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Martial Arts October 3, 2006 Tuesday

Martial Arts

National Geographic's Fight Science
This week marks National Geographic's Martial Arts week - a week long showcase of martial arts that start at 9pm. The initial episode last Sunday put cutting-edge technology to look into the anatomy of several martials arts disciplines - Karate, Tae-kwon-do, Ninjitsu, Boxing, Kung-fu, Muay Thai and Jiu-jitsu. This is a totally new approach to dissecting the mysteries of these arts. Now, the blows, speed, range and human damage are measured and supported by hard empirical numbers. Comparative tests underscore the strengths and limitations of these fighting styles.

Cast of Characters
The participants are by no means some self-proclaimed Joe Blows picked up off the street to try their wares. The array of performers are probably the who's who of martial arts in the global arena. Gracing the show were legendary valetudo (anything goes) champion Rickson Gracie, 25-year Ninjitsu practitioner Glen Levy and world Tae-kwon-do champion Bren Foster. Wu-Shu (Kung-fu) was represented by the reigning Olympic champion. Each of them was given a snippet to briefly discuss their style.

Totem Pole Ranking
As far as superlatives go, given the output of all the technological gadgetry used, Boxing packed the most devastating punch, Kung-fu delivered the fastest assaults within a given time frame (3x faster than a snake strike), Ninjitsu proved to be the most balanced and efficiently deadly (its hammer fist packs enough force to stop the human heart - kill the opponent), Muay Thai unleashed its deadly knee-strike comparable to a 55km/hour car crash.

A Martial Arts Background
I had to leave a dinner party early just to catch the show on time (sorry, Steve). I waited a whole week for this. What a film feature! In high school, I took up Karate, but that was abruptly ended when my kick went through and hit my instructor to the head on a friendly sparring match - he felt he lost face to the audience so he retaliated by dislocating my jaw. During my university days, I took up Boxing as a doctor-prescribed antidote to my depression. When my depression went away, so did my motivation to pursue Boxing...too bad. While in Canada, as a working adult, I took up Muay Thai from a Thai fighter who learned the art in the jungles of Thailand. Work got in the way and I couldn't put the due time for it.

Muay Thai
Given my exposure to the 3 martial arts, I would say Muay Thai is the most vicious. All the best fighters in the gym had at one time or another been debilitated for an extended period of time due to friendly sparring injuries. Can you imagine what it might be like in an actual combat in the ring? Its use of elbows and knees are merciless. My only misgiving about it is its defense. Unlike Aikido, where the enemy's force is used against him, Muay Thai deflects the blows, which means absorbing as high as 80% of the force. It's bone against bone. The weaker bone breaks. Also, Muay Thai fighters can't fight on the ground. Wouldn't it be the perfect martial art combining the striking offensive of Muay Thai, the defence of Aikido and the ground-fighting techniques of Jiu-Jitsu?

I had an almost moment in having a Karate teacher take me into his fold - and he's even a family friend - Nonong Mercado. He practised Karate 6 hours/day for 26 years. With training coming from several Japanese masters, his exploits into Karate have been rough hewn by the innumerable street fights he's had in the twin-fisted bowels of Quiapo, Tondo and the likes. He's battle-scarred with bottle attacks, knife stabs, lead pipes from fights he wouldn't back away from, that earned him respect amongst members of notorious gangs like Bahala Na Gang, Oxo Gang and Sigue-Sigue Sputnik. His repertoire of bigger-than-life stories are all animated and engaging. And they're all true - my father, who's another tough cookie, was with him on some of those fights.

The Color of Quiapo
My Dad told of a story when both of them went to Quiapo to hussle in pool halls. When they had won all the money, the local tough guys wouldn't let them leave unscathed - very similar to Paul Newman's movie, The Hustler. They expected it anyway and were prepared to knuckle it out. It was 2 against 6. All hell broke loose - cue sticks got whacked around, pool balls got thrown, chairs came flying across. My Dad was hit hard and was already on the floor, but still conscious to see what was happening still. He saw the local toughies being thrown back with Nonong's Karate kicks and punches. He was a human tornado that devastated anything within his radius. Ultimately, since Nonong was unstoppable, someone threw him an ashtray that knocked him out. They both woke up in the hospital.

Oh yes, my almost moment with Nonong. He mentioned recently that given his teaching style, he can make his student combat-ready in 3 months. I immediately looked him in the eye and said he has my 3 months - "...when do we start?". He was startled by what I said. He didn't expect it, nor did he meant his remark as an offer. He took a graceful exit by saying he has been drunk everyday for the last 20 years and is in no position to teach (although at 69, he can still do the 3-finger push ups). I let him off the hook. It's true - he'll die if he doesn't get his alcohol dose for the day. Had he said yes, however, I probably wouldn't be in Sagada now.

Ending Thoughts
Having seen 2 martial arts episodes of Nat Geo already, with 5 more to go, I am totally stoked. I just realized how much I miss martial arts. It's been years. I miss it now like I miss riding my mountain bike on extended rainy spells. From the outside, martial arts may seem as the science of beating up the other guy. Well, it may well be for some, but that is too remote from its truth. It's not about the other guy. Martial arts is about self-knowing...rebuilding bridges between body, mind and spirit. It's a different kind of yoga. Every hit on the bag is an exorcism of whatever demon dwells within. Every kata move is to harness the energy of the collective whole that envelopes us - very much like Tai-Chi. Yoga, martial arts, Tai-Chi, meditation....different different names to bodies of water (rivers, streams, brooks, etc.) that all lead to the sea. Different journeys.....same destination.

--- TheLoneRider

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