Martial Arts America, Introduction

Martial Arts America, Book Cover

From Martial Arts America: A Western Approach to Eastern Arts (written 1993, published 1998)
Illustrations by Michael Dolcé
Photographs by Roy A. Sorenson


To Edmund K. Parker

Although a long-time admirer of Ed Parker, I have never been a student of his or his AMERICAN KENPO KARATE.  Few, however, have influenced my martial art thinking as much as he.  He is gone now, and the martial art community is poorer for it.  I can only hope that those who continue to carry his flame do so in the same spirit as he.


by Robert Pickett, Chong Shin Kwan

Capital 'T'he martial arts industry is in this country is enjoying a period of tremendous popularity. People of all ages-concerned by rapidly increasing rates of violence and abuse, or desirous of feelings of confidence and control-have turned to the fighting arts by the thousands. The martial arts have never been so lucrative for so many.

However, the more potential for profit, the more closely a product and its sales force should be scrutinized. Too often people pursue a program of martial art instruction without any investigation into its purpose, history, or philosophies. Also, students can easily be taken advantage of due to the way martial arts are typically taught.

For decades, Americans have been told that to gain the full benefit from their study of the martial arts, they must submit to Eastern teaching methods. In general, these methods require that students take the instructor's word as undeniable fact. There is no acceptable format in which students may question technique or doctrine. American students, desperate to grasp the intricacies of Asian martial arts, have uncharacteristically acquiesced.

Many students spend years training, progress in rank, and even accept teaching positions without doing that for which Americans are famous (or infamous) – questioning authority. They fail to ask two familiar American questions: "Why?" and "Can you prove it?"

In the chapters that follow, Bob Orlando asks those questions and many more. He first puts the martial arts into historical, cultural, and practical perspective. Then he explores the major components of martial art training and provides alternatives to the traditional teaching methods. With nearly three decades of experience in a wide variety of styles, Mr. Orlando is well qualified for the task. His investigative ability as a computer systems analyst and his extensive study of spiritual and religious matters allow for an intellectual approach to some very emotional subjects.

Although this book is intended specifically for the self-defense-oriented martial artist, students regardless of goal or level of expertise, will benefit from its consideration and discussion of Mr. Orlando's ideas. In addition, the material should serve as a source of self-analysis and reflection for instructors and leaders. Even those who disagree with the author's conclusions will surely admit the importance of his questions.



Capital 'A's I consider the help I have received in writing this book, several people come to mind as having contributed, in a special way, to its existence. First and foremost is my wife of more than thirty-one years. I mention the years because at the time we were married, I was not seriously involved in the martial arts. When she accepted my marriage proposal, martial art study and training were not part of the deal. Many have started down the martial way only to be forced off the road because their spouses could not understand the commitment such a journey demands. Fortunately for me, God gave me a wife who not only understands, but willingly supports my efforts. Without her, neither my martial skill nor publishing successes would be possible.

When I think of those who have been the most instrumental in my growth as a martial artist I think of men like Al Dacascos. His instruction in my early years influences my training and study to this day. I also think of Dr. John Cochran; the only martial arts instructor I know with a Ph.D. in Economics. John taught me the real meaning of courage. Facing what looked to be overwhelming physical limitations, John inspired me to continue training. It was from him that I received my first degree black belt.

Ron Carlson built on Cochran's work and extensively directed and sharpened my self-defense skills. In the Taoist tradition of martial art training, one progresses from hsing-I (having developed the necessary physical strength and mental toughness), through pa kua (where the practitioner reaches a high level of technical competence), and finally to t'ai chi (where the result becomes a supreme blend of strength, technique, and mental balance that flows without conscious effort). In my own way a similar path brought me to my current instructor, Mr. Willem de Thouars.

Although his students address him as "Uncle," this man allows me to call him "Bill" (that does not mean that I am his equal). In my time with him, Bill has shared much more with me than just his native arts of kuntao and pentjak silat; he has also given me his very heart and soul. I call him "Bill," but in my heart, he is family – a real Dutch "Uncle." Willem de Thouars epitomizes the martial art "master" because he refers to everyone but himself as such. He often says that this individual or that is a "master in his own art." He even extends that compliment to those that have abused his friendship. For himself, however, he says only that he has some skills. (In his culture, martial artists trained to survive – not for rank.)

