I must admit I had very few expectations prior to viewing this film. First of all I am not a fan of Wing Chun. Studied with some of the best in North America, and have good friends back in NM who are teachers of the art, but it just never resonated with me personally. And secondly the Hong Kong martial genre as a whole has fallen to the sides this past decade, not nearly matching the vigor it once held in the 80-90’s. So my expectations were not too high for this flick when a friend (thanks Tim) sent it to me in the mail. Well kids twice in one month I must admit I was WRONG….Ip Man has become one of my top 5 martial flicks of all time!
The production value is top notch, matching the “Crouching Tiger” and “Hero” quality. Sammo returns to assist with the action choreography of the film, with Ip Chun (Ip Man’s son) assuming the role of creative advisor. What exactly that means, I have no clue, but his involvement would cause me to assume the film has his blessings. And Donnie Yen did an excellent job playing Ip Man himself.
I am not knowledgeable enough of Ip Mans personal history (and it has been MANY moons since I read his biography) to speak of the accuracy of the events in the movie (and really much of Chinese martial history is skeptical at best), but damn if it was not entertaining! Complete with Confucian values and relationship dynamics (father – son / husband – wife / elder – younger), poor translation into English subtitles, Northern legs vs. Southern hands, and of course revenge and blood feuds! Ip Man has all the qualities we would come to expect from classic martial flicks. The difference lies in the quality of choreography, set design, and attention to detail.
In a nutshell the story tells of Ip’s younger days just prior to the Japanese invasion when he was already an established “master” in Fu Shan. An interesting back story unfolds as a rival gang (headed by the excellent Kam Shan-chau) challenges all the martial teachers of Fu Shan, only to get his ass handed to him via Ip. Shortly there-after the Japanese invade and drive the wealthy residents of Fu Shan into poverty and despair.
For those of you unknowledgable of the events that took place in China at the hands of the Japanese this film gives a decent feel (without delving totally of course) of the effects of the war on the commoners of China. I have spoken with some of my Chinese friends who saw the movie, and they said for a kung fu flick it conveyed as realistic of a portrayal of the treatment of the Chinese, by the Japanese, as any martial movie ever has.
As the story unfolds Ip Man realizes that he must do what he can to boost the morale of his fellow country men, and what Ip Man knows how to do is fight! A Japanese general in charge of the Fu Shan military campaign also happens to be a Karate expert and he takes it upon himself to create challenge matches against the Chinese. If the Chinese fighters (Fu Shan in renowned for their martial prowess) win, they get a bag of rice. If they lose…well…no rice, and often no life.
I do not care to ruin the movie for you (use your imagination and you can probably guess the rest, there are no surprises here), but I highly suggest checking “Ip Man” out. In my opinion it is up there with “Hero” / “Iron Monkey” etc. The story has a little something for everyone, and is not overly violent nor bloody.
One thing I thought was rather interesting was the manner in which Ip Man was portrayed in terms of his demeanor and personal philosophy. Very gentle, constantly talking about brotherhood and camaraderie within the martial realm. He speaks of being friendly and building a community of like minded individuals for the betterment of the Chinese martial arts. This is in sharp contrast to about 90% of the Wing Chun community as I know it today in 2009! Wing Chunners are some of the most ego maniacal, aggressive, insecure martial artists I have come to know. Wing Chun is known for its political bullshit and in-fighting amongst various lineages. If this portrayal of Ip Man is accurate in the movie, then I wonder where things went wrong in real life with his teachings. Because I see very, very few teachers propagating this positive attitude and outlook on our community. Perhaps this can be Ip Mans parting lesson to his flock. Perhaps they will see this and learn from it. One can only hope.
Here are the final couple of video clips of my coach and friend Brian kicking more ass at both the NAGA Vegas No Gi grappling championships, and Western Can – Am’s grappling championships in Vancouver, BC. Brian’s drive and desire to push his own personal limits is an inspiration to me, and all of his students! The amazing thing that many people do not realize with Brian is that his teachers, (John Will / David Meyer / Rigan Machado) all live thousands of miles away. Brian does not get to visit with them very often. So the only people he has to train with are his students! Brian runs a very “old school” academy in that you have to bust your ass and work hard to get rank, and the main way he grades or judges this improvement is by rolling with his students day in, day out! We have only one brown belt, about 5 purple belts, and the rest of us are either blue or white belts. Yet we provide Brian with enough variety, skill, and perseverance to be his sole training partners!
Hope you can enjoy objectively!
I had the distinct pleasure to meet Roy Dean a few weeks ago at his beautiful dojo in Bend, OR. Though I did not get to train with Dean directly (I was there for his teacher Roy Harris‘ seminar, check out a review here on my blog), we have communicated via the net for some time now, and something about his attitude and approach to the art of BJJ and his students really resonated with me. So when I purchased his DVD on Year One Seminars, I was not sure what to expect…. let me be honest… I did not expect much because it outwardly appeared to be a hodge podge of clips and what not from various seminars. I must admit, though it does not happen often, I was wrong!
