Happy 4th of July from a Canadian

July 6th, 2010

As I flip through the newspapers, surf the net and watch the newscasts I can’t help but contemplate on the negativity that surrounds Americans and Americanism. It has become more than a sardonic joke about this most powerful and influential of countries. Criticizing the United States has pervaded all levels of society in probably every free nation in the world. Some even claim that global security has been compromised by the antagonistic actions of those who despise and loathe Americans. In essence, the world’s ills fall at the feet of Uncle Sam.
Even Canadians, who share a cultural, social and ethnic DNA with their American neighbors stand aloof, smug with the knowledge that they are morally superior. As a Canadian, I too have been tempted by the naysayers who are quick to condemn and even quicker to disassociate. Yet, I cannot but wonder, what is it that we are all so angry about? Let me examine a few myths.
1. Americans are too nationalistic. Sure, yankee doodle dandy, baseball and a plethora of other American images saturate our existence. The red, white and blue, military displays and a fierce pride are obvious manifestations of nation-building and the creation and maintenance of an identity. But are Americans so different? This website is dedicated to ancient Greeks, as fiercely nationalistic as any ethnicity to ever exist; so much so that the Greeks of today maintain an unbreakable link to their past. And fellow Canadians, let’s not forget our collective swelling of pride during the Olympics as oceans of red and white flooded this country’s streets. And as the World Cup continues, we see the prideful gatherings of people around the world celebrating or despairing together as their teams make their way through all the rounds it takes to win this trophy. Why is it okay for others to wave their flags?
2. Americans are rude and obnoxious. Nothing could be further from the truth. I have had the pleasure of graduating from an American university and now my son is enrolled in one. Kindness, respect and consideration are the norms in these schools and probably most other ones. The American people I meet are helpful, humorous and in the service industries the epitome of customer satisfaction. Canadians are very polite people but let me assure you, we don’t have a monopoly on good manners. Sure, some Americans can appear to be quite base or simplistic but in all my contacts, it is an honesty of emotion that is not present in other countries and I’ve travelled enough to be able to make some generalizations.   3.  Americans are ignorant. No more than any other group but I have to, as a teacher, wonder about the education system. Those “educated” Americans are the equals of any, as evidenced by the ingenuity, ambition and success that puts to shame every other country in the last century. But offloading industry, a refusal to pay decent wages, the inability to rebuild the middle class in the inner cities and a concerted attack upon the principles of public education have created not only a caste system worse than India’s but have denigrated the glorious accomplishments of this nation. One day the leaders of this country will discover that the nurturing of ignorance will hurtle America into an abyss so dark that the light will never shine within.

4. Americans want to dominate the world. Obama, Bush, Clinton or any other president can hardly be compared to a Ceasar, Alexander or Attila. The “American way of life”, celebrated in song, print and screen is a testament to free will, ingrained human rights and a sense of common decency. It might be, I won’t argue, American arrogance that  seems to drive American governments to convince, cajole or impose their political philosophy onto often unaware or unwilling peoples. This need to create an inclusive world regardless of methodology colors, perhaps negatively, the idea that democracy is the most benevolent of governments.  Understandibly, resentment abounds and the American aggrandizement of its cultural domination, epitomized by various countries around the world who try to limit Americanism in their own cultures, is the bane of its worldwide reputation.

Regardless, these are but a few thoughts from a “foreigner” more interested in history than the maelstrom of anti-Americanism that so many revel in. But as you burn a flag, toss a molotov, stage a protest, mock a president or buy Chinese, keep in mind that your ability to do these things, in spite of thousands of years of history, has been made possible by the good graces, whatever the motivation, of the United States of America.

So on the 4th of July, God Bless America. The rest of us too…

Dana White

April 20th, 2010

In a world of spin-doctoring, political correctness and outright lies comes the refreshingly candid Dana White, president of the UFC. After last week’s debacle of a main card, where Anderson Silva, the champion and a fighter of great repute, made a mockery of himself and the sport, the immediate reaction of Dana White to this travesty was so openly honest that I am still shocked by it days later.
Since when has a person taken full responsibility in the entertainment business for failing to entertain, even when it wasn’t his fault? To me, a rabid fan base is more than blinding loyalty; it’s also a testament to the organization. The main reason boxing has become a joke has more to do with the various organizational snafus coupled with a complete disrepect to its fan base who are expected to prop up this dinosaur by forking out good money to witness non-binding decisions and esoteric fighters no one has heard of.
In the UFC, there are no secrets. And a president like Dana White won’t allow them to germinate. That’s why his press conference last week was like a splash of fresh water on a hot day. He stood up, spoke his mind and made no excuses! What a revelation!
Enjoy this folks. Whatever happens with Silva, be rest assured the president is on it and if he’s true to his word, the fans will be compensated!

