author

Tough Guys

Tough Guys comes to SHOWTIME

In 2007 I set out to share the untold story of the “Tough Guys.” These are the men who created the sport of MMA while Dana White was still in elementary school and 13 years before the UFC existed. A decade later and my book “Godfathers of MMA” is coming to life on SHOWTIME ? The same network that just set PPV records with Mayweather vs McGregor, will broadcast the real origins of MMA in America. Pittsburgh is the “City of Champions” and now can add “Birthplace of MMA” to its banners! It may have been the wrong place wrong time… but it was one hell of a ride. Congrats to my dad and Frank on being a part of American sports history!!!!!!! 

producer bill viola jr

Tough Guys reveals the clandestine plot to subvert the “first” mixed martial arts revolution in American history, one poised to challenge boxing as the king of combat sports.  Confounded by a freak accident (death in the ring) and widespread corruption, a massive struggle ensued over money, power, and respect between boxing’s gentry and an upstart MMA company from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  CV (Caliguri and Viola) Productions ignited a bitter turf war with the Pennsylvania State Athletic Commission that sparked a spectacular David and Goliath battle for leverage.

The legendary story, buried by rhetoric for years, casts a wide net reeling in everyone from politicians to mobsters, all with ulterior motives; all with eyes on a billion dollar blueprint. From boxing’s “Holy Territory,” the home of Rocky Balboa, to a bizarre connection with the Supreme Court that lead to the first legal precedent for MMA—ever, this is the ultimate inside look.

ACADEMY AWARD® NOMINATED MORGAN SPURLOCK JOINS ACADEMY AWARD® WINNER ROSS KAUFFMAN FOR THE MIXED MARTIAL ARTS DOCUMENTARY “TOUGH GUYS” MMA TV SHOW

MMA TV SHOW ON THE ORIGINS OF THE MIXED MARTIAL ARTS COMPETITION PHENOMENON IS SET TO WORLD PREMIERE ON SHOWTIME

NEW YORK, NY Academy Award® nominated documentarian Morgan Spurlock (SUPER SIZE ME) teams with fellow Oscar® winning filmmaker Ross Kauffman (BORN INTO BROTHELS) to bring TOUGH GUYS – the story of the origins of the mixed martial arts (MMA) fighting phenomenon – to the big screen. The film is executive produced by Kauffman and Spurlock together with Spurlock’s business partner Jeremy Chilnick.

TOUGH GUYS is directed by two award-winning filmmakers, Henry Roosevelt and W.B. Zullo and produced by the award winning commercial producer Craig DiBiase. This moving and insightful non-fiction cinematic film chronicles the origins of the MMA beginning in Pittsburgh, PA in the early 1980s. Back then, these fights were known as the “tough man,” or “tough guy,” or “battle of the brawlers,” or “battle of the superfighters” matches. These fighting bouts have now achieved multimillion-dollar fight status.

“When I was around 12 years old, my dad took me to my first “tough guy” competition in my hometown of Beckley, WV,” says Spurlock. “And I have to admit, it was one of the greatest things I’d ever seen. So when the opportunity came along for me help tell the story of its origin, I jumped at the chance. TOUGH GUYS is an unbelievable tale about the creation of this one of a kind, man against man, skill against skill, sport of the ages. Films like this are rare discoveries, and the characters behind them are even more incredible. If you like watching guys get punched in the face as much as I do, then you are going to love this movie!”

In 1979, Bill Viola and Frank Caliguri dreamed up a contest pitting barroom bigmouths against wrestlers, martial artists, boxers, bouncers and brawlers, billed as no-holds-barred new type of competitive fighting. When the fights succeeded beyond their wildest expectations, they were swept up in a chain of events that ended in the first mixed-martial arts ban in the nation.

Presented through the untold stories of scrappy brawlers and amateur promoters, TOUGH GUYS chronicles the inception of Caliguri and Viola’s first bouts and the colorful, crazy cast of fighters who made them a hit as well as the politicians who brought it all crashing down. The film brings to life a moment when the national martial arts craze was building to a crescendo as the economies of Pennsylvania steel towns were plummeting to levels of unemployment never seen before or since, breeding desperate men looking for chance to prove their worth and earn some money in the ring.

“Like my previous films, BORN INTO BROTHELS and E-TEAM, TOUGH GUYS is about underdogs striving to achieve the impossible,” states Kauffman. “In TOUGH GUYS, the underdog is America’s working class who are searching for respect and ultimately a way to survive. When I got involved I didn’t know how timely the story would be.”

###

ABOUT TOUGH GUYS:

Told through the colorful stories of scrappy brawlers and amateur promoters, TOUGH GUYS brings to life the birth of mixed martial arts competitions in 1980’s Pittsburgh. The idea to legitimize street fighting by putting it in the ring, brought big money, crowds, copycat competitions and ultimately scrutiny and tighter control. The film is directed by Henry Roosevelt and W.B. Zullo and produced by award winning commercial producer Craig DiBiase. It is executive produced by Oscar winner Ross Kauffman together with Oscar nominated director Morgan Spurlock and his producing partner Jeremy Chlinick. The film is based on associate producer Bill Viola Jr.’s book Godfathers of MMA.


ABOUT MORGAN SPURLOCK:

Morgan Spurlock is an Oscar® nominated filmmaker and founder of Warrior Poets, a New York-based production studio. His first film, SUPER SIZE ME, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2004, winning Best Directing honors. The film went on to win the inaugural WGA Best Documentary Screenplay award, as well as garner an Academy Award® nomination for Best Feature Documentary. Since then he has directed, produced, and distributed multiple film, television and online projects, including THE GREATEST MOVIE EVER SOLD; WHERE IN THE WORLD IS OSAMA BIN LADEN?; RATS; MANSOME; CNN’s INSIDE MAN; and more.


