Thursday, January 12, 2012


Once upon a time, I entered a weapons competition at a martial arts tourney. This was in Louisiana, 1974, so long ago that they were still called "karate tournaments." Not the gathering in New Orleans at which I saw a "kung fu master" screw up a double machete demo that resulted in his student visiting an ER for sutures in his belly above his iliac crest, but not long before or after it. Those were the last days I spent any time attending such events.

I did a chan-gen staff form, and the level of competition back then was not anything like what it is today; no wushu gymnastics; nobody did somersaults and flying drops to full-splits while waving skeletonized aluminum weapons–it was all stand-up stuff and "real" weapons, such that they were. As I recall it, most of the competitors did Okinawan forms.

The guy to beat, apparently, was a fellow who was going to do a double nunchaku form while blindfolded. On the one hand, these were the standard tapered-octagonal ash sticks that used to be all you could buy–heavy, and if you whacked yourself, dangerous. On the other hand, waving them around is more a thing of feel than of sight.

I did my form and stepped off the floor. The guy-to-beat–let's call him "Chuck," for his choice of implements–came over to me, held up his nunchaku, and said, "I could take you."

I smiled. Didn't believe him for a second. I was, back in those days, very comfortable with a long stick, and the staff, handmade and capped with brass on both ends, was solid. To get close enough to whack me with his numbchucks, he'd have to get past my weapon, and I didn't think he could do it. 

Chuck stepped up to do his form, and it was pretty impressive. He had good control of the weapons, he danced around, moved his feet as he battled imaginary opponents, stepped this way, turned, spun, he was skilled, moving fast and hard. And blindfolded.

Thing was, Chuck got lost during the turns and spins, and when he was finished, he, did a deep bow to the judges, only, they weren't in front of him, they were ninety degrees to his left. When he came up and removed his blindfold, I could see it in his face–he knew he had goofed. Hadn't stuck the landing.

Probably that's why I beat him. And I  must confess that after his brag, that felt pretty good.

Of course, we were both outscored by a tai chi guy doing a sword form, which was really uncommon in those days and locale. Still, I got a trophy and it was bigger than Chuck's.

Um. Anyway, the point of all this is that while mindset matters–attitude will carry you through sometimes when skill alone won't, both will serve you better. Being a bad ass is good. Being a well-trained bad ass is better ...

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