Is MMA the “new” Olympic sport?

March 8th, 2010

With the Olympics dominating the world’s press for the last few weeks, invariably the argument as to what constitutes an Olympic sport came up. Here in Vancouver the question as to whether judged events are actually sports flared with the Russian complaints about ice skating results and the Australian complaints about freestyle skiing. I’ll leave it to others to argue except for one editorial comment: When the Russians cajoled, bribed and blackmailed judges to vote in their skaters’ favor for over 50 years the Olympics were fine. Now that a new system is in place which is more objective, their skaters do not dominate and now they’re whining. See you in Sochi my Russian friends.

And as always, our beloved MMA mentor and leader, Dana White, when asked if the MMA should be in the Olympics replied yes and that the UFC would support it. Good on you, Dana because whether these reporters were asking this question tongue in cheek the fact is that MMA is actually a direct derivative of the pankration, the original MMA of the Greek ancients. Boxing and wrestling were popular sports then but the pankration was the most popular by a mile and there is no reason to believe that it wouldn’t be the same today. But is it too violent? Does it reflect Olympian values? Does it pander to the basest levels of society? Let’s take a look.

MMA is tough. Did it, taught it and have the face to prove it. But I NEVER once hated an opponent, dissed another teacher or coach or resorted to unsportsmanlike behaviour. In fact, fighters as a rule, get along with others, honor their foes and more often than not will graciously concede when outmatched. MMA is a sport built on time-honored traditions, most of which are grounded in mutual respect, especially those coming from the Asian martial arts. Watch the UFC. Sure there’s a bit of trash talking before the match but almost never after it. People involved in MMA live Olympian values every time they get into the Octagon. Throw in the fact that yes, sometimes it’s bloody but surrender is always seen as honorable and injuries look far worse than they are. I saw more people hurt more seriously in the skiing at the Olympics than I’ve seen in the last few years in the UFC. Rough, tough…yes but more dangerous than other sports…I don’t think so.

But you might want to make a few alterations for Olympic consumption. What do you think of these?

  • shorten the rounds from 5 minutes to 3.
  • introduce a point system that would reward more difficult techniques
  • head protection (something like wrestlers wear)
  • 3 unanswered punches to the head would effect a stoppage or even stop to the fight

Anyway, just some thoughts.

PS Sorry for the long lag in postings. Family illness. Enough said.

Hype or Cowardice?

January 10th, 2010

Is Mayweather a coward? Does Pacquaio use steroids? Does anyone care? All the boxing media types are slobbering like rabid dogs over this story. With an estimated 40 million per fighter purse, the dollars are obviously huge making me suspicious of the controversy surrounding the dope-testing. If Mayweather keeps stalling over the dates of the testing, people will begin to think he’s just scared of Pacquaio. If the latter keeps balking at being tested, others will think he’s on steroids. Either way, conflict sells. But maybe that’s what is wrong with boxing. So much focus is being put on outside issues that the fighters themselves are almost secondary. In MMA, which is rapidly overtaking boxing as the sport to watch, spends far less time and ink on issues such as this. The goal is to have a good fight, that’s how the MMA markets itself. But with boxing’s half-dozen associations, lack of unity and horrendous public relations, even fighters the caliber of Mayweather and Pacquiao may not be enough to maintain its place in our culture. The glory years of the 80’s are long gone and when you have to use something like perceived cowardice or cheating as your hooks to get an audience, you have entered the world of mediocrity.

How tough are the fighters of today?

