When I think back to those times, I remember how there was a sea change in my life. It began in the training sessions. At first, when Steve would give technical instruction in the dojo, I simply couldn’t process what he was saying.
‘Do you see it?’ he’d say.
And I couldn’t.
‘Does it make sense?’
I knew there was something there, but I couldn’t see what it was.
I tried to do the round kick. I’d always been told my round kick was pretty good. Steve wasn’t impressed. In fact—again—he looked faintly sick.
He’d say: ‘Don’t kick with your leg.’
I thought this was some kind of Zen koan. Don’t kick with my leg? What am I supposed to kick with, my elbow?
Now, of course, I know exactly what he meant. With the round kick it took me a long time to be able to see and feel the internal levers: the hip axis, the way the force is accelerated down from the hands and head into the ‘free’ kicking leg, and the way the release is assisted by the microscopic ‘jump’ in the post leg. I didn’t even know what a post was when I started, let alone a moment arm.
In fact, I didn’t know how to do anything. I didn’t know how to stand or move or finish a shot. I didn’t know how to protect my head. I had no footwork, and I thought Steve would tear his hair out trying to teach me it. I finally got a little footwork by putting on Latin music and playing racquetball off the walls of the gym and imagining I was fighting. I learned to ride the indoor cycle combatively. I learned timing and syncopation by doing Kali stick drills, to the point where now if I open a cupboard and something falls out, I actually see my hand flying to catch it without conscious involvement. It’s a spooky thing when you first experience it.
But none of it was ‘karate’ as such. We did a little kata, but it wasn’t anything like the way I’d been taught kata on
I did a lot of solo bag work. Steve tried to teach me to release power by getting me to hit a tire hung from a beam with an axe handle. I did learn how to use my internal levers this way. So I stopped punching with my arm and kicking with my leg, as it were. I felt total body action. And I was able to ‘let go’ a lot more because, when hitting the bags in Horsham I kept bruising and skinning my hands and damaging myself in general. The heavy bags in that gym were hard. So hard that Steve suggested I get a ‘girls bag’ for Kate and myself that would be a bit more forgiving on our lighter bones (Kate is tiny, albeit ferocious). But my perception of hardness and softness after training in Horsham was such that I came back from the shop with a gigantic heavy bag that Steve then dubbed the ‘George Foreman’ bag. It was a bit softer than Steve’s bags, though! (In my search of something I could hit without wrecking my hands I also bought the bag he called ‘the Tank’. Steve took the straps off and used it for throwing drills and ground and pound. Not quite as the manufacturer intended!)
I struggled for a long time, but I was so inspired by the new possibilities that had opened up for me that I never felt demoralized by the fact that I had to start over. Then again, I was only a brown belt to begin with, so that made it easier. I started training for the marathon, simply because the classes were a tough workout. And after the marathon, I found it easier to pick up the technical side of the lessons because I wasn’t trying to learn in a state of total exhaustion. Still, I noticed that Steve always taught the most mentally demanding part of the lesson at the end, when everybody was tired. You had to pick things up under difficult conditions. I found out later that that was intentional.
And I saw quite a few black belts come down and make wallies of themselves. I found out afterward that one guy I’d actually knocked down during training was Peter May. He was a nice fellow, and I’m not saying this to be nasty to him or to big myself up—I’m nothing special and I have no illusions about that. But a lot of these guys with high grades just weren’t used to the idea they might actually get hit.
In other cases, the fitness levels of many of the higher grades I saw were appalling. ‘No guts, no glory?’ Well, some guys who came to visit in Horsham had guts all right, but not in the same sense!
Early in 1997, Steve was working on some articles for a magazine. I did a bit of typing for him and received the sharp end of his tongue when I dared question something in his grammar.
I still remember the sentence more or less. Far more goes into their constipated movements of restraint than ever as an effective release comes out. In hindsight, it was actually a perfectly grammatically correct sentence, but I didn’t understand it and thought he must have got something wrong. He just kept reading it back to me over and over, getting increasingly frustrated when I claimed it couldn’t be right.
‘I’m only trying to understand, so that I know how to punctuate it,’ I said. ‘It’s a bit complicated.’
‘Students!’ he barked. ‘Saying that is like waving a red flag to a bull! I’ve been refining these principles for 30 years. How much simpler do you need me to make it?’
Then he hung up on me, phoned Mark Tekinalp, and told him to sort me out. Mark phoned me up and told me to quit provoking Steve.
That’s advice I’ve just never been able to take!
Here we are, eight years later, still typing. And occasionally arguing, although I understand the sentences a lot better now. Luckily I’m half-Irish by descent, and all Irish by temperament. (In fact, the only way I really learned how to release whatever physical power I’ve got was through the arguments Steve and I got into once we started living together. When I think of the crockery I’ve broken…) All my life I’d been taught to suppress my emotions. Steve made me do the opposite.
The effect of this was very disconcerting at first, in a social sense. I kept getting into confrontations with people that before, I’d have walked away from. If I saw someone being picked on, I’d step in. And it was often hard to check the urge to physically fight. I was in touch with my inner violence and I didn’t know what to do with it.
When this first started happening I told Ben Ring about it (he’d been training from the time of Dan Lewis and Stuart Gent) and he said, ‘Don’t worry, it’s just the Steve Morris psychosis effect. You’ll get over it in six months or so.’ He told me that the same thing had happened to him, and it was an adjustment.
