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The Essence of Martial ArtsMaking Your Skills Work in Practice
By John Hennessy
iUniverse, IncCopyright © 2011 John Hennessy
All right reserved.
Chapter OneMartial Arts Beginnings
Why I got into it, and how I began my formal training.
i.) The Reasons Why I Got Into Martial Arts.
Why would anyone want to learn martial arts? Although easy to start with, it is very hard to master, the dedication required to achieve a good standard is more than many people can take. There is a misconception that it is all about violence, and that those who do it are aggressive too. Surely there are better things to do with your time and money?
There is, however, in today's world, here in the 21st century, a real need for martial arts, and for people to learn it, and to learn it well.
The good news is, it is often very enjoyable to learn and become good at a particular style of martial art that suits you.
Whichever style you choose, if you stick at it, it will become more to you than just a series of movements, kicks, blocks and punches. It becomes something that you find you almost cannot do without—it gets in your blood. I'd like to tell you why I got into martial arts.
I am not really talking about obsession here. I believe in martial arts from a practical viewpoint. I really believe that people need to know some form of self defence that will help them if they find themselves in a situation of real danger, where they or a loved one (or someone they see being attacked) could be seriously or fatally injured.
There is no guarantee in the world that would protect you from such an injury, but the likelihood is, someone who practices martial arts is more likely to walk away alive—and that is the key point—alive and able to walk home that night. A lot more likely than someone who does not have the skills to defend themselves or confidence gained from those skills to find a safe resolution to that situation.
You might think that because I have written this book that I have always been confident and always known exactly what to do in any given situation. You might even think that martial arts exponents may be something like the masters in the Kung Fu movies, able to do death defying moves at lightning speeds. In some cases, there are people who have studied martial arts for so long and have been so dedicated that they can do some very special things with their bodies.
For me, however, the road to martial arts was not an easy one, and perhaps more difficult for me than others. I did not arrive into this world a natural-born fighter, nor was I that naturally talented. In fact, fighting was something I largely disliked. I could not really understand why someone would want to use his or her limbs in such a manner as to hurt someone.
My mom and godmother were great role models for me. I had been brought up to respect others, especially those older than me, or other authority figures.
It began when I attended my Secondary school. I was aged just eleven and had thoroughly enjoyed my time at Junior school. Going to a much bigger place, with more students, teachers and of course, subjects I was rather overwhelmed and I suppose in that respect I was not alone.
While contemplating all that may have seemed difficult enough for an eleven-year-old, I was up for it and felt I was becoming more grown up. My mother and godmother had brought me up extremely well and I remain to this day thankful for their guidance. It was this that gave me a lot of courage to face this difficult transition from junior to senior school. I had made many friends there and none were coming to my new school.
I had hoped on my first day that I would make new friends, although I was aware that I was not much of a mixer, and so, I didn't make new friends easily.
Perhaps some of the more bullish children picked up on this and soon enough, for reasons to this day I find hard to explain, I became one of those children who found themselves getting 'picked on'. This would range from name-calling (I was told to ignore that by teachers because 'words don't hurt' which of course is not true, it is hurtful) to actual physical challenges which some of you will be familiar with 'I'll see you at the school gates at home-time'.
For some, they didn't wait for home-time and the fights would start in the playground, or on other occasions before, during and after lessons and maybe when I would be walking to the bus stop, which was close to a mile away from the school.
It seemed a very surreal experience. I didn't understand why they were attacking me, or why I could not seem to muster up a suitable response. I had told teachers what had happened because I had been told that was the right thing to do. In fact, it only served to make things much much worse and I continued to have these surreal experiences. In my mind, I was doing nothing that made these kids want to attack me, but I was also doing nothing wrong by telling the teachers I was actually being physically hurt as a result of these encounters.
Even back then, I do recall that while punches and kicks and slaps and chops would hurt, they seemed to lose their effectiveness or potency rather quickly, and I then assumed perhaps they would stop their assaults. Usually that would actually be the case, until the next new school day, and it would begin all over again.
I was pretty bright in most of the classes, and really excelled in some subjects. I felt that if the teacher would give me more attention in class, ask me questions, or get me to work in groups or to partner up, I would get more respect from classmates, and I suppose to a certain extent, I did. And so, they would move on to someone else to focus their energies on.