November 26th, 2009

Watching another UFC event on the weekend I couldn’t help but notice how much punishment these fighters took. Straight rights, full left hooks, roundhouse kicks to the head etc. were thrown and in most cases the fighters just shook them off. I even saw some throwback techniques, spinning back fists and spinning back kicks that connected and were shrugged off.
In the day (yeah, I’m middle-aged), the closest to MMA fighting was kickboxing. I remember the greats like Bill Wallace, Demetrius Havanas, Benny the Jet Urquidez and others. Knockouts were fast and furious and seemed to always have a lot of style and flair. I was at an Urquidez fight and watched him do a spinning back kick on his opponent that looked like it broke him in half. Needless to say, Benny won by a TKO.
But I’m beginning to wonder…could these greats inflict the same damage today to an MMA fighter? Did they hit harder in those days or was the level of fitness lower? Is there a tougher breed entering the MMA forum than the kickboxers of the seventies?
Let’s take a look at a couple of the questions.
First, there is no question that today’s fighters are better trained, more fit and are subjected to much more punishment than their predecessors. Someone like GSP has several trainers, nutritionists and coaches so comparing him to a kickboxer from the seventies is a non-starter.
Did they hit harder in the old days? Anyone who has ever participated in karate, taekwondo or any other Asian martial art knows two things: kicks to the head are common; but they are hard to land effectively. Kickboxers are of course trained to aim high and without the worry of being taken down can really unleash the kicks. Someone like Bill Wallace, infamous for his lead, left turning kick to the head, would probably find this technique ineffective fighting someone with a lowered head charging in to grab the leg. So in a sense, the old guys might have at least kicked harder because they had the time to do so.
Finally, are the fighters of today a tougher breed? I have to say yes and here’s why.
The fighters of the seventies invariably had backgrounds in the Asian arts. Respect, discipline and control are standards in these schools so many join to better themselves physically and spiritually and fighting is merely an aspect of the art. But MMA is different. Sure some join for the above but more join because they want to learn how to fight. Consequently, the practitioner fits a different profile than the traditionalist.
Throw all this together and you have a tougher, meaner and better trained fighter. But before I dismiss the past greats think about this…what could those guys in the past have done if they had access to the UFC machine?

Is Manny the greatest?

November 16th, 2009

Last night, Manny Pacquaio won his 7th World Championship belt. Many are now calling him the best pound for pound boxer in the world. Some are saying, especially such notables as Bob Arum, that he’s one of the best of all time. Considering what Manny has done, it’s not unreasonable. However, do we rate fighters by what they do in their weight classes or by what they can do overall? If that’s the case the small men are at a distinct disadvantage.
The Greeks are said to have created the art of boxing. According to wiki, the Spartans specifically although it was the rest of Greece that actually turned it into a competitive sport. The rules were similar to today but no weight classes. The best man won and size didn’t matter. But here’s the kicker: how many small men won? Speed and power are not the domain of any specific size but simple physics in many cases dictates that the bigger man has the advantage. Even a great fighter like Manny wins by atrition rather than the one big shot. Back in the 80’s, Roberto Duran was known as the “hands of stone” for the power in his punches. Yet, he too won most of his fights by beating on his opponent rather than knocking him out early. The big boys on the other hand have the power to take someone out early and very often do. What they give away in speed they make up in power. Before Tyson became a caricature, Foreman a frying pan salesman and Ali a cripple these men were known for fast, wicked knockouts.
So in this world who really is the best boxer? At Olympia, circa 500 BC, the one left standing, regardless of weight, was the winner. Should we bring that model back? Should there be a “playofff” of the best division winners? Would the best fighter be someone like Roy Jones, a weight class floater, who wasn’t too big but not small either? Endless discussion for sure but if Manny is the best shouldn’t he fight Vitali Klischko (all seven feet of him!)?
The guys on the MMA forum have already taken me to task for daring to say that the immortal Bruce Lee probably couldn’t take the bigger men in the MMA. SACRILEGE! Thoughts….

Are the martial arts good for children?

October 30th, 2009

Where I live there’s a great controversy as to whether or not to allow the UFC to hold an event. Politicians are comparing MMA to dogpits or to gladitorial arenas. Too much violence, no skill, too bloody etc. are terms we hear every day. For many parents, just the idea of teaching our child to fight is loathsome. Fortunately, others don’t think that way but I’d like to put my two cents in.
Martial arts demand discipline. In of itself, this is a positive thing to impart to children. In a time where children are getting fatter, softer and prefer their videoscreens to a gym, it’s ludicrous for parents to deny a sport. In the days of the Greeks, boxing, wrestling and the pankration were all taught to children. It was a culture that glorified the human body, the fit human body. It also believed strongly in the human mind and especially in educating it. These Greeks weren’t saints or all MENSA members but they realized that the integration of a fit body with a strong mind produced the best people. There is no evidence that there was any excessive crime or violence in Greece so I hardly believe teaching children “violent” sports debases society. And don’t even get me started on hockey and football!
If I could create a school it would be one that would have the day divided equally between physical activity and academics/skills. Martial arts, especially MMA would be compulsory and other sports would be introduced as they now are. Learning how the body functions, how to protect it and most importantly how to value it should be critical to parents. MMA, taught properly, can do this.

