I mentioned in conversation a couple of days ago that I was going to be starting to learn Kyokushin Karate in Japan and that I was very excited. One of the people involved in the discussion mentioned that the first few months of any martial art is going to be less interesting, but if I stuck with it I would probably start to enjoy it. I told him that I was not new to martial arts, only to Karate, and that I was a Second Dan Black Belt in Taekwondo. He then went off on a tangent telling me how Taekwondo is not a serious martial art, and it’s only about kicking, and how real martial artists (like the ones in the UFC) study Muay Thai, BJJ, and other serious arts.
Now here’s the thing… he was very clear that he is not a martial artist, but he is a big fan, and he continued insulting Taekwondo as being inferior and useless as compared to other martial arts. He talked about the Monk Tournament, UFC, and seemed to know a lot of the plusses and minuses of many different martial arts.
The problem was he had never learned about respect, one of the key tenets of every martial art. He did not realize and would not listen when told by me and by others that he was being offensive, insulting, and disrespectful. He kept trying to prove that his book knowledge made him an authority. I told him that I would gladly invite him to my dojang in Mississauga to learn Taekwondo, and see if he might learn a new respect for it. One way or another, until he earned a Black Belt I was not willing to listen to him insult me, my Master, my GrandMaster, and my art.
Here’s the thing. I know that different martial arts have their strengths and their weaknesses, and frankly I am quite cognizant of these. However if someone is going to tell me how much they dislike my primary martial art, they had better have a Black Belt of their own, otherwise they cannot have any credibility. The Black Belt can be in any art, from Karate to Brazilian Jiu Jitsu to whatever, but to come at me with pure theory and telling me that my art isn’t very good is a very strong insult from someone with absolutely no idea what he is talking about.
The person continued talking about ‘pure martial artists’… people who strictly learn a single art. In my experience, there is no one perfect martial art, and any practitioner who is serious will have a base in one art but a lot of knowledge of others – for example, my Taekwondo school (Oriental Martial Arts College) does teach Taekwondo, but we also integrate a lot of Hapkido into the curriculum from the very early belts. The Hapkido complements Taekwondo and closes some of the potential shortcomings. As my Master once told me, there is no pure martial art because all martial arts borrow from each other and evolve. The fans of UFC may prefer watching certain forms, but even the UFC fighters use different styles… hence the name Mixed Martial Arts.
I had visited the Kyokushin dojo once before to watch a class before returning to join. I had not told the Sensei anything about my previous martial arts experience… I wanted to (out of respect for both him and for GrandMaster Kim), and had even arranged to bring a friend to translate for me. It fell through, so I had to do my best… I told him I wanted to learn from him, he told me what the rates were, and that was essentially the end of the conversation. When I returned Monday evening he told me to change at the back of the room. As I pulled my workout kit out (I don’t have a gi yet, but it is on order) the Sensei saw my Black Belt pop out. He immediately had his entire class turn and bow to me. They may practice a different art from me, but a Black Belt is a Black Belt.
When my gi does come in, for the first time in several years, I will be wearing a White Belt. I will not ask the Sensei for any special considerations for me based on my pre-existing Black Belt – I am a Black Belt already, and that does not change by donning a white one for a new art. Even in Taekwondo one of our words of wisdom that we repeat after class is Cho Shim… Beginner’s Mind. I am looking forward to starting from the beginning again though… it is really exciting! More on that later.
Wish me luck… it’s the morning after, and my body is aching just like I hoped. I kept up just fine, but am really looking forward to sparring… Sensei won’t let me spar until I have the protective equipment. Look forward to a bunch of articles about my new martial art in the next few weeks!