My Life in the Martial Arts

( – promoted by buhdydharma )

My father was a soldier and a drill instructor who trained briefly with a Japanese jujitsu master during WWII in preparation for teaching hand-to-hand combat to Army GIs. He taught my two brothers and me some basic techniques so that we might have an edge in dealing with schoolyard bullies – and the training stood me in good stead. Learn from the best self defense experts in Santa Clarita for BJJ ( Brazilian Jiu Jitsu ) at the Ekata Training Center if you want to ensure your children are well protected in the schoolyard. I certainly used what he taught me on more than one occasion to inject a little homegrown justice into an unpleasant situation. Those experiences left me with two lasting gifts, an antipathy for bullies and a love for the martial arts. If you also happen to be the latter, you may want to click here for MMA reviews, as well as product reviews, such as training bags, MMA / boxing gloves, as well as much more.

I began formal training in Judo at age eleven on the Army base at Ft. Benning, Georgia where I trained for a year. I continued my training in Paris and for a brief time competed on the French National Judo Team as a brown belt (sankyu).

Judo---rude-awakening

When my father retired from the Army, we moved from Paris to Huntsville, Alabama. To compound the culture shock I could not find a martial arts school there, so my martial arts training took a hiatus of about 6 years. I was so busy becoming and being a hippie that I hardly noticed.

When I landed in prison at age 19, I found that I had a renewed interest in the arts. I looked into an mma gym, and found a lot of use from people who went there. Even what little I knew was suddenly of real value. I was eventually able to trade judo lessons to a guy who had a purple belt in tae kwon do for basic training in the Korean form of karate. I eventually met a guy with a 5th degree black belt in hapkido, a similar but somewhat more complicated form of Korean karate. Hapkido is more like Korean jujitsu in that it emphasizes grappling techniques, throws, and takedowns but also includes all the basic kicking, punching and striking techniques favored in tae kwon do. Hapkido practitioners joke that tae kwon do is hapkido basics (and there is some truth to that).

I trained in hapkido for 5 years and passed my first-degree black belt exam shortly after my release from prison in 1978.

Flying-side-kick-red-belt

At that I point I started competing in regional tournaments which led to national tournaments. I did this for five or six years and had a lot of fun doing it – and met a lot of interesting people.

Sparring-practice-at-Karate-Camp

There are two basic forms of martial arts competition, forms competition, also known by the Japanese term kata, and free fighting, a.k.a. point fighting, sparring or by the Japanese term kumite (coo-mit-tae). There is also weapons (forms) competition and, increasingly, things like musical forms or two or more person forms competition, but these are basically variations on a theme.

Forms competition is where you compete solo performing a choreographed series of offensive and defensive movements – sort of a dance comprised of martial arts movements. You are then rated by a panel of judges, just like diving or figure skating.

Forms-Competition

While I always admired the forms competition the most, for it’s tradition, esthetics and purity of technique, I had more success as a fighter.

kumite

Joe-Corley

The term point fighting derives from the rule requiring controlled contact only. IOWs, fighter’s are awarded points based on controlled delivery of technique. You can be disqualified for excessive contact. This is especially enforced in lower ranks to prevent injury, and is progressively less strictly enforced as the rank and experience of the fighters increases. At the adult black belt level, anything short of brutal attempts to injure an opponent are generally acceptable, because as a black belt you’re supposed to be able to take it. A spinning elbow to the head, say, or a particularly vicious blow can still get you disqualified though. Martial artists are also expected to be able to control their technique.

So while it appears to be a game of high-speed tag, it can get pretty rough. I competed like this for five or six years and was at one point the 8th rated male heavyweight in the Southeastern region. Not world-class but sufficient to bring me into the orbit of some truly world-class martial artists.

Fighting in a regional tournament in Murphreesboro, Tennessee in 1981, I had an exciting bout with the guy who was then rated the number 1 fighter in the Southeastern region and came within a hair of beating him – but he squeaked out the victory in overtime . The fight drew the attention of Joe Corley and his partner Larry Black, martial arts luminaries from Atlanta. They approached me after the fight and recruited me to come teach for them in Atlanta and compete on the Joe Corley team (we wore confederate gray uniforms – yeehaa!). It was quite an honor for me.

So I moved from my home in Huntsville, Alabama to Atlanta where I got to train with a number of world champions like Richard Jackson, Keith Vitali, and Jeff Glover. I even got to meet and become friends with one of my martial arts idols, Bill “Superfoot” Wallace.