OXI

October 27th, 2009

Moving from the UFC to something a bit more important I want to extend my heartiest good wishes to Greeks around the world. On October 28 we celebrate the days the Greeks told the Italians (Hitler’s lackeys) that they would not surrender to their demands. Prime Minister Metaxas stated his resistance in one word, OXI or No. From that day on Greece fought WW II on several fronts against several enemies. They defeated everyone, including the Italians even though they were grossly outnumbered, outarmed and outflanked. The resistance was so strong that Hitler had to move German troops into Greece, delaying his invasion of Russia by six weeks, long enough for the winter to set in (and the rest is history). There is absolutely no question that if the Greeks had not fought so hard against their invaders, Germany’s war machine would have devastated Russia, probably leading to the downfall of western Europe. To put it in simpler terms, imagine this blog in German because that’s what we would be speaking today if Metaxas had said yes instead of OXI!
For our Jewish friends, know that Metaxas extended that OXI to the Germans when they came looking for Jews to ship off to the extermination camps. Greece told the Nazis to screw off and then went about issuing thousands of fake IDs to its Jewish citizens. Unfortunately, in Thessaloniki it was too late to save them but most survived in Athens. No GOVERNMENT in Europe even came close to making this effort.
So faithful readers, remember the Greeks on October 28. Saying OXI to injustice is something we should all be doing.

Are boxing scandals reeling their ugly heads in the UFC?

October 27th, 2009

Last post I warned that the UFC might have to scale back in order to maintain the interest. After all we don’t want to see the decline of Rome in the octagon.
However, after the card on Saturday night there are now new concerns. I watched the fights in the local pub with a knowlegdeable friend and we were shaking our heads, not so much at the decisions, but at the reaction of the crowds at the actual venue and the ones in the pub. In case you didn’t watch, Michida won a decision over Rua in a fight many believed the latter won. Even the president, Dana White, thought Rua won. Suddenly, we have a boxing controversy. Judging is a tenuous science at best and in defence of the ringside judges, to me it looked like it was more of a draw. Rua savaged Michida’s legs but didn’t really land anything to the head. Michida did score on the head but either Rua has a hard head or they weren’t that hard. Regardless, not a clear win for either but the champion gets it.
The crowd didn’t see it that way. From the boos at the arena to the shouts of bullshit in the pub, it was an unsatisfactory conclusion to a pretty good fight. To cap it off, people were loudly comparing it to boxing and even shouting “fix”. After the Silva/Griffin debacle, the impeccable integrity of the UFC is being questioned. Throw in the quick Rothwell/Velasquez stoppage; one that even prompted Dana White to insult the referee, Mazzagatti (who seems to be pretty good to me) and you have more controversy.
Scandals and fighting have gone hand in hand for thousands of years. The Greek pankration (the original MMA) was hardly pure with professionals and semi-professionals entering amateur contests. Bribes, throwing fights etc. were common then too. I guess things never change…I was hoping the UFC could avoid history. Looks like I may be wrong.

UFC on a dangerous path…

October 19th, 2009

Back in the 1970’s when I first started the martial arts I was, as most people were, mesmerized by Bruce Lee. I won’t go over all his achievements here, that’s what wikipedia is for. However, what made the biggest impression on me was that he incorporated different fighting styles into one. In effect, he was the godfather of mixed martial arts. After seeing him in Enter the Dragon then reading his books I started to reorient my training to a more all-encompassing style. I took up boxing, judo, jiu-jitsu, wrestling and taekwondo to make myself better. Eventually I even taught what I called “universal” fighting arts. And being of Greek heritage I called my school Pankration Martial Arts, almost 2 decades before this became popular. So you see my friends, I have strong ties and feelings to mixed martial arts.
When the UFC started I was ecstatic. Finally, a contest that really measured fighting skills. I have attended matches, watched at home and make it a habit to catch the pay per views at the local bars. I love the UFC and congrats to Dana White and company for making it popular.
However, I see impending problems. Back in the days of ancient Greece, the pankration (the original MMA) was practiced by many but seen relatively little (annual, bi-annual and Olympics for the most part). It created excitement and was easily the most popular sport of its time. When Greece fell to the Romans, it remained popular but quickly became a daily fixture in the arenas and coliseums. Soon it became boring and the Romans were forced to change the rules. It became more violent, armored gloves (cestus) were introduced and the pure martial art of the Greeks became a violent, over the top mockery of itself.
Today the UFC is riding high. SPIKE TV, pay per view and even sports channels have it on constantly. Throw in the lesser organizations and youtube and suddenly we have saturation. But unlike the Romans, the viewers of today don’t take decades to change their minds or attitudes. Now it happens overnight.
I can see the numbers for the lesser fights already dwindling at the bars that show pay per view matches. If the UFC isn’t careful, the product they have now may become as badly received as boxing: except for one or two matches a year no one cares.
I don’t know what the solution is. If I did I’d be flying in a private jet, not Dana White. But if the UFC is to survive decades instead of years, a more cautionary, more conservative approach needs to be taken now. People’s appetites need to be whetted, not satiated.
And that folks is my take on the UFC.