The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Monday, December 10, 2007

Turn Pain Into Skill

I had the very great honor to attend the annual Whipping Willow martial arts confab this last weekend. Gurus, Grandmasters, and teachers from across the country come to share in an unusual atmosphere of inter-style harmony. No one wears a ranking. Everyone plays. The set-up is similar to Junior High School: four teachers in different rooms, and the students revolve every 90 minutes. Incredibly cool.

Steve Mohammad was presenting on Sunday, but on Saturday, this incredible man, still fit, lean and lethal at the age of 68 (man, I wanna be Steve when I grow up! Perry, if you’re reading this, I think there is something really special about our name…) is committed to continual growth as a martial artist. Last year Mr. Mohammad was acknowledged as having creaed his own system, Wu Shur Shin Chuan Fa, “Fist Law of the Warrior Spirit.” This is different from creating your own “Style” or “School” or “Organization.” The Grandmasters who ORIGINALLY promoted and acknowledged Ed Parker and some of the other “old timers” came together—men in their 70’s, 80’s and 90’s now…and gave him the title “Sijo.” The average black belt is a Master’s degree. A fifth is maybe a Doctorate. A “Sijo” would be someone who founds a college. This is serious.

At any rate, on Saturday, Steve needed a training partner for the session, and it was my honor to work with this man, my first teacher, as he put his ego and all knowledge aside, emptied his cup, and learned from another instructor. Wow. My nervous system is still sizzling. I opened my neurology, and matched his breathing and posture as much as I could, modeling like crazy. Later, we were talking with Antoine Alferos, the gentleman who founded Whipping Willow, and brought these people together. The story was one I’d heard before, about a time Steve Mohammad fought the karate great Joe Lewis at the Internationals. Lewis, generally considered the greatest karate fighter in American History, had a great rivalry with Steve back in the 60’s—they fought some pitched battles. I wasn’t there, but I do know that dissatisfaction with the judging (this was “point” karate) on black competitors led to the formation of the Black Karate Federation, which was able to bring enough pressure to bear to ensure that cheating on racial grounds was minimized. The specific incident, according to Antwoine, was especially egregious on that particular day. Steve scored point after point, and the judges wouldn’t acknowledge him. Chuck Norris, who was at ringside (and who, according to all accounts, is a true gentleman), finally stood up and screamed “Give this man his damn points!”

When Lewis’ hand was raised at the End, Steve bowed, shook his hand, and walked politely off stage. Antwoine said that he didn’t understand how Steve could do that, after having been cheated so badly. And Steve quietly said something that was profound. That he was hurt, yes. But he decided to become so good, so fast, so superior that no one would ever be able to cheat him again. He decided to “Turn Pain into Skill.” That pain drove his workouts. Every day. Seven days a week. 365 days a year. That’s what he does. Every day. And that is responsible for who he is.
I realized that I had no ability to manage my fear and pain in those days. I suppose someone either teaches you this, or you figure it out for yourself. I didn’t. But many of those I admire seem to have developed the capacity (in the martial arts) to use those emotions like fire to turn their turbines. They would build a reactor-wall around them, and every punch, every kick, every throw was an expression of those negative emotions, and instead of being blown back out the door (like I was) they elevated themselves to championship.

My guess? They learned it from their fathers, brothers, and uncles. This is what people have to learn in life. Everyone has fear and disappointment and anger. Those who thrive and succeed find a way to take these “negative” emotions and elevate themselves. Others destroy themselves with it. I found that outlet in certain arenas, but not in others.

But I’m completing the circle now. More on this later, but this is a very very special time in my life. I can’t believe that I’m actually cleaning up my old emotional garbage, stuff from my childhood, things I never thought I’d be able to do.

What a blessing. Thank you again, Mr. Mohammad. You are everything I thought you were. And more.


LaVeda H. Mason said...


This is really profound, and it makes so much sense … why didn't I see that before [smacking head]?!?