Besides my teachers and training partners, four individuals were especially instrumental in the development of this work: Mr. Stewart Lauper, Mr. Barry Benedict, Mr. Edward "Dan" Daniels, and Ms. Kathy Fink.

Stewart Lauper is, pound-for-pound, the toughest, hardest-hitting man I know. He is also one of the most encouraging and generous individuals I have ever been fortunate enough to know. Stewart has been a constant source of encouragement and ideas in my writing and my training.

Barry Benedict is the gentleman who introduced me to his instructor, Ed Parker. Aside from Parker's writings, many of the insights I have into that great martial artist come from Barry. Barry's skill is formidable and a testimony to the effectiveness of Ed Parker's art, but in my mind, Barry's love for the art and his willingness to help others succeed in their martial walk (even those taking a different path) are his clearest reflections of Ed Parker.

Dan Daniels is a close personal friend and one of my best students. Despite this, he is one from whom I get little respect, for Dan is a brutal editor. He is also the one man who knows my writing style and my feelings about the art better than anyone. Like myself, Dan is a "full-time" martial artist. Although his occupation keeps him on the road a good deal, he always finds time to do a number on my writing. I am fortunate that he is my friend, for if he were an enemy, his cutting and slashing would be worse than murder. As a friend, Dan is one of the first I call on for review and reality check – in my writing and in my art.

Although a cliche, "last but not least" is especially true here, Kathy Fink is a professional associate with whom I have worked many years. Although never formally involved in the martial arts, her nonmartial but professional point of view was invaluable. Moreover, saying that she was very instrumental in providing the feminine perspective would be a grossest understatement.



When a skill or sport is transferred to another country, that country should replace the foreign training methods with methods reflecting and exploiting its own characteristics, needs, and virtues.
— G. R. Gleeson, 1967    
Judo for the West    
Capital 'A'sian fighting and martial arts have been practiced in the United States for more than 100 years. However, for more than half of that time, they were taught and practiced almost exclusively in those emigrant communities that brought them here. After World War II, all of that changed. On returning from duty in the Far East, American servicemen began sharing what they were privileged to learn, and the stories they told enthralled us.

Soon after, Asian masters began touring the country, performing exhibitions and demonstrating their martial prowess. They broke stacks of boards, bricks, and even bull's horns, and we were impressed. In the last forty years, instructors of Asian arts have flooded our shores and, today, martial art schools are practically everywhere – from Los Angeles to New York to La Junta, Colorado. But a martial art is like a garden, and periodically, it must be weeded.

The American garden has become overgrown with weeds and it must, once again, be weeded and cultivated. I say "once again" because this is not the first time this process has been attempted. Many culturally American martial art instructors and teachers have questioned the training methods, practices, and traditions of their arts. However, of the voices asking why, only a few were influential enough to be heard above the din of opposition. Two effectual voices in America's journey down Asia's martial way – two modern martial art pioneers – are the late Ed Parker and Bruce Lee.


Bruce Lee

When Lee made his mark in martial art history, he was – relative to the masters of his time – a young man. However, what he lacked in experience he more than made up for in desire, energy, raw physical talent, and – most importantly – his inquisitive and analytical mind. His confidence in his quest and in the truth behind his ideas still runs against the grain of many in the established martial art community, but the impact of his message on American martial arts cannot be overstated. More than two decades after his seemingly premature death, Lee remains as controversial as ever. However, his popularity, even now, attests to his influence and the validity of his ideas.


Bruce Lee

Bruce Lee
1940 – 1973

Edmund K. Parker

Edmund K. Parker
1931 – 1990

Ed Parker

Chronologically, Parker's pioneering effort parallels Lee's. His method, however, was different. Lee (almost as if he knew his time was short) came across as confrontational to the point of antagonism. Parker also challenged the status quo, but his approach was less explosive and more calculated-like that of a general working a well-planned and perfectly executed campaign strategy. Despite his less antagonistic approach, Parker also faced considerable opposition and hostility for daring to go against "tradition." However, his success in developing an effective system of self-defense, coupled with the depth of his world-wide organization, stands as testimony to the fact that many, many others had (and still have) similar concerns about the state of martial arts as practiced in the West.


