About Featured Expert: Jake Mace began studying martial arts and self-defense at the age of 8 in British Columbia, Canada with kyokushin karate and continued with high school and collegiate wrestling into his 20’s. He began studying the arts of Shaolin Kung Fu (gong fu), Qi Gong (Chi Kung), Tai Chi (Tai Ji) in high school, and has been trained in various forms of physical conditioning such as Yueh Fei’s 18-posture chi kung, iron hand, iron shirt, Yi Jin Jing (Chinese asanas, similar to those in yoga), and five animal training. His training in Shaolin includes an intense focus on the internal systems of Tai Chi Chuan (Yang style, Chen style, Wu style, combined style, weapons, sticky hands sensing training, and Buddha fist), PaKua Chang (Ba Gua Zhang), Hsing i Chuan (Xing Yi Quan), Chi Kung (Qi Gong) and many of the 36 traditional Chinese weapons. External Qi Gong and Internal Qi Gong meditation are two of his specialties.
Jake’s passion and life’s work is teaching the Asian arts of healing and self-defense along with the dynamic and colorful Chinese martial arts styles to his students. His goal is to continue pursuing his love and passion for the Chinese martial arts while instilling these values, along with a high level of tai chi and kung fu skill to his ever expanding cadre of dedicated students.
The following is a condensed version of the full audio interview, which can be found in the above link at Science of Skill’s SoundCloud station.
Coach Dan: Mr. Jake Mace. I’m glad to actually have you on the podcast. We’ve been in communication now for well over a month. We’ve got a course filmed together on knife defense which I’m excited about. I wanted to make the podcast based around edge weapons. I’m interested in your perspective on this, Jake, when you’d encourage a student to go learn edge weapons, bladed weapons, the kinds of stuff that you filmed in the video course, the kinds of things that you teach, what do you have people look for in a teacher and how would one go about doing that?
Jake Mace: You know, this is a question I get, one of the most common questions I get from our YouTube audience and everybody wants to know whether it’s with bladed weapons or whether it’s with empty hand, they want to know how to find an instructor that teaches them, they’re going to have a meaningful experience with, you know what I’m saying? I always say the same thing. I really believe in this a lot that it does not matter at all what style of martial arts you do, so whether it’s Vietnamese or whether it’s American or Israeli or Chinese or Japanese styles, it doesn’t matter. It’s the teacher that’s the most important part. When you go into a program or a system or a dojo or a school or a kwoon or whatever you want to call it, you’ve got to judge the person who’s in charge of the classes, in charge of the person who will be teaching you the techniques and when I say judge them, I mean by this. Make sure that they morally are where you want to get to.
CD: I guess you could bring up the same kind of dynamic in a business. It’s often said that the way that employees interact or respond or work is often a reflection in such a direct way of whoever the boss is, whoever their direct manager is or whoever runs the show. I guess in martial arts, maybe even more so with the like you said, it can be culty in some regards. There’s a lot of modeling going on, consciously or subconsciously it sounds like.
JM: Exactly, and I know it’s a movie, but that movie Karate Kid from back in the ’80s, you know what I’m talking about?
CD: Yeah, yeah, I totally do.
JM: That shows you exactly right there, the Cobra Kai guys were mean like their teacher, and the Miyagi was at peace, balanced like Miyagi. You’ve got to find the teacher that who is you want to be like.
CD: Look at the personal development aspect of it in some regard and ask yourself, “Is this the type of person I’d want to become more like?” If you’re going to a martial arts class twice a week and you’re listening to this person and taking their directions, that’s likely to be a pretty strong osmosis, maybe much more so than a random coworker, an old friend from high school, if they’re influencing you in that regard. You had mentioned an agnosticism around style. I like that open mindedness.
I like the spirit of Bruce Lee of taking what works and dropping what doesn’t and trying things. When it comes to edge weapons, are there styles where you see more of that than in others? I know for example, I’m from the Brazilian jiu-jitsu background. I love jiu-jitsu. My teacher was great. I met a lot of great instructors. I never learned anything about edge weapons in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. It’s just not part of the curriculum and that’s fine. If I wanted to learn edge weapons, I wouldn’t go to my instructor on Long Island, I would go somewhere else. Are there styles where maybe you’ve picked up more of your edge weapon skills more so than from others or are there styles that are maybe known more for that that we don’t have to dogmatically tout them, but are there ones where you might be more likely to find those skill sets?
JM: Yes, I think so. I have found when I have trained, I’ve trained mostly in the Chinese martial arts, so we’ve done mostly Chinese styles and the Chinese martial arts, it is the original MMA. They were the ones who were open minded. The Shaolin monks back in the end. The current Shaolin monks are more performers and they’re more out for tourism but the ancient Shaolin monks that made that temple famous were all about collecting the different styles from different countries and figuring out how to train the techniques that were the most effective in battle or in a war situation.
But, in addition to the Chinese martial arts, I’ve also found that a lot of the Filipino martial arts, like the Kali and the Eskrima, they are heavy on knife techniques as well as Israeli martial arts like the Krav Maga because they’re trying to train people like for war and what you find is that the Krav Maga people or the Kali people, they’re training for war, they share so much in common with the traditional Chinese martial artists whose techniques were also born with war. I think that I could see from what I’ve seen from your body style, you have a pretty quintessential Brazilian jiu-jitsu look, you know what I mean, Dan?
