My interview with Michael Bacon is a perfect example of what The Old Ways of New Masters series is all about. A godan (5th degree black belt) in Shohei-Ryu Karate, Michael has been training steadily since childhood. After joining Ed DeCosta’s school more than ten years ago, he proved himself an exceptional scholar of the art and an invaluable training partner. Here is our conversation about his experience in growing up with the martial arts. Enjoy!
What made you want to start training? What was your inspiration?
I was 6 and was so uncoordinated I couldn’t run in a straight line; even then, I fell down.
What do you think of the unique experience of growing up as a martial artist. How was your life different than your peers?
I always had something bigger than just me and my friends that I was involved with, not to mention that I dealt a lot with adults which really helped my maturity and confidence.
How has it influenced your body, mind, spirit?
It has made me a very rooted, calm and goal orientated person.
How have martial arts affected your personal life? Your relationships with family, friends, significant others?
It has tremendously. When you practice an active meditation on a regular basis you begin to understand that what’s important in life is what you control not what you don’t.
What was your relationship like with your master(s)? With other students? How has it grown and changed over the years?
Different teachers have different relationships. What’s important in karate and life is your relationship with you.
In what ways do you preserve tradition? In what ways do you change it?
I try to preserve it and try not to add my thinking into what should just be doing… not always successful with that one.
What are your views on teaching and learning?
You must teach to learn. They are inseparable. All students need to teach to understand.
What are your views on competition?
I think there is a very big difference between competition and performance. Americans destroy values and traditions when they promote the former and don’t do nearly enough of the later.
Did you ever want to quit? What kept you with it?
As a kid, all the time. Thank God my parents didn’t listen to me.
Do you have any regrets?
What I’ve done has made me who I am. I have learned that regrets are a waste of time and new goals are energy much better spent.
What challenges has martial arts helped you overcome?
Stereopsis, coordination, confidence, tenacity and calmness in the face of adversity.
Where do you see your art in ten years?
I see my art right where it is now… on the fringe. All this MMA stuff and competition is a very profitable version of martial arts, but it is a far cry from the true active meditation that one learns to use as a lifelong friend. As a child this friend teaches physical development, self confidence, and coordination. As a teenager that same friend becomes a coach of earlier lessons with the added focus on self defense. In early adulthood this teacher we call karate instructs us on patience, and a basic appreciation of senior rank and how to really study with and learn from others… better than us and worse. As we approach middle age our journey together focuses us on life lessons which develop our maturity such as “the little things matter”, “today’s effort determines tomorrows results”, “live in the moment- before and after are distractions”, “always be calm in the face of adversity”, “mastery of anything is easily obtainable if you break it down and practice the pieces”, “you can get through any challenge if you just control your breathing”, “being the most powerful you can be means relaxing and focusing on the most important part”. These are just a few that come to mind. As far as the end of the journey, I can only surmise that this friend will act as a comforter keeping our minds and bodies sharp and in good form so the journey is more enjoyable. Our style of karate as taught to Kanbun Uechi was three parts: three katas, kotikite, and Chinese medicine or more simply put active meditation, conditioning and the ability to heal. This is a far cry from two guys in a cage, fighting for money, who won’t be able to practice there “art” after the age of 50.
So my answer again is on the fringe, because there will always be people out there looking for something that they can learn and be a part of there whole lives that adds value no matter how old they get.
Where do you see yourself as a martial artist in ten years?