Me-and-Superfoot_Bill-Wallace-500px

Bill was the middleweight champion of the world in full-contact karate for eight years, retiring undefeated. He is one of the best martial artists America has produced. Bill was also Elvis Presley’s karate instructor and bodyguard for a time. He tells some funny stories about Elvis, but I won’t get into that here.

Bill also holds a black belt in judo and a master’s degree in kinesthesiology (the study of the movement of muscles and joints) from Memphis State University. His flexibility is a wonder to behold. I’ve seen him do a Chinese split between two folding chairs and lower his butt well beneath the level of his ankles splayed out to either side. His flexibility and strength were key to his brilliance as a kicker.

Known to the karate world simply as “Superfoot,” symbolic of his awesome left leg, which was once clocked in excess of 60 mph, Wallace left a string of battered and bruised bodies along the martial arts fighting trail.

He used his foot as others would use their hands, faking opponents with two or three rapid fake kicks and following with one solid knockout technique. His power was amazing, his precision astounding.

Superfoot.com

I actually fought Bill once. I was an instructor at Joe Corley’s headquarters studio in the Buckhead section of Atlanta. It was just days before the annual Battle of Atlanta and martial arts superstars were rolling into town from all over the country. So Bill walks in and says he wants to fight every black belt there – there were six or seven of us. So he did, taking us one at a time. We all watched transfixed as he thrashed everybody we had. He nearly kicked one guy through a wall. He had the strength of two or three men.

He was such as dominant figure in martial arts that Black Belt magazine, the bible of [martial arts] industry publications, named him to its Hall of Fame three times in seven years – twice as “Competitor of the Year” and once as “Man of the Year.”

Superfoot.com

When it came my time to fight him, I focused on minimizing the damage to myself and played a highly elusive defensive game. He only caught me with a few hard licks (unlike all the other unfortunate souls that day), but he ran me all over the studio. He later told Joe Corley I was the only intelligent guy he had because I had the sense to run like hell. Everybody else wore their black eyes and bruises for days. I was unmarked (nearly broke a few ribs though).

Bill also appeared in seven movies and did bodyguard work with a number of Hollywood celebrities. He will long be remembered as the guy who found John Belushi dead from a heroin overdose in 1982.

* * *

I eventually married and settled down, moved back to Huntsville and found myself with a real job (on the Hubble Space Telescope project) and responsibilities. I went from teaching full time to part time and eventually to no time at all.

My son Daniel was born in 1990. I didn’t push martial arts on him but when he got old enough and asked to learn I took him to the best school I could find, the Chinese Shaolin Center and signed him up. I signed up with him. Together we studied Shaolin kung fu. Our Sifu (teacher) was Michael Reid, former linebacker for the Atlanta Falcons.

Shaolin-kung-fu-class

For me, entering the formal study of Shaolin kung fu was like a rock n’ roller going back to school to study classical music. The 72 arts of the Shaolin were the earliest of the Asian martial arts and form the basis of all that followed. It all started at the Shaolin temple.

Here is a demonstration by a couple of Shaolin monks showing what can be achieved through intense training from childhood.

Daniel and I took different tracks, he took the external track and I took the internal track. I could do this because of my experience but Daniel needed to follow the external track first. Of the 72 arts of the Shaolin, some are considered ‘hard’ and rely on physical strength (the external) and some are ‘soft’ and rely on knowledge and inner strength (the internal). Generally speaking, the external arts are considered basic and the internal advanced.

Please forgive the quality of this photo. The original stuck to the glass in its frame, and being fresh out of Photo Release I had to scan it through the glass.

Father-and-son-kung-fu

My course of study included the Yang Style Tai Chi Chuan 64-Move Long Form, Pa Kua Chang (Eight Changes of the Palm), Tai Chi Broad Sword, Yin Yang Dagger, the 49 postures of the I Chin Ching, Hou Tian Chi Breathing, and Yueh Fei’s 18 Continuous Postures. Of these I loved Tai Chi the best (although Pa Kua was also most interesting), and the sword arts did get me interested in other sword-based martial arts. I learnt that Katana Sale offers and discounts on various blades, and I was curious, but Tai Chi stuck with me.

If you’ve never seen really good Tai Chi before, behold a true master:

Tai Chi is well suited for old codgers like me as it is very low impact, and easy on the arthritis, but it is surprisingly difficult to do. Tai Chi masters always make it look deceptively easy. To perform with the mastery of the woman in the video takes a lifetime of dedicated practice.

