Why hooligans should practice martial arts

I have been practicing martial arts for well over 30 years so the concept of striking other human beings without the need of being angry at them is well embedded in my subconscious. At the same time I cannot understand or tolerate any form of fanatism, being it religious, sport related or whatever else. I do not watch football and I truly struggle to understand how people can have a fight and risk their life in name of the team they support.

A few weeks back I watched a TV documentary about hooligans and how the culture has evolved over the years. More recently they got better organised thanks to technologies like mobile phone but also they have been progressively controlled by increasing security and video surveillance both inside and outside the football fields. When I see tens or hundreds of people whose only purpose in life is to organise a trip to another town and plan how to fight their counterparts it seems to me very much like a barbaric, irrational act which is hard to explain. I can even try to understand why hooligans have this rush to fight but when they use random weapons, fight many of them against one it seems way too dangerous, putting many lives at risk.

I am not stranger to violence and any person who, like me, is into contact martial arts might agree that fighting another human being can be a great challenge and pleasant adrenaline rush. However in martial arts we have a code of ethics, discipline, proper behaviour, we have rules, referees and judges, even medical assistance when needed.

This is the reason I am suggesting to hooligans to take up martial arts; some people might object that they are already dangerous enough without the training by here is my reasoning. Martial arts will:

  • teach them how to be (more) fair toward their opponents
  • that fighting one-to-one is fine
  • that you need to train regularly and being fit
  • that you need humility and respect for your opponents as much as for fellow training partners
  • that if you train and spar regularly you might get the same adrenaline rush as when you fight other hooligans; perhaps if you do that 3-4 times per week you don’t need to do it on match day

That would be nice, wouldn’t it? Or… perhaps people that can be classified as hooligans will not have the discipline and the will power to take up a martial art in a serious way and stick to a regular training regime. That’s why we are martial artists and they are hooligans.

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Fundamental differences between amateur and professional fighting

Image Courtesy and Copyright 2014 Duncan Grisby

For many of us training martial arts is a way of life; some martial artists train just a few times per week or less while others follow a (nearly) daily routine.  While techniques and general skills can be maintained with relatively little effort and commitment the fitness and endurance required to fighting full contact imposes a strict training regime.

When I trained kickboxing in Italy between 1981 and 1994 I was training with several national, European and world class fighters; at that time it was possible to be included in those circles and win their titles while training 3 times per week for a couple of hours, perhaps adding a Saturday afternoon sparring sessions during the last few weeks before a fight.

Fast forward 3 decades and most martial arts clubs I know of are training 4-6 days per week and expect most of their athletes to be training 3-4 of these day, on average.  These minimum requirements for amateurs, perhaps keen amateurs but nothing more than that.

Moving into professional fighting is true paradigm shift, big time so.  Going pro means making a living out of your passion which is great; at the same time the stakes become bigger, much bigger and the level of preparation, in terms of physical fitness, technique, endurance and several other aspects of your practice must grow. An average week for a professional fighter sees a 5-6 days of different training sessions usually split in two daily workouts of 2-3 hours each.  Cardio workout like running are alternated to specific activities that focus on one particular aspect of your training such as speed, strength,  power, endurance, defence, ring (or cage) strategies and so on.  Training is no longer managed by a single coach or instructor but usually by a team of different specialists each of them concentrating on one of the above aspects.  Nutrition becomes also a very important aspect of the professional fighter: eating varied, lean and healthy which is a sufficient suggestion for any good amateur, is no longer enough. Very specific and personalised diets must be followed to ensure the optimum intake of carbs, proteins, amino acids, and vitamins, ensuring maximum energy and fast recovery from each workout while maintaining the best possible weight.

This is true for fighting sports as much as it is for other professional sports like Tennis; I saw an interview with John McEnroe discussing the latest victory of Andy Murray at the Wimbledon 2013.  McEnroe was stating how in the 70ies and 80ies his generation of players were obviously good players, people which played better than others, more than others and went on to win great matches.  The reality of a modern world level player is a complete marketing and sports machine working with several full time experts in strength, fitness, tennis, nutrition as well as mind coaches and sports psychologists.

So if you are considering a career as a professional fighter where you dream a life of training and going for fights think again; it’s way more than just a job.