ABOUT ROSS KAUFFMAN:

Ross Kauffman is the Academy Award winning Director, Producer and Cinematographer of BORN INTO BROTHELS, winner of the 2005 Academy Award for Best Documentary. He is Co-Director of E-TEAM, a documentary about the high-stakes investigative work of four human rights workers and winner of the 2014 Sundance Cinematography award. He served as Executive Producer on the documentary feature IN A DREAM, which was short-listed for the 2009 Academy Awards and as Consulting Producer on the Academy Award nominated film POSTERGIRL. Ross is a Founder and Creative Director of Fictionless.

Soke Pokey

The Sōke Pokey 宗家

By Bill Viola Jr. *This article originally appeared in Shotokan Magazine.

You put your right punch in, you put your left kick out, you put your right block in, and shake it all about… 😂

Ah, the classic participation dance where being a Sensei just isn’t enough.  This is a lighthearted look at the thousands of Great Glorious Grand Masters, Supreme Grand Masters, Eternal Masters, Ultimate Masters, Sultans, Luminaries, Grand Poohbahs, and Sōke who seem to rival the omnipotent 😮. The self-proclaimed Mega Master can be found in every state, city, and neighborhood across America, just let your fingers do the walking (or nowadays google ‘em). The results will make you go hmmm: “Master “XYZ” from Podunk, Iowa is the undisputed undefeated world champion” (even though they’ve never fought outside their zip code). A similar story repeats in the next county, and the next and the next — it’s mind boggling. To mythbusters, the martial arts industry has become a circus chock-full of showman touting clown credentials like PhDs of martial science, and while Doctor is reserved for academia, the truth is there is no regulation of martial arts, so we rely on the honor system.  *Google provided 7,230,000 results for “PhD martial arts,” offering a plethora of scams and diploma mills to choose from:

PhD in the Martial Arts?

I’ve been studying Shotokan karate-do my entire life (40 years this past April) under the watchful eye of my father, who’s dedicated a lifetime of service long before me, so I feel confident sharing my observations. I’m forever a student of the “martial way” and by no means an expert in Japanese nomenclature, but I studied 3 years of Japanese language in high school and 2 additional years in college, so I’m well-versed.  Sadly, I’ve seen far too many egos inflated simply by perusing a Japanese/English dictionary and thesaurus.   The psychological warfare of “one upping” the instructor next door is a game I call the Sōke Pokey.  First, instructors spin the wheel of fortune in search of an exotic sounding prefix. Popular honorifics include Kyoshi and Hanshi, but sometimes those are just too plain Jane.  How about Kancho, Kaicho, Shidoshi, Shoshum or Meijin? Those sound a little more obscure and mystical.  You get the idea.  Next, said bogus promotion is christened under the banner of a cyber roundtable who legitimize the rank (for 3 installments of $199.99). I know that may seem a bit snarky, but it’s just too easy with all the nonsense online.   You can almost hear the “as seen on TV” voice say, “But wait there’s more!  You get an embroidered dragon patch and certificate with assorted random hanko at no extra charge.” It’s obnoxiously oversized, so it’s perfect for a profile pic.  For a little extra coin, they will throw in a hall of fame honor where Bruce Lee is a member. Authenticity guaranteed—notarized on parchment paper from an ancient Buddhist temple.  These head honcho with 13th degree barber shop belts in muckety muck are the essence of capitalism and the contradiction of budo. It’s ok to chuckle, we all know the type.  FYI: hancho (班長) is Japanese term now part of American Jargon meaning, “squad leader.”

Not all egomaniacs are selling snake oil, some are actually very good at fighting, but once injected, narcissistic bujutsu can be deadlyThink Cobra Kai, “fear does not exist in this dojo.”The antivenom is budo, but some posers hide under its guise. Beware of the charlatan preaching humility; there is a profound philosophical difference between a martial artist and a martial wayist.  It may be cliché, but actions do speak louder than words, unless you’re an unsuspecting white belt who doesn’t know any better.  Newbies often get swept up in the cult. I’m not saying you can’t be proud of your dojo’s accomplishments, you should be, just don’t fabricate them. My father taught me that, “Character is a commodity you can’t buy, you can only build it—authentic budo is priceless.”

There are far too many self-promoted gurus who exaggerate to the nth degree. What may have started as a “white” belt sized stretch can quickly escalate to “black” belt levels of hyperreality. Most often the offenders share the same M.O.: out of shape, brash and boastful. You might overhear tales of a shaolin monk that blessed them with holy water or how their system is far too lethal for competition.  Their ensemble includes a tattered Crayola inspired obi that Liberace would be proud of, and a uniform bedazzled with patches and chevrons signifying eminence, but nobody has actually seen them do anything—ever. Are these kuchi bushi (mouth warriors) lost in delusions of grandeur?  Each case is different, but many have lineage that is hazy at best.  There are always exceptions to the rule, but if it walks and talks like a duck, well…

Some are harmless, while others harmful. I do believe there are innocent casualties of this vicious cycle, byproducts of second or third generations of blasphemy. Alas, Funakoshi Sensei must be rolling over in his grave.  The father of modern karate never really bothered with rank himself; instead progression was dignified through a journey of self-perfection. I’m not saying modern kyu/dan ranking is wrong (we use it), I am emphasizing it shouldn’t be the bane or your existence. Hierarchy is necessary for the success of commercial karate schools and is beneficial when kept in perspective. There are certainly qualified Grand Masters and 10th degree black belts who deserve this rank, but they are far and few between. Not every McDojo headmaster is qualified.

