“”I am afraid of fighting. I am afraid of being beaten and losing. But I am more afraid of surviving as a cripple than dying in a fight.”
Fighter in the Wind, a biopic of Mas Oyama, founder of Kyokushin Karate
When I studied Tae Kwan Do back in High School, my teacher (Sergeant Dennis H. Frye) described seeing a 16mm film of Mas Oyama knocking out a bull with his bare hands and chopping off a horn. I retold that story many times in my teens and early 20s (in my story, I was shown the film by Sgt. Frye). Now you can see that film on Youtube (although he wrestles it to the ground by the horns and the chopping off of the horn is not shown but done with a film edit) .
I was pretty “good” at TKD, which in my training emphasized head kicks (roundhouse), spinning kicks, and the side kick, with a little bit of punching — drills up and down the school in synchronization, like in Enter the Dragon.
Over time, recalling what we were doing, I would get confused, since since Sgt. Frye also referred to what we were doing as Karate. Now I know Tae Kwan Do was a blanket term for the fight training that was going on in Korea at the end of WWII, which had a lot of Karate influence (Karate itself being an amalgam of White Crane by way of a Chinese manual and a local form called “te”). I guess everything influences everything.
One of my treasured moments from those Sgt. Frye classes was a time when I was doing round house kicks (and I was fast and whippy and flexible at age 16) and he asked me if I was “locking out fully.” He had to ask because I was doing it so fast he couldn’t see. I slowed it down just a bit, pausing at the lockout, and he said “someday, you’ll make a hell of a karate man.”
It was difficult to repress my smile!
When I look at the documentary below (about Mas Oyama), most of what I see is what we did in my school, including the breaking. But we didn’t punch the makiwara (the post wrapped in rope) since we trained first in a Air Force community center and later in the elementary school gym. But we also lacked something else, at least in my experience.
My problem with the training I received was that I never had any confidence in it! And as I got older, I realized that this confidence is the key factor in fighting, the most important factor. If you are going to do a hardcore striking style like Karate or Wing Chun, you need to figure out how to train in such a way that you can develop your confidence in the power of your strikes (and kicks) to damage the opponent and shot down their offense.
Because in real fighting, milliseconds count. At my peak, I could have done that Jean-Claude Van Damme trick of kicking the cigarette from your mouth. I could roundhouse someone in the head standing at Wing Chun bent-arm distance. But the problem was – would I (in a real fight situation)? Could I? Kicking someone in the head requires a certain cold-bloodedness on the one hand and a certain belief in oneself on the other.
You will find that in this blog, I circle back around to this idea over and over (and its is one of the reasons I call my book Wing Chun Mind). Its similar to Gary Lam’s Geng Ging idea. You can think it, but can you do it? You can hit the bag in the gym, but can you hit a person in the face? It’s not the same!
This is the big advantage that people who spar with head gear regularly have over the rest of us. They are used to that action of hitting the head of a human being (and one who is moving and trying not to be hit). We can simulate this in class, but its not the same! Even sparring is not the same, because in sparring, there is only a tiny fraction of the emotions happening. In real fighting, you are afraid or angry and these emotional responses kick off a “para-sympathetic nervous system” response. This creates a whole complicated series of changes in your body chemistry which both assist (you don’t feel the pain) and detract (its harder to see, you are impulsive, you may find yourself running without planning to run).
“Each of us has his cowardice. Each of us is afraid to lose, afraid to die. But hanging back is the way to remain a coward for life. The Way to find courage is to seek it on the field of conflict. And the sure way to victory is willingness to risk one’s own life.”
“Subjecting yourself to vigorous training is more for the sake of forging a resolute spirit that can vanquish the self than it is for developing a strong body.”
So how do you proceed considering all of this? You train. Training works on not only your body (endurance, reflexes, skills) but on your will. Pushing through your fear in a confrontation is an act of will. Training when you don’t feel like it is an act of will. Training also gets you used to the scenario, “someone is throwing an attack my way.” And even when you don’t spar, in most forms of training, every once in a while, accidents happen. You get hit. You get a little bit used to being hit. You get used to chasing a moving target with your attacks.
“There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so.”
This is the trick and its one you might want to keep thinking about as you train. Modern Sports Psychology has proven the effectiveness of visualization. So visualize yourself in fights. Try and be realistic. Fights can be incredibly fast and vicious. How can we simulate these conditions in class? You can only go so far, even with sparring. This is the great thing about some of the best movie fights. This is the useful thing about all the Youtube streetfights. Imagine yourself in the middle of a wild fight just kicking off. What do you do? It’s fast! The opponent(s) are young and strong and you are having to cope with some wild energy. Has your training prepared you? In the old days, and not just in the Hong Kong challenge matches, people would learn to fight in brawls or wars or both. Most of us don’t have those “teachers.” So we have to use our imaginations. Train. Then picture yourself in the fight, winning. Rinse and repeat.