There were still a few kids there who seemed to just have one sole purpose to their existence—to make my life a misery. And for two years, it was certainly the case. I hated the school—that school.
I thought the teachers were worse than useless, because telling them what was happening would turn around to the point that they would ask me why I thought I was being attacked. Instead of dragging these kids into detention or suspending them, I found that I would be the one staying after school in detention!
Given that I had had threats like 'I'll see you at the school gates at 3:30' come all too often, maybe detention was the teachers' indirect way of keeping me safe.
This couldn't go on, of course, and during the summer of 1986 I resolved to find out all I could about martial arts. I had seen films like The Karate Kid and whilst I thought the film itself was pretty poor with a completely improbable climax, I did relate to what the main protagonist was going through.
What I didn't have, unlike Danny LaRusso in the film, was a local martial arts master to teach me how to deal with these 'children' effectively.
So I would mimic what he did in the film, practising kicks for a few hours a day and I did start to feel I was getting stronger. But I knew kicks on their own wouldn't be enough.
With no local martial arts master on hand, I considered joining classes. What I saw of them though really put me off. I would go to clubs, and peep through the windows to see what was going on, and what was actually going on? People, being thrown across the room. People shouting loudly at each other. People, punching and kicking each other. Hard. I did't like the look of it at all, much less fancy joining a class, and paying for it so that someone could do that to me.
Options were few and time was running out. The summer holidays of 1986 would be over in just a month, and I would be starting my third year at that hellish school. Oh yes, it would have been possible to get transferred to another school, but quite likely I would meet the same sort of kids there. Or maybe something worse.
In the cold light of day, I realised it was just a handful of people who were causing me problems. I felt that if I could just stand up to them, maybe their over confidence would be exposed, and that in itself would give me confidence.
Many years later, I would understand that size, gender, body type would not really matter in terms of how you fight them. The tactics, in how you approach them, might have to be adapted, but the strategy, that is to roundly defeat your opponent, would always be the right one.
However, this was 1986, and I had to quickly get some skills together. I doubted I could be a black belt in Karate in just five weeks as in The Karate Kid. I had just three weeks left, and had just two kicks in my repertoire ... a front kick and a roundhouse kick.
I didn't count the side kick, it seemed far from good enough anyway and also, the front kick had been used on me a number of times. I actually wanted to spend some time on learning how to block it effectively.
I was in town and I think I had been to see a film at the local cinema, when I went into a bookstore and happened across a book on Karate, Step by Step Karate by Vic Charles.
I read a few pages and decided that it would be a good buy for me. It had good pictures and concepts seemed to be pretty well explained.
This was the third option I had been looking for. Of course, I would have loved it if I had known someone who could teach me how to protect myself—not so much fight, I was'nt interested in that ... but the book would be money well spent and time well invested if I could make it work.
On return to School that Autumn I felt more confident. I had no idea why, I just felt like I could actually defend myself better than I had in the last two years.
Within a week it started. Only against one particular person. He was the year 'tough' and most people in my year feared him. He was tall, and had a mean look about him. He had been particularly vicious to me in years one and two but wanted to take it up a notch.
In the class, I had arrived a bit later than the others but grabbed a stool and went to sit down. This guy grabbed the stool and I nearly fell off. He was freakishly strong.
However, I was'nt taking his nonsense this time and did my best to wrestle the stool from him. Then he hit me in the chest, extremely hard.
It's fair to say I had'nt been hit that hard in my life before. But prior to that day, I may have hit the ground due to the force. This time, I kept my balance—score one for the power of martial arts!
I managed to overcome him using some of the skills I have been learning, but suffice to say, I never got bothered by him again, and for the most part it was a good thing, as no-one else really bothered me either. I did not become 'the bully as a result of being bullied', I just went about things in my quiet way, and focussed on my lessons in my remaining time at school, and that is what I encourage any young person reading this book to do so too.
ii) How I Began My Formal Training.
It would be a full three years before I would start formal training with a real martial arts instructor. It was 1989 and I was now leaving the school that had given me so many problems with good grades, and a feeling that I would be leaving much more confident than when I had entered five years before.
Martial arts, in my limited understanding of them, had helped to give me a 'centre' and sense of balance in my teenage years. If I had not started training in 1986 I have no doubt I would have failed most, if not all of my exams, which would have been devastating to me.