All Japanese arts, be it ikebana (flower arrangements) or tea ceremonies, are highly structured and regimented so it’s no surprise karate followed this pattern. However, belts, uniforms, and degrees are a modern phenomenon that didn’t exist in feudal Japan.  Its history really began with the Dai Nippon Butoku Kai 大日本武徳会 (Greater Japan Martial Virtue Society) established in 1895 in Kyoto (under the authority of the Japanese Government).

Its purpose was noble; solidify and standardize all disciplines, and it worked for a time. At the turn of the 20th century the Butoku-kai tested the water by issuing titles of Hanshi and Kyoshi to several kendo experts. (Prior, menkyo or secret scrolls were common). These licenses are not, I repeat, not spoken titles (only used in written format).  In layman terms, my brother in-law Tim is a Master Plumber, but I don’t greet him as, “Master Tim,” although he might get a kick out of that. The only place I see it is on his resume. In Japan, using “Master” in the first person is a breach of etiquette.  Yes, you have earned that rank, but it’s impolite and ignorant to broadcast it. Sensei is the polite accepted title when speaking of lawyers, teachers, doctors or martial arts masters.  Sadly, for insecure karate-ka, that isn’t very sexy.  Speaking of etiquette, don’t forget the physical act of rei (bowing) is literally pushing down ego (the core value of budo).

The initial disciplines of the Butoku-ka were JujutsuJudo and Kendo.  Kano Jigoro (the founder of Judo) had already adapted the kyu/dan system (1883) however it was not a new invention as some like to romanticize, it was modified from the ancient Japanese board game Go.  Later a black sash would accompany the dan rank followed by the judogi and iconic kuro-obi (black belt) circa 1907. Why did Kano choose white/black? Other Japanese athletic departments such as swimming used a black ribbon to designate advanced competitors.  There is no conclusive evidence, but I also believe the influence of Taoism (yin and yang) is a plausible reason for black belt and white dogi contrast. The urban legend of a white obi soiled through blood and sweat as means to reach black color is nonsense.  Japanese culture has a propensity for cleanliness.

When Itosu Anko, passed away, Funakoshi picked up his mentors torch and followed Kano’s lead.  On April 12, 1924, he awarded the first karate dan rankings to seven of his students, acquiescent to Butoku-kai standards. At the time, Funakoshi himself held no rank, although he eventually accepted the title of Kyoshi in 1943 and he never promoted anyone above 5th dan (including himself). Direct disciples such as Oshima Tsutomu (awarded 5th dan by Funakoshi in 1957) set Godan as the ceiling, never to be surpassed.  Others such as Nakayama Masatoshi rose to 9th dan (10th posthumously).  Both karate-ka were pioneers with different ideology in terms of relative ranking, so splinters among the core were inevitable (many of Funakoshi’s students established their own organizations, styles, and associations).  *Colored belts would not become in vogue until Kawaishi Mikonosuke (Judo) popularized the concept throughout Europe in 1930s as a visual reward system to correspond with Kyu ranks.

Funakoshi and Kano were educators and understood the political clout and power the butokai wielded.  If they wanted their respective arts to flourish, they had to play nice in the sandbox and follow government “suggestions.”  By the 1930’s karate gained recognition after meeting certain criteria, conformities that had been in motion for years due to Japanese nationalism:  Karate had to be written as “empty hand” (Japanese), karate had to adopt a standard dogi and kyu/dan rank system, and karate had to development a sport aspect  (competition).

soke pokey real deal
Funakoshi, Sensei and Kano, Sensei

From the beginning, there were mixed emotions on rank.  One of Funakoshi’s contemporaries, Chojun Miyagi (Goju-Ryu founder) said, “I believe once dan ranks in karate are awarded, it will inevitably lead to trouble. The ranking system will lead to discrimination within karate and karate-ka will be judged by their rank and not their character. It will create ‘inferior’ and ‘superior’ strata within the karate community and will lead to discrimination between people.” Wow, prophetic. Incidentally, the character “Mr. Miyagi” of Karate Kid fame was inspired by the aforementioned Master. Robert Mark Kamen, co-creator of the movie, was a Goju-ryu student which explains the philosophy behind this famous exchange:

  • Daniel LaRusso: Hey, what kind of belt do you have?
  • Mr. Miyagi: Canvas. J.C. Penny. Three ninety-eight. You like. [laughs]
  • Daniel LaRusso: No, I meant…
  • Mr. Miyagi: In Okinawa, belt mean no need rope to hold up pants. [laughs; then, seriously] Daniel-san, karate here. [taps his head] Karate here. [taps his heart] Karate never here. [points to his belt] Understand?
  • Daniel LaRusso: I think so.   

The real deal, Grand Master Demura Fumio (Shito-ryu), was Pat Morita’s stuntman for the film.

Enter WWII. 

At the end of war, General MacArthur dissolved all military related organizations in Japan, including Dai Nippon Butokukai. In one fell swoop, the flood gates opened, and during the early 1950’s, associations formed left and right by the dojos in each style, each with authority to rank.  Big brother could no longer oversee or regulate the industry, and a “title” wave soon to hit the US shores. It was a sea of chaos that Robert Trias and Nakayama Masatoshi tried to regulate. The USKA (United States Karate Association) and JKA (Japan Karate Association) kept things in check, but with no true governing body, it was still the Wild West.  Have you ever see the movie Catch Me If You Can with Leo DiCaprio?  Con men of his image were common in the martial arts field as it was a lucrative business opportunity. Decades and thousands of associations later, there is still no honor among thieves.

