I’ve got a story, I was going to write this one as a facebook post but it got too long. I like to tell stories about “Ye olden days” before MMA or in the very early days of my involvement, mostly because the younger guys in my gym don’t seem to know how lucky they are.
So this one took place in and around 2003 to 2005. How can you be so broad I hear you ask? Well, frankly I’m not very good with dates and I’m really only trying to remember it in detail now. This is true, and rather than embellishing the facts for the sake of a good story, I’ve read back on this and thought that this really doesn’t do it justice.
At that time, I was an AIMAA Takewondo Black Belt and instructor. The goals of AIMAA ( Taekwondo organisation headed up by legendary Grandmaster Hee Il Cho) included a commitment to cross training in other martial arts, including grappling and so on. I’m forever thankful that my mate got me into AIMAA and not a less open art. The organisation had many issues, but one of its better qualities was that it gave its members a chance to experience other martial arts, which is how I fell in love with grappling, and sought out Jiu Jitsu and so on. But that’s another story.
On behalf of the Taekwondo Club (check them out by the way www.airport-tkd.com) my mate Jay created a forum. Now you young fellas may not remember what forums were, so think Reddit, only with less users because every site had its own one. The Airport TKD one was busy and interesting, and I was bored in work a lot so I posted almost every day. At the time, with my black belt and my early forays into Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (white belt!), I was interested in knowing more about martial arts, and I was interested in “throwing down” a bit too. One of the things that really interested me was stick fighting. I wanted to know about stuff like Escrima, Kali, and even Kendo (which I’d still love to do). I made a post along these lines a few times, and I was particularly interested in the stuff The Dog Brothers were doing.
Now the Dog Brothers were extreme, even by early MMA standards. They held regular events where literally anything went, including striking with sticks. I’d seen a few videos and wondered how I’d get on. I was introduced to a bit of stick fighting at a couple of open training sessions, and I remember a guy called John (I’m sorry I don’t remember the full name, but he was Dubliner Kali or Escrima instructor) saying “Listen, in most cases the guy who wins a stick fight is the guy who comes in swinging hard and fast first.” So I thought, well, I know how to kick and punch, I know an arm bar and a rear naked choke, so if what he says is true, maybe I’d get on okay.
So after posting a couple of Dog Brothers videos on the forum, and expressing an interest, a mysterious private message arrived into my inbox. It was from an Airport-TKD forum user with the sum total of zero posts to the forum. He was a man who liked to keep to himself it seemed. The forum doesn’t exist anymore, and I’ve gone through my email hoping against hope that the message notifications from the forum also contained the original messages, but alas they do not, so I’ll have to paraphrase a bit. His original message went something like:
“Hi Roper, (for this was my super-cool forum name. Name of cool guy from Enter the Dragon)
I’ve been reading your posts. How interested are you in a Dog Brother’s style meet?
Okay, his name wasn’t Mr. X. And come to think of it, saying it was makes him sound like he was a secret admirer sending me a Valentine’s Card, I can’t remember his real handle so let’s call him “KaliMan” from now on. I replied that I was fairly interested, do go on…
“Me and a few guys regularly do what you’re talking about. But be warned, it’s fairly extreme and we don’t like to let anyone know about it. You’ll have to agree to secrecy.”
Extreme eh? Okay, I think I’m pretty able to take some pain but how extreme? I’m not willing to get my eye gouged for example.
“We wear protection and you can quit at any time. You’ll need a groin guard, mouthguard if you want too. I can provide weapons for you if you don’t have any”
Weapons!? Actually hold on a sec. What exactly is it you do?
“I’ve studied under Guru (no idea, Filipino name). He’s a very private man but he trains some people every now and then. I’m his only Irish student. He’s taught me most of the secrets of stick fighting”
Flashback time, if you want to picture me at my computer at work hearing a voice in my head saying “Listen, in most cases the guy who wins a stick fight is the guy who comes in swinging hard and fast first.” then you can do so. I was simultaneously skeptical and interested. John’s statement made more sense to me from my experience of unarmed combat, but this guy knew secrets. Who knows? Okay, fuck it, I’ll go, and if its mental, I can always just leave. Let’s do it! When are you and your mates gathering?
“It’s not that simple. I might get you to sign something first. A disclaimer in case something happens to you”
I’ll be grand mate.
“No, I need to protect myself legally. If something happens to you, I don’t want to have the cops here or a case against me”
Show them this conversation, anyway I’ve got martial arts insurance.
“Okay, I’ll talk to the others. But they might not be happy.”
Okay, tell them I’m a consenting adult.
The others, it turns out, were not happy. To cut a long story short, they’d determined that I was a risk. Who dares challenge us in our circle! This newcomer may die and then all of the outsiders will know of our powers! They’ll hunt us down like animals! And the secrets will be lost in the sands of time once more!
They might have said.
The conversation went on, and by now I was extremely skeptical. At this stage I didn’t know whether KaliMan wasn’t in fact one of my mates ripping the mickey out of me for wanting to swing sticks at people, or if he was genuine about his concerns. But as I said before, I was bored in work a lot. And I genuinely wanted to see more stick stuff. Eventually, he agreed to a compromise.
