An encounter that made me think

The other day I bumped in MT, a former student of mine.  He joined my club years ago and trained with us for at least a couple of years.  MT is a guy in his late thirties, over 6 foot tall and well over 200 pounds of weight.  When he arrived he had a reasonable experience in Muai Thai (also called Thai boxing).  While he was not very fast and agile he could strike very powerfully and fight proficiently, being used and conditioned to be hit at full power.  I always like him as he was respectful and diligent; he was continuously trying to capitalize on each single advice I gave him while we were training.  Frankly, while he is a lovely and very positive person, he is not the kind of guy you would like to fight in the street.  When he stopped training with our club the reasons were two fold: he was struggling financially to cope with our monthly fee and his family committments were getting more and more demanding: his partner had a little girl soon after.  I met him a couple of years ago and he told me that he joined a traditional Japanese martial arts club in Cambridge and he was enjoining good part of the training he did and the new techniques he was learning.

When I saw him the other day I remembered his club and I was curious to ask him a few questions about it.  Over a recent Christmas party I met a woman that has been training at the same club for a few years: on one hand she looked hopeless as a martial artist and on the other hand she demonstrated to be full of illusions about what she could perform with her techniques so the curiosity was pretty high.  The main question that sparked to mind was: “how much sparring do you do?” and the answer was: “well, not too much, not a lot at all.  In fact when we did a few sessions time ago and I was paired with the sensei I was all over the place with him, he could not cope with my attacks: I miss sparring a lot.  That is a kind of training that I enjoy a lot and I am not getting enough of”. MT, as I said, is a large kind of guy but if as a sensei you cannot cope with one of your intermediate students in a friendly sparring this tells me a lot about what you teach and your proficiency in it.

Overall I am the first to state that a master (sensei, guru, coach…) cannot necessarily be the strongest fighter in the club: if that was the case every trainer of every world champion should be better then them: that is unpractical and quite impossible.  If you are training a world champion you should expect that he would be eventually better than you.  At the same time the world champion should be respecting you enough to understand that good part of his/her knowledge comes from you and respect you for that.

In any case here I am not talking about world class fighter, just an ordinary guy with some fighting skills. So, naturally, came my suggestion: “why don’t you come and join us for some Monday session when we are just sparring?”.  His facial expression changed he nearly turned sad in a fraction of a second and he replied: “I would love to” and then he added: ” but I cannot or I would get thrown out of the dojo”.  I was stunned while he continued: “I might do but if anybody in my dojo finds out I am out”.  I reassured stating that what happens in my club is private but nonetheless this conversation made me think a lot.

I can understand that in feudal Japan a master was training Samurais and pretending total, life time loyalty.  In the 21st century, in Cambridge England, when I hear this kind of stories I feel really strange.  My policy has always been for free world, free training: my students train in our club because they like it and they think that what we do is good for them.  Ultimately if people pay a fee for training at your club they are exchanging that money for the teaching they get…

I strongly believe that teachers that are adopting this kind of policy are in reality scared of confrontation and to be compared with other teachers or other styles.  From my point of view martial arts are a way of life and the way you train them should be a result of a selective choice of art and style once you feel you have found the one that suits you best.  Trying to hide to your students what other martial arts do and how they do it, in today’s society where videos and demonstration of just about any martial art can be found on YouTube, it sounds to me a mere illusion to protect your little territory that is not meant to grow very much.

Help me to increase readership

The 2008 is coming to its end: it just occurred to me that this blog has been going for nearly a year now!  I would like to thank you all, the readers and subscribers, that helped Martial What? to grow until now.

My mission for 2009 is to establish Martial What? as an authority blog that discusses interesting topics about martial arts, open to a broader and active readership.  With this post I am asking a little help from all the existing readers to:

  • help me to make Martial What? more interesting by commenting more articles: comments should be posted on the blog please, not directly to me via Email as some time happened in the past.
  • help me to increase membership: if you are reading Martial What? regularly then please subscribe to the blog via Email.  Please then forward each Email you receive to all people you know that might be interested in what Martial What? is about ad the various topics discussed.
  • help me to write about the topics you are interested in: send me some questions via Email (massimo (at) martialwhat (dot) com) that I can discuss and answer on the blog: please no questions about who would win between this and that fighter in UFC or whether Bruce Lee was really so good.

So enjoy a great end of the year 2008 and and wish you fantastic start for 2009.


Some physics about martial arts

I found this video (see below) on you tube and it shows, supported by scientific evidence, a number of facts about what martial art deliver the strongest punch, kick and so on: the video is a National Geographic production and it’s very well made.

Here some of the facts that emerge:

  • Boxing delivers the strongest punch.  Boxing is solely based on punches so boxers continuously refine their techniques until is well polished and super powerful.  Another interesting aspect to consider is that there are many people that practice oriental martial arts for a number of reasons outside sport fighting.  Boxing on the other hand is for fighting and punching hard is part of the specs.
  • The power of any kind of strike is very much based on proper footwork and the co-ordination of the whole body.
  • The most powerful kick is a spinning back side kick: as know it is the combination of using the large groups of muscles from the leg and the bottom, together with a fast spinning action that adds momentum to the technique.
  • A knee strike from a professional Muay Thai fighter may deliver the same impact of being hit by a car travelling at 35 Mph.

I enjoyed watching this video that alternates real life scenes of martial artists striking a dummy in a lab, together with some computer graphics animations that show the physics of the impact while it’s happening.  There are also a few scenes from kung fu movies typically choreographed in Hong Kong style.

While I agree with the general conclusions shown in the video I would like to point out a main factor that makes it a bit unfair.  It is a fact that number people of similar size and body shape might have completely different muscle density and deliver very different results in term of strength and power when striking.  At the same time body weight plays a very strong role in the power delivered in a strike.

I don’t agree in measuring and comparing in absolute terms the over thousand pounds of strike from the boxer, to the lower result obtained by the kung fu master who is obviously much lighter than the rest of the people in the show.