This is one of those things that made me go, "that's so true!", but is not something that I [most people] thought about when I'm in pain, or suffering.

And, that's probably why I haven't seen much of it [up close and personal] before. It involves a level of awareness and self-mastery that is uncommon.

Thank you for posting this… it's just made me realize that I can raise the bar for myself that much higher.

Mike R said...

Congrats on your continual improvement Steve. It's the only way to go.

A bit off topic, but I just saw "Memories of Tomorrow" yesterday and really want to heavily recommend it. It's a Japanese movie that tells, more or less in the first perspective, what it is like for the main character (Ken Watanabe) to have Alzheimer's, and it is the most powerful movie I have seen in years. I know you like horror movies, but my friend who saw it with me said, "Forget Saw, that was a real horror flick." I know that I will never be chased by a supernatural beings, but who knows if I or someone I love will get Alzheimer's?

I literally can't remember the last time I cried so much at a movie. Great acting and a good story, I'd see it if it's playing near you.

Steven Barnes said...

Thanks! I'll definitely check it out.


Steve Perry said...

I recall seeing Steve Mohammad back in L.A. in the late sixties, if I'm not mistaken, when he was still going by the name Steve Sanders. He was into Kenpo back then, my recollection was that I saw a demo by Ed Parker and some of his black belts and their students, and Mohammad was among them. I never saw him spar in a tourney.

The guys I mostly recall from those point-fighting days were Chuck Norris, MIke Stone, Joe Lewis, and Skipper Mullins, and most of them were straight-in, straight-out, especially Lewis. Kenpo had some circular stuff that worked against that now and again.

Good to see that he's still training and learning all these years later.

Steven Barnes said...

Skipper Mullins! That's a name I haven't heard in a while. Heard he was top notch.

Steve Perry said...

Yep. Back in the day, the point fighters would fight in their divisions at the big tourneys, then the light-, middle-, and heavyweights would fight for the grand championship.

I never got a chance to see Mike Stone fight -- he was off teaching Elvis and stealing Priscilla. (I saw Priscilla on TV a couple years back, would not have known who she was without being told. She bought some plastic surgeon a nice house. Woman is older than I am, looks younger than her daughter. You could bounce quarters off her face.)

Mullins was a middleweight, as I recall, as was Chuck Norris. Mullins was tall and skinny, and had kicks as fast as Bill Wallace.

Chuck and Skipper were Korean stylists, Joe was Okinawan-style. Joe moved a lot of heavy iron, was probably the strongest guy competing, and had a sidekick that could knock down trees. (That and a backfist were his two main weapons.) But he was straight in, straight out. He trained at the school where I was for a while perfecting that kick, even wore our black gi, back in the day when only Parker's boys and the Okinawa-te schools wore that color outside the kung fu circles.

When Joe met Chuck or Mullins in those days, they had to go around that kick to win, and now and again, they did.

Anonymous said...

i personally sparred with Steve and briefly trained with him in Atlanta. His skills are superb!! In class, one day, there were 4 BIG guys, about 220 lbs. each or more, who doubted that Steve Muhammad was as skilled as he said.(Steve is very fit, but he's short and maybe about 170lbs.) The guys surrounded Steve during a conversation when he WASN'T paying attention, and they all rushed him, not to fight, but hard horse-playing like trying to slap him in his face and trip onto the ground to prove a point that Steve was less skilled than he said said. That was the 1st time I saw his lightning speed! He weaved, blocked, threw, punched, tripped them and he slapped the SH$T out of 1 of them!!! LOL!! He could have seriously hurt them if he didn't use restraint. Steve was pissed off. They all apologized to him. Some had bruises and sore muscles to remember the lesson. Steve reacted like Neo in the Matrix, LOL, it was sick!! At least 40 other men witnessed it in Mosque #15 in Atlanta,GA in about 2001; this is 100% Fact. And Steve was like 60 years old at the time, the dudes were in their 20s and 30s!! Steve is fastest fighter I've ever seen!! (no disrepect to those that I've never seen.)

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