CD: Short guy, messed up ears, yeah, I guess so.
JM: Exactly. Wrestlers, jiu-jitsu guys look very similar. Very strong, very tough, and if you guys put your time into training Kali or Chinese martial arts like Kung Fu or training Krav Maga, you’ll start to, your body will start to shape according to the techniques that you’re training. I feel that if you want to be a little bit more like a jiu-jitsu guy, train some of that, if you want to have some more of the technique side of the knives and of the weapons, go look for those arts I mentioned. My first martial art teacher when I was a teenager, he told me when I was going to China for the first time, he goes, “I want you when you’re there to take martial arts. It doesn’t matter what style it is. Just take martial arts, have fun, and enjoy it.”
That’s a great philosophy that I try to live by. Get a little bit of jiu-jitsu in you. Get a little bit of Chinese Kung Fu, get a little bit of Kali, a little bit of Krav Maga, and figure out what you like and if you want to go and become the master of that style, then you can specialize.
CD: Yeah, got it. I dig that as well. I think that depending on your goals, self protection or whatnot, it makes sense to expose yourself to as much as you can if possible. It’s good to hear your thoughts on styles where bladed weapons are common. I’m quite familiar with the Krav world and we’ve had a number of folks with some reasonable Kali experience who have been instructors with us as well but it’s interesting that a lot of the not surprising at all, that a lot of the traditional Chinese styles, you see a good deal of that and that’s obviously your own background. Given that …
JM: What I say is, I’m still a traditionalist, though. When I have a student tell me that yesterday when we were at my Kali class, a part of me goes, “Hey, hey, hey. Are you turning your back on the Chinese Kung Fu?” Even though I’m open minded I still like students who are dedicated to a style for a time, so you’ve got to find that balance.
CD: For sure.
JM: If you go into a teacher of Kali, I wouldn’t necessarily flaunt that you were just a Chinese martial arts class. Keep it to yourself.
CD: No. I think yeah. I think that is a very interesting social dynamic we’re talking about now.
CD: I think in general, when I’m training with my instructor on Long Island for jiu-jitsu, if I was training Kali on the weekends, I wouldn’t be like, “Well, if I really had a weapon I wouldn’t do it like that.” It’s like, “All right, I’m just going to take my jiu-jitsu class.”
JM: Be humble about it. Don’t flaunt yourself.
CD: Okay. That’s a good one. Given the traditional Chinese styles is your background, you share a lot of techniques on the internet, obviously many people know you from your YouTube channel, a lot of Bo Staff stuff, a lot of bladed weapons stuff, a lot of empty hand stuff. Also just a lot on the health and fitness side. In terms of edge weapons specifically, just dialing in there, when it comes to fundamental techniques, whether it’s defensive or offensive, basic movements, basic techniques that if you’re new to edge weapons, you really have to have a grasp of, what do you consider those to be? What do you hold as fundamentals for self protection edge weapon skills, given your background?
JM: Well, number one when I have students in my class is, the first thing they learn is how to defend themselves against somebody else who has the knife. I don’t teach people knife techniques first. I teach them empty hand techniques that are defense techniques against a knife opponent. When people first start with me, they learn how to disarm somebody trying to thrust at them. They learn how to disarm somebody trying to slash at them. They learn how to disarm somebody who is not necessarily a knife …
JM: … Technician but is more of a thug on the street using a knife as a tool of intimidation. We learned some basic techniques of disarming somebody who has a knife and then once you get passed that, then we start to teach you some attack techniques with a knife. If you have a knife, we teach you first grip, how to hold it, how to hold the knife for a more of a thrusting position, then how to hold the knife for more of a slashing position. Then, how a knife is not a primary weapon. A knife is actually a secondary or a weapon that you would go to once your main weapon was taken from you because in the Chinese world, there’s a lot of different bladed weapons. Some of them are as long as a Bo Staff which is used on horseback traditionally.
Then, once that is taken from you, you go to a sword. Then, once the sword is taken from you, then you would go to the knife. We learn how that your range is one of the most important aspects of knife fighting because if you’re holding these short little knives or daggers, you’ve got to have good footwork, you’ve got to be athletic and agile to get in there and get inside your opponent’s defenses, and use a knife from close range.
CD: Yeah. Obviously that latter portion is going to involve some semblance of sparring, some relatively serious rigor in terms of skill building there because getting a sense for that cadence, how to close that gap, how to get within the barriers of an opponent and maybe where to slash, where to stab at different times depending on reactions, that sounds like more than just understanding one fundamental movement or in really getting the mechanics down like a good tennis serve, for example. That feels more like those dynamic living skills that you have to develop through some semblance of live training and sparring.
JM: Exactly. I would say a couple of things for the people listening is find a teacher who’s going to teach you good fundamentals, fundamentals of footwork and fundamentals of body position and range and fundamentals of grip with the knife. Then, after that, I would say find somebody who’s going to teach you how to use it in real combat and sparring, because I have been a kind of martial artist myself and I’ve always been interested in the sparring. I’ve never really been interested in the training or the performance but training, working out in the performance of the forms, like the techniques were always necessary to be better at sparring.
