The Corner Man

Believe it or not: for a short time I was part of a two-person road show. The other half of the show was none other than Joe Lewis, the great sparring and kick boxing champion. Kung Fu figure at plumpub.comWe went around for a while giving seminars to the member studios in our franchised chain. Neither one of us were the owners but we did have a “slice of the pie” so our job was to try and upgrade everyone’s knowledge base.  I was just about twenty and knew about eighty forms. Lewis was world famous. I taught the forms. He taught the part everyone wanted to see.

People had often dumped on Lewis, saying that he was just a strong guy with a kick and a lightning fast back knuckle. Not true. There was a lot more to Joe than met the eye. He had a diamond hard understanding of fighting strategy. I will never forget a little demonstration at one of our seminars. He had volunteers come up and fight in front of everyone.

After a few matches he stood there the way he did: head down, brow furrowed, watching two not particularly talented purple belts bang it out. Another  minute and  he stopped the match, walked over to one of the fighters, and talked to him in a low voice for about thirty seconds. Then he started up the match again and Voila!, the fighter Joe had coached a bit totally dominated his opponent, driving him off the mat in disarray, time after time. When it had become so obvious that it was undeniable, Lewis stopped the match again. This time he went to the other fighter, put his arm around him and walked him to the sidelines for a minute. They came back, re-started the match and then THIS fighter completely dominated the first guy. You could see the change of command, but you could not see any  special technique, like a flying back kick. Just immediate and total control of the match.

You are wondering what the secret was. Me too, but I’ve forgotten. I asked Joe that night and he said something like, he told one guy to back knuckle on every move and the other guy to kick at every opportunity. Nothing.

But the point wasn’t what Lewis said, it was what he did not say. Everything but his instruction immediately vanished when the champ told them to do this or that. Everyone had enough faith in a “corner man” like this to ignore precisely what he ignored, and just concentrate on the essential thing.

Stirling Silliphant, well-known TV writer, was a student of Bruce Lee’s. He said that after Bruce passed away something happened to him. While Bruce was alive, Siliphant felt pretty capable sparring even black belts from other styles. He would just keep to what Bruce had taught him and triumph. But something changed when Bruce was no longer in his corner and he could no longer duplicate these results. Once again, you can only imagine what Bruce had instructed him to ignore, much less do.

There’s an old saying in the art game, “It takes two people to paint a picture: one to paint, and one to say, ‘Stop!'” We all need a corner man. We all need someone to say, “Fergit it!” and brush the cobwebs of indecision away. But often we have to be that to ourselves. It helps to have seen one in action or benefited not only from the well-chosen word but from the well-expressed silence.

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