These days Daniel pursues kung fu on his own – I can’t keep up with him anymore. I mostly just do my tai chi and reminisce.

Some final thoughts on the Martial Arts:

Although I participated in tournaments and all the rest of it, I was always put off by the commercialization and Americanization of the arts. My early judo study was very traditional and much more satisfying in many ways. Married to the profit motive and competitive ethic, the traditional Asian martial arts became just another form of sport and just another hustle – just another way to turn a buck. Capitalism and the shallowness of American thought never met a good thing from the East that it couldn’t fuck up. Instead of having to beg for admission to a good school, or having to go to great lengths to prove oneself worthy of instruction, now you just sign the contract, write a check and you’re in. Once upon a time there were only white belts and black belts. White meant you were a student, black meant you were a serious student. Karate had to come to America to acquire all the colors of the rainbow – each exam a separate charge of course.

My participation in the bastardized arts was unavoidable. To a very large extent, except for small isolated pockets of tradition (as I have found in the Chinese Shaolin Center), it was the only game in town. I never lived for the tournaments the way a lot of my colleagues did, I just considered them a good way to challenge myself. Matching one’s skills against a well-trained opponent is a sure way to improve.

Traditionally the arts were viewed as a way to gentleness through strength. The Shaolin monks were pacifists who could no longer bear to watch peasants being bullied by armed and vicious bandits. They decided that to be true to their compassion for the people they needed to find the means to resist the violent predations common in their day. They needed a way to protect the weak from the strong. Thus the arts were born out of compassion and a sense of responsibility – and that is what the true practice and mastery of the martial arts is all about.

Gandhi-Advises-Violence

30 comments

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    • OPOL on June 29, 2008 at 12:19 am
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  1. even 5 seconds in a DD free speech thread.

    • Viet71 on June 29, 2008 at 1:55 am

    you are good.

    You have learned one-on-one fighting skills.

    But the battle for each American is not against one another American.  And it’s not physical.

    The battle is for America, an ideal.

    • srkp23 on June 29, 2008 at 2:12 am

    Fascinating diary. And you are truly a fascinating human being. I’m so glad for these crazy intertubez and meeting all of you wonderful people!

    And I loved seeing the pictures–esp the one of you and son of OPOL. Oh, and I also loved that tai chi video!

    • sharon on June 29, 2008 at 2:47 am

    When I lived in that part of Hawai’i that Budhy and I both know, I had a friend who studied Aikido and a housemate who studied Kung  Fu.  What I learned from both schools was the goal was to learn not to use what you have learned, to build up the inner stregnth that it would not be necessary.  When I moved to another part of Hawai’i, my housemeates did Tai Chi each morning on our front lawn, essentially, the base of a long deceased crater.  This year in Asian Philoosphy class in New York we read the Tao Te Ching.  There is much simple truth in us and the world around us if we only listen.  You have acquired the skill.

    Thank you for sharing.

  2. The Tai Chi video brings back memories of my early post-war days in Viet Nam. In the early morning hours the streets, especially in the area near the Saigon River, were filled with people, young and old, doing Tai Chi. Regrettably I never took any photos.

    Thanks so much for this. Really enjoyed it.

  3. Amazing photos – quite impressive OPOL!  Thanks for sharing this part of yourself with us!  

    I never saw such an amazing Tai Chi demonstration – she was so graceful and it actually looked pretty intense (unlike what is practiced by the throngs of elderly folks in golden gate park, in the early morning mist).  Maybe I will have to try it – although seeing the young Shaolin monk made me wish for my old joints back.  Completely agreed about the commercialization – one has to look hard for traditional trainers these days.

    Hmm OPOL – you brought me out of hiding twice in one week!  

    (I wonder why my two year old is finding the picture of Gandhi so hilarious – he is seriously cracking up).

  4. Very impressed OPOL.  The photo with your boy is sweet!

    I did Aikido a long time ago. I didn’t practice more than a year or so, but it was a great mental and physical exercise.  These days I am doing yoga.  Some of the tai chi forms in that video look a bit like yoga.  I think I’d like to give tai chi a try.        

    • RiaD on June 29, 2008 at 7:25 am

    thank you!

    ♥~

  5. Am I going to spend this morning playing it over and over?  Maybe.

    Thanks bro.

  6. Anderson Indiana, Glenn Keaney?  I was there for a while in the very early 70’s and met some great people, Keaney certainly being one of them.

  7. Opol,

    Thanks for a wonderful insight on your world & how well you`ve put your experience to such good use.

    Killer pic of you & mini you.

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