CD: Yeah, okay. Some semblance of weekly live skills. Whether that’s disarming someone who’s coming at you with an edge weapon, or whether that’s some kind of sparring with one. In either case, you’d have to develop that muscle memory for how to respond to this kind of strike, how to disarm in this particular situation, where to stab if you have this kind of an opening, how quickly can you close this kind of range into this kind of circumstance. Only live training can ultimately teach that.
JM: I think that that’s the kind of thing a martial artist needs to have their confidence come from, the amount of practice that they have, the amount of reps they’ve gone through. When you’re putting in those sparring reps over and over again, at least 20% of your class should be contact or sparring with another human. That’s going to give you confidence in the long run.
CD: Yeah. It’s got to be. I mean, the same as like any other skill. Your confidence only raises when you go up against real circumstances, you handle real situations, and then you think about those afterwards and glean that understanding. As a last question, just wrap with and again, knowing how many different weapons you’ve trained with, maybe this differs in styles that you’ve trained in, other teachers you’ve trained in, I’m interested in your own opinion, when it comes to a training regiment around these skills, a lot of our audience, they may not be … Some of these guys are a little bit older and there’s nothing wrong with starting martial arts older.
JM: You know, this is a great question. I normally, people think I’m being kind of corny but I’m being totally serious when I say that. I think that any training you do, whether you’re 40, 50, 60, 70, or 80, or even older, any training that you do is better than nothing. If you have a family, if you have work and if you’re interested in doing these kind of martial art techniques, especially with the bladed weapons like the knife or the daggers, if you sit on the couch and if you don’t train at all, it’s infinitely worse than training for five minutes. I think that don’t tell yourself that “If I can’t go do a full two hour class I just shouldn’t train today. I can’t do it.”
Find some aspect of the knife fighting that you love, whether it’s the working out or the form or the combat with somebody else, and just have fun and train that one area that you love and it will bring you back each day and if you just train five minutes that day, you will get better. I value consistent daily practice above everything else. If you’re consistently going through at least something that day, you’re going to be improving. It’s when you do nothing that you take two steps back.
CD: Yeah. I guess with any habit, I guess, or behavior change for psychology terms here, the big hurdle is can this be something consistent? There’s a lot of guys … You’ve probably seen this same thing. When I ran a martial arts gym, and it was almost confusing early on but you’d have those guys who’d want to show up five or six days a week when they first joined and they’d never trained before but they just wanted to show up five or six days a week, and then, you don’t see them after two weeks because they’ve never been that sore in their whole life, and you’ve pushed them so much farther past their normal boundaries that they lose it, and it’s like man, the goal isn’t to become Superman by day 14. The goal is hang with this and actually learn something and do it at a pace where you can have that gain. Am I encapsulating your ideas properly?
JM: Yeah. I did a whole YouTube video on my YouTube channel about this a couple of months ago, and it was called “The Four Types Of Martial Artists.” I told about the four different types of students that I find come through my program and one of the kinds of those four types was the person who joins, trains hard on day one and never comes back. The next one was the person who doesn’t have natural skill but because they’re consistent and dedicated in their practice, they gain that natural ability over time.
CD: Yeah. If you don’t have that, it’s tough to sustain much at all I guess. At the end of the day, anybody who’s gotten good at accuracy with a pistol or effective grappling skills or effective knife fighting skills, they’ve had to at some point enjoy it a certain portion of that and really have that as part of their life. If you can’t like it or find anywhere where it’s enjoyable, you’re very unlikely to develop a robust skill that can help you if you ever needed it. Whether or not you ever get to black belt, you probably won’t even have the skill which for a lot of the people tuned in here is what they’d be looking for in the first place. I do appreciate that in a big way.
JM: It’s funny you mention black belt because everybody starts at white belt in in most martial arts styles and the black belts are the ones who just didn’t give up. They’re the ones who kept coming back and enjoyed it, and even though there would be other white belts that started with you who are far better than you in the beginning, if you just have fun and put in that consistent practice, even if it’s not the best amount of … Even if it’s not three hours a day, if you can put in some kind of consistent practice, eventually you will get to become the black belt and you’ll be the master.
CD: Yeah. I mean, it is so corny to say but man, I’ll tell you. Every gym I’ve been in, there’s the guys who are way nasty awesome natural athletes who were star lacrosse players or wrestlers or whatever who were there for two years. They never competed at anything past the beginner level or intermediate level, the competitions and that’s that. Then, there’s the guys that plugged away and went all the way. Definitely lesson to be learned there, and I’m actually interested in that video. For any of you who are tuned into this and don’t know of Jake’s other stuff, I found Jake on YouTube. Jake’s YouTube channel is pretty robust. He’s been at it for a while. He’s taught in person for a long time.
I’m going to go look up that “Four Types Of Martial Artists” video actually, after this interview. I’d encourage you guys to check out Jake there as well, and if you’re interested in the course he just filmed with us, you can dig into that as well.
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