Many years ago an incident occurred that has stuck with me forever. The dojo was full from wall to wall and it was crunch-time for the out-of-townee going for his black belt test. The test was at my father’s dojo and I was simply there to observe someone’s test. The person going for the test was John (name changed to protect egos).
I had a run in with John a few months earlier. He had come to our dojo to practice with different people for his upcoming test. I was on the other side of the mat when my dad called out and told me to spar with John. It was a surprise to me but my dad was the head of the dojo and I did what he told me to do.
It was to be light to moderate body contact and light to no face contact. There always was one steadfast rule though. No kicks to the knee. We started sparing slowly and shortly into John threw an obvious kick to my knee. I was surprised but I let it go thinking it was probably an accident. We moved around the mat some more throwing kicks and punches and there he went again—another hard kick towards my knee. This time though, I immediately stopped and asked, “Are you throwing kicks at my knee?” He hollered out loudly and with disdain, “I didn’t kick you, did I?” My father heard the confrontation and he stopped the sparring. The session was over but it really wasn’t over for me. I was pissed and back then I never forgot being dissed.
Glen had come from a multi-discipline martial art school. The taught our style which was—Minna Jiu-Jitsu (a combination of mainly Judo, Jiu-Jitsu, Karate and Savate) and they also taught another form of Karate called Is-shin-Ryu. Apparently they sparred a lot at that school whereas in Minna Jiu-Jitsu that wasn’t the case. Minna Jiu-Jitsu was geared for street self-defense. So, generally, Minna Jiu-Jitsu practitioners were not known for great ring fighting. A fight in the street was a different story but not traditional karate or tournament type sparring. That didn’t hold true for me though. I was anything but traditional and same-old same-old.
The huge dojo windows were fogged up and the excitement in the room was as thick as a mountain fog. The most exciting and last part of the black belt test was coming right up—the two-minute fight! My father who was the Soke (leader) of Minna Jiu-Jitsu would usually ask the group of black belts in attendance at tests if they wanted to suit up and fight whomever was being tested at the time. I never volunteered. When I fought, I wouldn’t give anyone leeway and I would not let anyone win. Back then, when I fought, I won. Period. There was no separation for me. I knew most of the students going for black belt tests and I didn’t want to defeat them at their tests. Even if I didn’t know them I still had no desire to kick their butts on one of their biggest nights of their lives. So I never volunteered. Ever.
But this time when my father asked if anyone wanted to volunteer to fight John, I jumped in with a “I do” before anyone else could. My father stared at me for a second as if pondering what I had just said but shook it off and with his thick Hungarian accent said, Okay, get dressed.” While I stripped from my jeans, shirt and boots and slipped into my gi the word spread through the crowd like a wild-fire that anyone fighting from my dad’s school was going to get beat easily because they couldn’t fight nearly as well as their students or John. The word was spreading from wall to wall and chair to chair. John was about to kick some easy ass. I remember someone coming into the dressing room and filling me in about the quickly spreading talk filling the standing room only dojo. I also remember thinking that it was crunch time and I was going to crunch. Crunch that disrespectful blowhard. I also thought about the crowd most of whom were in from out of the area and whom were fans of John. I thought that they were in for a shock. Every one of them.
I was not traditional in my fighting. I had boxed extensively and I had improvised my fighting very much from traditional karate type fighting. I wasn’t flat footed. In fact, I danced around like Muhammad Ali in his prime did. I got in, scored quickly with hand and kicks and being fleet of foot kept me from being hit.
We bowed and started the fight. Soon into the fight we clinched and John gave me a cheap shot. It was so flagrant and so bad that I started getting angry but I immediately shut that down. I knew a good fighter keeps calm, not angry—he stays professional. All about going to work.
The fight was not full contact. It was moderate body contact and light face contact. I beat him 12 to 0. Usually fights went to two points and were called at that time. But on tests, the entire two-minutes were completed for testing purposes. I bounced kicks and punches off of him the entire two minutes and made sure he couldn’t lay a finger on me. In fact, he was beaten so badly that he had to do his fight over to pass. Couldn’t have happened to a nicer fella.
Let me get on to the moral of this story. After that fight where I clearly cleaned John’s clock some of the other school’s students and instructors were heard to say some telling remarks. Things like that it really wasn’t a fair fight. That I danced around and didn’t stand there and fight. That I bounced around a lot and didn’t fight like karate type fights were supposed to be. Their student’s actually believed what their instructors told them about the John’s loss. Tripe. Just as crazy, one of the main teachers of the Is-shin-Ryu style of that school went on to become the person in-charge of all police defensive training in a state in the US. How terrible was that to have someone so blind about reality and mired in close mindedness in charge of an entire states police defensive training! Hopefully, no one was hurt by his leadership.
The moral of this story is that to never leave your common sense at the door. Never lose the belief in your eyes of what really works. No matter what might be the in-thing or whatever the present culture is touting or what some teachers may say. Believe in what your common sense tells you is real or not real, believable or not believable. Full contact mixed martial arts has done much good for self-defense throughout the world. Now we can truthfully see what works. Mumbo-jumbo talk is just that, talk. We can see what really works in personal battle and we can see the variety of individuals and styles making a real mark in martial arts.
When taking jiu-jitsu, karate, or any self-defense training, believe in your eyes. Believe in your common sense. Believe in you. Always.
Steve's a three-time survivor of violence in his youth and was an award winning police officer.
For several years, Steve also did radio political and current event commentary and taught college Criminal Justice. He is the former host of the long running 'The Kovacs Perspective' Internet radio talk show.
Presently, Steve is the owner and Managing Director of one of the oldest martial art schools in Ohio, 'The Mayfield Academy of Self-Defense'.
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