“Okay, we can do it, but it will have to be in your club, we can’t risk our location. We’ll be there on Sunday”
I had my Dog Brothers style session! I was chuffed. But then as soon as I sent the address, I realised I’d just invited a bunch of lads with weapons to my club, with no one else around, for a secret fight. Barry, I thought, what the fuck? This could literally be anyone. I didn’t even know the guy’s name. This could be a Satanic sacrifice ritual for all I knew, and a little part of me thought that when I walked in my mates were going to be there laughing at me. Both scenarios seemed likely.
“Don’t tell anyone you’re meeting us, and don’t bring anyone else. No recording either”
For fuck’s sake.
The big day arrived. If you’ve ever fought, you’ll know the feeling of making your way to the venue. It’s the worst part. A little part of you wants the car to crash. Not a smash that injures you, but enough to put the car off the road and stop you from competing. It’s nerves. It’s natural. I had it that day. I was about to go full contact with a man holding a stick. I even had a game plan. Hard and aggressive with your stick, try to take him down and work your white belt Jiu Jitsu on him. Watch out for those stick chokes!
He was waiting for me outside the hall I had at the time.
Now look, I take people as they come, and people surprise you sometimes, even if they look out of shape. This guy looked out of shape. About 20kgs out of shape. Alarm bell number 1. It’s hard to train like he claimed he was and be unfit. He was also younger than I’d expected, probably mid twenties, in tracksuit bottoms and a jacket (many great fighters are prone to fashion faux pas, so this wasn’t a warning sign). He was carrying an ominous looking bag. He mumbled rather than spoke, and introduced himself as KaliMan.
Look, I’ll come right out with it, he looked like he might be interested in wearing my skin as a suit later on.
We went in and he unzipped his bag. He gave me a wooden stick. It looked brand new. So did his come to that. Alarm bell number 2. He asked if I had a headguard (I did) did I have one for him (I did, which he looked a little disappointed about). He looked at his watch. He looked at it again. Where were the others, they were supposed to meet me earlier and come together, but they didn’t show up. Maybe they were coming straight here, we might have got our wires crossed, he said. Then he took out his shinguards.
Now if you’ve been around Irish Martial arts long enough, you’ll have owned a pair of cotton shin guards you bought on Mary Street. The ones that go stinky after 2 uses. They’re white out of the packet, and quickly go brown after your first use. His were pristine white. Brand new. Ding ding ding ding! Alarm bells were going off all over the place now.
I don’t think they’re coming, he said. Will we start? I said sure, no worries, I’m going to warm up a bit. How do these things normally work?
“We just fight”
Now these days I don’t do anything without warming up first, but back then lashing into sessions wasn’t uncommon, so after a brief agreement that we would tap or shout stop if we wanted to stop, we got going.
20mm jigsaw mats, no time limit, no rules!
For about 90 seconds.
He began moving around, swinging the stick in front of him, I circled, one hand up to my head, stick sort of out in front of me, he took a swing which I stepped back from. Then another, then I charged forward kind of swinging the stick downwards like a 1940s strike breaker. It wasn’t a takedown, more like a tumble to the ground, but immediately he began flailing with the stick almost everywhere, hitting me in the arms, back, shoulders, and really, genuinely, panicking. When I say panicking I mean in a more medical sense, his breath went short, he started making noises, everything. I don’t know if I struck him but I imagine I threw a couple of punches. I gave it another 5 seconds and shouted if he wanted to stop. “Yeah Yeah Yeah”.
He sat at the edge of the mat for about 5 minutes. He had his head in his hands. I asked if he was okay a lot. He’d nod and say yeah fine. Give me a few minutes. It was a long, uncomfortable silence. I broke it by going out to the toilet. When I came back, he was up on his feet again, and he had verbal diarrhea. I don’t know what happened there, he said. It’s never happened before, I think I’m sick or something. Usually I don’t get taken down like that, I tried to use my defence but it didn’t come, that’s an easy attack to defend I can do it in my sleep. You’re not bad, but you need work on your technique, I can show you some stuff if you like.
So I didn’t get my Dog Brothers meet up. Instead I got a one hour private lesson in made up martial arts. I humoured him showing me how to wave the stick around, and then a series of armlocks and chokes of the sort that me and my friends used to do pretend to do together on the green when we were 9. I even dropped him into town afterwards to get his bus. It was really sad. I felt like I’d taken advantage of him, but then I kept trying to snap myself out of it. He got in touch with me!
I felt even worse when he got in touch a few days later asking to do it again. I didn’t know how to respond. On the one hand I wanted to be like Alan Partridge and shout “Go away you’re a mentalist!” but on the other hand I felt really sorry for the guy. It was an awkward and complex emotional situation that required a careful and considered response.
So I ignored the message and didn’t reply.
This came back to me this afternoon as I was sitting waiting on my coffee to brew. I immediately went into one of those cringes that only come from long buried memories. The worst part is that almost every instructor I know has at least one of these stories.
Imagine if it was the same guy?