Aug 27, 2011 1
We left them bruised, confused, and often embarrassed. We beat them in the schools, tournaments, or where ever. I’ve sparred, competed, or fought, many thousands of times over the decades. I could hit like a howitzer. I’ve broken opponent’s bones with just the energy of my voice (kiai). We have had, between us, dozens of schools, and thousands of students. Stand and deliver! Who needs fame? I know I made my mark.
Madison, Wisconsin has a reputation for having a strong martial arts community – but it was not always this way. In the beginning, there were only closed tournaments. This meant that all of the Tae Kwon Do people went to one tournament, and all the Karate guys went to another, the Kung Fu practitioners to yet another.
There was this separation between fighters that kept us apart from each other, and prevented us from determining who was better in the competitive sense.
The Midwest fighting scene
This separation began to change in the mid-seventies because of economic pressures, and our natural curiosity to find out what it was to fight somebody that fights in a different manner than yourself. It was in the breaching of this separation, that brought Madison into its own as a martial arts powerhouse.
Chicago had its well known fighters, further south, Glenn Keeney had a powerful school. Milwaukee had Chuck Warren, Muhammad Sabir, and the Rufus clan. North of Madison, there were good schools from Superior to Minneapolis. So, Madison was surrounded by well known schools and well known fighters. The time was ripe for Madison to bring some good fighters – but first, we had to be “made”.
I started my training in the martial arts when I was thirteen years old (since 1970) with my first instructor, Rolly Reed, a Philippine turned American, who taught Shotokan and Escrima. I was accepted into Paik’s Martial Arts Institute in 1972. I have, with my fellow martial arts compatriots, been fighting in the adult divisions since I was 16 years old.
This is a special story, because it is a story of a small group of young people that changed everything about what martial arts was, to all that saw them fight.
It started in a very simple manner, me and my friend Bill Faust, wanted to take Tae Kwon Do lessons at the new school in town. Because we were about the same age as the instructors two children, Myung and Peter, we started to train together. Our teacher, Dr. Paik, was a research pathologist at the university, and he had taught his kids martial arts before, but he decided to further their training by having them go to the school and “mentor” us. Because they were our age, we introduced them to our social circles – I like to think that we helped each other.
This was such an ideal situation for us because they made us feel more comfortable in a dojo full of college students and businesspeople. There was Kim Il Sik, a very friendly Korean master that taught with Dr. Paik, who gave us sparring knowledge, and there was Master Park – who scared me half to death. There was one other guy we met, he was a little older than us, but was such an alpha male bad boy, he was the cool guy to hang out with. Randy Reid – he was a cross between Billy Jack and Jimmy Buffett.
We trained for a couple of years, and we steadily got better and better, but there were far stronger fighters than us. That was a problem because there were three guys that so dominated the fighting at our school, we couldn’t overcome them. They weren’t good fighters, but they were strong and big. Dr. Paik did something that was to me unheard of – he got rid of them. Why, because he saw how we were developing with our technique, and we needed time (and a little more maturity) to get past the manner of just using brute force.
Boy was he right. Two years later, we were all dominating the tournament circuit because our level of fighting technique had become so advanced (our region was, roughly, the area between Minneapolis and Indianapolis, but I’ve done my share of “Texas rules” fighting in the southwest). Further, there were a couple of things that made a difference: the rise of open tournament, and the invention of foam pads.
New gear, more tournaments
Foam pads allowed you to hit an opponent without crushing their face. This is in stark contrast to the traditional method of controlling your strike – often, these types of fights turned into a slug-fest. The safety margin created by this new “Safe-T” equipment (made popular by Jhoon Rhee) created a completely different manner of fighting. It allowed you to fight harder with less injury, and allowed for more finesse in your technique.
Open tournaments are tournaments that allow fighters from all styles and schools to compete. They came about because of the increased competition between schools due to the fact that there was a spike in demand, due to the end of the Vietnam war (veterans are often drawn to the martial arts for a variety of reasons), and the explosion of “kung fu” movies and television shows. Importantly, open tournaments allowed us to settle the question about which way of fighting was better. In my observation, the competitors used to closed tournaments didn’t fair as well because they couldn’t handle the variety.