 

 

 

 

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An inspiring day with Bill Wallace

Bill Wallace - Massimo Gaetani - Paul Barnett

Bill Wallace, Massimo Gaetani and Paul Barnett at Trinity College Cambridge

I recently had the opportunity of spending an entire day, including a 2 hours workshop, with Bill ‘Superfoot’ Wallace and here are some of my impressions about my time with this legend of modern martial arts.  It all started when Paul Barnett, a karate teacher which acts as his agent, contacted me offering a possible date for a seminar that I accepted without hesitation.  I previously met Superfoot in 2011 at a workshop organised by Colin Payne down in Kent but the opportunity of having him in my club with my students and instructors was not to be missed.

Bill arrived at London Heathrow with an overnight flight landing at 5:55am; Paul collected him and drove straight to Cambridge where they arrived just before 8:30am.  I was waiting for them at my clinic.  Bill recognised me from our previous, albeit very short and crowded encounter, but it was immediately as if we knew each other for a long time.  As he was very tired and jet lagged I allowed him to have a nap in one of our therapy rooms.

He woke up at about midday and we went together for lunch and then a coffee in town while visiting a couple of Cambridge Colleges.  The afternoon went by pretty fast and it was soon time for our workshop that lasted about two hours where Bill run through the basic concepts of his ‘Superfoot’ system and he was explaining how he kept winning fights in his career of undefeated 6 time world champion of Full Contact kickboxing.

BillFlexibilityBill is in late 60es and when you see him on the street he looks like a man of his age in a very good shape.  When he gets changed and starts warming up he just transforms in a different person; he is more flexible than most people I know and can kill with a speed and accuracy that must be seen live.

BillMassimoDinnerAfter the workshop we went out for dinner and it was about 9:30pm when Paul called it the day and moved on to their next destination for the workshop they planned for the second day of Bill’s 9 days staying the UK.

All of my students and instructors were thrilled by the idea of training with such a legend before we started.  After the workshop, they all confirmed how Bill exceeded any expectation.  There is no doubt that training with a legend like Bill ‘Superfoot’ Wallace is great from a technical point of view, for any martial artist that uses kicks.  However I gained more insights about his philosophy of life and training than I actually learn new techniques or strategies to win fights.  It’s great to speak to him about how  he met and/or trained with a huge range of celebrities within the martial arts, sports fighting and show business: Bruce Lee, Elvis Presley, Dan Inosanto, Dominique Valera and Benny Urquidez just mention a few.  The fact that at 67 he still training regularly and runs between 80 and 100 workshops per year in 2 continents is a great inspiration for all martial artists that, like me, are aiming at training until old age.  I hope there will be other opportunities to have a seminar with Superfoot in the near future; in the mean time I can say he really made my day.

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Sparring with your friends to win against your demons

I saw the other day this very inspirational video from Benny “the jet” Urquidez and after some initial hesitation I literally had to write something more than a little compliment note.  I always considered myself a martial artist more than a fighter; for me learning and being good at techniques was and is more important than simple beating up people.  However, martial arts are about fighting and being at ease with it is essential, in order to put in practice what we learn from a technical point of view.

Some school push the fighting concept to the extreme and just spar all the time; these school often produce aggressive fighters that might have an easy early career but then face the reality of other aggressive fighter which are also technically very good.  Other schools simply use excuses like “what we do is too dangerous and we cannot practice it” and just don’t spar at all.  I mentioned in previous posts the importance of realistic training as well my view about fighting and winning.

In this short video Benny “the jet” highlights fears and worries that many people have when they start sparring and just by keep training, perhaps by asking to some people to go easy of you until you get better, will help you learn and improve your sparring technique and, eventually, become a champion if that’s what you aspire to.  By sparring your friends you will learn to fight and win against your inner demons that ultimately are the ones who are slowing you down and hindering your fighting skills.

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Be water, my friend

waterdropThis is the last post of 2012 and the title I chose for it is one the sentences that made Bruce Lee famous when, during an interview in the late sixties, he stated that:

“Water is inessential in terms that you cannot grasp it or hit it and damage it; it can drip or crash.  If you put water in a pot it becomes the pot if you out it in a glass it become the glass.  Be water my friend!”

This concept is well explained in many eastern philosophies: water and its versatility as well as its destructive power when floods or tsunamis occur are usually used as  examples.

The concept of being water or behaving like water is in fact well known and broadly used among many Taoists authors and scholars.  Bruce Lee made this concept famous because he was the first celebrity at that time speaking about ancient Chinese philosophy during TV interviews.

My thought for today is: when practicing martial arts, while punching, kicking and performing whatever other technique how often do we actually stop and think about this concept?  Do we ever do it?  Is this a concept we should actually think about when training or it should be used as one of the basic principles on which we base our lives in martial arts?

Happy New Year to everyone!  I hope 2013 will bring great new things to yourselves and those who are close to you.

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