Tales of a Bumbling Warrior : Love, Faith and Grit
I recently had a conversation with some friends about grit and pain. I ended up talking about parts of my training which ive only ever shared once before. Years spent learning that it is possible for one to have gratitude for suffering, and for learning to suffer. For being given the opportunity to build oneself back up again after being broken. We are pretty complicated, multifaceted people. We develop patterns that we very rarely see.
For the most part i was pretty simple, the only thing i ever wanted to do was to train in the martial arts. To be the best that i could be. I sought to impress every teacher i trained under. I forgot that i trained for myself and not for their approval. Looking back im kind of glad that I did. It gave me the opportunity to learn alot. I learnt what true grit means. I learnt that love, whether for yourself, or for your art, isnt just about happiness. Its about growth. I also saw the extent to which i was willing to go for that growth.
It became an obsession, and like all obsessions, it was unhealthy. In our quest to train our bodies and minds, we forget that we must also train our spirit and our nervous system. Those last two things take time. They take patience and they often take you to places that seem counterintuitive. You cant force the spirit or the nervous system. They evolve on their own time. Often they tell you to take a step back, your body does not need to be pushed to the limit every single day. We must train and practice in a way that allows us to still be able to train and practice when we are 90 years old.
Do not get me wrong, I am very grateful. To all my Gurus and Guides for the love guidance and protection I am always in. It is only through their grace that I have had(and survived) alot of the adventures ive been on.
But ultimately we all must find our own paths in dealing with our demons. We must recognise them and accept them before we can fight them.
One of my fiercest rivals is self doubt. I got to a point where I became so used to criticism that the only feedback id accept was negative feedback. Anything positive meant very little to me. I disguised this pattern under my “quest for growth.”
I remember sitting in the cafe of the North West Inn. Its a lovely, cosy hotel in the small city of Bacolod, Philippines. I was sitting opposite my teacher, GrandTuhon(GT) Leo T Gaje. Ive written about him before, but for those who havent read my other blogs, he is the Grandmaster of the Pekiti Tirsia Kali(PTK) system. He is a legend in the world of martial arts, especially in the world of close quarters combat (basically the stuff military and law enforcement units train in).
We were having coffee and cake and talking about what i could or would do once i got back to India. At one point he turned to me and said “I will support you in whatever you do.”
It was a pretty simple sentence, but it almost reduced me to tears. Cut through most of the self indulgent crap i roll around in and showed me that whether i chose to see them or not, there are many people who believe in me.
Fast forward a year. I was in a resort just outside Manilla for the 6th Annual PTK Global Convention. People from all around the world had come to pay their respects to Grand Tuhon. They came to train together, laugh, eat and share their love for the art of Pekiti Tirsia Kali.
It was the 2nd time i was attending this annual convention. Apart from being excited to meet and train with people from all around the world, I was excited for my own secret personal reason. I was going to get promoted to the rank of Guro. The ranking system is basically like the belt systems in other martial arts. Except instead of belts we are given titles. Along with the title comes a responsibility. Guro meant I was now officially an instructor for the Pekiti Tirsia Kali system. I was an instructor directly under the Grand Master of the system. More than that, it again reminded me of the faith that my teacher had in me. That is pretty cool. Atleast i think so.
But it was a secret. Only GT, me and maybe 2 or 3 other people knew.
During the convention alot of people got promoted. It is an acknowledgement of ones growth as a martial artist and as a teacher. On our last afternoon, before we got into a bus and went our separate ways, there was one last test.
Everyone who was promoted had to fight, first with a single stick against a single opponent, and then with a training knife against 3. The stick fight would be for 2 minutes, it was immediately followed by 1 minute of the knife. The opponents were chosen by high ranking instructors and organisers of the convention. The only protection was a helmet and gloves.
Everyone who had to be promoted at the convention had already received their promotions in a ceremony the previous night. Everyone except me. For some reason GT decided that i would be promoted after the fights. Maybe he wanted to see how i fought, maybe they ran out of paper for the certificates the previous night, i dont know.
My promotion was still a secret and my fight was scheduled last. Most people didnt even know i was fighting, and I didnt know who i was fighting.
I watched most of my friends fight, and fight well. But the place where most people got stuck was when they had to fight 3 people with the training knife. Every fight is exhausting. Add a stick to the equation and the intensity drastically increases. With the adrenaline pumping through you, it becomes hard to focus on your breathing. It becomes hard to focus on anything other than your stick and your opponent. By the end of the stick fight everyone was out of breath and exhausted.
As soon as the time finished for the stick fight, you embraced your opponent, the stick was taken out of your hand and a training knife was put in it. That was all the preparation anyone was given before they were set upon by 3 fighters, each of them was skilled in the use of the knife. They coordinated their attacks pretty well. The poor chap in the middle couldnt really do much against them.
