Beijing- China Air’s first class cabin was a welcome change from the economy class austerity I’d grown accustomed to crisscrossing the country for my work. Large comfortable chairs, private video screens, ample space, and dainty Chinese flight attendants with demure smiles and faint, childlike voices made a first impression which stood in harsh contrast to terse, peanut-hoarding American flight attendants. When the plane landed, two police vans with flashing blue lights pulled up beside the plane. I watched from my window as technicians attached an air tight covering from the white van to the deboarding steps and then to the door of the plane. At the time, Asia was still in the grips of Avian Flu panic and China was taking no chances. If someone on the plane was even suspected of being ill they’d taken off the plane and straight into quarantine. How and when they’d be released was still an open question but they’d never set foot on Chinese soil. Technicians dressed in white biohazard suits with gloves, goggles, and surgical masks boarded the plane and went slowly through the cabin pointing a thermometer that looked like a ray gun at each passenger’s forehead. They deliberately examined the readings, sometimes ominously conferring, before moving on. I stifled the urge to clear my throat, suddenly very aware that I was in an authoritarian country.
In the summer of 2008 I traveled to Brazil with a man named Ricardo Murgel. I’d met him through my work with a mixed martial arts magazine I was editing called FIGHT! On the way there, high above the Atlantic Ocean, we discussed the 3,000-year history of martial arts. He told me were that the Filipino marital art of Kino Mutai has classified 36 different ways to bite your opponent and that Kali, another obscure fighting system, develops the quickest reflexes by training how to dodge and deflect the lightning fast tips of pointed weapons so that a punch or a kick is slow by comparison. We talked about Jigoro Kano, who created Judo. All Judo, Murgel said was based on the principal of maximum efficiency of effort and most of its techniques could be reduced, in concept, to utilizing your opponent’s momentum against him. We talked about Bruce Lee and how he had been way ahead of his time and how much Murgel admired Helio Gracie who started Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. The thing that impressed him most the time he’d met Helio, Murgel said, was that he had the “eyes of a lion.”
“What the Mongolians would do is rush in with their cavalry…” Greg Jackson was weaving his spell from outside the ring, his eyes wide with excitement, “…then, when the knights would charge out to confront them, the Mongolians would turn around and appear to retreat. Then suddenly they would turn in their saddles, fire their bows over their shoulders, and decimate the knights with their arrows…” The two fighters in the ring, Keith Jardine and Tait Fletcher, hung on Jackson’s every word.
“The point is, even though it looked like they were retreating,” Jackson paused to be sure they got the point, “they were actually drawing you in.”