Do you know an instructor that tells a lot of stories about the fights they have been in? Fight stories are a classic feature of many martial arts schools, stories of how a challenger comes in and is defeated with great skill. Perhaps you’ve heard stories such as these from your own instructor? I’ve noted that these days it seems like every instructor of martial arts was once a devastating and deadly fighter, a former champion.
Anyone who has followed my blog probably already knows, I do NOT tell such stories. I have some great accomplishments as a coach, but as a fighter I was very average. I was at best a B LEVEL AMATEUR. In fact, quite frequently I cite this as exactly the reason I have put so much effort into my coaching. I always wanted my students to achieve more than I did.
If you’ve read my writings over the years, you probably HAVE heard quite a few fight stories about my teacher, the late Chan Tai-San. Unfortunately, in the telling all too frequently people miss a distinction I have made for years. I heard stories about Chan Tai San fighting not only from himself, but from others. The aspect of this that I have always found remarkable was the fact that when Chan Tai-San told us a fight story, it was always about him being beaten up and losing!
From Chan Tai-San, I heard stories about him being beaten almost to death with a staff. From Chan Tai-San, I heard about being stupid as a youth and taking on a group, getting beaten up pretty badly, and coming crawling back to his own sifu. From Chan Tai-San, I heard about being disrespectful to his own sifu and getting almost KO’ed. From Chan Tai-San, I heard a story about a WOMAN hitting him so hard in his kidneys that he just gave up and sat down.NEVER ONCE DID CHAN TAI-SAN TELL ME A STORY ABOUT HIM WINNING A FIGHT.
Most people find this rather strange. Why would a teacher tell his students nothing but stories about him losing fights? In Chan Tai-San’s case, he was probably pretty confident that those stories weren’t the only ones his students would hear. I head tons of fight stories about Chan Tai-San that were told to me by members of the Wu Lin. Many I was actually able to verify. There 1954 Guangdong Sports Almanac listed Chan Tai-San’s third place finish in the provincial sparring championships. Chan Tai-San’s famous brawl on 42nd street was covered by several local papers. Sifu himself never pointed them out to us, but I found amongst his possessions the certificates from the three all military championships he won.
Perhaps the fact Chan Tai-San had already established his legacy well before we met him allowed him to do what most teachers find unthinkable. All those stories about his defeats taught us that losing was OK. It wasn’t the end. It wasn’t even unusual. And, of course, we already knew that afterwards Chan Tai-San dusted himself off, tried to figure out where and why he had failed, and kept moving. In most regards, I have found the stories of his defeat more inspirational and useful than all his victories.