You see a lot of big muscles and bigger ego in a lot of the MMA shown on television. It's gotten to the point that a lot of people and seemingly most younger people think that's what martial arts is all about. They haven't seen anything else. Whereas people of my generation grew up with tv shows like "Kung Fu" accompanied by movies like "The Karate Kid", Today's generation is exposed to UFC tournaments and movies either about guys fighting in them or actually featuring competitors from them. That's not necessarily bad. Some of those movies are decent and actually have some moral lessons in them. Good for them. But you watch some of these events with guys who look like pro wrestlers and some times act like them, and in some cases actually ARE or used to be in pro wrestling and it's very different. I've been told by friends who are fans of the UFC and similar competition circuits that its only a few who do things like Brock Lesner when he openly walked around the ring with a beer and mocked the actual alcohol that was one of the sponsors of the event he was just in. Doesn't matter as far as I'm concerned. The fact that there are guys like that out there in these "sports" and they're calling themselves martial artists is to me not a good thing. They are not only setting a bad example of how to behave to the younger generation, but they're also destroying the image of martial arts to the general public. Its gotten to where people just don't understand that there is a seperation between the UFC and martial arts in general. The first thing I get asked anymore whenever someone finds out I know martial arts is "Do you compete?" It used to be, "What belt are you?" Neither of the those questions leads to what the person really wants to know... "How good are you?" And none of those questions truly touch upon what martial arts is really meant to do. And yes we can debate all day and night about what martial arts' "true" purpose is. Because for many many years, people all over the world have had different view points where martial arts is concerned.
However, there are some things which most martial artists once held to. Those are that martial arts should instill discipline, physical ability, confidence, and the ability to defend one's self. Generally speaking, martial arts was a way to make you better at whatever you want to do and to help you to express yourself. That's what art is really and why its called martial arts and not martial systems. Some ARE called systems these days and that's not necessarily a bad thing either. But even with those, the core reason for their development was not to look tough, drink beer, and win awards on television. It was to protect your life and possibly the lives of others. These days, people seem to think that this way of thinking is idealistic and outdated. You're either a tournament fighter or your martial arts are fake, magic hands bull #@$! And believe it or not, I've talked with people before who essentially said that to me just because I suggest someone look at more than just a fight record when looking for a martial arts teacher. They didn't even know what art I had trained in and automatically assumed that I wasn't concerned with doing martial arts that "worked". The mentality just seems to get worse every day. And now people are even using Bruce Lee's name in all this mess. Half the people I see talking online seem to want to say that Bruce Lee's Jeet Kune Do was a precursor to MMA and the other half think he was "just an actor". Anyone who knows what they're talking about where Lee is concerned knows that neither of those statements is really true. I'll leave the actor comment alone, because I think enough people can figure that one out on their own. But the MMA comment seems to be popping up all over the place.
Bruce Lee isn't around anymore unfortunately. So, we can't ask him what he thinks of the UFC. But we do have the unique opportunity in that we can see his own personal notes from when he was alive. They're organized as best they could be and printed in the collection/book titled "The Tao of Jeet Kune Do" and in those notes, Lee clearly states that JKD is not intended as a sport. It is for real life. I'm going to paraphrase here just because I don't have the book in front of me, but this is a rough quote from that same book, "A JKD man will always work in levels and take it one step further. If your opponent bruises your skin, tear into his flesh. If he tears into your flesh, break his bones. If he breaks your bones, take his life." Bruce Lee was not advocating killing, but rather illistrating the point that in order to survive a real confrontation, you need to be willing to withstand whatever is thrown your way and do whatever it takes to come out alive. And these are not concepts that you need concern yourself with if you are in a ring with rules, time limits, referees, and even doctors present to help you. That doesn't mean that people can't get seriously injured in these competitions, but its a far cry from what Lee was talking about.
Alright, I'm going to climb off my soap box for a minute and tell you a story from my past which I hope will help to show what real martial arts CAN do for you in the real world. Every word of this story is true, I assure you. Even some of the parts which could be considered stupid on my own part. This is actually still to this day probably my favorite story concerning putting my martial arts training into real use. And the best part about it all is I never had to throw a single punch.
It was winter time late 2001 I believe. I'd been training in the martial arts for just under three years at that point, but I'd had some very in depth one on one personal training and had learned a lot for my relatively short time in the arts. Still, just knowing martial arts doesn't pay the bills. And I was young, living away from home for the first time really and with a roomate. I didn't have a car at the time and had just started a new job which had me working late one particular night. Too late to catch a bus home and at this point, home was around nine and a half miles from work. That was okay. I was stubborn and in good shape. I walked. I knew the area I was walking through very well. It was around two or three blocks away from the house I grew up in. Still, I hadn't been in the neighborhood much over the last few years at that point. So, there were plenty of people around who had no idea who I was. And I was walking through a park which didn't have a lot of light at night and did have a bad reputation. I'd never had any real problems going through it when I lived near by. Sadly, if anyone were going to try anything in that park, chances were I already knew them on a first name basis and they'd turn and go the other way. But that was then. And this was a different time.
