Saturday, August 31, 2013

A Teenaged White Belt Looks at Fifty Part One

  So yes, I have been fortunate enough to have been on this planet for fifty years! That's five decades, two score and ten years, or half a century, depending on how you look at it. For about forty of those years I have been training in some form of martial art, combat sport, or self protection method.

Today I wanted to do a sort of remembrance / collection of random thoughts of observations I have made through the years.  As the saying goes, maybe its because I'm older, maybe its my hormones, or maybe its my need to express my will, but here is my chain of "I used to walk two miles uphill in the Puerto Rican snow two school both ways " and my collective "Get. Off. My. Lawn!" In my best "Clint"voice, of my martial arts life.


Martial arts classes when I was young were ninety minutes to two hours in duration. They included a thorough warm up and calisthenics routine, martial arts practice, more calisthenics at the end and some form of cool down or meditation before closing out. This standard was followed in Judo, Tae Kwon Do, and the Chinese Martial Art of Pa Kua Chang. I learned all these arts from different instructors at different locations during different times in my youth, but it is uncanny how their class time formats were nearly identical.


Basics, basics, basics! The meat of every class was the fundamentals. In Judo it was Uchikomi (set up to throw without completing) for dozens of repetitions daily, then the fundamental throws were practiced fully. In Tae Kwon Do it was walking drills up and down the training room floor while performing, all the blocks, all the hand strikes, and finally all the kicks.  Practice like this is very likely to bore the average student today, but we seemed to thrive on it. My mind had too much work to do to be bored. I had to move more precisely, more accurately, faster etc.


All ranks trained together. This is still not typical nowadays. In every single class you had the opportunity to interact and train with someone better than you, someone equally skilled, and someone with less experience. This means you learned three different perspective on your behavior during sparring, and general practice. You learned respect for your seniors, how to bring the best out in your peers, and how to take care of your juniors.


What I most remember out of those experiences is that although each one of the traditional martial arts I practiced in my youth were narrow in scope (as traditional martial arts always are) all the teachers tended to be superb examples of their particular arts, highly skilled knowledgeable and dedicated to their chosen path. I studied more than the arts I mentioned above but always found the commonalities in format and quality to be the same.


My first experience with a school that is run more like today's modern storefront schools was in the early '80s. The place was called...wait for it... Chuck Norris Karate Institute. It was one of the last (perhaps THE last) surviving schools of a franchise developed by the martial arts icon.  Being that, along with Bruce Lee, he was one of my idols, I just had to sign up!
The classes were shorter, but I still found them challenging. The instructors now seemed more like my friends rather than my demanding teachers. I did notice something, the mats were packed. So much that the classes were separated by rank, and they had two training rooms going!
This is also where I first met the hobbyist or recreational martial artists.  These were people that, although not very talented or focused on their development, they simply seemed to enjoy their time in class and kept coming back every night. I also noticed that although it may have taken them longer to reach I high level of skill, a lot of them did just because they showed up consistently.


Shortly after my time at the Chuck Norris school I was drafted to the US Navy Tae Kwon Do team.
It was there that I met William "Doug" Baldwin probably the most unusual and atypical Martial Arts instructor I ever had, and he certainly was very influential.
He was tall, I would say about 6'1" or 2", and he was round!  I mean really round, a big round Santa face, a big round barrel chest and a big round Santa belly. He had one of the thickest southern country accents I ever encountered. To use today's vernacular, you would describe him as a big fat redneck.
But he was fast and graceful!  And I don't mean fast and graceful from the point of view of a young impressionable kid, or students being kind to their instructor. He would spar anyone and everyone (often because most people would look at him and think he was old and fat and had no skill so they would challenge him directly, or with disdainful looks) and he would give them a thorough bashing within the agreed rules selected by the challengers.
Not only was his skill impressive despite his outward appearance, so were his teaching and coaching skills. Not only did I learn from him how to improve my TKD but also I learned from him a series of exercises in the early 80s that I would only see performed about 16 years later in Russian martial arts. Whatever the origin of the exercise doesn't matter. The fact that I learned the from chubby yet extremely fast and graceful "Doug" is unforgettable to me.


So what to learn from all of this?
1. More practice time makes you better and sometimes tougher
2. Spending more time on basics is probably better than chasing magic in advanced techniques
3. Being bored in training is not necessarily a bad thing but its mostly a choice
4. Train with everyone, people that are better, the same, and not as good as you, you will learn from them all.
5. Famous people can bring about interesting changes in the paradigm of martial arts training
6. Not everyone that trains in martial arts wants to be the next Chuck Norris, or Bruce Lee, or Anderson Sliva. Some people just want to have fun and become better versions of themselves and that's is perfectly fine.

In part two I will talk about boxing and kickboxing gyms and clubs, the Non classical Mess that Jeet Kune Do Became, training with "famous" people in the Martial Art, Combat Sport, and Reality Based Self Defense World, and the state of MMA today.

Tony Torres
Copyright Tony Torres

No comments:

Post a Comment