The Washington Post and The Denver Post yesterday reported on 18-year-old Brendan Johnston’s quandry when faced with the prospect of facing Jaslynn Gallegos for a high school wrestling bout. The competition would have brought him one step closer to a Colorado state wrestling championship, but instead, he decided to forfeit. Johnston cited unspecified religious beliefs for his decision and also a reluctance to show physical aggression toward a female. He’s done this with other female wrestlers, too, and been praised for it. As the news outlets detail, this is emblematic of a larger debate about the 17,000 girls nationwide in scholastic wrestling.
Speaking as a former two-year high school wrestler and now a six-year Brazilian jiu-jitsu practitioner, I have problems with his decision on many levels.
On the personal level, it dishonors both wrestlers. It makes us wonder if Johnston’s real reason was that he was a coward, afraid of losing to — and therefore feeling emasculated by — a girl. And by robbing the girl of her chance to compete, it leaves her — and us — to doubt the legitimacy of any subsequent victory; i.e., the only reason she can now step closer to the championship is because someone gave her a “bye.”
On the gender-relations level, it dishonors men through guilt by association. In this context, men are once again choosing for a women what she may or may not do with her body. If a female chooses to use her body in a grappling sport — or any sport — then who are you to take that away? Johnston said he doesn’t want to show physical aggression toward a female off the mat; fair enough. But on the mat? That’s the nature of the sport, and girls who wrestle have made that choice.
And on the commonsense level, the decision is illogical. The online comments to the above news articles give at least two main points to unpack.
Scholastic grappling, in fact, further reduces the possibility of unfair physical advantage because wrestlers have to compete within narrow weight classes. Johnston and Gallegos are theoretically evenly matched because they weigh the same.
But don’t take my word for it. Go observe a martial arts class or a wrestling practice. Talk to the women you see there. And for bonus points, put your own butt out there on the mat and experience it for yourself.
So, my children had a little photo shoot yesterday for Total Defense Martial Arts. (Click to follow link:)
Here’s a Larry King-esque collection of thoughts for today:
— The Traipse/WQSV Treasure Hunt begins in Staunton again next week. Last year, my family spent a lot of blood & sweat to win. (Writeup) Of course, we plan to win again this year. It was a lot of fun, and I hope fellow Stauntonites will give us some friendly competition.
— Cursed by Christ is doing surprisingly good sales-wise, despite it being my first self-published title. I’ll be a guest speaker at Rockbridge County High School on on Oct. 19, where I’ll share what I’ve learned about audiobook production. Do ya think Empire of the Goddess has a similar destiny?
— Brazilian Jiujitsu continues to teach me virtue in addition to the ability to choke someone unconscious. Recently, gratitude and humility have been on my mind. For instance, when someone beats you at something, it’s okay to congratulate your opponent on their success and ask them to teach you. “Ow, ow–tap! That was awesome! How did you do that?” All in the same breath, even. (Maybe without the “ow, ow” next time.) I offer this wisdom not only to fellow martial artists but to anyone in any context. Politicians, particularly.
And if you’ve ever had a good teacher, it’s okay to tell that person so. It’s okay to recognize they’ve enriched your life in some way. Teachers, on the other side of the table, can make that connection easier by not humiliating the person who has already humbled himself. The proper answer to, “Your support has meant so much to me,” or to any expression of friendship, is, “Thank you.” Nothing else.
One cool thing about being a dad is that I can roll out cliches like, “You’ll poke your eye out!” and “Eat your food; don’t you know kids are starving in Africa?” and they’re hearing these hoary old lines for the first time. These tidbits of intellectual lint come out of me like effervescent bubbles of genius, as far as they know.
So why not roll out classic movies from the 1980s as well? I’m talking stuff like The Thing and Iceman and the Star Trek films. And yes, The Karate Kid — the original one with Ralph Macchio and Pat Morita.
The Karate Kid is now all the more interesting to me as a storyteller and a martial artist. It’s in this second capacity that I approach you today in my mission to promote all things Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
I know — there ain’t no BJJ in The Karate Kid, right? That’s what you think.
There’s this one scene we watched last night before it was time for the nightly rounds of teeth brushing, jammies, and oh-my-god-look-at-this-pigsty-of-a-room.
In the “soccer fight scene,” one of the bullies from the Cobra Kai school slide-tackles Daniel during an after-school soccer game. Here it is from about 1:35 – 1:47.
I’m calling this the most realistic fight because that’s how most street fights go down. Forget about the crane stance at the All-Valley Karate Tournament at the story’s climax; attempting that in the real world will only get your own ass kicked when you fail to time the snap kick perfectly and when your attacker blocks your foot. The soccer fight immediately went to the ground, which is where most fights in the real world land.
Am I speaking from some experience with real world fights? Unfortunately, yes. Am I speaking with the authority of a sick fascination with street fight Youtube videos? Also yes. Am I basing this also on the opinions of my betters in the martial arts world? Yes.
Watch the clip from The Karate Kid again. Side aside for the moment whether Daniel was in the right to lose his cool after the slide tackle, and let’s stipulate for the sake of argument that he was protecting himself from an assailant. Because what he did — if this had been a self-defense situation — was exactly right. Daniel rushed straight in, getting inside his opponent’s punching range, and executed a tackle somewhere between a double-leg and a leghook takedown. Cobra Kai guy (CKG) reacted at first with a guillotine hold before sweeping Daniel to a mount position. Daniel sweeps him in turn, and when CKG neglects to close his guard and hug Daniel close, Daniel postures up and nails him with a right cross. CKG momentarily traps Daniel’s extended right arm in an arm-drag position and appears ready to come up on top of Daniel’s back before onlookers break them up.