Despite the best efforts of modern martial art giants like Parker and Lee, the past half-century has seen the American martial art garden become overgrown with weeds – weeds that obscure the purpose, value, and worth of martial art study and training. G. R. Gleeson, national coach to the British Judo Association, said it best when he described a similar situation that occurred in judo. He said,
Judo, because it had its origin in a period of time which was virtually feudalistic, has become somewhat contaminated with an obfuscatory aura of feudalistic mumbo-jumbo, with the result that subsequent teachers, for various reasons, have insisted on treating judo as a feudalistic, esoteric "art" and have taught it as such, mistaking the original or early environmental manifestations of the training as the essence of the skill (Gleeson 1967, 13).
The same problem occurs today in the United States. Too many take the cultural trappings, the outward manifestations of their arts, and esteem them as the very essence of those arts. Clearly, it is time to weed the garden.

The Central Truth

The central truth running through these pages is that philosophies and methods of instruction must match the culture of those being instructed. This truth looms even larger when the gulf between the cultures involved is measured in time as well as physical distance. Recognizing this truth – and acting on it – is the focus of this book.

My purpose in the following chapters is to examine Eastern martial art training practices and philosophies, consider their origins, and appraise their relevance to the American student. In this examination there are no sacred cows. No topic is taboo. Martial art traditions, rituals, philosophies, training practices, religious influences, and even gender issues are all examined in depth. With each topic, changes-some of them radical; all of them practical – are suggested that can significantly improve the process of sharing Eastern martial arts with Western-thinking Americans.

Martial Arts America is intended primarily for the individual whose main interest in martial art study and training is effective self-defense. Such a motivation does not preclude investigation, study, assimilation, or integration of the other areas of interest offered by Eastern martial arts, but it does draw a line in the sand.

Martial Arts America can not cover every issue. However, the issues it does address should serve to challenge every practitioner – student and teacher, traditional and nontraditional, novice and expert – to think critically about every part of what he or she is learning and teaching. Whether you agree or disagree with the ideas and conclusions presented here is not nearly as important as your commitment to honestly consider the issues and logically formulate your own reasoned position.

For some, the questions raised within these pages and the issues they touch will be too challenging. Naturally, we all resist change – I do – but beyond our natural resistance, there will be some for whom change in the art is especially abhorrent. These individuals are too deeply invested and entrenched in their particular systems and methods to even recognize the need for change, much less accept it. The ostrich may bury his head in the sand, but simply not seeing the truth never changes it. Recognized or not, accepted or no, the weeding will come.

Three Bullets
Before proceeding to the next chapters, it is necessary to establish a common vocabulary. Without one, you will quickly tire of the phrases, martial art, fighting art, and self-defense-motivated martial artist. Long phrases become irksome with repetition, so throughout the remainder of this book, where the term martial artist appears, it will mean a student of the art whose primary motivation for study and training is mastery of and excellence in self-defense. The terms martial art and fighting art will-except in the chapter that differentiates them – mean "an art whose primary or original focus is self-defense." This definition distinguishes the art from its evolutionary offspring, martial ways and martial sports. That said, let's begin.

Our  emphasis  is  on  the  practical.
©Copyright Bob Orlando, 1993-2016
All rights reserved.
Last update:  Aug. 6, 2016
by Bob Orlando
Web Site of Bob Orlando: Instructor in Kuntao-Silat (Chinese kuntao and Dutch-Indonesian pukulan pentjak silat), author of two popular martial art books: "Indonesian Fighting Fundamentals" and "Martial Arts America: A Western Approach to Eastern Arts"; and producer of four martial art videos: Fighting Arts of Indonesia, Reflex Action, Fighting Footwork of Kuntao and Silat, Fighting Forms of Kuntao-Silat. Offering practical martial arts instruction to adults living in and throughout the Denver metropolitan area including, Lakewood, Littleton, Morrison, and Golden Colorado.