Come at me
I have a specific formative memory from when I was just starting off in training in Jeet Kune Do.
At the time, I was learning under [P-Chan] with my cousing [Vittek] , who was certified under Ted Wong, who was one of the original students of Bruce Lee. Say what you will about purity of martial arts or whatnot– none of that really matters to me nowadays. Let me get back onto the memory.
I was probably about 18 years old at the time, and we were guests at a downtown kung-fu school. The kung-fu school’s membefers weren’t present, so it doesn’t matter– but it was a hardwood floor training hall, with all sorts of weapon racks along the walls. Swords, spears, scimitars, you name it. I might be remembering it slightly wrong, but at the time, you can be sure that I thought it was just like being in a 1970s kung fu movie. Our uniforms had chinese “kung fu slippers”, black pants, and t-shirts with the school’s logo on it. What more could a teenage, fresh student want?
Those times seem like a dream to me now. Times were simpler, and martial arts were a lot easier than now. If I might best describe it, it was easier to have fun back then– but it wouldn’t be until a decade later, close to two decades later, that I would come to understand what it meant not just to enjoy martial arts, but to love it. The fundamentally difference are the times that you get back up and continue doing it after you decide that you thoroughly are not having fun.
That kung fu studio was a huge step up from our usual rented spaces (a downtrodden aerobics studio, a dance studio, and the multi purposes rooms of a resistance training gym). It just set the mood– it made a kid feel like he was part of something in the movies.
Of course, like anyone who did martial arts in the 90s, I watched tons of fighting movies– and like most kids learning martial arts with aspirations of doing what could be done in the movies, I had no idea what “real” fighting was like. I had an insular understanding of the work of fighting, because I had only ever worked within the same school. It was only years later that I started entering into competitions, and that changed my view of Jeet Kune Do entirely.
Nevertheless, our instructor was a kind man of bountiful patience. Whether he realises it or not, I regard him as one of the great mentors of my life, who taught me many things about fighting that would influence the way I look at the world to this day.
At some point, I felt that i was getting pretty good at Jeet Kune Do.
At that kung fu school, I had the opportunity to spar with my teacher. And so we did. It seemed like a good idea at the time.
After the first minute, I was getting a bit frustrated– I hadn’t managed to land a single clean hit on him.
I think it wore on to about 3 minutes and everything that I was doing was being evaded or parried. Meanwhile, I was taking light taps in the face or push-kicks in the stomach. There were all thse moments where it was clear that I had taken “critical damage”, while I in turn had not landed anything useful on him.
By the time the round was past 5 minutes, people had begun stopping what they were doing to watch the teacher and I sparring.
I was naive– naive to think that someone who had been practicing martial arts for just a year, or perhaps slightly more, could take on a fully grown adult who had been practicing martial arts for perhaps two decades at that point. And that’s taking into account that before he made the transition to Jeet Kune Do, my teacher was a longstanding karateka.
Did I expect to be able to land a clean hit on him? At least once, yes.
By the time we got to about ten minutes, I was drenched in sweat, and I was on the ground. I couldn’t get up because of cramps, and I was exhausted.
I remember specifically being so wet with sweat that you couldn’t actually see the tears of frustration running down my face.
In retropsect, yes, it was frustration of a young man at the time– but in retrospect, it was also hubris, leading to wounded pride.
My teacher helped me up after it was clear I was worn down totally, and he told me something. The exact words, I can’t remember. But it was something along the lines of “This is today. We’ll try again tomorrow.”
A bit under 20 years later, I’m still doing martial arts. I’m no master, and I don’t own my own school. But I love fighting still. It is part of what keep me sane.
I was at judo last week and one of the green belts was trying to put me down. He caught me with an entry to o soto gari, which is translated as a “major outer reap”. It’s one of the big throws of the sport, and realistically, it is one of the most powerful ones that has a body alignment which is very well conducive to knocking people unconscious. (Look it up on youtube).
As i felt myself being thrown backwards, I twisted away from him, kicked up my reaped leg, and lept backward at an angle. I pulled his elbow across my body with a locking twist, and lunged forward with a spring of my left calf. THe result?
I countered his o soto gari with a bigger o soto gari of my own. [K-Sensei] was watching from teh sidelines and jumped to his feet with excitement, yelling “OHHH! VERY BIG THROW!” Considering that, about a year ago, his only words to me were along the lines of “What is this? I did not teach you this fucking bulshit technique,” I would say that I’ve made some progress.
My opponent, the green belt, got back up slowly– I don’t think he was terribly hurt, becamost of use really hurt because I’d taken the edge off the throw, but he had been trying to throw me for the past 3 minutes, and it was apparent thatIt was probably more that than anything that weighed him down. he’d felt more than the usual frustration at this. He apologised to me, saying that he needed to take a break… and then I knew. Or at least, I thought I knew– that that look in his face was me 20 years ago.
He is a rising star in our judo club with plenty of potential. And at that moment, he was thinking, why can’t he throw me?
You could see the thoughts running through his head– the post-game replay that runs through in your mind when you have just lost, an. It’s that out of body experience where you relive your own death after a defeat that you thought was your win.
I went over to him and laughed, saying “you were really close. Lets try that again . You’ll get it.”
I’ts not that I’m an expert or a mster, and even now I’m nowehre as good as [P-Chan] was back then- but iI understand now how much fun it is to see the passion in the sweat and tears of youth.