“Discover Who You Are”
The official, unofficial, brand of Roy Deans academy is “Discover Who You Are,” which I think is nothing short of genius as BJJ is truly a vehicle for self discovery. For some reason BJJ is often looked at as barbaric and rather uncivilized by those who do not train it. The notion that one could find the very same attributes in BJJ as they would in a “more traditional” martial art is often marginalized. Why? I have no clue. But their are people such as Dean out there who are doing what they can to destroy such stereotypes.
“I strongly feel that BJJ is a discipline that can serve as a vehicle for spiritual development, and with all the strong checks on your ego in this art, you learn about yourself in a very visceral way. You learn about humility, dedication, and how there are forces greater than you in existence. You learn that it’s often better to blend than oppose. You realize that you are more capable than you ever believed you’d be.” – Roy Dean
“Year One” is a 85 minute production broken into 6 parts that clearly documents Roy’s first year as a black belt in BJJ, as well as the first year the Roy Dean Academy was in existence. Roy had taught Aikido and Judo in the past, but decided to drop all other arts in an effort to dedicate himself solely to the study and teaching of BJJ. This DVD truly does encapsulate the spirit and the body of “Discover Who You Are.”
Broken down section by section for ease of review and navigation:
Roy was born and raised in Alaska, so when his good friend Robert Grunder invited him to offer a seminar how could one refuse? In celebration of Roberts 54th birthday Roy flew in and offered an excellent seminar on various guard attacks, sweeps, and finishes. Nothing new or groundbreaking here, but the detail (and I saw this in Dean’s mentor, Roy Harris, as well) was where it is all at! Offering small little corrections to the basic kimura’s, mata leo’s, and sweeps, grapplers of all levels will take something away from this seminar.
2- Summer 07
This is a nice compilation of clips from a seminar Dean taught at his annual school gathering in Bend. No audio instruction here, but one can gleam a lot from the video alone. This felt more like a montage of various topics covered over several hours. I watched wanting more detail in the instruction.
3- Purple Belt Test
I had the honor of watching Jimmy DeSilva get tested for his brown belt last month, and damn if it wasn’t impressive! A number of techniques were required to be demonstrated flawlessly, and then over a 1/2 hour of intensive sparring with several students as well as Mr. Dean and Mr. Harris! Jimmy puked his brains out, but persevered and pushed to become Roy’s first brown belt student.
This section is Jimmy’s purple belt exam. I really cannot do this segment justice as one has to observe it to truly appreciate the message that is trying to be conveyed here. Once you get past the technique, the testing, the hard work, you see truly the struggle we all face….ourselves. Jimmy proved that it is solely up to him if he passes or fails. He must overcome his own fatigue, mental exhaustion, and shortcomings to push through the challenge of crisp clean technique and mental fortitude.
4-Roy Harris Seminar
Here is the gem of the DVD in my opinion. Again the devil is in the details, and Harris does not disappoint! Teaching the subtleties of open guard control Harris walks the students through basic principles and strategies of the open guard, and then dives into various sweeps and techniques. The overall theme was “3.” Most often this referred to keeping three points of your body in contact with your opponent at all times in order to control and follow them and their intention of trying to pass your guard.
Again, I do not feel I can accurately convey the quality of instruction one gets from Mr. Harris. I have been blown away for a couple years via his DVD’s, but in person he is 10 times better and more detail oriented. His control of the group, his attention to subtle intricacies of the art, and his sharing attitude have become an inspiration to me both as a student and an instructor (something that rarely happens after 18 years of training).
Here is a compilation of Roy Dean’s decimation of his competition at Chris Brennan’s round robin tournament in Southern California. Roy entered as a purple belt and apparently packed his triangle and arm bar to completely own the tournament. This segment is a personal view into Roy’s heart and soul clearly showing how he discovered who he is! Roy is a man of few words, but his actions speak volumes in this section.
6-What does Jiu Jitsu look like?
The final segment of the DVD is a TV commercial shot at Harris International for prospective students. A well done production that conveys the various aspects of BJJ, while at the same time demonstrating how to be a safe and sound training partner.
The production quality of this DVD is second to none! Again, I purchased the DVD fully expecting the same quality I get with my $300 handheld camcorder, but this was not the case here. Filmed in high quality (digital??), and produced like a Hollywood movie, the quality and clarity of both picture and sound is top notch. During a couple of the segments a microphone would have been handy, but all in all it was still very easy to hear clearly and concisely what the instructors were offering. Even down to the relaxing music (THANK YOU Roy Dean for not making another DEATH-METAL-KILL-EM-ALL-BJJ-SOUNDTRACK), which is produced by Mr. Dean himself, the production is top notch!
Your money is well spent with this DVD. Roy has shared with me his desire to produce one of these DVD’s every other year in an effort to document the progression of his school, his students, and the art of BJJ over the years. I know I will be purchasing any DVD he produces, and will also be trying to make any and every opportunity to train down in Bend! Great instruction, good people, and top notch beer! What else could a dojo rat like me want!?! To purchase go to http://www.roydeanacademy.com/dvds Oh, and did I mention Roy is barely charging anything for this…. $25!!!
