Monday, July 28, 2008

Does it work?

You’ve just learned a brutal looking technique. Does it work? Just because it works in class, doesn’t mean it will work on the street, down a back alley, where the stakes are higher, when your opponent is less cooperative and more resolved.

I’ve seen a number of techniques which worked wonderfully in class, but when I went to apply them in a real world situation, they didn’t work so well. Only my training to continue with something else kept me in control of the situation. After awhile, I developed an instinct to determine if a technique would work on the street.

There are a number of factors to consider--the size of the man is one. Strength can sometimes overcome a good technique. You may have great martial arts skills, but I wouldn’t advise you to go in the woods and attempt your favorite combination on a berate bear--even if the bear has no rank. Some behemoth guy you may be facing may be as mean as a bear and break you up while you are trying to twist, lock, or spin him away. You better have an effective, precise, and damaging technique to deliver or suffer the consequences.

Believe it or not, some techniques won’t work on a drunk person as well as they do on a sober one. I know from experience. I tried a nice wrist twist and lock on an inebriated patron when I was managing a nightclub. It didn’t work so well. It worked so many times before on other people. Had no effect on the drinker except to make him ask what I was doing. I had to continue to a better and more effective technique to get him out of the club.

A person with a lot of adrenaline rushing through their system will be able to withstand more pain than normal, so those blows may not deter him from attacking. Even dropping an elbow to the spine of an attacker, might not work if he is pumped up and determined. I’ve witnessed it too many times. They may hurt later, but get you then, if you are not careful.

In class, the person is your partner, helping you learn the technique. In the street, they aren’t going to help you do anything but hit the ground and bleed. Now you need timing and distance appreciation to counter what your attacker is doing while applying your own attack. This is not a coordinated dance, this is a fight.

This is why you need to train and work on doing damage with the technique. You need to condition your weapons so they are more effective. Make that makawara your constant companion, so when you punch or kick, extreme damage can be done.

Sometimes you should go to a tournament with the goal to test certain techniques, not the goal of winning. If your techniques are effective, winning will be a by-product of your success. In fact, that should really be why you go to a tournament, to test your techniques and their effectiveness. How else will you know how they really work, unless you get into a real fight and take the gamble then?

Friday, July 18, 2008

I recently was honored and blessed to receive a phone call from Kyoshi Frank Hargrove. If you do not know his exciting and incredible history, how he helped pioneer martial arts in Hampton Roads, the legacy he built, and the achievements he earned through dedicated work, I hope you will treat yourself to a visit to his site at

We had a long and enjoyable discussion on many matters, much history, shared acquaintances and interests. As those who have traversed a road of martial arts often do, we discussed the state of affairs in today’s martial arts.

Kyoshi Hargrove said something which stuck with me through the night. He said that many of today’s students aren’t motivated to put in the extra work required to achieve excellence because things are too easy now. That struck a chord with me and resounded through my very being. If you read about Frank Hargrove’s journey through martial arts, you will understand hard work. If you attended school and learned under his good friend Grandmaster Harold Hankins, you can appreciate hard work.

It takes motivation, usually self-induced, and often inspired motivation, to overcome difficulties. If you are forced to work hard for something, you appreciate it more. My own father taught me, “if it is worth having, it is worth working hard to get it.” My father believed in you earning your way.

Today’s students train on matted floors in air conditioned buildings. This is not to say they don’t work hard in their dojo/dojang, but compare it to training on a wooden floor where the only time it was cool was in the winter and the only time it was warm, was in the summer' where the mirrors and windows got fogged up year round and the floor was wet with sweat even when it was freezing outside. That was the comfort we enjoyed at 537 W. 35th Street.

Compare that to the luxurious concrete floor Harold Hankins, Leon Nicholson, Gaylord Patterson, and the rest of the brave class had at the old YMCA where Mitake and Hayashi defined the meaning of the phrase, “brutal training.” On special occasions, they would journey to the roof tops, in their customary bare feet, to train on the rocks which covered the roof. They had to be motivated to learn in order to overcome that ordeal because those teachers were truly from the old school, where pain and suffering were expected and delivered constantly.

When a group of students overcome and survive intensive training, they earn a sense of accomplishment and confidence which you cannot achieve if things come too easily. Today, people want the rank and the knowledge, but don’t want to grind out the effort it takes to excel and earn what it takes to achieve true skill.

If you are a student, push your teacher to give you more। You do not have to be disrespectful about it. You can demand it with your dedication and your performance. But push him to give you some of what he probably endured to earn what he got. Then push yourself to go beyond what he got. You may regret that choice temporarily, while you are earning your knowledge and skill, but you will appreciate it after you have endured the present you will receive. Then you will appreciate the art and science of the martial arts class you are taking. You will understand that the secret to excellence is hard, proper, constant, and consistent work. Then you will be on your way to becoming a true martial artist and not just someone with a belt.