I participated in traditional martial arts for several years. I started with Aikido and stuck with it for quite a while. This, my friends, was Aikido at its namby-pambiest, replete with swirling skirts, unbending arms, and cries of “Grab my wrist!” When, after 13 months of training, I realized I’d never dare to use any of this in a fi ght, I called it quits.
After many months of no training at all, I was convinced to return to Aikido–this time a harder, “more practical” version. The “practical” part turned out to be Judo. I dug Judo. So much so that I stopped going to Aikido class and only did Judo. What I didn’t dig was driving an hour round trip to the podunky town that was home to the dojo. Being a true member of Generation X, I succumbed my laziness and eventually used this as an excuse to stop going.
My next stop in this journey landed me at a very traditional Karate dojo. At the time, that’s what I thought I wanted. I yearned for a sour old sensei to bark orders at me in Japanese. I wanted to bow when I walked in, bow to the other students, bow to the instructors, just bow bow bow until I gave myself whiplash. I wanted something with a lineage, something that knew exactly where its roots were and was committed to the honorable traits of the samurai.
That’s what I got, and it bit the moose. The formality and the movements were absurd. I was screaming “Osu!” every 30 seconds and trying to fi ght from a stance that required more precision than ballet maneuvers. After earning my yellow belt I became completely disillusioned with the whole thing. I’m not a traditional sort of guy, so I have no idea why I thought I would enjoy a rigid, Japanese-style approach to martial arts.
After I broke up with Karate, I moved in with Kenpo. I thought Kenpo was the one. The school was modern, with few formalities and nothing but contempt for ideas like the chi blast. The instructor billed it as gritty, street-level defense with practical moves designed to incapacitate, maim, and kill an attacker.
It was drilled into our heads that this had nothing to do with point fi ghting. This was serious business. We were involved in a combat art whose sole aim was to render an opponent incapable of fi ghting. Or walking. Or throwing a baseball. Or doing the laundry. In fact, if the attacker ever regained consciousness then we had not done our job.
I loved it. I thought it was the cutting edge of deadly. I was only disappointed that I didn’t get to practice my eye gouges on some willing lackey. Surely, as the deadly process of Kenpo went on, certain students would be weeded out. Those students, in my opinion, should suffer one of two fates. One: They would slink from our pernicious ranks and peddle their inferior, slappy-handed shit someplace where folks stitched “Whomp Ki Do” on their gi. Two: They would become willing death-dummies for those of us bent on becoming an army of black-robed murder machines.
I mean, if I was going to all the trouble to show up for class, and my fi ngers were cramping from being thrust, over and over, into the nonresisting air, where was the payoff? Why couldn’t my fi ngers, crying for blood, be shoved into the tearful eyeholes of one of my subordinates? My fi ngernails, fi lled with Roadhouse strength, were itching to pull throats free from skin and dash them on neon beaches. I yearned to be allowed to slam my joint-locks in so tight that an Aikido master would piss in his hakama. Why wasn’t I allowed to destroy a real person? A person who had probably tried, and failed, to comprehend the neck-cracking, spine-wrenching, skull-fucking whirlwind of hostility and horror that was Kenpo?
Where could I unleash my fury? Certainly not in sparring class, where I routinely got my ass kicked by the 15-yearold kid who never got tired. Not on the heavy bag, which I worked over like Jack the Ripper with a prostitute, never moving my feet from their anchored spot on the mat. DEFINITELY not on the fabled streets, where I was warned my skills could land me in jail if I wasn’t careful of my spear hands and eagle beaks. There were ramifi cations for knowing the crazy shit I knew.
I yearned to rip. To tear. To fi nd a way to test my mettle against folks who loved their eyeballs and their throats and had no idea that I could take them away. Where could I do this? Where would the blazing eastern sun of Kenpo take me to learn if I could pull a man’s life from his body?
Turns out, it took me to an MMA gym. The people at Performance Edge were very friendly. They never said, “You learned WHAT in Kenpo?!” They watched my rapid deterioration of faith in untested martial arts without comment. They gently nurtured my skills in real combat and they never once put me down for what I had done before. When I decided to quit Kenpo for good, those in charge at the MMA gym nodded their heads in agreement and quietly said, “That’s probably for the best. I think you’ll be happier here.”
And they were right. I knew it all along, deep in the pit of my stomach. I just had to be coaxed. Like a starry-eyed virgin on prom night, I just wanted to be talked out of my dress with a minimal fi ght so I could fi nally do all the dirty things my parents warned me about.
And dirty they were. My second week at the gym I got whacked with a fl ip-fl op, hit with a trash can lid, menaced with a baseball bat, and had my contact lens popped out in the midst of a six-man brawl.
I was unprepared for the realities of combat and was crucifi ed by the limitations of my TMA background. MMA was a different beast, and there was a long road ahead of me–one I was willing to take, no matter the pain involved.
A little over a month into my new training, the pain became a very real thing. In my intro-level class, I was learning the doubleleg takedown with another newbie. We were taught the technique and then told to practice on each other. We looked like shotgunned ducks colliding in midair. We fl opped to one knee and tried, with much grunting and fl ying spittle, to upend each other and land in a dominant position. To the untrained observer, it probably looked like two emo kids fi ghting over a Morrissey album. Apparently, it looked the same to my instructor. She yelled for one of the seasoned vets to come over. “Robert,” she said, “do a double-leg on one of these guys so they know how a real one feels.”
I was not wearing a cup that day when Robert, the veteran, blasted in on me. He came in for the double-leg like he’d done it a million times. My eyes jumped as wide as half-dollars, and my limbs froze. His left shoulder slammed into my balls as he pulled me off my feet and crushed me to the fl oor. My crotch lit up like the sign at a Vegas wedding chapel. The pain leaped all the way up my body, bounced off the top of my skull, and ricocheted back down to my stomach, where it conspired to curl me up on the mat like a wee bitch and make me moan over and over.
Eventually, I stood up. That proved to be a mistake. I had to lie down again. Very soon I went home. Despite the pain (which felt like dues after so much worthless MA for so long), I was back the next week. All the physical movements of class aggravated the intense pain in my nuts. I went to see the doctor. He told me that the jolting contact of shoulder to groin had inspired a prostate infection that was ripping through my junk like a wildfi re through California shrub.
He gave me about 9 thousand weeks of antibiotics and advised no exercise whatsoever— including, but not limited to, martial arts, jogging, biking, kicking, sit-ups, walking up stairs, juggling, and, I think, touching myself in a sexy way. It was worth it. And I’ll be back.