July 12th 2009
NW Jiu Jitsu Academy
Train with two of BJJ’s “Dirty Dozen” (the first 12 non-Brazilian black belts), both students of the legendary Machado brothers. David Meyer is one of the most decorated grappling competitors in the world, and author of “Training For Competition.” John Will is Australia’s first BJJ black belt, and is renowned for his technical base and excellent pedagogy. This is a rare opportunity to train with both of these fourth degree black belts together!
To register contact Brian Johnson at 206-354-2714
Or Jake Burroughs at [email protected]
These videos embedded herein have an extremely HOT referee judging Brian’s match well on his way to victory in the lightweight black belt no gi division at the May 09 Grapplers Quest in Vegas.
Brian has not had a point scored on him in the his last 12 matches! The first one is one of the first that actually went the distance, but Brian pulled out the 6-0 victory over a JJ Machado black belt.
JB: The common theme these last two weeks with training under you is the idea of play. Playing with different teachers, playing with students, basically exploration of principles and ideas via two person practice. Care to elaborate?
Mike: This goes back to teacher Wang’s lessons. I told him one day, “Teacher I truly wish I would have met you 20 years ago.” And his response was, “You would not have been ready for me yet.” What he meant was that I needed to experience all the things I had up to that point; good and bad, so that I could learn for myself what was good and bad. So I could take into control my training and seek out higher learning via a good teacher. You must recognize when you are bad to understand good. Take the bad experiences as a lesson, because once you find the truth you will never go back to the bad again.
Wang approaches his students as training partners. All he wants to do is practice and by practicing he gets better. So by building and growing together we foster this intense dynamic of teacher and student, where really there is no teacher or student, everyone is the teacher and the student. Wang Laoshi is the first to tell anyone that he is just a student practicing, and will be forever. I have never seen the man tell someone how to do something, he is there showing them how to do something! It is inspirational to get tossed around by an 80 year old man with this outlook on training.
JB: You are a bit unique in that you have lived, and taught on three different continents over the years; Asia, North America, and Europe. What do you see as similarities and/or differences in regards to the martial artists in these vastly different places?
Mike: People want Chinese martial arts. People want to train. But all around the board people seem to have an incorrect mentality towards their training. Not everyone, but many. They seem to train for all the wrong reasons, and I was guilty of this in the past as well. Too much ideology separation is going on though. Too much internal vs. external talk. They seem to think there is a special magic bullet, special magic form, special magic technique that will help them get the principles. There is no special technique, just the right teacher to show you, and the hard practice of a lifetime. You must understand this is a difficult question to answer.
I see people misunderstanding what martial arts are really for. Combat is merely the by-product, yet people want to be able to damage someone before learning about themselves. I always ask my students how many fights they have been in. Almost always the number is 0-3, unless of course you grew up in a bad part of town. But overall most people practicing martial arts have been in very few fights. So what are we spending all this time, money, and effort for? Just to learn to fight? Just to kick some ass? If that is the case go do sport martial arts, and fight with the best out there. Martial arts practice is truly about finding yourself, and pushing the limits of yourself. Mentally; physically; and emotionally. Sparring is so integral to practice because it is unrehearsed pressure to perform and execute your skills with an uncooperative partner. I am not saying you need to go out and get beat down, this is not productive. Push hands, sparring, wrestling, whatever methodology does not matter, but you need to test your skills in various formats.
This mentality seems pervasive throughout the martial arts regardless of culture, or country.
This segment really shows Mikes great attitude in his approach to training. Truly their is a blurred line between student and teacher, as with an open mind you will learn from any situation, any individual or group of individuals. Remember the fateful words of Napoleon, “Every failure is a blessing in disguise as long as you learn the needed lesson from it.” This last trip Mike was so happy that I had been training diligently in BJJ (Brazilian Jiu Jitsu). “This training will make your stand up much, much better.” he told me. Mike even had me teaching certain techniques and follow ups at HIS seminar, for when we go to the ground!! That is how comfortable and humble Mike was with his level of knowledge, and his attitude of sharing. To ask some nobody like me to teach something at HIS seminar…wow… what an honor. Mike also reveals the need for uncooperative partner practice (IE. sparring) in this segment. I cannot really remember a lesson (private, public, or otherwise) with Mike that was not hands on. Not a single one. Even when working a form Mike took the hands on approach and help the student feel the technique. Feel the stretch. Feel the power and where it came from. Again Mike would emulate his teacher by doing, not telling. Many students would ask Mike how he attained the level he had, some fishing for a “special” answer. “Hard work. Disciplined practice.” is all he would ever say. “There are no secrets.” Mike and I had some similar experiences in the past with various teachers both Chinese and Anglo who would be living a lie by telling their students that their was some mystical, metaphysical answer to our questions of why, how, when. In the end these charlatans revealed their true identities and we moved on. We learned that the true responsibility of our progression lay in our own hands. The student has to take control of his/her learning and progression. All too often the student has unrealistic expectations of the teacher, and never owns the responsibility of their own training. Let that be a lesson. Train Hard, JAB
This blog has been too serious lately, so I thought I would throw in something a bit more light hearted.
First of all if you shop on QVC you should not expect ANY level of quality for the most part, but if you are shopping for a sword on QVC… well… then you deserve what you pay for!
