Martial Arts

A very tough man once told me, and I believe him, that there are three kinds of man: lovers, fighters, and killers. He said further that a man should know himself, and not pick fights beyond his level. I’m not a killer, they scare me. Having trained with men who fight in steel cages, for money, I’m not one of them either. I guess that makes me a lover. So my qualification to write anything about the fighting arts is dubious at best. Still, here we are. If that bugs you, oh well. At least you were warned.

I started studying Martial Arts when I walked into the Self Defense Training Center in late 2004. I picked it because it was less than a block from my house in East Providence, RI. I was very, very lucky to walk in there rather than someplace else – and I developed several friendships that I hope will last the rest of my life. While there, I studied Shaolin Kenpo Karate. Kenpo (or “Kempo,” if you must) is a hybrid of Okinawan and Chinese martial arts compiled in Hawaii during and after World War 2. It was one of the forms that proliferated across the United States in the 50’s and 60’s – with a structured curriculum of brightly colored belts and well defined forms amenable to tournaments and leagues. I earned my first and second degree black belts from Dan Darocha (6th degree), and I return whenever I can – to train – to pass on what I’ve learned out in the wider world – and to see my friends. Most forms of karate are striking arts – distinguished by punching and kicking. To a first approximation, the Okinawan styles favor straight line motions, where the Chinese styles favor circles. Suffice it to say that I learned to punch and kick.

When I moved closer to Boston in 2007, I joined Phoenix Judo in Braintree, MA. Phoenix. Judo is a competitive sport – founded in the 1800’s in Japan by Jigoro Kano. Judo is practiced in a particular uniform – a heavy weight “gi,” and has the advantage that – like pick-up basketball – one can reliably find a club in most any town in the world. Judo (translated as “the gentle way”) focuses on taking the opponent’s balance and throwing him to the mat with speed, power, and technique. I’m still a novice at Judo, though I no longer wear a white belt. I was recently promoted to brown belt, though I’ll still consider myself a novice for quite a while to come.

I had the opportunity to spend a fair amount of time near Virginia Beach, where I found the Hybrid Academy of Martial Arts. I joined their jiu jitsu classes, run by Scott Oates and found them a good fit. Very strong, forceful, and competitive – but without the problems of ego and pride. As I learned to shut my mouth and simply work, I realized that the men with whom I was training were all three – lovers, fighters, and killers. Whether they were MMA fighters training their ground game, or special forces veterans preparing to re-deploy (and terrifyingly, some men inhabit both categories) … they accepted me and taught me what they know. I am grateful for their knowledge and patience. Scott has threatened to test me for a blue belt, should I come back for another serious stretch of training.

In my travels, I’ve worked in at a variety of other schools and clubs. My experience is that it is difficult to join a workout at a karate school. Ego, details of technique, and a lack of a broader competitive environment make it almost impossible to simply join others on the mat. Judo and jiu jitsu are better for the travelling athlete.

I’ve realized that the man who tries to sell you his secret technique – the one that ‘if done correct, no can defend’ – that man is wasting your time. As another remarkably tough individual once told me “those guys have never been in a fight where the other guy had a pool cue.” The techniques and attitudes that work well and easily for all body types and across many situations are the ones that show up across disciplines. There are a few things that show up in karate, in judo, and in jiu jitsu. Those are the core of my serious studies. If I’m a ‘mixed martial artist,’ that’s the sense of it. Not in the “get in a cage and kill the other guy,” sense.

I also train in yoga, in particular at Thrive Yoga and Eyes of the World. Yoga provides a balance, a focus, and a corrective edge on the agression and external focus of the martial arts. Though I don’t have many words to describe it, I’m a believer in the value of meditation, breathing, and the inner arts.