Sōke Cocktail

soke pokey
There is one at every tournament… 😂

Directions:  Shake pride, greed, and ignorance over ice cold ego and stir. Just add students.  Sōke (宗家)not to be confused with Sake (although it helps to have a sip or two when encountering grandstanders) is commonly referred to as head of a family or house in Japan.  In America, the title is controversial and raises red flags.  The pseudo Sōke starter kit typically includes a resume full of multi-10th degree black belts, 15+ hall of fame inductions, and a VHS series of secret waza to supplement the new style they have created.  Mind you, I know certain individuals who deserve this moniker, but then again you don’t hear them bragging or selling memberships, so this isn’t their concern.  Or is it?  The damage done by counterfeit karate-ka is crippling the arts with fiction.

Sōke is synonymous with the term iemoto (family foundation) of a traditional Japanese art. In Japan, this title is rarely used and only applicable to very old martial arts (koryu).  The fact remains karate is NOT an old discipline, so why do we have soooo many Sōke in America?  Rock beats scissors of course. It’s just another rung on the vanity ladder to prove who’s top dog.   They’ve punched their ticket into the Supreme Eternal Grand Master Poohbah club; one part boasting, two parts marketing—all status.  With 300+ million Americans to target, it’s not hard to find naïve students who will follow a master in BS.

Without going into a dissertation, Sōke originally had no connection with martial arts at all. Sōke was a quasi-political title often held by the head of the family while the successor (Sōke) was responsible for the “secret transmissions” of the clan. Basically Sōke is heir from generation to generation. Over time, Sōke also included the rights to familial items such as art, plays, and poetry etc. Like the Rockefellers or Carnegie’s, the Japanese upper class aristocrats held court like a corporation.  If you’re not familiar, tune into the HBO series Succession, some American Sōke would fit right in. All kidding aside, an exuberant number of martial artists claim to have “inherited” these highly guarded ancient teachings despite not being of Japanese descent or a direct family member. That’s right, all the secrets have been willed to Sōke Joe Sixpack of Ohio.  Seems a bit absurd, right?

Others, who can’t verify credentials, find the Shodai Sōke route as the path of least resistance.  Adding the Shodai (first generation) to the title is a quicker way to reach Sōke stardomIt’s madness; someone makes up a system, rearranges some kanji and poof, a new style is born. A bit pretentious don’t you think? Worse yet, 20-somethings are getting in on the action. Why not, nobody can stop them from the make believe, it’s as if we are stuck watching Mr. Rogers Neighborhood. Sōke Pokey practitioners swiftly move round and round, in and out of hypocrisy where respect is demanded, worship appreciated and blind loyalty required. The music is loud—so loud they become tone deaf. It echoes, “You put your ego in, you pull your credibility out, you put your arrogance in and you shake it all about.” As the volume reaches dangerous decibel levels, it’s too much for some to bear; others double down.

Pseudo Sōke are eager to defend themselves.  The go-to for damage control is cross-training.  It’s not uncommon to dabble in multiple styles (an admirable path) earning several 1st and 2nd degree black belts in various arts. Problems arise when those ranks seem to rise exponentially by some illogical compound formula.  Regardless, a collective effort is still master of none. Mixing a few disciplines together is just that, mixed martial arts, not a revolutionary ryu. Unless you’ve had some divine intervention, all “contemporary” hybrid systems fall under the MMA umbrella today. Through my own interpretation and innovation, I teach a unique brand of Shotokan.  I’ve incorporated elements of kyokushincapoeirategumi, kickboxing, BJJ, and kicking techniques from various Korean arts.  It works for me, but at the end of the day my root is Shotokan and my title is Sensei.  It is not a newfangled style, just a creative curriculum inspired by Shuhari (Obey, digress, and separate). Shuhari is commonly known as three stages of mastery .  First we learn from tradition, then we break from tradition so we can transcend.

I love Jesse Enkamp’s cooking analogy, so I’ll share:

  • At first, you follow the recipe exactly (Shu).
  • But when you’ve memorized the recipe, you don’t use it anymore (Ha).
  • Eventually, you start freestyling, substituting ingredients according to your own taste, creativity and feeling (Ri).

Voila, you are a Master Chef; but you didn’t invent cooking.  This is why we have a Sōke epidemic. Philosophically speaking we are encouraged to evolve, but many misinterpret and don’t grasp that combing or modifying traditional techniques isn’t the exception, it’s the norm.  We are not in feudal Japan, and Sōke does not mean founder. Unfortunately, it’s grossly and loosely used as propaganda, and Westerners continue to exploit the semantics.  If you want to be remembered as a “creator” we already have an appropriate English term, “founder.” I suppose using the esoteric Japanese title gives the users an ordained feeling, but it’s unwarranted in most circumstances.

Honestly, being a Sōke in America today is kind of like being rich in Monopoly:  Do not pass go, do not collect $200—go directly to jail. Seriously, I am NOT saying all Sōke are fake, the term exists for a reason (some have legitimate lineage). What I am saying is that very few men or women belong in the same conversation as Funakoshi or Kano.  If you fancy yourself in the same breath, then we can agree to disagree. For the small percentage of genuine Sōke or Grand Masters, thank you for your contributions.  Legends of the game like Kanazawa Sōke (Shotokan) or Grand Master Ochiai Hidehiko (Washin-ryu) are examples and rightful members of the fraternity. While imposters continue to ride their coattails, it is flattery we can all do without.

