A strange thing happens at 6 when you are learning to punch. Sitting on the backporch of my grand parents house, I had just eaten my ritz crackers with ketchup and my grandfather decided to teach me to punch. He was a fighter and one of the toughest men I ever knew.
That strange thing is you look up and see that you’re not as weak as you feel, you’re learning to fight because who is teaching you is strong.
Both my grandfathers were. And my father as well.
My clearest memory of the man I lost today is an 8 track of Hank Williams Sr. playing as ‘Daddy Dee’ taught me to punch. A straight punch, ‘give the black eye’, and I tucked my thumbs. The oldest lesson ever taught to a boy as he learns to defend himself – ‘don’t tuck your thumbs’. Elbows to the ribs, tuck your chin, loosen your hands, move your head. I learned a lot from him…how to fight, how to box (which is different than fighting), how to swing a night stick, how to hold his old .38. But I also learned how not to live by his example, and to mature with life’s adversities with a smile. I watched him fight three men in his bus station once…chasing them outside with his ‘stick’ and running them off. Willie Farr, a tough man, a Southern country outlaw to his core. I’ve never seen an old man who could stare a young thug down and challenge him, and the young thug simply not accept a challenge.
And John ‘Pop’ Powell, my dad’s father. A strong Irishman – we would swing on his arms as we grew up, as my father did. He always had an affable, straight forward attitude toward life….American will and perseverance. He was a traveling sales man – but before this, he was a bar fighter. A tough child who left his traveling circus father to hitchhike from Ohio to Florida at the age of 10. His playing cards with a pocket knife, scalping people who would cheat him at a hand. And then his son answered the call and left to the Marine Corps, and lost that son to sniper 4 days into the Inchon landing. He eyes opened, he stopped his drinking and his fighting, and became a business man and took care of his family. That look of will in his eye when he wrestled with us or killed a snake in the backyard – and that stern voice that could make you freeze and quiver. You knew his capability, not only by that look in his eye, but his strong hands, love of family and God.
So many lessons learned, and I’ve now lost both of them.
Willie ‘Daddy Dee’ Farr passed today, 88, and John ‘Grandpa’ Powell years ago.
And now I sit with my father whenever I can, and just learn from him…and I teach him Pramek and remember how he taught me to punch, and kick, dirty fight and gouge the eyes, and pinch with the meanest pinch I have ever seen. Watching him do his kata’s from my childhood bed, amazed. He took me to my first pro-wrestling matches to see Ric Flair and the Road Warriors…then to my own wrestling matches in middle school. I learned about the sweet science of boxing from him, at his hands and by his side watching ESPN Friday night fights. We would reenact the fights and I would learn the specifics. He taught me to have no fear of anyone but God and always question the church, to never start a fight but end it and if you get beat up fight them every time you see them out of respect. To shoot a pistol, a rifle, a bow, to hunt for deer and squirrel, to sit quietly and still – but not take the shot because sometimes you don’t have to…sometimes you just sit in awe of God’s creation and know you’re part of it.
And once day, you’re the prey, that Death will come for you and embrace you as well, but that’s ok…you left something behind.
We are shaped by our experiences, and shaped by our elders, be they blood or not.
The lessons learned that apply to our lives and combat – that you never tuck your thumbs, but you wait for the right shot. The problem is that often times we get so caught up in our lives and experiences, especially in the arts, that we begin to lose the focus on why we are even in them in the first place and those that got us there.
It is the transfer of knowledge, from generation to generation, of something as basic as survival – be it fighting another man or camping and living off the land. We pigeon hole the martial arts into bow staff and shoes off on the mat, and forget that they exist for our survival – they are the lessons passed down from Alabama, from Ireland and Ohio, from our basement watching boxing and then sparring…’keep your hand up, bob your head’. Money in the arts becomes more important than respect for those that gave it to us – like old people, put into old folks homes and forgotten as new generations of lions roar, to only leave life with a whimper and a rattle like the ones before them…those forgotten in that cycle as money, arrogance, and pride become the goal, as the lessons that are the path are pushed into antiquity.
So I hope you will forgive me for this blog post not dealing with The Wedge or videos or observations….as I take a second to honor those who have come before me and taught me so much, fathers and grandfathers and mentors, from America to Russia and back, lessons passed on through blood and sweat. And I hope you will take a moment to remember you teachers, and honor them…not with a bow or incense, but with your reverence to remember none of us thought this up – we simply took what was passed and changed it to our own.
Never tucking your thumbs becomes a wedge…and strong arms become biomechanical efficiency, with a deep reverence for the lessons that brought us all to these arts we love so dearly, and the heart to learn all we can from those lessons when we pass them to another generation. Sometimes the teaching is the lesson.
So it is with a teary eye, a wounded heart I write to ‘Daddy Dee’ and ‘Grandpa Powell’:
You have passed to the halls of our ancestors, to your wives and children, to God and his Son’s grace – but you are not forgotten here, and those lessons in fighting and life are not either.
Your grandson – Matthew.
I hope you’ll take a moment to honor my grandfather’s memory’s and click play below on a song they both loved. Two men who barely knew each other, who made me possible: