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The Master without a Mask
A Case Study in Reality-based Esoteric Applications
Some time ago I had joined an FMA class I was visiting as a student, rather than as an observer or sparring partner.
I had previously done a round of sparring with the instructor in which he had his stick taken repeatedly, had his right hand bruised, had to switch hands, and then got schooled again when I switched hands. By that phase I was feeling bad and began coaching him and taking it easy even as we sparred. Fortunately his students did not witness this. He had been good enough that I was forced to push the pace—though we both kept the power under wraps—and it had gotten kind of ‘fight-like’.
Now that he had a student present we had no desire to spar, both understanding, that in the martial arts mind, rank is everything, and fight experience is nothing. If I, without rank, armed only with tens of thousands of hours of training and sparring and over 500 fights were to prove his match or more, he and his entire art would be held suspect. In actuality, I know him to have a better skill set than I do, and if he had my experience he would dominate me. So I set my mask and gloves aside and stood in with the student—a really cool guy—as we were instructed on knife defense. After his experience with stick-sparring with me, he confided that he would prefer we study the knife. I kept quiet about my knife preference, and the dozens of steel knife duels, and my actual experience using knives for defense and on and on…
I just went along to get along, hoping he would find a nice safe place from which to deal with an actual weapon-fighter in his weapon class. He chose the unarmed place; combining an FMA flow drill with a catch-wrestling lock, to teach unarmed defenses against the knife. His lock skills were amazing and his flow drill was pretty good. I did not bother mentioning that in America knife users virtually never attack with slashes let alone multiple slashes, and that when dangerous targets of knife aggression reveal themselves at arm’s reach, that the knifer usually slashes the face.
I went along to get along, learning a few things about locks that pleased me. Then he decided to let his student and I ‘free-style the drill’ in which we did two double slashes followed by a stab, and actually tried to contact the unarmed partner’s arms or body. He told us to be careful and not touch the face. That was when I saw my opening for a sane contribution to this devolving FMA fantasy. I raised my hand and said, “I could put my fencing mask on so he can slash and stab my face.”
He said, “No a head piece distorts the drill—isn’t realistic.”
Now, in my mind, what was not realistic was this self-defense drill in which the so-called aggressor took special care not to touch the throat of he who he supposedly wished to kill, and would never consider doing what almost every aggressive untrained knifer does when he finds himself facing a competent, dangerous unarmed antagonist at arm’s reach—slashing the face!
I completed the charade and thanked the FMA instructor for his knowledge.
There were a lot of very realistic things about the HBO miniseries The Wire. One of the most telling was that Omar Little, most feared gangster in Baltimore; a man who hunted drug kingpins for fun and honor, had a scar running down his face from a blade. Of the many hundreds of men I have interviewed about their violent lives in Baltimore, everyone of the seven that had a scar on his face or neck from a knife slash or razor slice was a certifiable badass.
There is an entire collegiate cult in Germany dedicated to slashing one another in the cheek with a saber that harkens back to the knowledge that a man who survived a face cut in a duel was someone to be reckoned with.
How far must the modern martial arts community run to hide from reality; from the bitter actuality of aggression?
How deeply must we bury our heads in the sands of art before the ‘real’ dark ‘world’ finally gets the message that we insist upon living out our brightly lit fantasy no matter what it does to impinge upon our delusions?
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