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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Just a Normal, Humble, Lethal Man

Published: April 7, 2006
Section: Opinions

For the past four years, I have had the privilege of teaching (and founding) the Wun Hop Kuen Do (Combination Fist Art) martial arts club at Brandeis. During this time, I have mostly had the honor of being an instructor, but for the past two years, I have also had the privilege of being a student for one week a year. During this time, my Sifu (instructor), Grandmaster Al Dacascos, has flown in from Hawaii to lead a tournament and seminar that my club holds annually at Brandeis, as well as brush me up on my techniques (read: make me very, very sore). As I described it to my lab boss when I had to take off work, basically, Mr. Miyagi is living with me.

Unfortunately, it is a bit harsher than that, as Grandmaster Dacascos is one of the most famous martial artists in the world. While not well known to the media (his son Mark is a different story), within the martial arts community he is incredibly well-respected and is acknowledged as one of the best martial artists around today, a living legend. Fortunately, he is exceedingly humble (he prefers not to be called Grandmaster to his face), and thus he doesnt ever expect special treatment;

except for the fact that as his student, I cant help but provide it (in particular, I end up apologizing for Boston weather a lot).

Consequently, the entire week he visits is one long learning experience, as I juggle his fame with his humility and with my soreness from the near-constant training. Essentially, if Michael Jordan were coming to your house for dinner and to shoot some hoops, what would you do? Will filet mignon piss him off because it is too pretentious, or will it make him happy? (Got the good sirloin that was on sale instead) Is taking him to a Brandeis party on Friday night a good idea, or a very, very bad one? (He was tired from his trip, so I avoided that one). How do you manage watching Law & Order with him while learning a new form (kata) and simultaneously conversing on both? (YOU DONT!)

Luckily, after my initial panic, I tend to remember that while Sifu Al (as he prefers to be called) is indeed a world-famous martial artist, he is also just a person. He listens to his iPod Nano more diligently that any Brandeisian I have encountered, and likes to chat on AIM. He loves a good action movie as much as the next guy (Doom in this case), and always enjoys a good story. This year, after the seminar, he had me and several other participants regale him with stories of our still-going idiotic youth over dinner at New Mother India.

Conversations like those always remind me that there is more to a person than what he is known for, and yet Sifu Al always seems to shatter his illusion of normalcywhenever he teaches martial arts (ie daily). Watching the man move (and strike, and kick, and throw, and lock you up, and partially KO you) is exactly like watching any other Olympic gold medalist or hall-of-famer pro athlete at his sportuntil you realize that this guys sport is disabling and dismantling other humans, efficiently and many at one time. His ability to go from a fart joke to finding yourself between his ass and his ankle as he chokes you with his thigh after slamming you to the ground is astounding. His knife fighting classes are just plain frightening.

As I reflect on his visit (often while rubbing on some Icy-Hot), I realize just how fortunate my students and I are to have him visit us. It is rare to see a true master up close and in person, and rarer still to be able to interact with him outside of his professional setting. For me, it has been an honor to call Sifu Al my friend and teacher for the past 12 years, and I hope that when I am 64, I will be as humble, and competent, as he is.

Jason Goldsmith '06