SP ARCHIVES: Open Letter to Dennis Jones re: Shikon debate

Steve wrote: As I e-mailed you the other day, I’ve been following the developing thread over on Shikon regarding ‘Should an Instructor be a Good Fighter?’ and naturally when my name gets a mention with regard to natural movement and so-called similarities between myself and Steve Rowe, I’m more than interested.

Dennis, I hope the clip I sent you will help you get a visual handle on the guy with whom you have been discussing mindset and instinctive/intuitive responses when ‘doing the business’. You are spot on with your comments that Steve Rowe’s approach to martial arts and my own are like chalk and cheese. Gavin’s claim that Steve Rowe’s approach to martial arts training etc. and my own are complementary, opposite parts of the same whole, is a fantasy that he’s having. It’s wishful thinking.

Don’t get me wrong. Steve Rowe is a stand-up guy, and I’ve told him as much in our meetings and by e-mail. But I’ve also told him that what he preaches and practices represents everything (as far as I’m concerned) that’s wrong with the martial arts. Sure, we may both have principle-based approaches to our respective martial art practices, and indeed some of these principles might appear to some to be similar, or even the same, due to the limitations of language in describing physical phenomena. But that resemblance is only superficial, on the level of language. For example, when Steve Rowe talks about explosive power, and the ways that one might go about enhancing it (not to mention demonstrating it in realistic combative scenarios/situations) he’s talking about something a million miles away from what I mean by explosive power and how to use it within an engagement. People have just got to look at his Tai Chi combative video, which talks about his eight principles with regard to combat, and then look at my stuff up on You Tube, and you’ll see there’s no similarity at all. But you’re well aware of this, Dennis.

It’s the same with our respective students: no comparison. This was obvious (to me, at least) when I attended Shi Kon with Bob Allen and Raj Saigal. These two guys, compared to Rowe’s students (including Gavin) were on a completely different level. And not because they were doing something that Rowe’s students were not familiar with, but at a fundamental level they knew what they were doing, dynamically and tactically, and why. Rowe’s students, in my opinion, did not. And the reason for that, again in my opinion, was that their fundamentals were flawed.

And I told Rowe as much in a conversation over the phone. At that time I was anticipating that I’d be going back to help them revamp what they were doing, and my remarks were in line with the expectation that I had work to do to bring the Shi Kon membership along. At that time I’d been led to believe that I was going to have an input at Shi Kon. That input hasn’t materialised, but I see that my name is used to shore up discussions of martial art concepts.

That obvious difference between my students and Rowe’s would have been more apparent to Gavin or any other student of Steve Rowe’s had they visited Primal in Coventry and mixed it up with some of my guys there. How the hell Gavin can draw such a conclusion through only reading my website and attending two lessons and having a couple of conversations with me, this is beyond me. And Dennis, I’m sure it’s beyond you as well.

Dennis, there are a lot of guys out there singing my praises, but failing to listen to what I’m saying. But from my experience, they only want to take on that which will support their personal views of the martial arts or that which will add to their credibility as teachers/trainers. They haven’t really taken on board what I’m saying, or as is more likely the case, they don’t believe that my criticisms apply to them. So no matter how many times I repeat ‘the majority of martial artists are engaging in seriously flawed practices’ nobody is listening. And I might as well go outside and piss in the wind.

They believe in their practices and will find any way, or do any thing, that will validate what they do. Except, of course, testing what they do either in open competition or in some form of dissimilar/aggressor training. Because they know that in all probability what they’re doing wouldn’t work against a man who can really fight.

I’ve told them that I’m their enemy, and as such I will tell them what they need to know rather than (as their friends might) what they want to know. But their response has been to embrace me as if I were their friend. Maybe it’s a case of keeping your friends close and your enemies closer. Or maybe they’re just in denial. I really don’t know.

