine, but don't interfere with other people's training time.
- Stay longer than you have to. If you see something that you find so off putting that you don't want to stay any longer, then just go. But again, do so politely. Don't make a scene about it.
Basically, pay attention, ask questions, and be polite. You are a guest, but you're also a business prospect. There should be enough respect on both sides to go around.
~武德为首, Martial Art Virtue comes first
Thursday, September 17, 2009
I used to be a debunker. It was an attempt at establishing some form of self identity. When I saw a Taekwondo fighter doing high kicks I would think to myself: “see that’s not practical for the street. His groin is open and he might slip.” Debunked. Next.
If I saw someone who liked to go to the ground I would assure myself: “see that’s a mistake because there might be other bad guys. You never want to go to the ground if you can avoid it. Besides, that statistic about 90% of all fights going to the ground is greatly exaggerated.” Debunked. I win.
Even though my analysis had merit, I was using it as an excuse to close my mind. I was scared of the vastness and complexity of the martial arts. Instead of trying to learn about people and styles that I had no experience in, I simply chose to dismiss them.
In our martial training, there is a great fog to wade through. The fog is there because we each have to develop as individuals and complete artists. Some people choose not to explore, and decide simply to build walls around themselves based on the limited knowledge they have. This shields them from the uncertainty and scope of martial exploration. A few years ago I started constructing my walls, but I’d like to explain how I ultimately decided to tear them down (and how you can too).
Despite the closed-mindedness I displayed in previous years, I’m not angry at myself. I was young both in age and experience and it is impossible to understand the martial arts in a broad sense early on. In fact, comprehending how all the martial arts work together is one of the great ongoing challenges that I don’t think I’ll ever truly lock down.
I’m not angry because I was able to eventually turn my debunking habits into healthy learning (which we will slowly define). A couple of factors helped me turn that corner. First, I took on a full time teaching role at a young age. Just as my walls started to go up, I was forced to discuss concepts with students much more world experienced than me. All of my concrete solutions had to stand up to their inquiries and stories about how real violence happened to them. Since I was young, I didn’t have all the answers already planned out, as opposed to someone well entrenched in their box.
Second, I was an avid reader. Even though I started as most people do with pop culture books and movies (Enter the Dragon, The Princess Bride, etc), I quickly switched over to instructional books. Some books spoke to me immediately, like “Living the Martial Way”. Other books utterly confused me, in a good way, like “Book of Five Rings”.
Third, through our annual training events, I was exposed to real practitioners of different styles. I got to see (and still do get to see) top martial artists go about their business and explain their concepts. It was through one of the seminars by George Alexander and Rick Zondlo that I ultimately decided to study swordsmanship, which has been invaluable in increasing my awareness of the broader aspects of martial art technique and mindset.
Emptying the Cup
Joe Hyams tells an excellent story in his book “Zen in the Martial Arts”. I’d like to take a quick excerpt. This is a story Bruce Lee told Joe during their first training session together:
“Let me tell you a story my sifu told me. It is about the Japanese Zen master who received a university professor who came to inquire about Zen. It was obvious to the master from the start of the conversation that the professor was not so much interested in learning about Zen as he was in impressing the master with his own opinions and knowledge. The master listened patiently and finally suggested they have tea. The master poured his visitor’s cup full and then kept on pouring.
The professor watched the cup overflowing until he could no longer restrain himself. ‘The cup is overfull, no more will go in.’
‘Like this cup, you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?’” – Zen in the Martial Arts
When I was debunking people, it was because my cup was full of my own opinions. True learning is allowing yourself to empty that cup and honestly listen to other people. Of course, that doesn’t mean you have to blindly accept what’s given to you.
“This does not mean that Bruce prevented me from applying a critical mind to his teaching. In fact, he welcomed discussion, even argument. But when challenged too long on a point his reply was always, ‘at least empty your cup and try.’”
I still think my evaluations about taekwondo and ground fighting had merit. Kicking high DOES open up your groin, and is risky on certain surfaces. But what if you have an opponent who constantly keeps his guard down. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a devastating high technique to finish things quickly? Furthermore, who walks around on ice and slippery gravel all day?