Elapsed time: 11 seconds. Also realistic. This stuff happens fast. There isn’t time to think.
So, I’ll just leave that there for you to contemplate when you’re done admiring the fight choreography of this scene. How would you react in a rapidly developing situation like this? Crane kicking is the wrong answer.
Anyway, I enjoy spotting BJJ moves on screen now that I know what to look for. Click below for a Facebook gallery I made a few years ago. See if you can guess the movie before clicking on each picture for a detailed description of the fighting techniques.
It’s been a while since I posted anything here, but rest assured my little elves are hard at work on goodies for you. Here’s an update.
The Organ Donor
The 15th anniversary edition of my first novel, The Organ Donor, is on track for a November release from Bloodshot Books. I went all self-indulgent with this one, penning a 6,000-word afterword for the new edition, laying out the whole sordid story about my real-life encounter with Chinese organ trafficking. The publisher hired the estimable Deena Warner to do the cover art and design, which I hope to show you soon. I’m again working with filmmaker John Johnson to foolishly spend any royalties I earn from this edition on a fun book trailer. (Watch past book trailers at this link.) More information about The Organ Donor.
The Dagger of God
The what?! What ‘chu talkin’ about, Willis? That’s right; there’s another novel in the sausage-making factory. This one is a trunk novel, a ghost story about the Civil War, Ku Klux Klan, and ugly racial violence. As if that’s topical. I enjoy reading/performing stories, so I’m trying something new: recording my own audio book. It’s been a fun experiment so far but fraught with frustrations as my basement office isn’t exactly a sound booth (chugga-chugga laundry machines behind me, and idiot felines scratching on my window screen), and my microphone picks up every breath pop, inhalation, and squishy lip parting that I make. Probably the most successful aspect of this venture will be the blooper reel. There’s also the challenge of keeping character voices distinct. My main character is a Southern belle who alternately sounds like Scarlett O’Hara or Matt-Warner-forgetting-his-character’s-voice. But when it’s done, I nevertheless intend to release it on the Amazon ACX platform and possibly on Youtube. If successful, it will make one long car trip bearable for you. Listening to an audiobook really is the best way to travel.
And on the personal front . . .
The website design business keeps the “busy” in business. I mean, day-um. Deena Warner Design continues to be in high demand for author websites. I’m also spending a significant portion of time working for First Arriving, a marketing firm in high demand for fire department websites. My writing career currently occupies the 530-630am hour most weekdays, and these two firms occupy everything else — that is, everything not taken up by my high-energy 6- and 8-year-old boys, who are scary smart.
On top of all that, I’ve become ever more entrenched in Total Defense Martial Arts, which provides boxing and Brazilian jiu-jitsu instruction to the Staunton area. Starting in January, I’ll assume primary responsibility for teaching BJJ to kids between 6 and 16. I’m also in talks with Staunton Montessori School to volunteer for two months as a self-defense instructor to 7-9th graders, teaching them the joys of escaping headlocks, bear hugs, and chokes.
That’s about it. Please stay tuned for all the happenings this fall.
I’ll be with the Total Defense Martial Arts team at Rockfish Valley Fire Department, on Rt 151 in Afton, Sunday starting 1pm doing jiujitsu demonstrations during a community fair. Drop by and see me get hip thrown about a hundred times! You might even get to choke me!
Here’s the Facebook event page. The occasion is the Kids Dream Foundation car, truck, bike & tractor trailer show to help sick and underprivileged kids and their famlies.
Here’s a video I put together about my friend Johnny Morales. I help him to teach the kids class at Total Defense Martial Arts. It includes a clip at the end of him kicking my ass. Enjoy!
My local newspaper, the News Leader, interviewed me as part of a massive piece coming out tomorrow about Staunton martial arts schools. The online version, which you can read here, has some sweet video of my instructor throwing my ass to the ground. No, I was not suspended from school growing up.
There’s a troubling myth being propagated in our national culture. It says winning — success — is everything. That if you lose a fight or other contest, you’re worthless. We saw this in the juvenile commentary after the Dec. 31 UFC women’s bantamweight bout between Amanda Nunes and Ronda Rousey, and we’ve continually heard this from our president and his sycophants.
I’m coming up on four years now as a Brazilian jiu-jitsu practitioner, and one of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned on the mat applies to life in general. It’s that it’s okay to lose. It’s how we learn.
There’s a spirtual aspect to this if you’re a fan of Taoism. The yin-yang symbol is one of motion: the white and black halves tumble over each other, propelling each through the cycle of development. The Tao Te Ching says, “Yield and overcome; bend and be straight.” Because when I accept defeat, I release my ego. I acknowledge that someone else might be better than I am at a particular task, that someone might even be stronger or more intelligent. When I accept the Socratic paradox that wisdom begins with knowing that I know nothing, then I am ready to learn from others.
The opposite of this is someone ruled by ego. He whines and lies if he thinks he’s going to lose, and he swaggers and taunts when he wins. He gaslights when objective truths don’t serve his popularity. And he learns nothing. When this person is an average Joe, it’s a tragedy. When this person is a national leader, it’s a catastrophe.
There’s probably nothing I can do to solve the problems at the top of our government. All I can do is ride the storm out, spending that time teaching the next generation the equanimity it will need for actual success. In the meantime, I entertain the fantasy that Ronda Rousey and Hillary Clinton will set their sails in these winds of fate. So, you’re not a world-champion mixed martial artist, and you’re not a president. So what? It doesn’t matter anymore. Ride the sailboat to where you should be now.
Here’s me this morning.