ted2Two traps. There’s a time when looking less competent than you really are can be an advantage. I remember two occasions when I saw this in action. Each occasion involved a champion.

The first happened while watching a match fought by a relatively new champ named Chuck Norris in pre-movie days. His reputation was still building and everyone at this large San Jose tournament sat forward to watch this rising star pitted against a talented local black belt. The match’s first minute was disappointing, the great Norris didn’t seem that special, nice kicks but a little slow. A sort of distracted style of fighting. Then a moment fell over everything. Chuck had thrown a front kick and widely missed his mark almost turning his back on his younger opponent. You could see the spark in the black belt’s eyes, “God, Norris completely missed. I’m going to get him.” With that the young black belt lunged forward with a beautiful punch that never reached its mark as Norris threw a devastating, perfectly timed rear kick that never could have occurred if his opponent had not assumed the kick and placement was a mistake. From that point on the “schooling” continued until Norris took the grand championship which he, really, already owned.

On a second occasion I was walking through San Jose’s Japanese section, near the Buddhist temple there. I noticed a poster announcing that a martial exhibition was in progress at that very moment. I walked in. A group of women were performing Naginata kata. Their movements were graceful and precise, the long handled weapon ending in a large blade perfectly controlled by the demonstrators. (I found out years later that this was the All Japan team making one of their rare visits to America.)

After the forms demo the fighting began. The host Kendo team supplied the competition. The first swordsman was a tall, somewhat out of place, blonde white man about 6’3″. His opponent was a visiting Japanese Naginata-ka, pretty, young and very short. Remember, this was forty years ago and such martial matches were still rare. The guy was pretty quick. He parried the first attack by his petite opponent knocking the blade off at a wide angle, offering a path for entrance. Big and quick he figured he’d passed the danger area of the blade and now was the opportune moment to get inside. He rushed, bamboo sword suspended to cleave, when the girl trapped him between her weapon’s shaft and her thigh. She tossed him beautifully, expertly, directly onto his head. He’d gotten her right where she wanted him.

I present these two incidents because what they teach is nothing incidental. They show, among other things, the not-so-obvious nature of what has become the dumbed down goals of martial training. Martial humility, for instance, is not the overly polite, mechanical and utterly insincere “Yes, Sir!” and “No, Sir!” we hear so often in young people’s classes. It is a humble willingness to look the fool to obtain the prize, despite others’ perceptions. This humility, while a virtue in its own right, is also a useful tool in the martial arsenal. Sun Tzu, the great military writer, defined war over two thousand years ago as, “The art of deception.” In this era of bloated egos and self advertisements humility might be more useful than it seems.

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