Wake Up

Jean Shelton

Jean Shelton

I was talking to a friend of mine today. We met during my acting days when we both attended The Shelton Theater school for actors in San Francisco. Man, I miss those days. Jean Shelton had been around since The Group Theater in New York, and for those of you who know that lineage, they produced some of the best actors the world had literally seen. I’m talking about Marlon Brando, Lee Strasberg, Harold Clurman, famed director Elia Kazan, list goes on and on. She’d also met the greats like Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller. Her history is simply amazing.

Is my teef big enouf?
Is my teef big enouf?

My friend and I were discussing his history with women and how he only felt comfortable dating Asians. I asked him why, and he stated that he didn’t venture outside of our own slanty-eyed folk because he didn’t want to get rejected due to his ethnicity. During his formidable years in high school, he was bullied due to being one of the few ethnic kids in a town that was predominantly white. Of course, after many, many years his past still haunts him. And really, it’s not his past, but his constant thinking of it, blaming it that limits him.

This brought to mind almost all of my characters in my fantasy, Nightfall. Every one of them has a past that has directly affected their actions and decisions in the present. And almost all the time, those decisions have helped moved the story along because the choices they made were based on limited thinking and fear, resulting in disasters.

And disasters are great for storytelling. “We need to get this amulet to save the world. After acquiring it, the enemy stole it and will use it to conquer the world over. What do we do?”

My main character, for example, lost a toddler through a horrible, tragic accident that was outside of his control. (Read the prologue) Guilt and hate and fear swirl around him and his wife, weaving through out the story, churning their decisions into bad ones. And they can’t seem to get themselves out of their past.

Now, I’m not saying it’s easy. But then, I’m not saying it needs to be difficult. For me, it took time to get over my relationships that ended, for example. And it did n’t take much for some of my exes. Not sure if that’s saying something about me. Nah.

Eventually, I did let go of the trauma, which you need to understand was self-inflicted. I know this because sometimes I kept those memories alive. And in those rare moments where I was steeped in something else, the pain disappeared. And I guess that’s why rebounds are so common. The new relationship takes your mind off of the old one.

Going back to my friend, he hasn’t let go of the fact that his ethnicity is not to be blamed for what he perceives to be a limitation. It’s his continued belief in that idea. I told him my nephew has a black girlfriend, and they absolutely love each other.

I was like what...cuz he was like this much

I was like what...cuz he was like this much

Once you go black, you don't go back. That apparently doesn’t apply to Asians. One of my first exes had dated two black guys before me. I guess you can go back.

I personally understand the stigma of being Asian. I was bullied during school in a different way. Many of the jocks sat close to me during tests because they wanted to copy my answers. I shrugged because I wasn’t the best student in school. But they assumed that I studied hard when I hardly studied. Those same jocks were shocked when I could keep up with them in P.E. class. What they didn’t realize is being chased throughout the school helped me run faster. The threat of wedgies scared the shit out of me, so we nerds had no choice but to book it. Most of us never got caught, but that’s because we were forced to be fast.

Wayne Dyer, a well known self help author and speaker, said that the wake is the trail that’s left behind…the wake can’t drive the boat. So it is with our own pasts.

More and More About Less and Less

As a writer and a former student of acting, I people watch. Sometimes I’m judgmental when I don’t mean to be. A lot of times I form stories in my head. And most of the time the stories happen on their own. Not sure what it is that makes me do this, but here I am. If you’ve read my bio, then you know how I feel about the martial arts school I’d come from. But in their defense they have worked very hard to become nationally recognized, especially under the Ed Parker name, and have good relations with certain officials in the Chinese community.

Uhhhhh...

Uhhhhh...

And in the great comedic words of Brian Regan: I don’t want to step on anyone’s beliefs…well…here we go.

I had received an invitation celebrating the head black belt’s 25th anniversary in martial arts, honoring him as teacher and master. The man has done a lot for the school and the discipline. And here’s where I have an issue: the discipline.

Da Man

Da Man

I had majored in kinesiology, study of human movement, at university. One of the fundamental principles in learning movement is repetition.

Ah...uh...it's an A!

Ah...uh...it's an A!

Take writing for example. When we first learned how to write the letter ‘A’, we probably traced dashed lines that formed that letter. The teacher then removed the training wheels and asked us to write the letter ‘A’ on a blank sheet of recycled paper. We learned how to sound out simple words like ‘see’, ‘dog’, ‘run’. Learned the basic structure of a sentence. Then we were taught what a basic paragraph looked like.

Whoppah!

Whoppah!

Learning martial arts isn’t too far from that. You learn what a fighting stance is, where to put your hands, learn defensive moves like blocking and attacks like punching and kicking. The teacher demonstrates. The student follows.

Once a student learns the alphabet (punching, kicking, blocking), simple self-defense techniques are taught. Someone grabs your shirt, you trap his wrists by grabbing them so he can’t hit you and knee him in the nuts, the balls, the family jewels. More properly known as the groin. (Why are all attackers male?) As the color of your belt changes, so does the complexity of the techniques, like learning how to write a paragraph.

There’s only one problem with this.

When a high school student is given an assignment to write an essay, she must come up with the words on her own. She’ll be given a subject, but she has to do the work.

Fighting is no different. When a person gets attacked, she must fend for herself. Her teacher won’t be there to help. And because people are different, so are their attacks. An attack on a woman will be different than on a man. A man attacking will be different than a woman attacking.