$40 was the going rate when this knuckle-head decided to show you just how durable and strong QVC’s swords REALLY are! I wish I had audio and an idea of how bad he got it!
One of the things that instantly drew Mike and I closer was our mutual passion for a relatively rare weapon; the Miao Dao (various translations, but essentially “Willow Leaf Sabre”). Mike and I had both learned the same form, though I must admit Mikes was so much more flowing and beautiful. The version I learned was via Taiwan as well, but more choppy, less fluid. Actually we were discussing a special camp here in the Pac NW where the Miao Dao would be the topic learning both form and function. Mike had spent a little time with me training the weapons intricacies and what not, but it was one of those projects that I said “later” to. Now I wish I had spent more time on it with him.
Their are videos all over of Mike teaching and training the Miao Dao, so I will not get too deep into it, but I wanted to share something with you all. The following text is an excerpt from a personal correspondence I had with Mike (though I do not think I was the only one privy to this info) via email. I am not going to share all of it right now because I have plans on writing an article about the Miao Dao in the future, but I think you may find this interesting:
“The Miao Dao may vary in size and weight, but a standard version would be approximately 128 cm long (blade 98 cm, handle 30 cm). When it comes to fierceness, the Miao Dao has no equal. Wielded with one hand or both, combining the characteristics of both saber and spear into one, it is not hard to see why this versatile weapon was unrivalled on the battlefield. The movements of the Miao Dao are fluent yet compact, with the body supplying power to the weapon, while the waist steers the blade in its motions. An attack is always wrapped inside a defensive technique, while a defensive movement immediately transforms into an attack. Its interlinking movements and rapid evading footwork makes the Miao Dao wielder an unpredictable foe. The Miao Dao is truly a great treasure within the Chinese martial arts world and also an invaluable part of Chinese history and culture.” – Martello
I also want to share the following illustrations with you. I do not know the name of the illustrator (if anyone does, please forward it to me so I can give credit where it is due), but this is a beautiful rendering of the Miao Dao form as Mike taught it, and as it was passed on to me.
I hope you can enjoy objectively!
I just got word that the obituary I wrote about Mike will be in the December issue of Inside Kung Fu magazine, which will hit stand about mid-October. This will obviously be a bit different than the one in Kung Fu Taichi Magazine.
Again IKF has one of the largest readerships in martial print circles, so you should be able to find this magazine at your local bookstore or newsstand.
Foreign Correspondent, a news show on Australia Broadcasting Co., did a recent episode on Sumo. I just finished watching it and it is a superb (and rare) look inside one of the oldest combat sports in the world! Click here to view it. FYI it is about 30 minutes long, but worth it.
I plan on writing more in the future, but to me Sumo is one of the greatest grappling arts out there, steeped in tradition centuries old. We have spoken a lot about push hands and Mike Martello’s abilities. His last visit to Seattle we spoke briefly about Sumo (topic came up because we have some Tegata hanging on our walls at home)and Mike said they REALLY knew push hands!
There will be a 1/2 page obituary for Mikeee in the next issue of Kung Fu Taichi Magazine which Gene Ching (editor/ friend of mine) said should hit stands August 5th-ish. The magazine is found in most major bookstores and newsstands (do those exist anymore??). Not sure about Europe guys???
If for some reason you have a hard time finding it I think you can order single issues from the website (see above hyperlink), and if worse comes to worst you can contact me directly as I will get extra copies, and all I will ask is for the cost and shipping to be covered.
BIG thanks to Gene Ching for getting this in last minute. I literally had to scramble and get pics and the text to him within 48 hours so it would hit the printer in time! Gene bumped someone else for this, and I thank him. Gene has always been great to deal with, and one of the only editors out there I respect.
There will also be a longer obit on their e-zine in the near future. I am wrapping up writing for that. I never thought something would be so difficult to write. Not emotionally so much, but trying NOT to add in every damn thing I can think to say about Mike has been tough!
JB: Correct me if I am wrong, but at this juncture in your life is when you started to shift your priorities in your training and teaching; focusing more on mechanics, body development, sensitivity etc.?
Mike: Right at that point I was still hung up on styles and forms because that was what was educated into me. I had to break that. It took some time. Teacher Wang is certainly the single most inspirational influence in my life to date. He has not only changed my outlook on the arts, but also my training and approach to the arts.
JB: How did the progression of change go about; via the push hands training, and San Shou training under Wang, or was it something else?
Mike: He went about it in a very nice way. Wang never knocked any style or teacher. After a few months of training with him I sat down for dinner at his house, and Wang stated that I was going about learning his stuff the wrong way. He said I was trying to use his ideas with the techniques and theory of what I had trained in the past. He said everything I had learned was good, but he also asked me to open my pocket and put it away for another day. Let me re-shape you, and when you open your pocket later you will see a whole new spectrum of colors. And he was right!
I was trying to use the technology without a decent engine. Wang wanted to build me a decent engine so I could then later go back and apply all the technology I had learned. It is like putting a Ferrari engine in a Tonka truck. If you rev that engine the Tonka truck will just blow up. On the flip side of that coin if you have a body that LOOKS like it will speed away, but have a weak engine inside, then again that is a waste.