None of this criticism is personal, and I remain on friendly terms with Steve Rowe and his guys. But I don’t want to become part of their networking or their groups, which seem to me a mutual admiration society in which everyone’s practices are accepted uncritically.

Dennis, as you know I would really like to help these guys, but for many different reasons they don’t seem to want my help. There’s a thread going on over on Karate Underground with regards to hikite, and which was started by Tommy P on Wednesday the 14th March 2007, and after 154 replies and 19,000 views, the experts still haven’t a clue what they’re talking about.

And that, Dennis, sums it up for me.

The majority of information being exchanged on martial arts sites is complete bullshit. Very few people out there really seem to know what they’re talking about, and those who do (like yourself) have had a wide experience of real fights through their life circumstances or professions. When I talk about real fights I mean the kind of fights that you, Mick Coup and myself have often discussed; i.e., serious violence, something which the majority of martial artists have no experience of and often can’t even get their heads round.

(We are not able to reproduce all of the discussion because the links leading to Shikon are now dead.  However, here is a postscript)

Steve wrote: Now, a few more words to bring some clarity to the posts here and on Shikon in the last couple of days.

There seems to be some confusion as to what I mean when I say ‘I’m your enemy’. That expression is derived from a Schoepenhauer quote which Patrick McCarthy sent to me, and it really rang true with me: ‘Our friends teach us what we want to know. Our enemies teach us what we need to know.’

This statement applies to me in two ways. First, it has meaning as to my role within the martial arts community. I’m here to tell you what fighting is and by association what training must be, rather than telling you that what you’re doing is fine. Second, I take the idea of the ‘enemy as teacher’ right into my gym. In order to build those necessary responses to an adversary, you have to be able to replicate that adversary in training, and this training partner/adversary has to play the role of your worst enemy, not your best friend. In training.

So when I say I’m your enemy, that’s not personal. I’m not going to come and burn your house down. But I’m out to destroy what you might believe in or what you practice, and if you’re smart you’ll learn from that. I want to teach you, but I’m not going to placate to what you want. I’m only going to give you what you need. And I can do that in a safe way.

When I ask people to empathise, I want them to pick up on my violence. Whether you like it or not, whether it comes naturally or not (and most importantly for you, if it doesn’t come naturally, you need to have somebody like me to take you there psychologically). Ken Milling knew that when he sought me out, and as a psychologist he understood exactly what I was talking about. He had trepidations about even coming to me; he wasn’t choosing me because I was a sympathetic character that he could relate to, but because he recognized I had something that he needed, and it would appear that I was able, in a civilized way, to give that to him. Without brutalizing him in any way.

Last year at this time, I was embroiled in the Karate Underground fiasco and Steve Rowe came in and picked up the ball. And I was grateful for that, and I still am. But the fact that Steve Rowe and I met and got along as human beings doesn’t change the marked difference between our thinking, objectives, and practices as martial artists. I told Steve Rowe directly (and if you’re reading this, Steve, you know that I did): I won’t rest until the entire martial arts system as it stands collapses. I’m out to destroy what you do. That’s what an enemy is all about.

Everybody has their own point of view as to what the martial arts are about. Some guys believe that representations such as this clip are accurate portrayals of reality. If this is anybody’s ‘alternative point of view’ then they’re welcome to it.


Now here’s something a little closer to what my experience of reality is, both the agony and the ecstasy:


You guys have got to really realise that to me, this is a serious business. It’s not recreation, it’s not religion, it’s not about marketing or appealing to what people enjoy. It’s for people like Bloody Nuisance (who posted yesterday), that walk in the door wanting to learn for real how to handle themselves with regard to real violence. I’m not going to pat them on the head and give them a nice, easy option. That would be selling them short. But equally, I’m not going to abuse them, beat them up, or tear them down. I’m going to build them up for real, not with illusions of self-esteem, but the real thing which comes by challenging, punishing training that targets the individual at the level he is, taking him to the level where he needs to be.

That’s my job as a trainer.