Coach's Corner 4/22/2015
In 1998, I won a silver medal at the Full Contact Karate World Championships, held in Sydney, Australia. I was severely concussed, broke my hand and shin during the tournament. Fighting was the last thing I was thinking about but when opportunity knocks you can stand up and take advantage or you can lay down and feel sorry for yourself. Anyone who trains with or knows me will tell you that feeling sorry for myself is just not part of my DNA.
To put it simply, I was screwed at the World Tournament. The host country was Australia. The Aussies ran their mouths leading up to the event claiming that they were going to win all the divisions and dominate. It didn’t happen. By the time they got to my Light Heavyweight Final, my opponent and the 2 heavyweights were the last Aussies left standing. International rules dictated that no more than 2 people from one country could officiate a match. For my bout, the rule was overlooked and the fix was in.
A Full Contact Karate match has 4 corner judges and a center referee. Each has a flag that represents a fighter. When a majority scores the same for a fighter, the score is counted as official. You can see why it’s important to have as much variety in your officials as possible to avoid what happened to me. The damned Aussies pulled out all the international officials and put 4 of their own in the corners and a fifth in the center. I was now facing the last Aussie left in the tournament along with 5 of his fellow countrymen as the officials. I knew I had to knock this kid out if I had any chance of winning.
To give you an idea of how hard this event was; after 3 days of fighting I had some brain issues from too many head shots that left me foggy at best, I had a cracked knuckle on my right hand, and what I thought was a bad hematoma on my right shin was discovered to be a break once I got back to the US a week later. I needed help to literally get out of bed the day of the finals. My coach basically carried me to the bathroom and had to help me get dressed. My back and legs hurt so bad, I could barely walk.
This event was called Full Contact Karate but it was more of a hybrid fighting format. Remember, this was the late ‘90s when the UFC and Pride were changing the fighting landscape. People were looking for ways to crossover what were considered more traditional competition into something more attractive for the new fan and potential practitioner. The previous events were pure striking events with no clinching, throwing, or fighting on the ground. This event saw an evolution in the rules that allowed for kick punch, knee, elbow, clinching, throwing, and submissions if part of a continuous chain; meaning that if you were able to land a submission as part of an unbroken chain of techniques, it was allowed and scored as a knockout. So, if I could throw a guy and transition directly into an armbar or choke, I could win with it.
The bout was scored by corner judges and the center official. Hard blows were scored and accumulated over 3 3 minute rounds. Takedowns did not score points but would have weight if the match was a draw and the judges had to decide a winner. If you knocked a guy down and they couldn’t continue after a 5 count, that would be a knockout. If you dropped your opponent twice in a round for under a 5 count, that would be a TKO.
I honestly don’t know how I went from broken and battered to energized and good to fight. When my name was called and it was time to fight, all my pain went away and I was good to go. The human body is more resilient then we know and when mentally prepared, we can pretty much take on anything.
We battled it out for 3 rounds. The problem was that no matter what I did the official would not score me or make sure my opponent was ahead. I dropped him and it was called a slip, I took him down and they stood us up before I could sink anything in, I snapped his head back and they let him stop to adjust his uniform….. it was totally obvious what was happening. I actually broke my opponent’s jaw with a big punch at the end of the 3rd round.
The killer for me was how the match ended. We were 1 point apart with under 15 seconds to go. I just busted my opponent’s jaw which he responded to by punching me in the throat for the 4th time. The rule was 1st time warning, 2nd time a point deduction, 3rd time another point or disqualification. In this case, 3 warnings were issued. No point deduction or even the hint of disqualification. The match ended and I lost by 1 point. It should have at least been a tie at that point with the deduction that was never awarded. I didn’t want to win by technicality but I really did kick this guy’s ass and won that fight.
The crowd didn’t take my loss well. Even the Aussies turned on their officials. They didn’t appreciate their countrymen being so shady. Pretty much everyone went a little nutty because of what was done to me. It wasn’t that they cared about me as much as they didn’t want it done to them.
I have not been one to make public outbursts when I have been screwed, it happens. You have to take it in and deal. After I lost what I knew I won, I walked off the mat and straight out of the venue to the loading dock out back. I screamed in a frustrated rage and broke a few things that were out back. I let go of the anger, manned up, and went back in to get my silver medal. My opponent couldn’t look me in the eye because he knew the truth.
I was not happy. I was actually pretty depressed. I wanted to be a world champ so bad. I called my friend and coach back in the US to give him what to me was the bad news. Once he realized it was me on the phone he asked how it went. I told him not well and he started in on all the coach speak we use to pick a down guy up. He asked how far in to the tournament I got? I told him how I lost in the final. The phone was silent for a few beats. He asked me again what I just said. I told him that I fucked up and only got 2nd. I told him I should have knocked the guy out and won but I lost and now I am just 2nd. My coach started to laugh and said “Buddy, you are 2nd in the world!”
My coach was so happy and proud. I started that call a loser but his words brought me back to the reality that I may not have won gold but I did win silver, at a world tournament. I did something no other American had done to date. My coach won a bronze a few years prior but no other American had medaled in this organization’s international level events. Out of 30 plus guys in my division alone, from all over the world, I took 2nd place. I can figure out how to live with that.
FYI – I was the only American invited because the last team of American’s that fought at an international event like this where crushed. 5 guys fought and 3 ended up in the hospital. The world organization put the US on suspension except for my coach and me.
Due to what went down with my match, there was a mass exodus. The Japanese saw this as an opportunity and invited everyone to their All Japan Tournament later in the year. If all went well, we would reorganize the organization and get rid of the corrupt officials that organized the Australian event.
My good friend, coach, and training partner Chun Mon Tsang, went with me. At 1st, Mon was just going as my coach but couldn’t resist and entered himself. As the only other American to ever place in a world tournament, he was accepted. This event was called the All Japan, but it was more of a Japan Open. The Japanese were not happy with how the Australian World Tournament was held, so they opened up their event to everyone and had basically, a 2nd world tournament.
So after lots of healing and another round of training, I boarded another plane to travel to the other side of the world once again to challenge myself and the world’s best at what we do.
To be continued…….
Killer B Combat Sports