As American karate slides down the slippery slope of sokeship, please ingest the rhetoric with grain of salt.  Make no mistake, this is not an isolated “karate” problem, it’s widespread: tae kwon do, tang soo do, kung fu, etc.  In the end, I’m reminded of a Pastor who fooled his flock.  Television evangelist Jimmy Swaggart didn’t do Christianity any favors with his antics, and many Masters tarnish martial arts in the same vein. There will always be those who desire to be a “personality” rather than a “servant.”  Even if remorseful, the collateral damage is done, however those hypocrites don’t represent the majority! Despite the heretics, my religious faith hasn’t wavered and neither has my conviction to be a Sensei.  Martial-vanity is an easy rabbit hole to fall into, but it’s an alternate state of mind (conscious or subconscious).

Confucius said, “Humility is the solid foundation of all virtues.” As a budoka, I want to influence, not impose; earn, not demand; and lead, not command my students.   I will continue to count my blessings and not the amount of stripes on my belt.  Rank does not define me, the integrity of my dojo does.  Although I’ve technically earned a master title, being a Sensei is all I ever wanted.  An average teacher tells, a good teacher explains, a superior teacher demonstrates, but a Sensei inspires.

If my point of view made you question some of your steps, maybe it’s time to change the choreography of your dance.  It’s not too late to turn yourself around—budo, that’s what it’s all about.

Sincerely,

Sensei V

PS, it’s pronounced “so-kay” not “so-key” if you insist on moving forward.   It’s not surprising because the most mispronounced word in Japanese history is Karate.  We are all guilty of calling it “kuh-rah-dee” but it’s pronounced “kah-rah-tay.” It’s mispronunciation is pretty much accepted as colloquial slang at this point.

Read my previous article:  “Martial Wayist”

About the author: Bill Viola Jr. is Amazon best-selling author and creator of the award-winning Sensei Says® life skills curriculum. He experienced the “Golden Era” of MMA firsthand as his father, Bill Sr., is credited as the co-creator of the sport of mixed martial arts in 1979. His book Godfathers of MMA inspired the critically acclaimed SHOWTIME film Tough Guys where he acted as a producer alongside an Academy Award accredited team.  The Viola family owns and operates Allegheny Shotokan Karate in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania now celebrating their 50-year anniversary (1969-2019). He is currently the President of Kumite Classic Entertainment Corp.

#senseisays #sokepokey #martialwayist

Martial Wayist

Mixed “Martial” Misnomer?

By Bill Viola Jr. Senior Editor for MMA History.

Fight fans are still crying foul following the melee that was post McGregor/Nurmagomedov.  Social media lit up with a barrage of disgust and disdain towards the so-called “martial” behavior of the fighters and their entourages–the same people who shelled out $64.99 to watch a grudge match promoted in the same vein of Vince McMahon’s WrestleMania.  Regardless, it’s a blueprint “endeavor era” UFC has relished in and profited.  Extracurricular insults of family, faith, and country (staged or not, you decide) have long been staples of the fight game, so the aftermath isn’t all that shocking.  Testosterone fuels a consumer base with a penchant for bloodlust and revenge.  Shock and awe fills seats and sells PPVs.  It’s a dusty old playbook, but effective.  Nonetheless, critics of yesteryear who chastise the most recent UFC spectacle are the same who revel in the days of Tyson gnawing on Holyfield’s ear or reminisce of Larry Holmes, soaring like an eagle long before Khabib drop kicked Trevor Berbick. Such antics are legendary and part of fabric of sports. Be it a bench clearing brawl in baseball or two hockey enforcers dropping the gloves, the raw emotion of the moment is revved by the thirst for violence.

So how is UFC’s outburst any different than NBA’s Ron Artest inciting the infamous Auburn Hills riot or MLB’s Roberto Alomar spitting in an umpire’s face?  It isn’t, really, but ambiguity seems to surface because the term “martial arts.”  Martial arts are subjective, largely due to Hollywood’s portrayal of ancient oriental teachings in a “death before dishonor” way. We’ve been fed the notion that deep down an authentic “martial artist” is always respectful and disciplined, and for nearly a century, America especially, has swallowed the rhetoric. The industry itself seized the moment and commercialized the arts by catering to children (The Karate Kid, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, etc.).  It became more about building self-esteem and less about fighting. McDojos and “pay to play” instructors tainted the arts with watered down systems and fast-track black belts for the right price, but those opportunists are for another discussion.

“Martial arts” today is a catch-all, almost generic term that universally and collectively describes any combat system from around the world. Commonly these arts are paired with East Asian etiquette, the premise of this article. The umbrella covers everyone from military and police to toddlers in little ninja tae kwon do classes to soccer moms taking self-defense. Widespread would be an understatement.

Up until the advent of the UFC, most martial artists were revered as ultimate role models, not ultimate fighters.  The octagon changed the landscape, not because we haven’t seen bad behavior in the ring before, but because it was considered taboo for martial artists.  The image of noble Samurai-esque karate-ka was largely replaced with a glorified roster of trash talking substance abusers, cheats, and domestic heathens; an unsavory cast of characters that push the envelope. It’s the culture of modern professional sports across the board. Side note:  My former favorite Pittsburgh Steeler was recently accused of hurling furniture off a roof in a fit of rage, nearly killing a toddler. Regardless; he’s a football player not a martial artist.  If he were a “martial artist” he would have displayed complete self-control!  NO.  Not anymore. Not ever, really. Akin to a yin yang, fighting (martial arts) and living a moral life (martial way) are polar opposites that can harmonize, but make no mistake; they are not one in the same.  This conundrum is not mere semantics, and the UFC knows exactly how to exploit it.

