MMA – The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly – Part 1

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The following article (Part 1 of a 2 part series) was inspired by a number of comments posted by a serious Black Belt instructor who studied with one of my direct students and then expanded the ground aspect of his own MA experience by studying Brazilian Jiu-jitsu. I have slightly modified some of the excerpts from my responding comments order to share the content of our discussion with our general readers.

This instructor explained the challenges he endured when he attempted to add an MMA program to his curriculum, subsequently resulting in a significant degree of dissatisfaction. You can find his original comments written under my previous article titled, “MMA vs. Tradition – Part 4“.

In these comments submitted by my second generation student, he began his discourse using the term “Traditional” when referring to the his use of the USA GoJu system of Martial Arts. My responses began in that context.

Shihan Pascetta - Okinawa 1987

What is “Traditional”?

The issue that I would like to point out first is a discrepancy. I am suggesting a more accurate use of the term, “traditional”. First, USA GoJu has been anything but “traditional”. It has been a hybrid system since Grand Master Peter Urban broke from Yamaguchi’s GoJu-Kai in the early 60’s. Remember that he studied under three very accomplished Masters, Richard Kim (Okinawan Shorinji-Ryu Kempo), Gogen Yamaguchi (Japanese Goju-ryu). and Masatatsu Oyama (Kyokushin, which included elements of Shotokan, GoJu-ryu, and Thai boxing).

In reality, the MA taught by GM Urban was a hybrid system. It was based on the primary and foundational concepts, principles, and kata of GoJu-ryu, yet included pertinent elements that he learned from GM Kim and GM Oyama. In addition, GM Urban was very innovative, adding his own unique flair, some that came from his own creative mind and much that resulted from some very practical research and study.

The 1st MMA

The above description is the heritage of what some presently call, USA GoJu. It was arguably one of the first real “Mixed Martial Arts” in the USA. The most profound difference, however, was this system was truly taught as a Martial “ART”, not simply a conglomeration of Martial “TECHNIQUES”.

To take this history of USA GoJu even further into the present generation, we can add my own personal contributions to this “Tradition”. I began my own MA training in 1963 and stated my teaching career in 1969. As my own skills evolved, I personally continued in a “tradition” initiated by GM Urban by refining my version of USA GoJu toward an even more modern and sophisticated system. The present-day system of AGKI (Ric Pascetta’s American GoJu Karate-do International) has now been influenced and modified, based on almost 50 years of my own personal experiences in MA, life, personal evolution, and my extensive research.

I would like to clarify, though, that this refinement was done while still maintaining the foundation and core principles I learned directly from both Sensei Verycken (my 1st Master teacher in USA GoJu) and GM Urban’s core system of GoJu-ryu. This should be understood and viewed in direct contrast between some MA practitioners who advocate “mixing” numerous MA “styles” and arriving at a conglomerate of all those styles. Another distinct difference is that in my case, I never intended to “create” a “new system”, or to arbitrarily, “mix” styles. My style has remained USA GoJu in principle, substance, and theory. What has evolved is a uniquely modern and practical method possessing versatility, depth, and sophistication of training methods.

The earlier reference to “mixing” styles can easily result in an incongruent mismatch of martial techniques. Although, there may be a wide variety of techniques in such a model thereby suggesting “versatility”, the application and transition from one type of technique to the other might more likely be confusing and difficult to “flow” or to be applied naturally.

Not all elements from one system fit congruently with those of another, regardless of how valuable they are as “stand alone” techniques. One similar analogy may be that of trying to fit the carburetor from a Volkswagon onto a Ferrari engine. Both carburetors may be effective as a “stand alone” part but neither is designed or engineered to function on the other engine.

AGKI Method – the “New Generation”

The AGKI (American GoJu Karate-do International) method evolved while maintaining continuity from the basics to the most advanced application with each skill set building upon the previous. This follows a design that allows the practitioner to readily transition from one skill level to the next and in practical application. It is designed to transition efficiently from one type of physical situation to another.

With regard to the “sport” aspect, this approach has allowed our athletes to readily transition from “tradition” sport karate rules, to point fighting rules, to continuous and “full contact” kickboxing rules, to MMA rules, and ultimately to real life self defense application. A significant reason for that is that the foundation of basics and the emphasis on practical execution of those basics provides a more stable platform for more advanced execution and application.