I did feel I really was ready for formal training now. I know some people say 'I wish I had started this when I was five years old'. Perhaps all of us share this view, but you are never too old to learn, and to start later is better than not starting at all, and wondering what might have been achieved.
In 'Acknowledgements', at the end of this book, I pay tribute to the teachers I have had over the time. Special mention is given here to my first instructor, as she was the one who has influenced me the most.
Sifu Miss Karen Li-Kung Fu and Karate Instructor from 1989-1991 (at the School) and 1991-1996 on a 1-2-1 personal training level.
Karen Li was my first real instructor. Karen was just 18 when I first enrolled on one of her Karate classes, because she taught them when her father was unavailable. At that time, she already held a 1st Dan black belt in Karate and also Judo. Almost needless to say she was a expert in Kung Fu and had practised many styles, mainly Wing Chun, but also Shaolin, Lau Gar, Choy Li Fut and Hung Gar Kung Fu.
She was a 'qi gong' student also. I didn't really understand it at the time, I wish I had done so. But how can you really understand all that a master can impart to you? I was too young, and far too inexperienced at that time. Like most foolish young people, I thought I was better than I really was. I mean, I was okay, I had a decent grasp of skills. But I was'nt a tenth as good as the fighter in my mind's eye.
Karen Li, on the other hand, was the 'real deal' and was extremely skillful. I don't think, even to this day, I have seen anyone move with such grace and yet such power.
This came about because the Karate and judo classes were more popular for some reason. She always rated Kung Fu above Karate and Judo, although understood the benefits of the systems.
One day, I think it was my 600th lesson or something (I used to train 4-6 times a week, on this occasion, no-one else turned up. Only me. I thought the lesson would not go ahead. To Karen's credit, she began the lesson as she began all others. I said it was not necessary to go ahead but she insisted, saying 'we always teach those ready to learn', and that the fact that I was the only one there made no difference.
But it did. I felt special, but also very nervous. You see, Karen Li was a tremendous martial artist and most of the other students, including me, were in awe of her.
So this lesson was going to be a bit different. There was to be no hiding from Karen, or her training method - as I would find out later, which would be relentless and bordering on torture. But to simplify her teaching like that would be disingenuous. Her teaching was extremely effective and I use what methods she taught me to this day.
Her training methods were 'different', shall we say. She had a garden in which she did a lot of her training. She introduced me to 'the block' which was to be my best friend. All I saw was a stone bench from which bits of jagged stone protruded, which she explained could be raised to different heights and had multiple uses.
So the first lesson was to learn how to strike, and hard. Without the need for using heavy weights or dubious cardio-vascular routines, after two hours hitting this stone table my fingers, hands, even my arms were shaking.
When I asked her why I had to do this (when I had actually thought I had come to learn Kung Fu) she said that this was not the time for questions. She also pointed out I was wasting time by asking the question. But she said, in her self deprecating manner 'I'll humour you. The only question you need to ask yourself is 'How good at Kung Fu do I really want to be?'
I soon learned that this question, if you replace the words 'Kung Fu' with whatever you are looking to do with your life, was a lesson for your life. And this is what I was taught in the very first one-to-one lesson.
That is not to say that is how I do one-to-one lessons. This is because her teaching methods became increasingly more extreme when say a tournament neared (more on that later).
By a private lesson, I thought she meant an hour. More than six hours later, I'm still there, being put through all manner of kicks, punches, blocks, forms, and exercises that bordered on torture. In fact I think it was torture, dressed up as personal training.
I was close to passing out, when finally we stopped. I had'nt even noticed her father had returned some hours earlier. But he seemed to be looking out from the window, half smiling, half resigned (as if to say 'this boy is not tough enough for training in Chinese Kung Fu'). At that point, I'd have agreed with him. In fact, I would have agreed with anything to get out of there.
It was like the Karen I thought I knew at the club had been kidnapped and been replaced by this incredibly harsh person. I wanted to ask 'Who are you, really, and what have you done with her?' but I had already asked one question today. I figured if I wanted to get out of there, I had best keep my mouth shut.
'Okay then' she said as I was going 'see you at 6am tomorrow. We go for a run'.
I was thinking, 'What??? Is she kidding me?'
Excerpted from The Essence of Martial Arts by John Hennessy Copyright © 2011 by John Hennessy. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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