This past week, I had the pleasure of escorting one of my company staff to a MMA tournament in South Korea, where he participated as an amateur in order to qualify as a potential professional fighter in the Korea league here called, 'Road FC'.
My staff is actually from Hong Kong and he was here for an event in Seoul, and we ended taking a nearly 4 hour train ride to Soonchun which is practically at the most south part of Seoul. Of course my staff speaks no Korean and so normally I'd leave my own staff to their own devices, but I figured, what the hell, I'll feel bad if I don't translate and accompany him. So I ended up being his psudo manager for the day.
So we took the train 'ktx' down the night before and met the organizer and my staff had to cut about 2 more kg, so he had an early night and I proceeded to down 15 large beers bottles with the organizer over a 4 hour drinking 'get to know one another' session. And during that time I got to learn a lot about the current state of MMA in Korea. I won't get much into it, but it's not great. Oh and my staff did win, so yay, and we ate some really great Hanwoo Korean beef there for really cheap, like 1/3 the price of Seoul, so my belly was happy as well.
Can't Throw a Punch or Kick to Save My life
So I haven't been back in Korea for the last 6 months and previous to leaving, I actually joined an MMA gym called, 'Team Max'. And so having gone to this MMA tryouts, I ended up today, going back to the gym and signing up for 3 months and took two sessions of classes from 6:30 - 10:00 and I'm just exhausted right now, but happy.
In the class the average is probably 23 or so, so at 37, I'm older than instructors, which is nice cause every calls me hyung (older brother), but really I'm an ajushi (middle aged guy, aka, mister). And I can say, I really like watching MMA, but I find it really isn't the kind of sport that I think I can really enjoy participating in, manly because, I have never thrown a real punch or kick in my entire life.
Don't get me wrong, I've have tried to throw punches, like maybe 5 in my life and 2 kicks, which were completely ineffective and I've gotten into more fights than a geek like me should have gotten into, but I'm one of those guys who just can't throw a proper punch or kick by putting their weight behind it.
"You, No Talent"
I blame my parents who never let me take Taekwondo as a kid. Now I know that something like Taekwondo is not considered a serious kick ass martial art now, and I'm not going to defend it, but the fact is growing up as the only Korean kid in my anglo-saxon school, I think it would have come in handy at least to show off.
I remember, when I was 4 I was with my Dad watching TV. Suddenly he stands up and says, 'I'm going to teach you TaeKwondo now'. So I jump up and get ready, this is what I've been waiting for since I could walk, I'm ready to embrace my birth right.
So my dad says, 'make a fist like this', and I make a fist, to the best of my ability, but my dad corrects me and says, 'No! thumb like this' and grabs my fist and pushes my thumb is positioned to the middle of the fist rather than sticking out on the side of my hand.
Then my dad says, ' ok stand like this, ready? Do this?' and he goes into that horse stance, you know the wide legged one, with a slight squat and does and left and right punch.
So just looking at my dad, I'm like, 'ok, and I proceed to punch with all my little heart' one, two. and I look up to my dad and he says, 'you, no talent for Taekwondo, no point to learn. Just use head'. And he quickly does a slight head butt movement and goes backs and sits down and starts watching TV again.
Meanwhile I'm just standing there crushed; yes, I was 4, yes this is a true story and yes, it was traumatic. And I had no idea wft my dad was talking about or what just happened. So later on in primary school, I'm constantly asking my Mom, can learn Taekwondo, and she is like, 'no, no, no, you father says no.'
Learning to Fight During Recess
I remember junior kindergarten being really cool, I had a nice anglo teacher named, Miss. Dicky (again, I shit you not), and she was a great teacher, maybe in her 40's, an old maid, so she wasn't one of those sunshine every day types, actually she was a bit bitter in life but she was really fair. I never fought in junior kindergarten, and also in Grade 1, everything was cool. But from Grade 2 onwards, I got into a fight nearly every single day for an entire year. It got so bad that I would be sent home after lunch. Can you imagine fighting every single day at school. But I never got suspended. Why? Cause the fight would always be me verse x number of anglo saxon boys, different group, different grade. I'd constantly be called out as chink, or asked if I knew KungFu and to prove it.
Of course I'd say, I knew Karate or something like that, I mean, who the fuck would believe that the only Korean kid didn't know some form of martial arts. And this was like the early 80's when you had such great hits as American Ninja and Bruce Lee was the only legend around. So on these battlegrounds of recess did I fight every day and just naturally got into a way of fighting that worked for me. And that was basically grabbing and throwing other kids on to the pavement.
Kids like to fight on grass, they don't like to fight on the sand cause everyone gets sand in their eyes, but no one likes to fight on the pavement cause they are scared that they are going to scratch themselves. I understood this early on and much like the 'Korean Zombie, from UFC', I could take a hit. In fact, the only way I get close enough to grab a kid and toss him, was to normally get punched in the head 3 or 4 times. I also learned to be fearless and while I'd honestly say, I lost 1 fight on the grass, I've won about 50 or so on the pavement.
My last fight in primary school was in the middle of grade 3 where I was accosted by a grade 6 in the school and proceeded to launch myself at him and we both fell off the stairs and I landed on him. He probably had some broken ribs, but after that, my reputation was settled and no one proceeded to start anything with me. It's pretty legendary when a grade 3 takes out a grade 6, nearly unheard of.
During this time, I proceed to perfect my own fighting style, call 'chair jitsu' where by kids would throw sand in my eyes during recess, then run into the class room and think they were safe, and I'd go into their class, pick up a chair and throw it at them. Of course I purposely missed, cause I didn't want to kill them (even at a young age, I had respect for life), but I did want them to clearly know, they were not safe from my vengeance. About the same time I perfected the art of 'chair jitsu' was about the time that I was sent home every day after lunch instead of staying with the class. (later on in life this skill would evolved to 'bar stool jitsu')
Since I was on the rugby team in high school, and now there were lots of other Koreans, I really never had any fights, even on the pitch, but when I finally got to university in 93, I finally decided that I was going to learn martial arts!
Finally Learning the Art in Martial Arts
So I took Judo, Aikido, and Korean sword fighting and I enjoyed them all. And they fit me, up to this point, I had never really thrown a punch and while I could stand, focus and break through 10 of those pine wood boards, ask me knock someone out; unlikely. Ask me to toss someone, restrain or wack em with a bit wooden sword on the side of the head, no problem. But more than anything, I read about the philosophies as well as tried to understand the principle art of what I was doing. Meaning what was the actual perfect execution of the move in its most simplest but effective form; as well as the reasoning behind the move but on a number of levels from the actual function, but to also how it fit with the art.
I don't think I've changed my quote at the bottom of my TL ID since 2004 and it still means so much to me.
Fast forward many years later and a few bar brawls and getting jumped by a couple of GI Joes (none of the fights started by me); my skill in grabbing and throwing people had increased dramatically that I could evade most punches and just get in there and toss people.I honestly felt as though I may not be a black belt, but I have mastered the art.
BJJ and Striking
Fast forward to now, I have to say; I really really like this brazilian jujitsu stuff, its really fun and I love how weight plays such a huge role in it, cause I don't look like 110kg, but I fucking am. lol. And I love how you can ask anyone to 'roll' with you, spar. And I love getting tapped out and just enjoying the experience of it. For me it is like judo, but on the ground, if that makes any sense.
Like in Judo, you have to figure out how to toss the person; so a lot of times, two fairly equally matched people look like they are are just grabbing each others gi's and that is it, but if they were fighting anyone else, they would have toss that guy on his head 3 times by now. So you are looking for that slip up, that opportunity, and the same thing with jujitsu. But what is great about jujitsu is that you actually force people to tap out, lol. I mean in Judo, even when you spar, you're just trying to basically crack his defenses and when that happens, you can throw them as softly as you want- so the cracking of the defense is where the aggression comes in, but in jujitsu, the guy is trying his damnest to choke you to tap out, but if you can resist and break free, then you go for it! Cool beans! The sparing in jujitsu is just uber fun, unless the guy is a dick and takes it too far, but so far I haven't met any dicks yet.
So I started to learn jujitsu at the MMA gym first that I joined and it's just fun, like an extension of judo, but rolling on the floor, but when it comes to learning how to strike, this shit is impossible for me. And I've just realized why. When I fight and when I lay hands on a person, at that point, I don't need to see anything, I can close my eyes and I can visualize 360, and it is like a dance, where I understand their body, I know in relation to what weight or strength they are putting on me; I know their height, the length of their arms, the strength in their legs and even the length of their fingers as they grab me back.