During my earlier developmental years, I didn’t “hide in the closet” while practicing my MA, but made it my practice to interact with many of the most accomplished Masters and fighters from multiple MA disciplines throughout the World. It is my prejudice that the modernization and sophistication of our version of “American GoJu” can be clearly observed by the noting the distinct difference in the consistent quality of Black Belt students AGKAI has produced, worldwide.

The original instructor of the student/instructor inspiring this article was initially my student. Although he spend some time under the direction of GM Urban, the primary and central physical basis of the system he taught, follows what he learned directly from me with a some deviations. This was quite different from the older version taught by GM Urban.

“AMERICAN GOJU”

My consistently called my version of USA GoJu, “American GoJu” (this was even before GM Urban started to mingle this term with the many other names he used; i.e. USA GoJu, GoJu-do, Gojulandia, Urban System of America (USA) GoJu, the Fight School Network, etc.) This personal version has evolved to become much more versatile, while maintaining the emphasis on practical application that has been the trademark of most MA that has evolved from GM Urban’s students. Anyone can confirm that the term, “American GoJu Karate”, has even been the formal name of my business from the early 70’s (and incorporated).

This was long before it became popular for GM Urban or any other USA GoJu practitioners to use that term. Remember that during and after the Vietnam War it became less popular to use the term “American” but I did it deliberately in direct opposition to what I considered un-American.

In all fairness, it is important to acknowledge that Sensei Verycken has also used the term “American GoJu” at brief times but even his own association was called, “Nekowashi”. Only in the recent years after the death of GM Urban has he begun to place any significant emphasis on this term again.

In direct contrast to that history, beginning in 1979 and more formally in 1980, I founded the AGKAI (American GoJu Karate Association, International). My use of the term “American GoJu Karate” as the specific defining description of the MA I taught has been consistent since the early 70”s.

Birth of A.G.K.A.I.

I founded A.G.K.A.I. in the USA. Italy, and Israel after being told by GM Urban to become independent and to start my own style. I did not, in fact follow his advice (to create my own “style”) for many reasons that are too complicated to discuss here. However, with the help of some other excellent USA GoJu masters, I founded this organization and used the less common term, “AMERICAN GOJU KARATE” as a way to specifically distinguish our version if USA GoJu from that of GM Urban and his other students.

Unfortunately, today many USA GoJu practitioners have begun to interchange that term “American GoJu”, with USA GoJu. It has placed AGKAI members in a somewhat difficult position when trying to remain autonomous. This is partially because it can be argued that since GM Urban was “American” and he was the first “American” 10th Dan, that his system technically could also be called “American GoJu”.

The problem with this position is that GM Urban deliberately chose to use a multitude of other names for both his system and organization(s) other than “American GoJu Karate” and did not begin to use this reference with any regularity until I popularized it. Even more so, he loosely used the term after I chose it for our organizational name. The difficult part of this for myself and other AGKAI members is that it subsequently blurs the lines I deliberately created between AGKAI and the rest of the lineage originating from GM Urban.

Those who have remained part of U.S.A.G.A. (USA GoJu) rightfully claim and follow the old teachings of GM Urban. These include certain training techniques and methods specifically taught by GM Urban and maintained by these practitioners. In contrast, those in A.G.K.A.I. have been taught a “New Generation” of USA GoJu (AMERICAN GOJU) and they follow a modernized curriculum that was established structurally and has continued to evolve since 1979.

Perhaps this may seem petty or insignificant to others, however, they were not the ones who put in the hard work and dedication to develop a unique and separate identity. Further, it is only fair to distinguish clearly between the “old ways” and the “new ways”. With the death of such an iconic figure as GM Urban, many USA GoJu practitioners have jumped on the bandwagon in efforts to imitate what they supposed GM Urban did in real life.

Although we acknowledge, appreciate, and respect all that GM Urban has taught and has given to us, we are not motivated to repeat or mimic the past. We are committed to stay current and relevant with our practice of Martial Arts while building on the solid foundation of those who came before us.