Now, if you’ve watched a boxing match, you’d know that a fight is very dynamic.

Fundamental principle in human reaction: When learning how to cope with two or more different kinds of stimuli, one must train in that similar environment. So if you want to play classical music, then you'll train to play classical music. Make sense?

The Greatest Ever

The Greatest Ever

Boxers work on technique all the time. Thing is, he can have the best punch in the world, but it’s useless if he can’t hit his opponent. So he focuses on accuracy through different drills like mitt and bag work, and, more importantly, he spars. Not only does he have to contend with his own footwork and where he is in relation to his opponent, he must deal with his opponent’s aggression, physical strength, etc. However, having one sparring partner can become stagnant. Often boxers will have several to mix things up. One person’s tells in poker will differ from another, as an example.

My former school did almost no partner drills or pad/bag work with their general student population. No physical drills in an art that is physical. So what did they do? Practice self-defense techniques in the air. Something Bruce Lee argued against vehemently. Below is a video of how most of the training is done but wasn't from the school I'm referring to. It's just a random video that showcases my point.

It was at this point where I’d realized their method of teaching was highly limited. Then came the straw that broke the camel’s back.

We had often made fun of other disciplines like Tae Kwan Do, Karate and such. That once someone gets a black belt, they learn more of the same stuff. They have a saying: You learn more and more about less and less. Clever, yes. Astute? Not so much.

In the school, once a black belt is earned, “new” techniques are learned. All of which are practiced without a partner, in the air, like a student learning to trace more and more complex essays. The value wasn't there. It's like a wrestler practicing alone on the mat. If he only does that, he's not going to fare well against a live person.

They teach: Think outside of the box but bring it to us first and we’ll let you know if we approve of it. My best friend brought them ideas, which they shot down, only to integrate them and call it their own. They gave no credit to my friend. Why? I'm not sure. I don’t think they know. Many of their teachers left, teachers whom I like to term thinkers.

So when I got the invitation, all I could think of was how little has changed there. Certainly, the head black belt has learned a lot. Knowing what I know about human movement, I am certain he’s learned more and more about less and less.

Brain Washed?

There's one in every organization. A devoted minion waiting to please their master. How do people gain these devotees is something I write about in my book. This past Saturday I went to a friend's black belt presentation.  Then attended an after party at an instructor's house.

If you've read mybio, you know my opinion of that.

I hadn't been back to the school for many years.  By choice mind you.  Most of the students have changed.  But nothing outside of that has.  They still teach the rigid style of martial arts, the same kind that Bruce Lee rebelled against.  But there was something more sinister going on that I'd forgotten over the years.

One of the common beliefs that the students and teachers hold is once someone gets a black belt that person is never wrong, or never questioned.  Now, they don't necessarily teach this, but that notion is enforced.

One indication is this.

One of the things students do is bow to all of the instructors when they enter and exit the school.  It's a form of respect.  It's fairly normal in all martial arts schools.  But when people started bowing to black belts at the after party, I shook my head.  It's unnecessary.  They were in someone's home, outside of the formal school setting. And no one stopped it.  Brain washed?

Many of the students also take whatever the black belts say as gospel.  They don't realize that black belts are just people with a freakin' belt colored in black.  And this is where the danger comes from.

A good student is one who follows but also thinks for himself.  And as a result, they should ask the teacher questions.  Why is this important?

A student must follow in order to learn.  This is how wisdom and knowledge is passed down.  Fair enough.  The student should then think, "Does this apply to me?"  Not all the time.

Here's an example:  If I were teaching a woman about self defense, she may not have the kind of strength and power that a man has.  So accuracy and reaction training is VERY important.  She has to be able to make every single strike count because her targets will be much more specific-eyes, nose, throat, solar plexus, groin.  Her reaction has to be instant, like avoiding a punch, because a single punch can end her day. And women have to take into account long hair if they have it.

That doesn't mean I don't focus on power or speed, which are directly related.  But I'd point out what she needs immediately in order to make her dangerous as soon as possible.  I'd teach her how men commonly attack women.  That way she knows what to look for, and what to attack if she is to be accosted.

If I were to teach a man, I'd still teach him the importance of striking the eyes, nose, throat, solar plexus and groin.  But his strength may be enough to offset the attacker without using lethal strikes.  So I would point out his physical strengths, his awareness of reach, and the common ways men are attacked.

I'd also get rid of the notion of self defense to both men and women.

As you can see, there are major differences in teaching males and females.  And the differences extend to teaching children.  They are further distilled down to individuals, depending on who they are.

A lot of these martial arts schools will teach a one-size-fits-all routine that don't take into account how a person learns, how a human body works, or even the self-worth of the student, the mental side.  Add the egos that are displayed in a lot of these schools, the bowing, the not able to question teachers, and the rigid routines, are the reasons why I left.

Bruce Lee rebelled against the gospel type of martial arts.  He was one of the first to emphasize mixing of martial arts.  There is truth in that, which is why MMA is so prevalent today.

What to Look for in a Martial Arts School

If you've read my bio, you'll know that I've taught martial arts since 1993. A long time. Most of the classes that I taught were kids classes. For most schools, kids make up a large percentage of the population. Parents think it teaches them respect, discipline, self-defense, and a whole slew of stuff.

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