Martial Arts / Bujutsu:  *Bu 武 (war) 術 Jutusu (art, skill, science)

Martial arts has roots in prehistoric times, influencing every culture since the dawn of mankind. Fighting is embedded in our DNA, a transgression that leads to the inevitable: WAR. Paying homage to the Roman god of war, the “Arts of Mars” is a “kill or be killed” philosophy.  Many arts are entwined deep within mythology, à la Pankration. My studies support the theory that Alexander the Great was a pervasive influence on primitive Martial Arts, and that his conquests likely spread the fundamentals of the Greek martial arts throughout the world, including India. Popular folklore glorifies an Indian Monk named Bodhidharma, a journeyman who traveled to China establishing Zen Buddhism in the 6th Century A.D.  Many believe the training regimen he taught the Shaolin Monks later spread and impacted the development of modern (gendai) traditional martial arts around the world.  Millennia later we see the fruits of their labor; an offspring of countless forms of armed and unarmed combat. The Japanese arts in particular have captivated a global audience.  Regardless of what styles or theories you embrace, martial arts are obviously not the handiwork of one person, group, or culture; it has evolved over thousands of years and continues to evolve today.  But remember, the sole purpose of martial arts is warfare—period.

Martial arts is a science to transform your body into a weapon.  Here lay the Conor McGregors, Jon Jones, and Colby Covingtons of the sport.  Promoting ethics isn’t their shtick; they fight, and they don’t give a damn what people think about physical or physiological tactics.  It’s also big business, and business is boomin’.  Conor has singled handedly raised the bar for profit sharing.  Love or hate the persona, his acumen is next level genius.   He is a martial artist who follows his “own” egocentric path. Spoiler; not all “martial artists” care about character, nor should they.  Blasphemy you say, but hear me out.

Sometime around the 16th century a seismic shift took place, especially in Asia, where the “art of war” transcended from physical to metaphysical.  Many arts began to adopt lifestyles of selflessness.  The Samurai (literally meaning to wait upon) would live and die by a moral code.  This metamorphosis was known as Budo (Martial Way).  Masters began replacing the suffix “jutsu” with “do” instead.  The arts were compartmentalized into physical and mental.

Martial Way / Budo:  BU 武 Martial (war)  DO 道 Way (path)

By the turn of the century, Jigoro Kano’s Judo (formerly jujutsu) and Karate-do became two of the most famous martial arts to adopt principles of morality.  Tenets were embedded within each craft; largely to promote their brand to primary schools and universities.  Bujutsu is intrinsically savage, but Budo emphasized sophisticated ethical guidelines–essentially the opposite of martial arts. Think of bujutsu as the skill to kill, while budo is a philosophy of self-control. Bujutsu is self-protection, whereas Budo is self-realization.  Karate-do is a path or “way of life” guided by precepts of self-enlightenment (inner and outer peace).  Learning karate without the “Do” is merely kicking and punching without consciousness.  Gichin Funakoshi, the father of modern karate, preached “perfection of character” as the ultimate lesson. This methodology helped spread his art of Shotokan Karate-do around the world.  Funakoshi was a martial artist who chose to be a “martial wayist.”  Thus, a Dojo isn’t a martial arts school at all, it’s a place to place to learn “the way” (mastery of body, mind, and spirit) through its parent (bujutsu).

*Bugei a catch-all translation for Martial Arts (performance) that straddles both Jutsu and bu; often, it reflects the refinement of instruction. I’ll reserve the dissection of Bugei for another day.  My emphasis is on “battlefield” Japanese martial arts prior to the Meiji Restoration (1868) and its successor, Budo. They undoubtedly have the most social impact. There are no official timelines, as elements of Budo have always existed even if not classified as so.

Post WWII, martial arts and martial way were prepackaged and shipped off to America. The separation between Jutsu and Do wasn’t transparent.  If you were a martial artist, you also followed traditions of reverence with blind loyalty. That bond strengthened for decades.  By the late 1970s, people began to question the legitimacy and effectiveness of many arts.  Hollywood sensationalized martial artists as superhuman (i.e. Bruce Lee) and some people weren’t buying it.  This unrest marinated until it reached a boiling point in 1979.

My father wrote the first codified set of mixed martial arts rules (although that term wasn’t used at the time) to settle the debate.  He and his co-promoter Frank Caliguri invented the “Tough Guy” concept– they were simply tired of people degrading martial arts (calling it fake, useless etc.).  They created a sport where all martial arts were in fact mixed, but calling it “martial arts” didn’t fit the narrative.  Why?  He and Frank were also martial wayists.  They taught karate-do.  This flavor of “anything goes” combined fighting was the opposite of what people perceived martial arts to be during the era. Instead, they took a disciplined approach to organizing streetfighters, brawlers and yes, self-proclaimed martial arts champions. Any combination of wrestling, boxing, karate, judo, jujutsu, and everything between was legal. It was an American brand of Vale Tudo with civilized rules. Wrestling and boxing notably had their own identity, so labeling it martial arts would have alienated fans and fighters.  At the end of the day it was mixed martial arts and a humbling experience for many.

martial arts history

The league, (although groundbreaking in terms of regulation, rules, equipment, and scoring) retrospectively launched at the wrong place at the wrong time. The Godfathers of MMA were outlawed in 1983 by Senate Bill 632 (Tough Guy Law).  A decade later UFC debuted.  In a sense, UFC was a Tough Guy reboot without regulations, rules, equipment and scoring. It would take years to catch up to their forefathers, and donning the ominous name no-holds-barred, it was far from sport.  As we all know, the image didn’t bode well.