War with your opponents, war with yourself
Raising the stakes of the situation was the fact that the more trophies you had in your window, the more people wanted to go to your school. Thus, tournament success was critical to financial success in the field (I drove around in an orange sports car, an MG convertable with wire rims – heh heh).
There were wars for territory. We didn’t call it that at the time, but there was a war, just a sure as gangland war, less deadly, but just as personal. These karate wars were fought, as far as I remember from Texas to Canada, at least in the midwest. Karate schools pushed hard against the newly arriving Tae Kwon Do schools. Old TKD schools now pushed back on every level against the newer schools. In some places, tense moments could occur if you and the police went to different martial arts schools.
Especially in the beginning of my tournament career, every tournament was tense, with everybody present knowing what was at stake. Every once in a while, a delegation from another school might arrive at your school to get rough. One time, students competing school showed up in street clothes and “cups” underneath their jeans, scratching and clawing at our instructor – they got bounced out (and arrested).
Chaos in the dojo, cruise control in the ring
But, there was a special situation that developed that worked to advance our skill level. Between the three of us (Randy, Bill, and myself) we couldn’t determine who was the best, because we were such different types of fighters. Reid was an attacker. I could beat him, because I was a counter-attacker, but I lost to Bill because he was a good defender, but he couldn’t defend well against Reid. So, I could beat Reid, Reid could beat Bill, and Bill could beat me.
We went around in this circular hierarchy for years. And we just got better, and better, and better. Our brown belt test was a standard black belt test. By the time we got our black belts, we were sweeping all the tournaments that we went to.
We were important because we were the first of the new “breed” of fighter comfortable with both bare knuckle or fighting with foam pads. We kind of strattled eras and thus learned both powerful battle techniques, as well as more advanced tournament techniques. Combination kicking, jumping spinning combination kicks, and kick and punch combinations were what we brought into the new way of fighting. As well, we brought in a more developed mental game – and we had a lot of fun!
Great fighters everywhere
There was plenty of competition – in context, all of this may have been the genesis of a uniquely American martial arts. We remember the Chicago fighters such as Sugar Bear Parrish, Preston Baker, Shorty Mills, Arlene Limas (future Olympic gold metal winner, TKD – we called her “Lady Kung Fu” then), the Worleys from Minnesota, the first pro fighters, Jeff Smith, “Superfoot” Bill Wallace, Joe Louis. There was Howard Jackson from California and Keith Vitale from Atlanta, Mike Warren from D.C., Gerard Robbins from N.Y. and so forth. I enjoyed fighting guys like “Scorpion” Burrage (I called him Harold, because that’s his name) and John Longstreet.
Of course, after we started teaching at our own schools, and perfecting our own styles, we were not limited to attacker, counter-attacker, and defender, we can do as we need, when we need to.
I can’t stress to you how good Bill, Randy, Peter and Myung were. It took all of my being just to keep up with these people. Faust was physically blessed, very intelligent, and very hard to hit. Reid is the best natural fighters I’ve ever meet (you would have to teach him how NOT to fight). Me, I just had to get tricky with my timing just to survive – and kick, kick, kick (that said, I often beat my opponents 5-0). Peter was dynamic, and literally indomitable (and a little too dangerous for sport fighting), and Myung was tactically smart – with a seething temper that she used to her advantage (did I mention she was beautiful?). Believe me, we absolutely pummeled the opposition.
With this group of fighters, we created a martial dynasty that lasted for decades. That means, that not only did we beat pretty much everybody, but our students were also very competitive, and their students as well. At one time, we had physically the largest martial arts school in the nation (the “Sunnyside” academy). All of this is something to be proud of, and it is in large part due to the training techniques devised and taught by Dr. Sang Kee Paik (10th degree). Dr. Paik even wrote a screenplay, inspired by all of the things that happened between us (the screenplay made it to LA, but alas, it never made it to Hollywood).
This was the time of my life, and I am incredibly blessed to have been a part of it. Each of these people, the schools, the tournaments, the stress and the strains, have tattooed my soul, and have given me memories I will take with me to my dying day.
I’ve had a long and successful career in the martial arts as a student, teacher, championship tournament competitor, and tournament ring coordinator/organizer. I was awarded “Best Competitor” at the World “Belt” Karate Championships in 1986, and I organized the USA Belt Karate Championships in 2004 and the Wisconsin State Championships 1986, 1987, and 2005 – but that’s another story.