And that was me! Basically at that point I had a Ferrari frame, but no engine. That was Wang’s point, I move beautifully but I am empty, I have nothing behind it.
JB: Can you describe some of the methodology Wang used to rebuild your engine?
Mike: Well he made me start by finding my body, getting in tune, truly in tune with my body. And he used push hands as the medium in which to get me in tune with my body. He started with my hips and the theory of Zhan Zhuang (Pile or Post Standing) via the Ba Shi (eight stances) of Babu Tanglang (Eight Step Praying Mantis) because I was familiar with this already. But you must understand Wang’s Zhan Zhuang is not about standing still, but it is about cultivating energy, this is very important. I asked him about Qigong, Neigong, all that stuff and he told me to forget about it because he does not do any of those things. Wang felt these exercises were a way for people to distract their minds and gives them fodder to argue about internal versus external, and it has nothing to do with hand to hand combat. Teacher Wang’s point was that their was none of this back in the day, you either practiced martial arts or you didn’t! All martial arts are based in combat. It would be like asking a boxer if he is doing internal or external training. It just IS boxing. There is no special breathing technique to make you better. All these skills are acquired via practicing with a partner. Different partners. Constantly interplaying with each person’s energy and technique. Knowing how to deal with force. This is how teacher Wang helped me to see myself, to see my weaknesses and strengths. Teacher Wang’s calligraphy hangs in my house and one of my favorites is “To nourish ones skill’s through combat. To complete ones training through the master’s guidance”
These paragraphs shed light onto some of the most important aspects of Mikes training in my opinion. All too often we get hung up on styles, or how something looks (IE. a certain posture). I too fell into this mind trap. We must remember that styles are simply a vehicle to understanding our bodies, and how our bodies work. We are all human; two arms, two legs, a head etc. We are all subject to the physical laws of the universe such as gravity, leverage etc. At a certain point in each martial artists career a light bulb clicks on and we discover that mechanics are where its at, not styles, or forms, or lineage. None of these things matter after a certain point. Mike was instrumental in helping understand mechanics and body usage.
This became difficult when trying to organize a seminar with Mike because how does one sell these ideas to get people in the door? So many people are hung up on styles and cannot get past that trap. For instance I have had people tell me, “I do not know/like Taiji, so what is the point in coming to a Taiji workshop?” Mike would simply tell them, “…look past the form, as the form is empty without mechanics and coordinated power. Posture, structure, and intent are key to your progression in the arts.” Tim Cartmell is all about this, and Mike had a huge amount of respect for Tim. I wish they could have met, as Mike really wanted to. I was actually in the middle of planning a seminar where my teachers would get together here in Seattle and offer a workshop together.
Another interesting point Mike makes here is the discernible difference between health maintenance and combat. Qi, and Qi Gong, have nothing to do with combat. There is nothing wrong with studying Qi Gong, but to do so and expect the results to be combative is foolish and dangerous! Mike knew this, and tried to teach the true way to those who had been led astray with other teachers. Mike and I share the same outlook on Qi… at a certain point in your training EVERYTHING becomes Qi Gong! Qi is in your body, otherwise you would be dead, so it is not as if you are doing Qi Gong only when you practice a certain Qi Gong set. Your awareness is actually the discernible difference in this regard. You must become aware of the energy inside of your body and then you can really start to play.
The “internal vs. external” debate is something we spoke about often. Mike and Tim both have the same view on it… by using your posture and structure properly, you are stronger and can issue force seemingly effortlessly. It has nothing to do with magic Qi balls from hell. It is simple mechanical physics. Mike cringed when he saw “no touch knockouts” type bullshit in the martial arts. It angered him because this was a false representation of the arts we hold dear, and makes the Chinese martial arts a joke to the majority of people grounded in reality.
Mike was quite candid in his conversation with me here. A true student who used himself as the example. How many teachers do you know that would say openly what Mike says above about being empty and no good!? One of the most admirable things about Mike was his brutal honesty, and though he dished it out to all, he was the first person to criticize himself and his shortcomings. “I will never make you do something I have not, or cannot, do myself Jake.”
A true warrior sage!
Here is the info on Mikes memorial in Belgium. If you have any questions please contact Dieter at the number below. No worries, Dieter speaks English very well so he can help us linguistically challenged kids too!
The cremation will be on Tuesday the 9th of June 2009. There will be no service.
Friday the 12th of June there will be a memorial. Everybody is welcome there from 14:00 until 19:00. It will take place at our house. Maaldersstraat 27/5 2060 Antwerpen.
After the Service We will have a memorial dinner at restaurant “The Best” in The Van Wesenbeekstraat (Chinatown). From 20:00.
Please Let me know if you will come to the memorial service and/ or Dinner. You can call me at or e-mail me at [email protected]
It is IMPORTANT to let me know in advance.
Saturday the 27th of June there will be the spreading of the ashes with service. This will take place at the park on the way to Lilo. Map with further explanation will follow.
It will start at 8a.m. Everybody is also welcome here.
