I have written several articles about Finding Your Own Voice as a martial arts professional. I’d like this article to focus on some typical martial artist characters. When you meet these guys you’ll know they have not yet found their own voice.
The Tough Guy
Once I saw the Tough Guy as a corner judge in a point match. He refused to move. When a fighter complained, this guy threatened to “pound him.” Martial arts has not made these guys better people, as much as it has given them additional weapons to bully and intimidate. They need to be extra tough and aggressive to make sure no one thinks they aren’t. This is someone my grandmother would call a very small man.
Travis is the character played by Robert DeNiro in Taxi Driver. Bickle doesn’t do martial arts per se but transforms himself into a militant vigilante. His was the classic scene in front of the mirror as he pretends to confront someone with the line, “You talkin’ to me? You talkin’ to me? Then, who you talkin’ to?”
In high school, I wore karate pants, my karate school T-shirt, and wooden Japanese sandals. I was like Travis in adopting a new identity. I was “Karate Jock.” I grew out of it. Some guys never do.
Typically, these people are more fringe martial artists than hard core. They play-act like they are martial artists more than they actually engage in structured training. I knew one who seemed to learn everything from books. Somehow he got a black belt and taught students in his garage. His living room was a weight gym/dojo. Travis Bickles are fascinated by the martial arts but never seem to undergo extended training under one instructor or system. Mind you, that won’t stop them from getting a black belt.
At best, they are lifelong dabblers in the martial arts. At the worst, well, they may not be far off from Travis Bickle.
Mr. Negative has seen everything and tried everything, but nothing works for his school. He blames his area, his economy, the belt factory down the street, or the current president for his school’s struggles. He is critical of everyone and everybody. He starts sentences with, “The problem with ______ is . . .” Insert a name, style, system, idea, tournament, or business idea in the blank, and you have Mr. Negative. Not a fun guy.
Crusty the Clown
With the movement toward personal development in the classroom, some instructors work hard to look like perfect role models. They talk like a rehashed motivational speaker: “What are you passionate about now?” They try to come off as a hybrid Mr. Rogers and Robin Williams. Truthfully, they remind me more of a character from The Simpsons named Crusty the Clown.
Crusty is a favorite of the kids, who idolize him and watch every episode of his children’s TV show. But as soon as the camera is off, he pops a beer, lights a cigarette, and starts complaining about the kids. Watch out for Crusty the Clowns wearing black belts and making you laugh. Hold onto your wallet, and hide your female students.
The Enlightened One
Did you ever speak with a high ranking black belt who seemed to turn everything you say into a metaphor for nature or world peace? He doesn’t speak as much as give speeches.
I know a guy who makes his wife call him Master. Another man calls himself Grand Master. That’s nothing new, but one day his non-martial arts wife said, “All these people call you Grand Master, what title can I have?” Not exactly what I’d call an authentic person.
Every conversation ends up a war story from the blood-and-guts days. This guy’s dream is for it to be 1975 again. When the only thing you have going for you currently is an event that happened decades ago, you have stopped trying. The Retro-Warrior peaked a long time ago and does his best to relive those times year after year, even as his school crumbles around him. These guys are fun to spend time with because they often have great stories. In fact, this reminds me of the time I was fighting in London and…
The Asian Wannabe
This is the freakiest of all martial arts characters. This is a Caucasian who is so enamored of the Asian roots of the martial arts and, even more so, of his Asian master that he actually begins to speak with an Asian accent. Some people call it pigeon talk. I call it weird.
The Martial Arts Millionaire
Conversations with this guy start as an interrogation about how many students you have and what you are grossing and end as a bragging session all about money, money, money. Boring, boring, boring.
If I ever do this to you, you have my permission to choke me out.