Influences & Inspirations
written by Mark Mikita
Robert Mikita served in the U.S. Army in the Pacific Theater during World War II, taking part in the massive amphibious invasion that marked General Douglas MacArthur's promised return to the Philippines on 20 October, 1944.
Led into the jungle in pursuit of the retreating enemy by intrepid Filipino freedom fighters often armed only with crude bolos and their indomitable fighting spirit, he would forever speak of them with great reverence.
When I showed a keen interest in the martial arts as a boy, my father's enduring respect for his Filipino brothers (and sisters) in arms and his gripping accounts of life-or-death encounters he personally witnessed between bolo-wielding guerrillas and Japanese soldiers armed with samurai swords inspired me to seek out and train in the fighting arts of the Philippines.
My beloved father spent five years in the Army and twenty-five years in the Air Force – serving in World War II, Korea and Vietnam. He died of cancer in 1988.
My eldest brother, John Mikita, had a tremendous influence on the path I took in studying martial arts. Far and away a more gifted artist than I, John came to find that he had much more interest in and passion for science, with advanced theoretical mathematics and logic being his idea of fun.
Quiet and unassuming, he rarely let on that he had what many would consider to be an intimidating intellect, but it was never anything but inspiring to me.
In our innumerable conversations about martial arts (he was a frequent student of mine, achieving a high level of skill), his penetrating insights and impeccably scientific skepticism ultimately forced me to question everything.
As a result, my approach to both studying (I am a perennial student) and teaching reflect his ever-inquisitive influence.
My domain name (fightology.com) was coined during a typically analytical private lesson with my big brother and it is to his memory and the undiluted joy he took in incessantly asking me the most incisive questions that my school is dedicated...
Sadly, John took his own life in 2006. He was always there for me. Would that I could have been there for him.
If you are presently contemplating suicide, please know that despite what you may believe right now in the enveloping darkness of your thoughts, there are people who genuinely care and won't judge you if you reach out, but they cannot come to your rescue you if you don't, so please do.
When I first expressed an interest in teaching, my father (a former drill instructor) took me aside and asked me a compelling question:
Do you merely want to be an instructor or do you aspire to be a teacher?
Not exactly sure what the difference was, I asked... and what my father said has stayed with me ever since:
Your typical instructor just barks commands and, if the student doesn't get with the program, he just barks the same commands, louder.
A teacher, on the other hand – possessed of patience and radiating constant encouragement and support – endeavors to step behind the student and look through their eyes at the material being taught and, if he has the gift, sees the best way to reach that student and learns the material anew each time he does.
Mind blown, I immediately declared my aspiration to be a true teacher (with all the conviction an impassioned fourteen-year-old could muster) and – to this day – my father's moving description of what a teacher should be remains the ideal I strive to live up to when I teach.
Looking through my students' eyes and learning the art anew each time I do invigorates me to delve ever deeper into my personal practice such that I may continue to advance my understanding and hopefully be a more insightful guide
for my students.
The secret in education lies in respecting the student.
– Ralph Waldo Emerson
It is said that what a teacher is is more important than what he teaches, and I must say I could not agree more. Hence, in thinking about writing something about my many teachers and the influence they have had on me, I was conflicted.
If I were the type to follow the advice of Internet marketing gurus without question, or fearfully knuckle under to the current and ridiculous pressure to be politically correct and never dare to rock the boat, I would scribble out a list of my teachers – perhaps prioritized by rank, famousness or titles (or the rank, famousness or titles of their teachers) – to manipulate you into believing that I deserve your unquestioning respect (not to mention all of the money in your bank account) because, lo and behold, I was one of the chosen few deemed worthy enough to bask in their inimitable genius directly (sarcasm intended)... but that ain't me.
Sadly, a good many of the individuals I've studied with – including some of the famous instructors so many 'followers' presume to be beyond reproach – ultimately showed themselves to be sorely lacking in honor and integrity. In those disheartening situations – as in life – sometimes, the most enlightening lessons come from uncovering the very worst in people, particularly those for whom we held out hope that the hype was founded in truth.
Don't get me wrong, I have had some extraordinary teachers; men and women of truly impeccable character to whom I will forever be indebted for guiding me to become a better martial artist and, more importantly, a better human being.
For the purposes of this webpage, though, know that on the path I have personally forged, I have had many teachers... and whether they sought to lift me up on their shoulders, as all great teachers do, or revealed their insecurities by endeavoring to prevent me from advancing, they contributed to my growth and I thank them.
All know the way but few actually walk it.