If you have further questions please feel free to contact me on or [email protected]
Dieter De Potter
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.”
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.
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.
I had a wonderful conversation with Mikes mom today, where we shared stories and reminisced. She is strong and is doing as well as a mother who has lost her son can. She thanked me for all I had done, and I told her I had not done anything. It was Mike who was the pebble tossed into the pond creating the ripple. Marie is savvy to the Dao De Qing so she understood immediately what I meant. The least any of us can do is remember Mike in this way. She wanted me to share with you all the details of Mikes memorial in New York City.
There will be memorial services in Belgium, Taiwan, and Beijing where some of Mikes ashes will be put in a very special area reserved for royalty. More info on those as I get it.
On June 21st 2009 at 3pm their will be a memorial service for Mike Martello at the following location:
Holy Trinity Parish
14-51 143rd St.
Whitestone, NY. 11537Mikes mom has specifically asked for NO FLOWERS to be sent. This memorial is open to the public, any and all wishing to pay respects is welcome. If you wish to send a sympathy card please send it to the following address:Marie Martello
PO BOX 3757
Wayne, NJ. 07474-3757
Marie wants me to express her heartfelt gratitude to all of those who have shown their love to Mike over the years. The overwhelming wave of support and love has been very soothing to her, she said. She also said Mike would be very happy seeing everyone work nicely together.
All are welcome. Please introduce yourselves as many people may not know what others look like from online personalities. I wish I could be there, but finances are not in the cards right now.
The family has requested that their privacy be respected, so please limit your communication and attempts with them to the PO BOX above. Any further questions contact me directly.
Here is a link to Mike’sYoutube account where you can find hours and hours of footage. I know with his seminars in New Mexico, and here in Seattle, WA. he basically took all the footage I gave him and edited it down to the meat and potatoes so to speak. Those of you around the world are lucky in that Mike believed in sharing every
thing. He used to say: “Jake, why worry about anyone stealing something from video? They were not their, they did not feel what was happening. I want the world to see that the Chinese martial arts are still going strong, because honestly I am worried about the quality of the teachings being passed down.”
http://www.youtube.com/user/mikemartello Enjoy guys. Lots, and lots of good stuff on those videos. I do not know how things are handled on Youtube once someone passes, so you may want to burn them to hard drives just in case.
I am very pleased to announce that www.mikemartello.com has launched as of today! You can log on and leave messages, pictures, share stories, photos, etc. Basically it is a ever present tribute for people to share, grieve, and remember our comrade in arms Mike Martello.
BIG thanks to our friends and brothers from Wutan Canada, as well as Kin and Keith who created and launched the site and domain name. You guys did a killer job, and got it up even though you have real jobs and families! Thanks so much guys!
I will assist on Mike Martello dot com as well so if you have questions or concerns I can try to help and answer them.
Go softly, gentle warrior. My partner, my rock, my Hommie. You taught me how to laugh and see light in darkness. Mike had Wolff-Parkinson White Syndrome, which caused tachycardia. He always laughed and said, "I have a wolf in my heart," but he was so strong, we were sure he would live til 100. Even when he was training to be a fireman in NY, he passed the tests with flying colors, could have saved an elephant from a burning building, but his EKG was off the charts erratic, and they told him his heart could give out at any time. Even so, he lived his life with no regrets. He was a genius martial artist and a good man down to the marrow.
Many of you know my Kung Fu brother Sifu Mike Martello from
tournaments, workshops and our New York visits. He passed away
yesterday June 2 leaving a huge vacum in the martial arts world. He
has accomplished so much in his short life time. My deepest
condolences to all the students and instructors of Wutan Belgium.
Goodbye little Mikkeeee. My friend, my brother. So many good times and
memories. I can’t believe that you’re really gone. I’ll miss you.
For all our friends in friendly little China, where the government bans Youtube…
We uploaded the tribute to Vimeo.com for your viewing pleasure.
Formosa Neijia put up a very nice tribute on his page.
Wutan Canada as well. John Hum and Mike were good friends and training partners.
Dojo Rat has put up a very sweet and nice tribute to Mike. John came down and trained with Mike, and was simply amazed by the power and sensitivity that Mike possessed. Check it out at http://dojorat.blogspot.com/
Thanks John, Mike always spoke highly of you and really appreciated the kindness you and the Zacster brought to the seminars.
As I swim through various ups and downs, laughs and cries, tears and smiles, it has been so nice to hear from people all over the globe and their positive experiences with Mike. I appreciate all the kind emails, and phone calls. Everyone I have spoken with has at least a dozen memories of Mikes laughter, humor, just his overall being. Mike was so many things to so many of us; friend, teacher, training partner, scientist, mentor, father figure, chef, photographer…….. his legacy will be with all the people he has touched over the years.
If anything positive was to come from this tragedy it has been the re-connection that such events come with. I spoke to my very first Mantis teacher Keith Weiner this morning. We have fallen out of touch over the past few years, and it was refreshing to hear his voice and that he, and his family, are doing very well in NYC. I owe Keith eternally for without him I most likely would not be where I am today. He instilled a passion in me that I will never forget, and he has been a consummate supporter of all I do.