“Keep the good, discard the bad”

Although I believe that I and all of GM Urban’s students should appreciate and should never forget the contributions he gave to us, we are not, and never will be Peter Urban. It is my opinion that if one truly wanted to “follow” in his legacy, they would realize that we need to refrain from romanticizing his life and simply build upon the many positive things he taught. One of his primary principles was to “keep the good, discard the bad”.

Any of us that knew him personally could attest witnessing quite a number of “bad” things that GM Urban did regularly that were contrary to core Martial Arts principles. This last statement must be viewed accurately and in context. It is not intended to cast anything negative on a truly great MA Master and Pioneer, but to simply recognize that he was human and not above scrutiny.

This mind set I am advocating is just as he had done, setting the example to scrutinize any and all around him, including his own training roots. He spoke with respect for the Masters who taught him and for all he had learned from his own MA roots. His actions, however, were to build upon those roots, making his own path, and consequently his own unique system.

Further, if we are to be true to “ourselves, martial arts, and country” we must learn not only from our teachers positive advancements but we must also learn from his apparent mistakes and failings. To do otherwise is foolishness. To do otherwise places us in the likely position to repeat his mistakes.

Regardless, and despite that history, I understand what my student’s student was referring to when using the term “traditional”. Because as eclectic as the various versions of GoJu-ryu have become, those who legitimately teach this system still attempt to teach a system of Martial Arts that includes the full development of the individual student (physically, intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually). This aspect of “traditionalism” is in direct contrast to many of the more recent, popular, and commercial approaches to teaching MA (many times under the banner of “MMA”).

Mentor vs. Coach

The character values that are taught in “Martial Arts” ( as contrasted to “Martial Techniques”) only come to fruition when an instructor is able to create a distinctly different type of relationship between the himself and the student. Without that relationship the student becomes merely another athlete who will typically move from “coach” to “coach” seeking only his own selfish ends. That type of arrangement can be physically productive but is a mere shadow of the potential that comes when any student has a true “mentor” rather than simply a “coach”.

Even the many more technically modernized systems (less “traditional”) of MA that retain this age old foundation are more likely to produce a more balanced student who looks beyond his most recent sport “victory” in the “cage” or anywhere else. This close relationship between Sensei and student is unique and that is the reason that you can see such a different result.

It has been my observation that the typical MMA program tends to foster a very self aggrandizing, egocentric mindset. In contrast, the time tested older methods, whether strictly “traditional” (such as those who attempt to follow all aspects from their Asian roots) and/or the more modern versions (such as ours [AGKI] that keep the older values but have evolved more technically), produce individuals who realize that they are part of a “family” not a just a member of a “gym”. The relationship between Sensei/student in the “older systems” is founded upon “who” they are rather than “what” they are (how talented, or how successful).

This type of relationship parallels the dynamics that typically occur in a regular family. In a functional family the parents, hypothetically, have some offspring who may be more or less accomplished yet this doesn’t change the love, the commitment, or the feeling the parent has for each child. The relationship remains secure whether he becomes a janitor or the President.

Unfortunately, since MMA has received such expanding exposure in the entertainment media, the general public who are attracted to this “sport” are more likely to gravitate to any local program that resembles what they see on TV.

The comments of my student’s student clearly demonstrate that he has now learned by experience that our roles as true leaders are not to cater to the “flavor of the month” or current popularity. As MA leaders we must maintain the character to “stay the course” and teach what we know is the best. We need to not blur the lines as many more “commercial” schools do by catering to the public, simply fulfilling their latest desire.

The more popular approach may make for greater financial success at first, but many times at the sacrifice of what I believe we were entrusted to pass on. It is always a fine line to walk for any MA professional. Of course, we must all “pay the rent”, however, do we learn to do that by following better ethical business practices or do we do it by “selling out” the core principles because it is easier to “sell” the sizzle than the bacon? If we allow the public popularity to take the lead, it is like the “tail wagging the dog” or analogous to the son trying to tell the father how to “make babies”.

“….AND THAT’S THE WAY I SEE IT!”®

Copyright 2010, R.V.Pascetta, all rights reserved.

Please check back next week to read “Part 2” of this series, including such sub-topics as: “Reflections”, “Yoga-GoJu”, “Independence vs. Interdependence”, “Evolution vs. Revolution”, “Giving Back”, etc.

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