If given the option, I wouldn’t want to take a fight to the ground. It’s risky because there might be other assailants to deal with, and room for proper ground technique is always a factor. However, sometimes you aren’t given an option. If you get bull rushed from behind and end up on the ground, no amount of straight punch practice is going to get you out of that situation.
Learning Means a Critical But Open Mind
It’s my belief that every practitioner should try to learn with an empty cup. It can be very scary to do so because the realm of martial arts is so vast. It takes decades to become competent in just one style, let along being open to other styles. There is also the risk of becoming too eclectic and ‘watering down’ your core style. This occurs when people loss the ability to separate the original intent of their style with their own personal findings (or if they are trying to make up their own system).
I believe having a core style, and being faithful to it, is critical to success. However, in my personal experience, considering outside sources has served to strengthen my good techniques and improve my bad ones along with broadening my general comprehension. Using a critical mind to assess both the valuable and not-so-valuable in other methods has actually increased my ability to spot nonsense in the arts, as opposed to making me blind to it.
Why the Walls?
Why is it so common and easy for martial artists to put up walls?
The first reason is sheer laziness. The less we have to think about other stuff the better. Why not just take what’s spoon fed to us and accept it as ‘the best’ way to do whatever?
The second is fear. Fear that years spent in training might have been a waste. That the ultimate techniques promised early on aren’t going to be delivered as neatly as advertised, and that there may have to be a starting over – an emptying of the cup.
The third is business. Many school owners are relying on profits coming in from students, so why would they bother to send those students elsewhere to learn? If they promise the moon and stars, then the student will likely stick around for awhile before getting bored and moving on (or drinking the koolaid completely and staying for the long haul).
Finally, martial arts is an absurdly political realm. People’s egos demand that they stand apart from everyone else, and that their method for doing things is unequivocally better than every other way. They simply can’t bring themselves to admit that someone else might know better. Or, if there are other practitioners who are their “enemies”, they might disparage that style just to get back at the individual.
It’s messy, but you don’t have to contribute to the mess. Use an open mind toward other martial artists and respect what they have to say, even if you come to the ultimate conclusion that you don’t intend to agree with their opinions. Recognize bogus martial arts for what they are, but be careful not to dismiss foreign concepts before you’ve given them an honest shake.
Ultimately you might come to agree with something I believe – the fog is the fun part!
~武德为首, Martial Art Virtue comes first
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
For decades, boxing reigned as king of the sparing sports. Crowds from around the world would cheer for their favorite heavy hitters, like Muhammad Ali, George Foreman and Mike Tyson. But despite paving the way for the new generation of fighting sports, boxing has taken a real hit in fans and ratings to the new breed, mixed martial arts. Here’s why…
5. No Headkicks
Jabs and hooks are all well and good but what is the fun in dancing around the ring if the worry of getting kicked in the ear isn’t there? Sure guys like Mike Tyson and Lennox Lewis were heavy hitters, but would they be so confident in their uppercuts if they had to watch out for a Mirko Cro Cop head kick the entire fight?
4. No Submissions
Floyd Mayweather can throw down with the best of them, but can he get out of a Matt Hughes rear naked choke or a BJ Penn kimura? It’s all fun and games in boxing because there’s no risk of having your arm pulled out of its socket by Demian Maia.
3. No Takedowns or Slams
Wladimir Klitschko can punch out anybody. But can he take a huge takedown or a body slam from Brock Lesnar? Let’s see how powerful those fists are when Brock is jamming his head into the octagon cage.
2. 8 Oz. Padded Gloves
Manny Pacquiao can throw jabs all he wants because the only risk is getting a padded fist in return. Try going up against a guy with 4 Oz. gloves and see if you don’t get your jaw dislocated by Anderson Silva like Forrest Griffin did.
1. No More Stars
The Lennox Lewis-Evander Holyfield-Mike Tyson era was really boxing’s last gasp for air. Today, there are seldom any household names to be found in boxing whereas the UFC is full of guys like Anderson Silva, Chuck Liddell, Randy Couture, Brock Lesnar, Matt Hughes, Georges St. Pierre, etc.
~武德为首, Martial Art Virtue comes first