It has been a while since I spoke with Mike Gates, Steve Manning, and Jason Gregoire in the North Shore. Though bittersweet it was still nice to catch up and share memories of Mike. Mike, Steve, and Jason have always supported my attempts to expose martial artists to high level teachers and have become good friends and strong brothers over the years. I appreciate your support and love over the years guys!
One thing that has been constant are the stories. Everyone has a story about Mike, and though they are all different, we all know the story! Mike had a persona, a charisma that is one in a million! Sweet, outgoing, and yet one of the scariest mofo’s when he turned it on! I have constantly had people accuse me, and ask me if the videos on Youtube with Mike tossing my ass all over the place are real, or if I am making him look good!?! Rest assured Mike had no problem making himself look good because his technique was TIGHT! I will write more on what Mike left behind soon. Right now I leave you with a beautiful poem someone shared on Mantis Quarterly forum:
Do not stand at my grave and weep;
I am not there. I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry;
I am not there. I did not die.
Mary Elizabeth Frye
Here is a short montage Dana put together today. We plan to do more. She has been searching through literally thousands of shots we have with Mike and various situations at the seminars we have done over the years.
The support, emails, and phone calls I have received from brothers and sisters all around the world has been amazing. Thanks so much guys! It means the world to me, and I know Mike would appreciate the fact that we are all touching base even if the reason is grim. He was all about breaking down the bullshit barriers and politics, and just getting together and training.
I hope you enjoy some of our fond memories.
As you can imagine I have been on the phone all morning talking with people all over the US and Europe. I will try my damnedest to keep you all informed as Mike had friends all over the globe and this blog is a convenient vehicle in which to communicate quickly and easily to the masses no matter what time of day, or where on mother earth you call home. Around around 9:30 (Belgium time) this morning Mike Martello, age 42, passed away in Antwerp, Belgium, due to a congenital heart condition (Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome). He was in the middle of giving a private lesson when he started to feel faint and weak. He got some water, but became white and collapsed. Immediately the student began CPR, and from what I have heard the paramedic’s got there in record time but it was too late.
Born 5 October 1966, Michael Anthony Martello, has played many roles and touched many lives.
Their will be memorial services in Beijing, Taipei, and New York City. Mike will be cremated in Belgium, and his ashes will be distributed at each place listed at various memorial services. I will post information as soon as I get guys.
Mike is survived by his mother and sister, both whom live in New York.
I will be posting pictures and memories and thoughts as time goes on. Living with a photographer has its advantages;) Moments are caught quite candid as with the picture to the right where Mike is wearing size 22 shoes (7 sizes larger than my big ass feet!!). We will have more of these coming.
I woke this morning to a blunt reminder of the frailty of life. My teacher, more importantly my friend, Mike Martello passed on to the next world this morning in Belgium. I know very little details other than Mike passed sometime this morning of cardiac arrest.
I find myself in a fog to be honest. This is so surreal, and frankly will take weeks, if not months and years to digest how this could happen to someone so young and in shape!
I just spoke to him a few days ago as we have been trying to organize his next visit to Seattle in the fall. For the last several years Mike has made the journey from his home in Belgium to visit me and my students in both New Mexico and here in Washington state. I was the first person to host Mike over here in North America for open seminars, and just recently Mike was able to expand his teachings to groups in New York City, as well as Texas.
There will be more information coming as I get it in, and I will be sharing more of my memories and experiences with Mike as I sift through the various emotions and feelings that come with such a situation. I am sure Mike passed with a smile, and most likely had just finished or started practicing, so I know he died happy. He always commented on how lucky of a life he led to be able to train day in and day out (and trust me, when I say “train” I mean FUCKING TRAIN!! Mike kept an insane schedule and pushed himself every single hour of every single day!), and share the arts he loved so passionately with his students in China, Taiwan, Germany, Belgium, and the US.
Their are few people who we can honestly say have touched our lives in the most positive of ways and Mike certainly was one for me. Our relationship was born out of BS political issues within the CMA community, and though we both were warned by certain parties to avoid the other, it was exactly this silliness that cemented our relationship as friends and as student-teacher. The parallels in our martial journey brought us closer together and when many criticized me and my approach, Mike not only supported my decisions but he helped me in every way possible to improve my understanding and abilities within the martial arts.
I am signing off for now. This is too much for me to handle to be honest. I will leave you with some video of Mike and his teachings. Search Youtube for hours and hours of footage of Mike with his teacher, his students, doing seminars, playing, fighting, performing etc.
I do not believe so much in good byes anymore. I believe we will all meet again on another plane, another place. Mike I cannot tell you how you have helped me in life, and I cannot fathom how much I will miss you. Life is completely unfair to many of us as I will never understand why you were taken from us so soon. You had so much to teach and share with us. Be safe in your journey and know that our hearts and prayers are with you. I will certainly be drinking one (or three) for you brother.
I love you my friend. I will see you on the other side.
I updated the congrats to Brian and Mike post with a picture. Video to come.
I also updated the Roy Harris seminar review with the video of Jimmy taking his brown belt eval.
