Being Like a Ballerina

“I float like a butterfly, sting like a bee…”

The above quotation needs no introduction. With his pretend-arrogance, Muhammad Ali thrust himself into greatness just by having what every champion must have:  confidence.

And not just confidence. Real confidence. And not just “real” confidence. Real confidence that no one else had it. Not just the real confidence that no one had. Real confidence that no one had, and no one dared say they had it…

I could go on.

Ali knew he was a human. He knew he was not unbeatable. He knew other fighters who came to challenge him had confidence as well. They didn’t just have confidence, they had confidence (bordering arrogance) that they were the greatest in the world, and that they believed they could defeat the Great Muhammad Ali. But Ali knew that if he repeated it enough, that if he pretended to not have one ounce of doubt in his body (which almost no man possessed)–he just might convince his confident opponents that perhaps they hadn’t trained hard enough or didn’t have the skills and knowledge to beat him.

Ali was so wise.

He was able to dance right into a man’s soul and shake him up and magnify his doubt–and all men have some doubt–and pull it to the front of his own thoughts. Even when Ali lost, he looked like he was winning. He could take a superior fighter and infuriate him enough to make a mistake. He could take a well-prepared fighter, and take him off his game and fall right into a place where the Champ is more comfortable… like the heavy-hitter George Foreman (who was much stronger) trying to get on his toes to follow the agile and fleet-footed Ali, until he had gassed out and no longer had the strength advantage. He was the clever wascally wabbit who could outsmart a hunter and his gun (showing my age here)…

None of this mental gymnastics would work, however, without some level of physical superiority–the knowledge that he could do something the other guy can’t. Ali knew in the heavyweight division there were few who could move as easily as he did. Few could match his speed and accuracy. Few had his degree of timing. Few were confident enough to stand toe-to-toe and evade punches without blocking them. Few men could make an opponent miss by inches and return fire a split second later with a full-power punch to the jaw. Ali had this ability, and no matter what kind of fighter you were–regardless of what your strengths and advantages were–you would end up chasing a rabbit around the room who looked like he was running, but for some reason you were running into well-planted, rooted hooks, straight rights and upper cuts. Ali worked extra hard at the skills he had, until no one could match them. He didn’t try and learn what the next guy could do. He didn’t try to lift weights and increase his power. He simply found ways to make his preferred way of combat fit the fight and match the fighter he was to fight next month. He was like the ballerina who reinvents herself and blends her ballet skills into something that could be done in Disco in the 70s, Contemporary in the 80s, and Hip Hop in the 90s-2000s.

The modern martial artist has not learned to do this. He is too busy trying to beat Foreman at Foreman’s craft, slug with Joe Fraizer, jab with Larry Holmes, and match wits and speed with the Great Ali. He will never beat a Muay Thai fighter at Muay Thai. Nor will he match an Eskrimador with a stick or knife. Nor will he ever be able to whip a grappler on the ground. He is a man of many basic skills, and he is mediocre at all of them. All he can do is demonstrate on willing partners and novices. If the martial artist is to elevate his art to the next level of himself and represent his generation like his masters before him, he must truly learn to adapt–not add to–what he knows.

He is preoccupied with imitating Bruce, his favorite MMA guys, GMs Gaje and Presas, and more–rather than simply taking what he knows and convincing his opponents that he is still superior to them. There is an art to this, and it has nothing to do with cross training and learning more “complete” arts and ranges. He has a razor sharp knife, and he’ll use that knife to slit your throat whether you are carrying a stick, a nunchuck, a machete, a staff or a gun. This, my friends is true mastery of the art. Other than that, you’re no different than the old guy who can say “Hello”, “Thank you” and “Good-bye” in 15 different languages, but can’t speak any of them well enough to ask the cook to hold the onions.

Be like the ballerina who has take this centuries-old form of dance, and finds ways to keep the public’s interest… and respect… and relevance.

And the next level of this concept, is convincing your opponent that he is in a fight with a superior, dominant fighter–even when you’re not.

But next time. Thanks for visiting my blog.

If you would like to check out my new book, visit this site and order a copy! I guarantee you’ll love it!


Author: thekuntawman

full time martial arts teacher, full time martial arts philosopher, and full time martial arts critic

One thought on “Being Like a Ballerina”

  1. I read every article avidly, and I feel strongly as though this article is speaking to such as myself. I say that the martial artist is his own greatest critic, and part of my desire to grow as an artist is out of a fear that I am exactly as you described; a fake. So what if I can do so and so, from mixed styles. I have many who are beneath me…

    But I have also been mugged twice, and I have but one scar to tell of it. Martial arts… when others call a hobby, to me is a part of the Mahayana Buddhism, and I grew up Jewish, privileged, in D.C.

    I think I feel a guilt of this, because where I teach and train, I am the top dog, most experienced, best fighter. People talk to me of ‘awe’ and sneak up behind me to throw a punch, or kick, and I don’t think I’ve stopped it yet. They text me, or facebook message constantly to spend more time, and keep asking, even when I want to sit down and enjoy a book to keep going. They push me to try this, and that with me, until I am literally bruised. I thought only my tree outside could bruise me.

    But where I teach, is at a community college, to poor kids my age; 22 and under. I teach for free, but I teach sincerely, treating each student as if they were my own training partner, rather than the instructing I am actually doing. I say that I am guiding them, but am dans above them, and in both mcdojo and non schools, I had been a head instructor in the past. We have a large room, enough for 3 classes of 30 people each to be run, easily, and the space is free. All we lack are heavy bags, and frankly, though tiny, I’m not a bad replacement.

    I ask though if I am a fake because of that? I have trained since I was 4 in a variety of styles, mostly tkd and karate, with some bagua. But I say, and with pride, I care about the sincerity of my arts to this degree; today I lectured for 20 minutes on why kicking with the heel is more right than kicking with the edge, as had been taught to them previously, and me when much younger. You’ve written why.

    Perhaps information overload; but how also how striking with the middle knuckle is as legitimate as the foreknuckle (90-100% energy directed through) as legitimate to silat’s pinky all while checking for heel pivot, hip torque, arm rotation, and proper hand adjustment. And I reminded them how the hand is a ball of joints, which can be conditioned, and placed in ways which can be stronger than other areas of the body, but how I prefer to strike with the thelnar of the palm.

    And all the while I keep them smiling, and laughing. I have made some do push-ups when called for offenses which all arts can agree upon; excessive contact without cause, or taking advantage of others less experienced.

    But still, your post calls out to every fraud to come forward, and I must ask earnestly, I qualify by your definition as a fake. Yet I hope to every teacher I’ve had, truly, I am not. How does one know the difference?

    I’ve been called an expert, but I shirk at the term. 20 years? Those are nothing to the 52 I’ll have if I’m lucky to reach my fathers age. To your experience, to an infinite multitude of others who are better artists, and teachers. But I look forward to growing, and seeing who I become.

    Wouldn’t… not exploring what cross styles offer, to the new artist, different from those of the past in which only the art knows, in itself be limiting how we came to have so many arts? Your own art?

    Perhaps… some of us are fakes. But some of us are something else, and something new; in a new age where people like you and I can communicate like this, it is something unprecedented for the arts as a whole. And while many fear this may water down, or destroy the arts, I like to think that in a crowd of voices, those most worth listening to will naturally get sorted out eventually.

    It’s why I read your blog, and no others, honestly.

    Sorry for the long post. This post just really struck me.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.