The Jock of All Trades
Articles about joining the martial arts always remind me of the old “How I spent my summer vacation” essays we had to do in school. Regardless of how well written, such literature tends to be of little interest to anyone other than the author. Everybody has their own reasons to train. (self defense, building self esteem, physical fitness, making friends, etc.)
Thirty eight years ago I had my own reason and it’s probably as valid today as it was back then. My motivation however won’t be as significant to others as it is to me. It’s much more entertaining to read about how a particular style or martial philosophy has influenced someone’s life and what practical applications that might have on your life.
One of my mentors once said “I know more about being young than you do about being old because I’ve been young longer than you have!” I suppose thirty eight years in the arts gives me as much right to expound my philosophy as the next person. While I don’t hold the rank of grandmaster, I do hold Dan rank in two arts and a brown belt in a third, so perhaps I should start with multi-art experiences.
As a senior in high school I had the misfortune of being mugged. There were three bullies and I was alone, untrained and helpless. In those days mugging just consisted of punching someone a couple of times in the gut and then laughing at them. I wasn’t permanently injured but I was mentally devastated. The influence of television had me convinced I would be more like Captain Kirk than his expendable crewman. The reality check hurt more than the punches did.
I immediately sought out the nearest self defense school, which in the late sixties meant Judo. I did well in the art and later competed on my University’s judo team. My self esteem clearly improved, but to my dismay the self defense aspects of Judo had been stripped from the art after World War Two. Judo had became more of a sport.
I never entered martial arts training to become a Shaolin monk nor an Olympic athlete. I merely wanted to learn as much as I could about defending myself from harm. I never wanted to be a victim again. I was disappointed to discover that after three years of training I was still unprepared for a real-world fight, so after meeting a young Korean Tae Kwon do instructor I promptly joined his school. I enjoyed it immensely and later progressed up to a pre-black belt level before graduating and leaving town.
I guess this would be a good time to point out the problems I have with mixed art training. What I’ve discovered is that the old axiom “Jack of all trades master of none” clearly applies to the martial arts. I’ve learned that a master of any one art is clearly more prepared to defend himself than a student of several. (Trust me, by now I can list Judo, Taekwondo, Aikido, and Hapkido as arts on my curiculum).
After many years in and out of training I had become a typical overweight father. In 1998 I found out that I was a diabetic and was faced with dramatic change. I had to lose weight or die. Fortunately at the same time my five year old asked about studying the martial arts. I sought out a Taekwondo school for both of us only to find that to my dismay that an art designed for adult warriors had become primarily a sport for children. Traditional Taekwondo had suffered a slow death thanks to the greed and corruption of “Masters” seeking Olympic gold for their students and financial gain for being connected to the Olympics. I will never forget the first time I returned to Taekwondo sparring only to be told that grabbing, punching to the face, sweeping or kicking to the knees were not allowed in this Olympic style school. In 1970 none of us ever considered competing for a trophy. We never even used padding. We wanted to learn what the Korean military learned.
That eventually led me (and my daughter) away from Taekwondo and into Hapkido.
(I wish I’d started in this art and stayed there but in all fairness there were no Hapkido schools in southern Illinois in 1969.)
I’m still not overly confident about my fighting skills, but at last I finally am studying a realistic style that will eventually help me achieve my goal while at the same time allowing me to share my enthusiasm with my daughter. Hopefully I can help her protect herself as an added bonus.
So, what has this quest given me? Well, I’m clearly better equipped to defend myself than I was, I’m down thirty five pounds, my diabetes is under control, I share time with my daughter, and I have a score of good friends from the martial arts.
Now if only I could perfect that high roundhouse….