June 8, 2009

Martello - The Lost Interview Pt. I

Okay, okay it is not a "lost" interview, but I got your attention didn't I!? It is the only one I did (formerly) with Mike, and it sheds lots of light into the way Mike approaches his teaching and training that I have not seen with any other interviews. I wanted to share this special moment with you all so I will be putting it on in spurts, and editing a few things here and there. No magazine wanted the interview, so fuck em'... I am printing it for all of you online!

I will be adding some insights into the various comments he makes. I will put my comments in a different color, or italics so you can skip over them if you do not want to hear my input. I have tons of notes and what not from Mikes lessons both in seminars, also from the hours and hours of private lessons I took with him. It is solely my intention to share and hopefully give some insight into the man we love, and the teachings he graced us with.

The interview took place the night before Mike left in October of 2007.

Hope you can enjoy objectively!

Forever a Student:

An exclusive interview with Mike Martello

Interview by: Jake Burroughs

“The teacher is one who makes himself progressively unnecessary.”

Thomas Carruthers

I knew Mike Martello via e-mail and phone for several years before we got the chance to meet face to face while I was visiting Europe to conduct a seminar, and our friendship continues to grow with each coming year. Often criticized for his views and no nonsense attitude towards the traditional Chinese martial arts, Mike pulls no punches when it comes to skill and the development of martial artists. Agree or disagree with him one must respect the fact that Mike has dedicated his life to the martial way, and does not believe in secrets. Those who know him are familiar with the high energy, child like enthusiasm he has for training. So when I sat down to interview him during a two week visit to Seattle, WA. (His only US stop), I simply let go of the reins and let him spew whatever was on his mind. The result is what follows.

All of his life Mike Martello has studied the martial arts, from boxing as a kid, to becoming an international form champion, to living and training in Taiwan to deepen his knowledge. Relatively unknown in the Chinese martial arts (CMA) circles, Mike has dedicated the rest of his life to studying under Wang Chieh of Taiwan. Wang is one of Wei Xiao Tan’s senior most disciples in the art of Babu Tanglang (Eight Step Mantis), as well as his families White Crane system.

Mike Martello is a typical New Yorker, a little brazen at first, but a sincere and dedicated life long friend once he gets to know you. He remains one of the most open teachers I have yet to meet, sharing everything in his art with anyone willing to sweat a little during practice. With this interview I hope to shed some light on one of the Chinese martial arts least known teachers.

Jake Burroughs: Why don’t we start with your background in the arts?

Mike Martello: I started boxing with my father when I was 3 years old growing up in NYC. Moved onto Shotokan, and TKD. When I was 11 I met a kung fu teacher (Teddy Wong), who showed me that the CMA were the best for me, not the best in general, but the best for me and then I met Su Yu Chang when I was in my early 20s.

I really enjoyed fighting, and being small all my life I had plenty of opportunities to test my skills against kids on the street. That is the reason my father started teaching me boxing at such an early age, as he knew I would be tested on the streets of NYC. But I also had opportunities to try my skills out in the ring where I mostly boxed, but I also competed in Karate tournaments, and a couple kickboxing events as well. I just wanted to go try what I had learned. My thirst for knowledge knew no bounds though, and so all of these situations were my teacher if you know what I mean. Every loss, every win, every hit taught me unforgettable lessons.

JB: How was it that you met your current teacher Wang Chieh?

Martello: I went to Taiwan searching. Searching for more martial arts. Searching for a deeper level than I knew. So I figured I would go to Taiwan and see what was there for me.

I met this lady teacher, Kathy Yen, when I was practicing in a park one day. Just fooling around doing some Piqua, some Taiji and what not. I saw this lady practicing with experienced men in the park, and she was throwing them all over the place. I knew these men were experienced because the previous day they had invited me to practice with them, and they proceeded to kick my butt all over the place.

Most of the people you meet in Taiwan are very friendly and open. Some practitioners are jerks though, so you have to be careful being a white guy from America. Some people want to tell you what you don’t know, and what you are missing. But few of those people will teach you the missing parts. So when Yen saw me the next day, she said “Lai, lai.” (which means to ‘come’ in Chinese) and proceeded to tell me that she had been watching my Taiji practice and while my form was good, she said my Taiji was no good.

I said, “Huh!?!? How can my form be good, but my Taiji is no good?” And she proceeded to push me gently in certain parts of my body to show how I had no balance, no root, no structure etc. So for 6 months I was practicing with her before she found out that I had over 15 years of experience in the CMA. She asked why I did not tell her sooner. And I told her I wanted to start fresh, as I felt I had a hodge-podge of techniques and forms but really did not feel I had much depth in any of my practice. I was there as a clean, open book to restart my training. I was excited about relearning something new.

So she says she knows a really great Mantis instructor that could help me more than she could. I did not have the heart to tell her no, so I figured I would go meet with whomever and see what came of it. It turns out I was introduced to one of the top Mantis teachers in all of Asia, Wang Chieh, one of Wei Xiao Tang’s earliest disciples.

I wanted to cry after touching hands with him the first time because I knew this man radiated something that I did not have, he was doing stuff all my other teachers would talk about, but could never do! I was emotional about it because finally, FINALLY, I have come this far, I had found what I have been looking for! His mechanics and structure was top notch, and keep in mind he was in his mid 70’s when we first touched hands!

This is a good break for our first foray into the mind of Mike. He had many a story about growing up on the streets of NYC, and his early training. Mike had many a good teacher, and a handful of not so good ones. One of the lasting lessons he taught me (as we had many things in common martially) was to learn and grow from even the bad experiences I have had. Not to be resentful, but to gain wisdom from such errors.

"Money can be made back. But time is lost forever (this comment is all the more poignant now). So do not waste your time being upset over the past, or because a teacher screwed you over. This happens. Learn from these situations so they do not repeat. Wasted time is wasted life, and we only have one." - Mike Martello

Mike loved his teacher Wang Chieh no differently than a father. Mikes father died relatively young, so I think Wang Laoshi filled a void in Mikes life. Whenever he spoke of him the admiration, respect, loyalty, and love would emanate from Mike like no other.

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