June 5, 2019, Israel
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Sometimes you are trying to express something and then a saying comes along that says it all so simply.
When I was a young karate student I trained hard, nearly every day. I gave it my all. This was back at the Oyama dojo in the 1980's. I recall the encouraging compliments, some would say, Moshe, you are an animal.
What they meant was that I fought without fear, trained while ignoring the pain, stubbornly kept moving forward against aggressive opponents, pursued my goals with passion, I persevered. With pure animal determination I made myself a karateka.
There is a great deal we can learn from animals. Watch young pups playing, their games are fights, they go for the jugular, they try to catch their opponent off guard, grab a leg an arm. It is pretty similar to a wrestling match. For me the key element here is the learning process: the pups are learning to fight and yet no one is getting hurt, no will be killed, no one will be left maimed, but they are learning to handle a fight, to deal with fear.
I believe children should train in martial arts, I do not think they should start with Krav Maga, that can come later. Start like pups, with fun and games, (guns and planes can come later). It does not make a difference which art you choose, Karate is great, Judo is great, Mongolian wresting, but let's avoid Sumo.
Growing up my regular look was bruised knees and elbows. I fell off my bike, (no other way to learn), I fell out of my tree house and broke my arm, I stepped on rusty nails and ended up in the hospital, construction sites were an invitation for a free playground with my friends. I got into a few fights, black eyes, got hit in the head with a baseball bat. All good, all part of growing up, all essential in my opinion to growing up healthy.
My mother worried, my father accepted it. As I got older I became involved in Jewish self defense groups, no need to provide details here but I had a few incidents. Dad accepted it as a given, but worried a little.
Back in the day, 1987, hard core full contact training at the Oyama dojo in New York City.
There is great value to some rough and tumble as part of your training but as you approach real self defense, the emphasis has to change. Here the brain must take over because the body cannot do it. Being an "animal" is not enough to survive against a gun, animals get shot all the time. Being an animal does not really help against a knife. We need to be intelligent. This is why I have written extensively about the falsehood of the "Bad Ass" Tough Guy image that so many Krav Maga instructors strive for.
Recently some big-name tough guys, such as the wonderful Sylvester Stallone, told the truth. They depended on the tough guy image and did everything to hold on to it, including using illegal and highly dangerous drugs.
The lesson is that all that tough guy image stuff is fleeting, your true strength is in your mind, your wisdom. In the Rocky films it is the old and frail but wise Micky who trains the Italian Stallion, and here comes our great quote, from a great source of wisdom, Yiddish wisdom.
Bay ferd kukt men af di tseyn; bay a mentshn afn seykhl.
With horses you check the teeth, with men you check the brains.
And that my friends is the entire Geshicte, the entire story. We grow old, we don't look the same, our hair loses its luster, changes from dark to grey. Our big youthful muscles are a thing of the past, but our mind, our soul, yes, they can also grow, yes, they are unlimited. Our souls can sour to great heights.
This week I have been visiting the house of mourners, one friend lost his father, just a few days shy of 91. His father, Siegmund, was born in Germany. When he was 10 years old the Nazis came to power. His father was 45 years old and decided to send his son to safety. He managed to get him on the Kindertransport, a rescue operation to get Jewish children out of German. He survived, whenever he spoke of his parents he broke down in tears and his wife would signal to the guests; Stop!
When he reached 45 years of age, he felt he had no right to live, on what merit could he live longer than his parents? He passed away in the land of Israel, the land of freedom, this Sunday morning. He leaves children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.
During his last year the community arranged for someone to visit old Sigi every day. This week my friend thanked all those who visited his father. Their answer?
"Thank us? oh no, it is we who must thank you! What a treasure your father was, what a great source of wisdom, we shall miss the conversations. We were enriched from knowing him."
The years pass, the shine may be gone but the sparkle in the eyes is still there, and wisdom grows as the body fades. Here's one to you Sigi, see you at the afternoon prayer service.
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