Mixed Martial Arts (MMA > NHB)

MMA:  It’s the abbreviation that saved a fledgling sport.  The violent spectacles of UFC 1.0 were no longer apropos, so contemporary ultimate fighting needed a “PG” calling card.  MMA was a simplistic acronym that conjured a clean, professional image.  Martial artists, after all, are some of the most virtuous people on the planet, right?  The nomenclature may have been accidental, divine inspiration, or just dumb luck, but it was the right place at the right time.

Colleagues of mine believe the term “mixed martial arts” originated from the pro-wrestling circles of the 1970s, although there is no conclusive evidence. The earliest mainstream usage comes from Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Howard Rosenberg, who may have inadvertently named the sport in his Los Angeles Times article: “’Ultimate’ Fight Lives Up to Name: Television: Pay-Per-View Battle, Instead of Being Merely Gory and Funny, Gets Interesting After the First Two Bouts.” (November 15th 1993).   The excerpt reads,

“St. Louis cruiserweight boxer Art Jimmerson didn’t get to throw even one punch before giving up. He was swiftly taken down and dispatched with a chokehold by jujitsu master Royce Gracie, whose family is synonymous with the sport in their native Brazil, where mixed-martial arts championships like this one are commonplace.”

Unbeknownst to him, his casual albeit monumental classification would influence the course of a billion dollar business. Former UFC Commentator Jeff Blatnick began popularizing the term on-air in the 1990s in an effort to remove the stigma of violence.   Loretta Hunt, author of the book, Let’s Get It On, claims that John McCarthy is responsible for naming the sport, stating its origin stems from an LAPD work permit that McCarthy filled out to work UFC 2.  Hunt explained, “It was called ‘No Holds Barred’ or ‘Ultimate Fighting’ back in the early days. Himself and Jeff Blatnick – a former commentator for the UFC – came up with the ‘Mixed Martial Arts’ name, but it was John’s phrase. And Jeff Blatnick is the one who pushed it on the pay-per-views until people really started picking it up.”  Regardless if it rose from the depths of catch-wrestling, a regional promotion, Rosenberg, Blatnik, or McCarthy, semantics saved the sport.  The allure of budo gave UFC the facelift it desperately needed.

The emotions elicited by the cage and its extreme monikers were still vivid, but now the sport lay under the martial arts banner for acceptability.  As a traditional Shotokan karate-do Sensei myself, I was initially uneasy with the “mixed” suffix adjoining martial arts in the ‘90s because of the aforementioned public misperception.  I was a martial wayist, and everything I stood for was being scrutinized. Looking back, the pivot from NHB to MMA was the right move.  Fans need to recognize there are two types of martial artists, those who follow the way and those who don’t.  The likes of Royce Gracie adorned a martial wayist type persona, while others villainized, vis-à-vis Ken Shamrock, represented martial arts in its original form.  It was a savvy move by the UFC, and caught the modern traditional martial arts community off guard. People could not see the forest for the trees; instructors took the use of “martial” personally and immediately pushed back. Streetfighters were not martial artists in their eyes, but the sport gave them its stamp of approval.   Fans can’t grasp that martial arts exist without Budo, but Budo cannot exist without martial arts.  In layman’s terms, any tough guy off the street can be a martial artist, but martial wayists are defined by traditions and ethics. Machida, Super Sage and GSP are martial artists just like Conor and company, but they also identify as marital wayists, cognizant of their path.  There is a grey area; those fighters who drift away from budo, similar to a Ronin, they muddle the martial debate.

Martial Wayist / Budo(shi):  Bu 武 (Martial) Do 道 Way (path) Shi 士 (gentleman)

Marital Wayist / Budo(ka) 家 (practitioner) *suffix -ka, when added to a noun, means a person with or special knowledge or expertise)

Although “martial wayist” isn’t a popular term, it’s more or less something I teach my students to illustrate our philosophy, I felt compelled to share. In Japanese, budoka or budoshi can accurately describe a martial wayist.  I categorized a martial wayist as one who lives by the bushido (way of the warrior) code, typically bound by eight virtues:

  1. Rectitude
  2. Courage
  3. Benevolence
  4. Politeness
  5. Sincerity
  6. Honor
  7. Loyalty
  8. Self-Control

Martial Wayist

This internalized moral compass shapes a budoka’s body, mind and spirit. Martial wayists are flawed like everyone else; however the difference is they are held accountable for their actions. Martial Arts do not build character, but it can and will reveal it.  Bujutsu is instinctive, primal, and physical, but living budo is a peaceful choice.  Choose wisely.

martial wayist

#martialwayist

* The Kanji (武 ) Bu is also read “Takeshi” and is comprised of 2 characters, tomeru (止める ) which means to stop /suppress and Hoko (戈 ) which means spear or lance. Scholars believe it means to suppress revolt by the use of the spear/lance. So Bu can be literately interpreted as stopping war.

About the author: Bill Viola Jr. is Amazon best-selling author and creator of the award-winning Sensei Says® life skills curriculum. He experienced the “Golden Era” of MMA firsthand as his father, Bill Sr., is credited as the co-creator of the sport of mixed martial arts in 1979. His book Godfathers of MMA inspired the critically acclaimed SHOWTIME film Tough Guys where he acted as a producer alongside an Academy Award accredited team. The Viola family owns and operates Allegheny Shotokan Karate in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania now celebrating their 50-year anniversary (1969-2019). He is currently the President of Kumite Classic Entertainment Corp.

