In spring 2017 I, for the first time stepped in an MMA gym. For all reasons one can have for starting MMA, I actually just liked the open gloves, thinking that may be great for my kung fu. I didn’t give grappling even a single thought. Well, I guess I should have done more research on YouTube, but that’s a different story.
So, I started, and while the coach shouted at me being on top of a lying person: “Hit him in the head! You will get more points!”, I was thinking: Wait hell no, I am never gonna compete in this, I have really zero interest. Then, during a second class, I sprained my ankle badly, which put me away from training for 2 months and then my kung fu World Championships came, so I again started in another gym in January 2018. (And actually competed for the first time in June 2018.) I kind of have an anniversary of one year behind me, training at Shooto Gym and also having 3 camps at Tiger Muay Thai. I got absolutely hooked. So as much as I perceive myself green, there are some changes that I noticed already. I guess they are worth telling, especially for people who consider starting too.
What did I learn from MMA?
In the last months, I have realized that a simple decision is often all that is needed. I would look at a fight card, no matter how pro or amateur level, and think: Oh, these people! They are special. They are strong, and they are not scared, and they are conditioned. They are not me. I am not them.
I would draw a line between they and I myself. It was my unconscious decision.
Now this: I spent 10 years not fighting. Because I felt I am fragile, and I was afraid, and simply I thought that those people must have done something special that made them superhumans, so they could fight; and I didn’t.
In 2018 and 2019 I finally got some fights, even though very green and very amateur, but there is a huge step between amateur fight and no fight at all. And I was shocked, when I realized that nothing changed about me at all. It is still me, with my fears and it is still my own body.
In my PhD thesis call Psychological Collectivism and Mental Toughness in Traditional Wushu (kung fu), I asked among others what makes people mentally tough. You know, being able to face stress and still push forward. And to my surprise and against all the theories so far, my sample size was not getting mentally tougher because of the number of competitions they joined. Not even because of how long they have trained. The difference was in a single variable, which was “what do you think your level is”. I could not measure their level, because there are no belts in wushu, etc. So, I simply based it on the subjective opinion of “what is your level”. And this subjectivity came out to be very important. Because the key was, if you believe you are of a higher level, no matter the real numbers of years spent training or the number of competitions joined, the higher will be your mental toughness.
I remembered that when I was thinking about this magical line that I drew in between me and them, the real fighters on the fight cards, so distant from me. I need to do something first, so I am not afraid, I thought. Or so I am OK to be hit. Last week I had my second fight, still very amateur, but it was a big deal for me because I was for the first time in a cage and without helmet. Some of my friends told me: “You are so brave! You were not scared at all! I could not do this.” And it hit me, that they saw me not as me, but as one of them. And I thought it is very funny, because I was very scared and definitely felt more like me than like them. But it was my decision to erase that line I drew in my head. It was just a single decision. Once, while training at Tiger in Thailand, I sit on the mat, totally happy after training, and I thought: Hey, maybe I too could do this?
Meanwhile it is still me, with my fears. Hopefully, the magical transformation will appear somewhen on the way?
An article I originally wrote in Czech language for the Martial Arts magazine published in Czech Republic (Bojová umění, 9, 74-75), with a bit of exaggeration about the way you may travel Hong Kong if you are a visiting kung fu lover.
For the southern China martial arts lovers Hong Kong is fatal: we all want to get there, and as soon as we arrive, our soul is lost. It all start with stepping out of the airport arrival hall, where the humid air with a mixture of scents from meals and incense sticks attacks the tourists, and kung fu being present almost everywhere – that is why Hong Kong gets under your skin so quickly. Hong Kong is one of the places of something we could call “kung fu tourism”. We could count in for example Shaolin temple, Wudang mountains or Foshan. Besides the foreigner coaches and students, who come to Hong Kong almost every year to visit their teachers, there are always numerous groups of people who lust after a bit less intense training, but the more colourful view for their eyes, the kung fu tourists.
In Hong Kong, kung fu can be seen wherever you walk. Even thought the youngsters nowadays prefer tae-kwon-do, still you can often catch a sight of some kung fu legacy in the TV advertisements (for example telling you to check the the condition of your building) or on the posters (if you are at a construction site, wear a helmet! – said the kung fu construction worker). If you turn on a TV, there will be someone fighting in almost every single TV series. In a poetic way, of course. We are no brutes!
First steps of many will lead to the legendary, but still not enough well-known performance at the Kung fu Corner. In the Kowloon Park, every Sunday afternoon, one local kung fu schools will organize two hours program, and ask their friends-masters to also join. They all will create a performance containing kung fu and lion or dragon dance. Just follow the sound of the drum or rushing people with a weapon over the shoulder. It is unknown beforehand who will perform, so the quality may vary, but if you come for the beginning (2.30 pm), you will see the lion dance and also taste today’s kung fu practice for the next two hours. The biggest masters usually sit in the audience. Yes, those old gentlemen, who record the show, use their fans and brag, that is the generation that still used to fight on the streets.
On Sunday it is closed, but after a whole day spent eating dim sum dumplings, drinking pu-erh tea and cursing the icy air-conditioning, you can head to this kung fu shop on Monday. It is called Ka Fok Sports Supplies Limited on the Kwun Tong MTR station. It is the biggest kung fu shop in Hong Kong and you will regret your visit bitterly. Clothing, shoes, weapons, drums, lions, back scratchers, punching bags… you can find anything here. Just, you won’t have enough money for all of that. The shop owners are of course practitioners themselves, too, and will probably like to take a picture with you. Later, you can find yourself on Facebook. And because they know well the misery of shopping tourists in their shop, they are able to send you a package directly to your home.
It is really difficult for anyone to get through the Tin Sum village during the Earth God Festival. The streets nearby are full of lions and drums. Earplugs, good idea. Earth God, or Lord of the Soil and Ground Festival is celebrated once a year. It seems that all lions in Hong Kong arrived.
This event is very very loud, it takes several hours to be able to hear again. Lion dance together with their schools march through the street to a football field, just big enough to take in all the people. It is very easy to get lost here. Well, unless you are a foreigner. You are probably the only foreigner there, to be honest.
After lions bow to each other and welcome each other, schools light the insence sticks and find their table. It is a plastic table with plastic stools, like a garden furniture. The only food here is a big bowl on each table filled in with meat, heated by a heater underneath. There is also some rice. But the food is not the purposed of this event.
The main part is the meeting, gathering of friends, masters, lion dance and kung fu schools. Going around the tables and toast with a beer is a custom, that even I, a foreigner is more than welcome to do so. This time I took two of my friends with me.
"You know these people?" they ask after we rise on their feet the whole bunch of people sitting at one table, shouting cheers in Cantonese. Some tables I know, some I never saw before. But it does not make any difference now.
Here everyone is connected. And this is such a special celebration in Hong Kong, far away from the city and even including crackers (otherwise not allowed in Hong Kong), that you indeed sure have some connection with these people to be able to know about it and be here.
I have been practicing martial arts since 1999. It became the reason for moving to Hong Kong and it guided many of my life decisions. However, I am no expert. Take the further blog posts as sharing of an enthusiast.