At the edge of the park there was a baseball field and just past that, a dirt road by a warehouse or something which had a little bit of lighting at night. This was a necessary road to go down if I didn't want to make my already long walk even longer. So, I made my way toward it. As I came into the lighted area, i could see in the distance by the metal bleachers set up by the baseball field that there were some people. It was around one in the morning if my memory serves me and was far past the time that anyone not up to something would normally be hanging around like that. Still, that was probably something like fifty yards from where I was. So, I kept walking. Then, before I'd gotten too far, one of the group called out to me. Probably something like "Hey you!". Now, at this point, you might be thinking I should have ignored them and kept walking. You may be right. But this was my old neighborhood and I wasn't going to be scared off by anyone. Plus, there were five of these guys and I was weighed down by several layers of clothing and had worked a full day at work. I think I'd have faired better in a fist fight than in a running contest if they decided to come after me. So, I did what still could have been the dumbest thing possible. I walked toward them.
Once I got closer, I could see that the five guys were kids. Probably teenagers around I dunno, fifteen or so maybe. But don't be fooled. They were big enough to be fully grown adults and five against one was still five against one. I was just out of my teens myself at the time and I knew the differences in raw physicality probably weren't that great between myself and any one of them. There was however most likely a huge difference when it came to martial arts training. I walked up and they asked some questions to try and feel me out I'd say. Things like if I was a cop or if I had some weed, if I wanted weed, and so on. Now, when they asked if I was a cop, part of me flashed back to a scene from the original Ghost Busters movie where someone says something along the lines of, "Ray! When someone asks you if you're a god, you say YES!" But like Ray, I didn't say yes. I actually told the truth on every single question they asked me. No. I'm not a cop. I don't have weed. I don't smoke weed. I don't have any money on me. And they asked me about a ring I'd been given by my martial arts teacher as a symbol of my training. They asked if it was real. I said, I dunno. I didn't buy it. At one point, they even asked if I had a gun. I could have said I did. I had enough layers on to have easily concealed one, but I didn't.
They were trying obviously to determine if I was a threat or if I could be a target. Did I have anything they wanted? I had said that I didn't and from what I'd said, I didn't appear to be a threat. They apparently wanted to test these theories, starting with the threat part. At first, I think they started throwing some of the small rocks from the ground at my back, never would one of them openly attack me or even admit they'd done anything when I turned around. As if I were to believe the rocks were falling from the sky and just hitting my back. It was silly and what you'd expect from children. But like I said, I had several layers on and I barely felt the small rocks. I more knew that they were throwing them by the sound they made when they bounced off me. That's one of the benefits of martial arts... realizing a true threat and being able to control yourself and stay calmn when you aren't in real danger. At least not yet. My main concern at this point was that I wasn't wearing any gloves and my hands were too cold to get good circulation in them and feeling when they weren't in my pockets. But I obviously can't fight five guys, no matter how childish and stupid they may be, with my hands in my pockets. I decided I'd cross that road when I came to it, but that most likely I'd have to suck it up and do whatever I could for as long as I could if it came to that.
After a while of their little game of rocks, they switched tactics. It was obvious to me by their behavior and who was normally doing the talking which of them was the "leader" of the group. So, when one of the obvious followers started talking to me and in fact doing all the talking, I suspected what was coming. The "leader" tried to come around to the other side of me, hoping to catch me off guard and blind side me. I knew he was there. I could see pretty well out of the corner of my eyes. I acted like I didn't see him though and kept facing the stooge which was talking to me at the time. Now, at this point, I'll just point out that generally there are two schools of thought where tactics against multiple opponents are concerned. One is that you "split" your attackers, going through them and leaving some to one side and some to the other, but not staying still. Another is tha you zone them and keep them all to one side of you so that you never have to fight more than one at a time. The one thing you don't want is to get surrounded. So, while I knew the leader was coming up around from the side, I also knew that if I turned too quickly on him and faced him before he could attack, his friends would likely be on me before I could refocus on them. I had to time it so that I could deal with him and still have time for the others and that meant I had to let him get close.
That's exactly what I did. When the time came and he finally decided to attack, he did so in a low shooting manner, apparently seeking to take my legs out from under me and I would assume he and his friends would then dog pile on top of me and overwhelm me with their numbers and their combined weight. So, a real manly way of doing things... Anyway, I let him get just close enough and then I turned with my fist already cocked back in just the right angle to punch down upon him if he got inches closer. Apparently I did this so quickly and it took him by such surprise that he instinctively recoiled in mid lunge. This resulted in the leader of the group twisting his ankle and going down to the ground all on his own. I probably would have laughed if it wasn't for the other four behind me. I quickly turned, refocussing my attention on the others and as I'd expected they had indeed started to close in, but all four stepped back again once I'd turned. This is probably the point at which the confrontation's momentum had truly shifted. A few more small rocks were thrown at my back, but I took little notice and eventually one of the group "saw" a cop car in the distance which really wasn't there.
I think what really happened here was that I had confused them by not running, not pretending to have a gun, be a cop, etc., not making any excuses, meeting them head on, and of course taking out their leader without even touching him. I was unarmed and outnumbered yet I showed absolutely no fear. This made no sense to them. Something HAD to be up. This is certainly not what I would advise anyone else to do in the same situation. I was young and maybe a bit foolish, but still, I'm convinced that the only reason I made it through that encounter and back home without any injuries was due to my martial arts training. If it had come to an actual fist fight, maybe I still would have come out on top, maybe not. I had some pretty good training and I could handle myself if I needed to, but the BEST thing is when you don't Have to fight. Maybe I could have avoided the whole confrontation by just not walking over to them when they called out to me. Maybe they would have chased after me anyway. I'll never know. I do know that my training gave me confidence and it gave me tools to work with in this type of situation. And those are some of the real world benefits you'll get from real martial arts. I don't know about you, but that's worth a lot more than winning a tournament in my mind.