CommonSensei – Book

common sensei book
common sensei book
bill viola jr author book
Recent releases by bestselling author Bill Viola Jr.

The latest book by Bill Viola Jr. -Common Sensei is Coming Soon

“H🤔W TO KICK A$$ @ LIFE” School will NOT prepare you for the real world; FACTS⚠️. It’s not your fault — priorities have shifted from common sense education, to being really-really good at taking standardized tests😠. The same kids who ace AP Calculus are later sinking in massive credit card debt and English majors can’t draft a decent resume. The system is lacking street smarts: instinct, application, and self-confidence. This book will CHANGE YOUR LIFE… follow us on facebook

com·mon /ˈkämən/ (origin Latin)   sen·sei  /ˈsenˌsā,senˈsā/ (origin Japanese)

Let’s break it down.  “Common” is an adjective of sound judgement based on perception of facts or the situation. Simply put, it describes things that should be standard or well known.  “Sensei” is a noun synonymous with teacher, but it’s not exclusive to karate. In Japan it is a blanket term for doctors, lawyers, politicians etc.  Its literal translation is even more symbolic:  Sen (先) translates as before and sei (生) means birth, making the definition “one born before.”  In laymen’s terms, Sensei is someone with loads of experience and knowledge (been there, done that).  When we drop the “i” from Sensei, we of course have “Sense,” which for our purpose is the ability to make reasonable decisions.  You will be majoring in the forgotten sense—common.  There is no consensus on the exact number of senses, but we all know the traditional 5:

The Traditional 5

  1. 👀 Sight  
  2. 👂 Hearing
  3. 👃 Smell
  4. 👄 Taste
  5. 🖐 Touch

The ever popularSixth sense” is an ability to know something without using the ordinary five senses.   In modern times, all kinds of other senses have been identified with fancy technical jargon like vestibular (balance) or proprioception (awareness), and the list continues to evolve. 

For me, #7 remains “common” sense, although it’s not a true sense of the word, it is the rarest.  While logic offers a single answer to a problem, common sense seems to defy the odds. The most powerful supercomputer in the world, in all its grandeur, still can’t replicate the common sense of a 7-year old child, just as a driverless Tesla can’t outwit a savvy New York City cabbie during rush hour (at least not in my lifetime). Intuition is the ultimate act of trusting yourself, and it is what makes humans unique.  Artificial intelligence is cool, but some things are immeasurable like the faith of a pastor, or the size of Rudy’s Rudy you say?  Trust me, grab some popcorn and stream it ASAP. 

black belt in life book

The fun begins when we morph ‘em all together. The synergy of “Common” and “Sensei” is best described by a mashup of famous characters (past and present). Let’s mix the wisdom of Mr. Miyagi and Yoda with the intelligence of Professor Dumbledore and Gandalf; the awareness of John Wick with the charisma of Ferris Bueller; the poise of Doc Holiday with the spirit of Katniss Everdeen; the class of the Great Gatsby, with the street smarts of Tony Soprano; the Spidey senses of Peter Parker with the confidence of Black Panther, and the grit of Creed with the motivation and intensity of his coach, Rocky Balboa🥊.  Ironically, CommonSensei is anything but common; he’s a master of “life skills.” Ok-ok, as your CommonSensei, I may have jazzed up the imagery just a bit, but it’s attitude not aptitude that fuels aspirations. If I didn’t believe in myself, why would you or anyone read this book or come to me with tough questions? Go ahead; ask me anything!

Truth be told, I don’t have all the answers, but in my Liam Neeson voice, “what I do have are a very particular set of skills; skills I have acquired over a very long career.” I’m a jack of all trades.  I know what you are thinking, so I’ll say it out loud, “Master of none!”  That puts a negative spin on things, so bear with me.   

It’s all about interpretation, and I prefer the extended version, “Jack of all trades, master of none, but often times better than master of one.” — that’s sexier.  To me, when we’re all in, that little rhyme is the best hand ♦♣♠♥.  While we do tend to “ace” something, be it our college degree or passion, its broad based knowledge outside our expertise that helps us have a winning hand in life.  I’m your wild card 🃏 and what I can’t teach you, I do know who, what, when and where to lead you.  Think of me as a dealer of life hacks, calling out bluffs and stacking the deck in your favor.  Life’s a gamble, but CommonSensei will help you raise the stakes and beat the odds by learning a new strategy.    

sensei says
“Sensei Says”

At face value, CommonSensei is just that, a teacher of common sense, but its play on words is unique to my own personal brand of self-discovery.  While I didn’t score 2400 on my SAT’s, I’ve since graduated at the top of my class in gut instinct, adaptability, and confidence.  So let’s get inside my head and explore the book.  

Meet the author

#commonsensei 📖 📚 🖊 📝 🤔 💭 #education #college #lifeskills4college #lifeskills #lifeskills101 #billviolajr #motivation #commonsense #lifeskillstraining #lifeskillsteacher #selfhelp #author #bestseller #bestlife #senseisays #wordstoliveby #howto #liveyourbestlife #kaizen #ikigai #kickassatlife #blackbelt #japan #blackbeltinlife #lifecoach #quotes #inspiration #instagood #inspirationalquotes

black belt in life common sensei
Earn all 10 CommonSensei ranks and become a black belt in life.
Scroll to top