But the inner violence thing was only one small part of my life really being turned upside down as a result of my exposure to Steve. His attitude to martial arts—to everything—was creative, proactive, ambitious, open, and challenging. He said to me and Kate once, ‘You expect too little of yourselves. There’s very little difference between a normal person and an Olympic athlete. You think there is, but there isn’t. You could get there if you set yourself a high goal.’
I could never restrict what I was learning in the gym, to the gym. I started to look at the world in different terms. I started to realize that, hey, it’s my life. I can do what I want. And I did. I started going for things. It’s not that I wasn’t the same person, but…I wasn’t the same person.
Part and parcel of all this was the fact that, after I’d been training with Steve for about a year, my first marriage broke up. It wasn’t directly because of Steve as a man; I didn’t even realize Steve was single until later on, and I didn’t particularly see him as a relationship-oriented kind of guy even then. But, about a year after I split with my husband, Steve and I hooked up as a couple.
I’m not a martial artist. After knowing Steve I would never call myself a martial artist unless I was prepared to commit fully to my training and hold myself to a high standard. And although at one time I was training every day and putting a lot into it, since meeting Steve my focus has always been on him. Helping him to get where he needs to go—because when I met him it was really clear he needed someone to be on his team. I feel I’m uniquely qualified to facilitate both Steve’s rationalization of combat, and his communication of what he knows. I’m a writer, but working with Steve I’ve had the experience of being an editor. He’s the writer, when it comes to the website.
And I know that if I don’t do it, then nobody else will.
I hope that by helping Steve get the importance of reality-based stuff out there, that I can indirectly have some influence on the scene. This applies particularly to women. So that’s my public role in martial arts. It is a small, indirect role right now. But I’d like to think it’s not insignificant.
There are a lot of women in boxing and MMA these days, and I’m totally behind them. Why shouldn’t women fight? By and large women may fight for different reasons than men, but a fight’s a fight—to quote my partner. I sure hope the younger generation won’t have to put up with the kind of bullshit that I encountered, though. If they do, I hope they have the courage to clock their instructor! Or sue him, of course.
I only wish I hadn’t had to wade through so much rubbish before I came across reality-based training. I see a lot of depictions of women fighting in the movies/tv, and it drives me crazy that the reality of fighting is not taken into account. I mean, we all know it’s ‘movie kung fu’ but even so, shouldn’t there be some representation of something resembling reality?
When I first started training in Horsham, the classes were controlled for safety—but only just. There was a definite edge of ‘watch out or you’re going to get hurt’ and ‘pay attention’. The time Garry Naybour picked me up and effortlessly chucked me across the room was a big wakeup call for me.
I don’t bullshit myself. I am 5’5”, maybe eight and a half stone. I am female. Yes, if necessary I would fight to protect myself and people I love. I like to think I’d fight hard and that I wouldn’t give in. But I think it’s very misleading to show someone my size taking on opponents the size of The Rock, and winning. It doesn’t do justice to the reality of what fighting is.
Some years ago my sister-in-law jokingly said to me, ‘Oh, we watch Buffy and we think of you!’ And I’m like: what? I found it hard to explain that hey, she’s a great gymnast. I’m not. There’s no question about that. But the training I’ve done has a strong element of reality to it, and you don’t just take people out with some acrobatic moves. Slayer strength or no slayer strength! It’s insulting to everybody’s intelligence to suggest that you could.
Training in martial arts as a female is not easy. It plays havoc with your looks as well as your attitudes. I remember going to a business meeting with German editor Sky Nonhoff one Saturday evening after training in Horsham. I walked into the restaurant with black bruises all up and down my forearms and no skin on my knuckles.
‘Oh,’ he said, a bit defensively. ‘I used to box.’
Sure, buddy. I felt like saying, ‘Come on, then. Let’s see watcha got.’
But I didn’t. I played girl.
Speaking of German editors, Michael Naumann said to me once, ‘Oh, I was down at the gym pumping iron and doing all those male things.’…that you wouldn’t know about, liebchin.
Well, if anybody is still reading this unforgiveably long-winded post: I’ve run the marathon and that was only as a fitness foundation for training with Steve. I’ve done reality-based martial arts training, of course. And I’ve been through unmedicated childbirth three times, twice with large baby boys who were malpositioned.
In all cases somebody periodically squirts water in your mouth and encourages you, but one of them is a lot harder than the others. You get no trophies for it, and it is undeniably real.
I believe that the most important thing I’ve gotten from my martial arts training is a clear sense of reality: how to recognize it when you see it. As a young person going into the martial arts, I was completely gullible. Not only was I taken in psychologically, but my movement patterns were fucked-up by karate. I wasn’t a natural athlete to begin with, so I had no clear reference for how I should move. Karate gave me a false reference, and I totally bought into it. I had to unlearn all that shite and get back to the inherent patterns that Steve talks about so much. They are there; no mystery to it. I’ve also learned to unlock mental energies, for lack of a better expression, that are probably primal. But you can learn to use them for all sorts of purposes. And not let anybody else use them for you—as Steve no doubt would add.
I’ve learned not to use crutches, as well—physically or emotionally. I’m constantly griping about not having enough time to work because of the kids, but the truth is I’m getting more done now than I ever did when I was younger and had bags of time. I only get two hours a day to myself, and I use it. I don’t fuck around. I don’t make excuses. If I want something, I go for it and I don’t let anything or anybody stop me.
I still have intentions of getting back to training at some point. I’m 38 now and looking to make the most of my fitness, because time marches on. Also, there are a lot of skills I’ve never developed and I want to learn them; particularly groundwork. But I don’t have an ego about it. I just like pushing myself to the edge in whatever I do.