Is it a Ballet? I Don't Know
But in striking, it's a dance, but I don't understand how the dance works, I am doing the lambada here, and strikers are doing some ballet I guess. And my muscles for my entire life have been doing explosive power movements for pushing and pulling and not for snapping or acceleration and repeated actions. And as much as I want to learn, I'm not even frustrated, I just don't enjoy this, I can see the beauty in when Anderson Silva lands those sniper accurate punches and I'm in awe, but I think its just totally beyond me.
I've learned to this point: jab,straight and overhand straight. It took me about 2 months to be able to jab properly and I don't think I do the other 2 punches right. I feel like a tree stump with some branches sticking out. And the thing is, I'm not learning this because of self defense. I've been in a lot of real fights in my day and I've never duked it out someone and never needed to. I want to learn this MMA as a art, to understand the one thing that has been so elusive to me since I was a kid. And while I was angry at my father for many years after that day, by the time I entered into high school, I knew what he meant.
Seriously, Yes, I'm looking for the Art in MMA
My dad, like many men his age is a black belt, but there are many levels of being a black belt and for my father having spent nearly five years in the army, he knew that learning Taekwondo for self defense wasn't the most practical thing. For him learning Taekwondo was only useful if I had talent to be a great black belt, someone who really could appreciate the art. I've seen kids, at 4 years old, who, when they see, they can mimic to the detail, they see and understand this ballet naturally, and I simply didn't and my father could see that.
He has never reprimanded me for fighting, he only asks, if how did I fight. He assumes I've always won and with the exception of one humiliating beat down on the grass in grade 5 at a new school, I have at least drawn to or won most fights. But he doesn't ask about any moves, but he gets right to it, the damage inflicted. Now this may seem extremely brutal to some of you, my Father married late, was born in 1940, went through the Korean war as a child, served during the Vietnam war (South Korean sent troops to support the US during that time) and generally is as macho of a Korean man as you get. But my father, he knows how to fight and as soon as I figured out what is a head butt actually, it has ended a lot of fights very very quickly.
But even though, I know I am hopeless in striking, I'm really drawn to the art of MMA and I think that is really hasn't been flushed out yet. I will never classify myself as a MMA person. I'm not. I am a judoka, but I think because much of MMA's legitimacy comes from showing it's practical dominance over single forms of martial arts, the art part of MMA still has yet to emerge.
Right now I feel, MMA is about the practicality of each move, the counter, the use, the function. And it is touted as being the most effective form of fighting. Thing is, every competition has rules and real fighting is different. And so for me understanding the distinction, again, I'm not taking MMA to beat on some guys in competition or for self defense.
Fighting Isn't the Art, it is the Dance
If I get into a fight tomorrow, chances are, they guy will have clothes on and I can toss him one time on to the pavement and he'll land improperly and the fight is over. Or even if it two guys, I'll toss one and then toss the other guy (easier said than done, but doable). If I was a golden gloves boxer, I'm sure I'd be able to knock out both of them with a couple of punches, but my point is, I'm not saying this to slag MMA that it isn't good for self defense or that it doesn't own a lot of single style practitioners, but that, I want to know for myself, if there really is an art in MMA. And that is why I'm suffering through this striking.
I think the Art in MMA has already begun to display itself, when different punches and kicks are integrated into the arsenal of a MMA practitioner, like the very recent integration of 'ineffective taekwondo style kicks' that if used in the right situation are game changers. And obviously making a seamless move from wrestling/judo take downs into jujitsu submissions just makes sense. But what about really integrating the striking with the grappling? Is Art in the 'ground and pound' or is there something more out there? Maybe some guys who really do a lot of MMA think they can answer that, or maybe they don't think it is relevant, but I my point of view is that I don't like MMA because it is the most effective way out there, I like it because of this potential integration of really 2 very different dances.
But if I'm being honest here - I'd love to just really have the ability throw a great punch, the beauty of that. And I'd like to one day understand how that dance really happens and maybe see how that fits in with the dance I do. Because when I toss people, I am not just doing a technique, I really feel as though I'm 'one with the toss.'