Two men who I still consider friends and still speak to frequently probably remember the day I accepted a challenge match at NYU. It was advertised as “bare knuckle” by the person who issued the challenge. I assumed that mean “no holds barred”. When I arrived at the appointed time and location, it became apparent they thought that meant W.U.K.O (World Union of Karate Organizations) rules…
To paraphrase my mother’s old saying “it is all fun and games until someone’s nose opens up and the front of their gi turns bright red”. I had reached out, seized the collar of the uniform and landed 3 or 4 straight punches to my opponent’s nose. Since we were suddenly doing WUKO rules, there was a “referee” and a “break” since clinching was technically illegal. As clinching was technically illegal (yes, in a “challenge match”), they broke us up and I offered my opponent a chance to bow out. He opted to continue.
In between rounds (yes, “rounds”), a friend of mine who was a law student kept warning me about the legal ramifications of this fight. Increasingly, I was less angry that I had been challenged. I was more amused that a person who had challenged me to a “bare knuckle fight” was trying to point spar me and more concerned that if something did go wrong, I’d be in trouble. And face it, I was 19 at the time, I was worried my parents would be mad at me. I attacked less and less as 5 rounds went on. The end was anticlimactic.
After the match, the guy who had challenged me wasn’t aggressive as he had been previously at all. He asked me what I practiced and how. What I remember more distinctly is a few of the spectators and later, people who heard about it. People asked why I hadn’t used “so and so” technique. Why had it been “sloppy”? Why had I gotten hit (yes, I was not “perfect” and got hit as well). Now, mind you, these were the comments of the “peanut gallery”; people who hadn’t fought that day, some who hadn’t even been there.
Over the years, I took various challenges at my school. I was taught the sparse rules of Chinese martial arts matches; (1) lock the doors, (2) no weapons, (3) no groin striking and (4) no eye gouging. Other than that, it was all fair game. Now, far more people told me they going to come down to “beat me up” than ever showed up. And more than a few were less than chivalrous about it. One purposely waited until I had spend three hours sparring with my fighters to show up!
I’ve never guaranteed I’d win a fight. I knew better than that. I can guarantee that I’ll hit you, and it will hurt, and in the end you will know you were in a fight. I also know that in the end, BOTH of us are going to hurt. Unless you’ve never trained in your life and/or are mentally ill, chances are if you’ve put yourself in that position you are going to at least try to fight! I remember cleaning blood out of my nose, having a sore neck, etc.
I also know that real fights don’t look like kung fu movies. Without equipment and with limited rules, and face it, I am NOT a professional fighter, it’s going to be “sloppy”. But those living in “fantasy land” always want to use your less than Shaw brothers’ quality performance to degrade you. And the kung fu world is really full of old women and gossip. I’ve heard stories that have no bearing on anything that really happened, told by people who were never there… told as if they had been sitting ringside, and if THEY had stepped up, things would have been oh so different. (cough) bullshit (cough)
So in more recent years, I’ve asked myself if there is any real reason to do them? They have seldom proved anything, and your critics will believe what they want to believe regardless. As a recent episode last year proved, even when the VIDEO is in front of them, people find ways to justify their beliefs contrary to the facts in front of them. Recently, someone showed up while I was teaching. I told them to come back in an hour. I reasoned, CORRECTLY, that my students who pay me for my instruction and have given me their dedication are more important the a random loser who is living in kung fu fantasy land. Of course, this person, who I had no doubt if they had come back an hour later I would have KO’ed (seriously!) was really just trying to posture and be a pain in the ass. Rather than come back and take a beating like a man, they decided to harass a student. They were then escorted out of the building. They then took to the internet to claim victory! Sadly, how typical and how predictable.
Again, in conclusion, I have never proved anything to an opponent from fighting them. I have never shocked myself or proved myself wrong from a fight. I’ve never won over a critic. In fact, critics have created lies to justify their existences. What I have done is wasted plenty of time, nursed a few injuries and probably lost a few students. So, pardon my language, why the F–K would I want to continue to do this at age 50?