I have painted three portraits of Bruce Lee on the walls of my school. Needless to say, I have great respect for the man. His absolute fearlessness in exposing the prison that classically bound martial arts offered as the 'way' struck a chord with my emerging iconoclastic nature and altered the course of my life.
However, while I was just as inspired as everyone else was by Bruce's iconic performances on film, I have never been inclined to deify him, as so many do.
When I consider his relatively modest beginnings, what he accomplished (beyond making movies) in his unfortunately brief time on this earth – being no less flawed and fallible than the rest of us – is much more impressive than if I follow the crowd and delude myself into believing he was 'perfect' and that the laws of physics somehow didn't apply to him.
Bruce's willingness to upset the apple cart and advance some of the revolutionary ideas that helped him to see the folly of practicing rigid patterns of techniques in hopes of one day being able to make effective use of those techniques in a real life-or-death encounter that bore little resemblance to those fossilized routines set him apart from what we might today call his Kool-aid-drinking contemporaries.
To paraphrase Jiddu Krishnamurti, from whom Bruce admittedly drew much of his inspiration, if you seek freedom at the end, you must have it at the beginning, and many feel that it was Krishnamurti's influence that eventually led Bruce to discard the very concept of style, system or method for, as he said, where there is no style, there is no slave.
I find it ironic that Bruce's 'style of no style,' Jeet Kune Do, continues to be 'taught' and argued about to this day when, in 1971, he issued this edict: I have disbanded all the organized schools of Jeet Kune Do because it is very easy for the students to mistake the agenda as the truth and to take the program as the way.
Clearly anticipating the trouble that was to come of his coining the term Jeet Kune Do, he also said: If people say Jeet Kune Do is different from this or from that, then let the name of Jeet Kune Do be wiped out, for that is what it is, just a name. Please don't fuss over it.
While I'm on the subject of Bruce Lee's tremendous influence, being that he was known to have numerous notebooks filled with tidbits of eastern philosophy, exercise ideas and his evolving thoughts on the martial arts, devotees often presume that, because they belonged to Bruce, everything scribbled down in those notebooks must have originated in his head.
There are posters out there featuring various photographs of Bruce and the quote: Knowing is not enough, we must apply. Willing is not enough, we must do. The implication being that those were Bruce's words. They were not. Type them into Google and the name Johann Wolfgang von Goethe will show up.
As anyone would be, Bruce was undoubtedly moved by Goethe's powerful words (written over a hundred years before he was born) and jotted them down in one of his notebooks. That people looking through his handwritten notes after his untimely death just presumed they were his words is perfectly understandable but doesn't make it true.
Similarly, there's a famous set of challenging guidelines Bruce had printed up and hung on the wall of his Los Angeles school to encourage his students' creativity and innovation: Research your own experience. Absorb what is useful.
Reject what is useless. Add what is specifically your own.
You may be surprised to learn that those directives were originally set down by the brutal communist Chinese dictator Mao Tse-Tung, whose misguided 'Great Leap Forward' and Cultural Revolution destroyed much of China's traditional cultural heritage.
From what I have gathered in speaking personally with people who knew him well, such as Joe Hyams and Stirling Silliphant, I have no doubt that – if anyone had asked – Bruce would have been forthcoming as to whom he drew his inspiration for that now-famous placard.
My point is that it simply isn't necessary to appropriate the ideas or writings of others in order to pad Bruce's legacy.
In my opinion, the reason martial artists are still talking about him so many years after his death is that he was a true pioneer; an arrogant, irreverent iconoclast who could actually pull off what others had previously only imagined might one day be possible if they set their sights much higher and practiced much harder. And that alone inspired an entire generation (of which I was a part) to do just that.
Beyond his extraordinary physical ability, though, he had a certain genius for cross-referencing undeniably good ideas from myriad (and sometimes questionable) sources in his crusade to yank aside the veil of the classical martial arts to expose them for what they were and, in so doing, liberate himself (and all martial artists) from their oppressive hold.
Bruce Lee was unquestionably ahead of his time and his revolutionary influence continues to inspire martial artists the world over to think for themselves.
Use only that which works, and take it from any place you can find it.
– Bruce Lee
Others who have influenced or inspired me...
(listed in no particular order)
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Meriwether Lewis & William Clark
Neil Armstong, Buzz Aldrin & Michael Collins
Orville & Wilbur Wright
Leonardo da Vinci
Martin Luther King
William Lloyd Garrison
Anthony Joseph Drexel Biddle
William E. Fairbairn
George S. Patton
Claire Lee Chennault
Gilbert du Motier
Alexander The Great
Tran Hung Dao
and so many others...