I must admit that I have lived a very fortunate and fruitful life thus far, especially in terms of martial arts. Just this year alone I have had the opportunity to train with the likes of Demian Maia,Eddie Bravo, Rigan Machado, and Tim Cartmell. Over the last 3 years I have had the great fortune to train with three of BJJ’s “Dirty Dozen:”David Meyer – John Will – and over this last weekend Roy Harris. The “Dirty Dozen” is the unofficial label of the first 12 non-Brazilians to attain black belt level in the art of BJJ. They are as follows:
- Craig Kukuk (Renzo Gracie) – 1992
- Ken Gabrielson (Reylson Gracie) – 1992
- Bob Bass (Rigan Machado) – 1996
- Rick Minter (Rigan Machado) – 1996
- Chris Haueter (Rigan Machado) – 1996
- Rick Williams (Rigan Machado) – 1996
- David Meyer (Rigan Machado) – 1997
- John Will (Rigan Machado) – 1998
- Roy Harris (Joe Moreira) – 1998
Rather shy and introverted when I first walked in and met Mr. Harris, he immediately came to life and took command of the room just before the seminar started. While some last minute stragglers were still getting dressed, Roy took about 15 minutes before the seminar started to open it up for any questions from the attendees. We covered some grip breaking questions, and a few tips for escaping someones back control.
Anyone who is savvy to the BJJ world knows that controversy surrounds Harris. I do not wish to drag up dirty laundry here, just search around the web for a minute and you will find plenty of good and bad stories surrounding Roy Harris. This was partially the reason I wanted to check him out; as it has often been my experience that people with “reps” on the web are one of two types of teachers:
– Completely and utterly full of themselves, and often full of shit
– Technically sound, solid, really good teachers who often make others feel threatened or inferior, hence the “others” doing their best to drag said teachers name through the mud.
Now I cannot speak for the “truth” out there, but one thing is certain, Harris does NOT fall under the first category of people I have experienced!!
“Technically sound” does not even start to describe the seminar and Roy’s teachings! “The devil is in the details.” was a sentence used over and over by Roy this weekend and let me tell you the details he offered on various aspects of BJJ were worth three times the money I spent!
To my delight, we started the morning session with leg locks! Harris is renowned for his leg attacks in the BJJ community. He is so good at them (especially straight ankle locks) that when he was training at the Gracie Academy Rorion pulled him into the office one day as a blue belt and told him he was no longer “allowed” to use leg locks in class! His DVD’s on the subject are excellent as well.
To be honest nothing he taught was “new” to me, as two weeks prior I had Tim in town doing a leg lock seminar, and for those who do not know Tim credits Roy Harris with teaching him many of the finer aspects of his leg lock game via seminars when Tim was a blue belt! So this was a great review of the principles and mechanics that Tim offered, from one of his teachers. I look forward to doing some more leg attacks this weekend with Aaron Fields here in Seattle, WA. who is doing a Sambo seminar on leg attacks.
The second session of the day was working submission chains; working one submission from another that just failed or was defended well. The tips Roy taught for the triangle (and subsequently for the single leg pass defending the triangle) were amazing!!! Those interested in the details are welcome to class over the next couple weeks where I am happy to “share” them with you! Roy was quite candid with teaching tips that many teachers either do not know, or do not wish to share with others. If nothing else it is the love and passion for teaching that Roy posses’ for the art of BJJ that will be an ever lasting impression left on me.
Roy took time to answer any and all questions. Was very polite (thanked ME for allowing him to work on ME!?!?!?!) and to the point. One of the best aspects of the training was I was Uke (demo dummy) for the whole day! This was not only an honor, but an education in and of itself! First of all Roy is a LOT bigger than I thought he was! As you can see from the picture; he is my size! And his pressure is AMAZING!!!! My broken ribs did not like the pressure, and I am sure he was being nice for the demo! I wish I could have rolled with him. Secondly one learns SO much kinesthetically from a teacher who works on you.
Roy was hosted by his black belt student Roy Dean in Bend, OR. which is a gorgeous town found in central Oregon, saturated with some wonderful distilleries and breweries! I highly suggest the Coffee Stout found on the nitro tap at Bend Brewing Co. It is un-fucking-believable!!!!!!
Mr. Dean has one of the most beautiful dojo’s I have been in, with a wonderful view of the South Sister straight out the front window. His students were all out going and very friendly, and the few I worked with were great partners. Obviously Roy Dean is doing a great job raising these young mat rats!
I also had the privilege to observe Jimmy DeSilva’s brown belt evaluation. He did a phenomenal job and was awarded his brown belt after making it all the way through the almost hour long test! Congrats Jimmy! Here is the video for it:
I see this post is just going on, and on, and……
So in closing if you get the chance to train with Roy Harris I HIGHLY suggest you take it! He offers seminars worldwide, as well as doing seminars almost quarterly at his academy in San Diego, CA. His technical prowess is second only to his passion for teaching, both of which I find quite important and endearing in my instructors. Also if you are looking for a nice vacation that is not too far, Bend is beautiful and Roy Dean would welcome you to stop in and roll with his guys. Great group! Great training! Great life! Live it!