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What Style is Best?

By Herb Borkland

What is the best style? Once I asked Duncan Leung. Do you know about "the dark genius of wing chun"? Quick story...

Duncan's street-fighting pal Bruce Lee came over one day; and Duncan told him, "I've got a new technique." And since they were always swapping moves, just like guitarists swap licks, scar-faced Duncan and young Bruce squared off informally in Duncan's parents' living room.

And Bruce couldn't counter Duncan's new move, so Bruce said, "It's too cramped in here."

The two teenagers went up on the apartment building's roof, surrounded by the Hong Kong skyline of half a century ago; and still, Bruce couldn't stop Duncan's technique.

But you know Bruce; he said, "No, not enough room. Let's go up on the hill."

On a hill overlooking the city and the harbor, Bruce finally dropped his fists. "Where did you learn this?"

So Duncan introduced the Little Dragon to his future sifu, the father of modern wing chun, Yip Man.

"But what was the technique?" I prompted Duncan.

"Battle fist."

"Battle fist" is an explosive, continuous, one-fist-replaces-the-other, center-line punching to the face; and it is off-putting, the first time, because it's happening too fast to counter, only to defend against.

So, anyway, when I asked Duncan, "What is the best style?", he said something rather profound. "The best style is... the one that gives you confidence."

Obviously, what we both meant was "for street fighting." But the question can be asked in three different ways: "in the street," yes, but also "at a tournament," or "in combat." Meaning: "To knock cold," or "to out-point," or "to kill the enemy."

The work horse of unarmed fighting (aikido aside) is punching. Traditional martial artists, whether at school or rolling around in the parking lot outside the bar, can and do hit each other in the face. It's just that martial artists also learn an encyclopedia of other ways to take out an opponent.

The existential difference (as Norman Mailer'd say) between bare-knuckle warriors in an East LA backyard and prize fighters in a ring isn't that one contest is somehow not a sport or is more serious than the other. It's a matter of training in how to hit and avoid being hit. Street-king Slice on You Tube, trying to go pro, got the snot beat out of him by a journeyman British boxer.

Inside the Octagon, heavy-fisted pummeling splatters crowd-pleasing blood. Unfortunately, most MMA fighters not only couldn't go the distance with, say, a Golden Gloves amateur, they'd never land a solid blow. Which is why I sometimes say, not entirely joking, that MMA is fighting for people who don't know how to fight.

Perhaps because of MMA's popularity, head-hunting has also become the sine qua non of various amateur, controlled-contact martial sports. I can even predict – you read it here first – Olympic-style taekwondo will soon permit head-punching.

But in war, if you are luckless enough to end up at close quarters without your weapon, even trained fists may be too slow. Soldiers fight really, really dirty. Today's popularized military styles have to be toned way, way down. What remain behind, however, are some solid underlying martial concepts.

Combat-veteran Mike Kanarek's Haganah, like Krav Maga, derives from the Israeli Army. His concept of "funneling" the opponent's attack directly into your counters is a useful simplifier which reduces the need to learn how to deal one-by-one-by-one with a gazillion possible modes of attack.

The Navy SEALs' SCARS, created by combat-veteran Jerry Peterson, centers on the autonomous nervous system, the not-under-conscious-control reflexes that pull fingers out of fires and bare feet off sharp sea shells.

From the first strike to legs, torso or head, SCARS knows in advance exactly how the opponent will react; knows, too, that he is helpless not to react in this way, not even if you did it to him ten times in a row, and he knew it was coming every time. That to me seems ideal.

So I salute Duncan, who's back in Hong Kong now, and repeat his sage advice to all newcomers shopping for a way to make 'em mourn like Jason Bourne: "The best style is the one that gives you confidence."

But always be sure whether, beyond fists of fury, you want the skills of a traditional martial artist, a street fighter, sportsmen or the soldier.

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About The Author:

Washington, D.C. native Herb Borkland has been called "a martial arts pioneer" because he was an original student at the first taekwondo school in the United States. After taking his degree at The University of Virginia, Herb went on to become a closed-door student of the legendary Robert W. Smith, author of the first English-language book about tai chi. An Inside Kung-Fu Hall of Fame writer, he was the first journalist ever invited to train in SCARS, the Navy SEALs fighting system. Herb scripted "Honor&Glory" for Cynthia Rothrock, featured on HBO, as well as winning the first-place Gold Award at the Houston International Film Festival for his Medal of Honor soldier screenplay "God of War." For three years he hosted the national half-hour Black Belts cable-TV show. Herb and his wife, the Cuban-American painter Elena Maza, live in Columbia, Maryland.

To find more articles of interest, search on one of these keywords:

Bruce Lee,Battle Fist, Duncan Leung,Yip Man,Mike Kanarek,SCARS,MMA

Read more articles by Herb Borkland

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