My advantage was that i got to go last. I got to see everyone go and analyse what worked and what didnt. I had an idea for what i would do in the knife fight, i didnt know if it would work but it was worth a shot.
Finally it was my turn. Just before i put on my gear, i was greeted by a man named Jim. I had never met him before. He was both taller and significantly heavier than me. Basically he had more reach and more weight behind his strikes.
This was my first stick fight. I was fighting in front of my teacher. I didnt really care whether i won or not, I cared about doing my best and making him proud.
I have to admit i was really nervous. Being hit by a punch or a kick is painful, but its nothing compared to a stick. We have a saying about the damage caused by different sorts of weapons. Steel seeks flesh, wood seeks bone.
I decided that my entire focus in both fights would be to attack, attack, attack. I would not give an inch. I would take the initiative and push the fight. I would not worry about his stick and the damage it could do, i would only focus on hitting him, hard, fast and as many times as i could.
We put on our helmets and gloves, picked up a single stick each and walked to the center of the gathering. There was a basket ball court in the resort. That was where we would be fighting.
We met in the center and waited for the whistle to start. I remember just breathing deeply, getting ready.
The whistle blew
No waiting, no circling, no test strikes to get a feel of my opponent
The whistle blew
The fight is now a blur to me. I remember small moments in it. At one point I dropped my stick. The fight was paused, i picked it up and got ready. It was a set back. I recovered.
There was no thinking, only attacking.
I remember both of us getting really close. He was thrusting to my stomach. I used the glove and my hand/forearm to repeatedly guide the stick away from my body while I went to work targeting his head and stomach.
Head, stomach, head, stomach, I alternated my strikes and they all found their targets.
I remember hearing the drums, they were beating fast, almost as fast as my heart.
My opponent matched my aggression and intensity. I had a really simple game plan, it didnt take him long to figure it out. I was in a slugfest with a taller, heavier and stronger opponent. Both of us refused to back down.
The fight was hard and explosive. That level of intensity starts to take its toll very quickly. We both started to tire. My stamina was better.
As he got more tired, i remember stalking him, waiting to explode.
I remember darting in and hitting him in the head and stomach. I was back out of his range before he could react. Thats when i knew he was really tired.
I remember the last 10 seconds. I wanted to end strong. To spend the last 10 seconds attacking. Jim knew this. He waited for me to make my move. He probably knew how i was going to strike.
As i stepped in, he stepped out at an angle and hit
It was a good hit
I was not going to back down, so i took the hit and hit him back as many times as i could before the whistle blew.
The fight ended, we embraced each other, a knife was put in my hand, I walked to the center and the whistle blew again.
As soon as the knife was put in my hand, I had begun to look amongst the crowd for my next opponents. They were also wearing helmets and gloves. One was going to come at me diagonally from the left, one from straight ahead and one diagonally from the right.
My strategy was simple. Dont be defensive. Take the fight to them, keep moving and dont get surrounded.
I decided to attack the guy on my right first. If I chose the one infront of me, then the other two would easily flank and surround me.
The whistle blew and I attacked. I dont think they were expecting me to do that, the other two took some time to reach me.
This fight was even faster and more intense than the last one. I would attack one person while the other two tried to surround me. Before they could do so, I switched targets. I had to always be moving, always circling. I tried to use my opponents as shields against each other. Stacking them up so that they came in each others way. Sometimes it worked other times it didnt.
I remember the crowd cheering. They seemed to be enjoying the fight. I remember my dear friend Tuhon Mick screaming “organised attack, organised attack!” I remember the drums beating and the rain falling down on us.
But most of all i remember when the whistle blew and the fight ended. I was embraced both by my opponents and my friends.
Above is a video of the knife fight.
I took my helmet and gloves off and was taken to the side by another dear friend, Tuhon Jay.
He took me to where GT was waiting, standing under an umbrella, with the certificate of my promotion in his hands.
Overwhelmed, i knelt before him and received both his blessings and my promotion.
I didnt really think about how cool it was that i was being promoted in such a dramatic fashion. Just after my fight, kneeling at the feet of my teacher the GrandMaster(Blademaster) of the Pekiti Tirisa Kali system and being cheered on by my friends(old and new) as well as my Kali brothers and sisters. In my head I was only praying that my teacher was proud of me. I could not have fought any harder. I did my best.
The next morning, we were going for breakfast. He looked at me, smiled and said “where have you been? Good you’re here, now i feel safe.”
Very few people in the world are as capable at defending themselves as GT. Still his words, even in jest, told me that my teacher was proud of me.