I’d read and dreamed and played at martial arts (not watched- no electricity meant no TV, there are large swatches of popular culture that are mysteries to me). Played with every weapon that I could make or fake. Invented patterns. Worked on speed and form from books. At this particular time Martial Arts was considered the way to become a complete human being.
So, when I got to college I signed on with the first MA class I could find. It was luck, but it was awesome and set a pattern for the rest of my life: I chanced into Judo and had the privilege of being taught by a former member of the West German National team and a USA Nationals champion. They set the bar for what I considered good instruction. I’ve never stayed with an instructor of lesser quality and I’ve walked out of many classes taught by people with national reputations who simply didn’t meet my standards.
The other luck aspect was judo itself. No mysteries, no mysticism. Clean physics, good timing and superior conditioning. There are many things judo doesn’t incorporate, but there are very few bad habits built into the system. Unlike almost every martial art, I’ve never had to unlearn an aspect of judo to use it in real life. The school was extremely competitive, which drove you to the limits of your endurance. It was also very traditional. Within the school we were taught that weight classes were a mistake in overall training. Small people can and do beat big people, but not by fighting like they were the same size. (Years later, as a 154 pound sankyu I went to a dojo where the smallest person was 200 pounds. I threw or tapped everyone in the dojo, including the owner’s nidan son until I got to the owner- who simply picked me up and choked me out at arm’s length).
I lived, ate and breathed MA. I would skip classes in the morning to sit in on the other two judo morning classes as well as take the one I was scheduled; then work out with the judo team three nights a week. Most of the time I did Shito-ryu karate or fencing on the off days and TKD after judo. The shito-ryu guys were very good, very precise and demanded perfect form. I didn’t like it at the time and did it purely as a matter of discipline (and because one of the instructors was really cute). I loved TKD and had no idea how lucky I was to meet Al, who not only taught me how to kick but when NOT to, and wasn’t afraid to apply it with knives at bad-breath range and taught me how to take a full-power strike. On the weekends and in the afternoons I would work out heavy fighting with the Society for Creative Anachronism.
After college and in-between, I played at every thing I could. As a very typical and arrogant young martial artist, I’d been toying with blending all I was good at into a single system. My first exposure to Jujitsu (Danzan-ryu) had it all blended, but the instructor was a piece of work. He spent more time trying to convince me he was a “true master” than he did teaching. In the end, though I liked the system, I stuck with judo.
Judo was my home, and still holds the glow of a first love, but then I ran into Sosuishitsu-ryu and Dave Sumner. Sosuishitsu had the integrated blend that I wanted, but centered around a ruthlessly effective mindset. The system matched my experience with real violence. The instructor exceeded my expectations of what a teacher and a fighter should be. In my first week he took my forte, judo, and showed me three entirely new ways to put someone down. Not new techniques, new principles each of which could lend itself to dozens of techniques.
I still played, dabbling in karate and arnis and muay thai and kajukenbo …everything. But Sosuishitsu was my home. For depth and efficiency I haven’t seen anything close. Honestly, I’ve been drifting martially (not combatively), since Dave retired.
I’ve always had extraordinary instructors. I didn’t waste my time with:
• The guy with three black belts who had created his own system- I dropped his assistant instructor with only two months of judo training.
• No interest in wrestling- I got challenged by a kid who saw my gi. He’d been a state champion wrestler in high school. I strangled him unconscious in a few seconds. When he woke up he insisted that he “won on points”. Whatever.
• The jujitsu instructor who spent more time explaining why he was a ‘true master’ (?) than teaching. (Actually, I stayed with him for a couple of months- the system was really good).
• The other jujitsu instructor who cut his own throat with his knife defenses and didn’t know it.
• The JKD/Muay Thai guy who insisted I was doing something wrong because I was hurting him through his pads and said to do it his way because it hurt less (more stories with this bozo on request).
• The guy who claimed advanced ranks in about nine arts but wouldn’t let his students work out with the judo club next door.
• The group that said previous training may make it hard to see the purity of their truth.
• The guy with the sloppy footwork and bad stick work who claimed advanced titles in things he couldn’t pronounce.
• The guy who claimed to have won a Pan Am gold in a year it wasn’t even held (by charter, the Pan Am games are held the year before the Olympics).
So, in those different paradigms: I’ve been a serious competitor; a training fanatic; a traditionalist; an MMA guy before there was such a thing; a weapon guy; the devotee of an extraordinary instructor (and very lucky in that he didn’t tolerate any cultish behavior- he wanted men who would stand up, that’s what training was for); I did dojo arashi and parking lot challenge matches. Martial arts was a huge part of who I became.
Then the rubber met the road.
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