2020 has seen the loss of two of the greatest martial artists in Sport Karate history. Steve “Nasty" Anderson, one of the greatest point fighters of all time, and Kevin Thompson, widely considered the greatest all-around sport karate competitor ever, both succumbed to neurodegenerative diseases.


I had grown close to Kevin Thompson over the past eight years, when I had joined him as a member of Team Paul Mitchell Karate and he received his diagnosis of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (also called ALS, or Lou Gehrig's disease). Anyone who has followed sport karate over the past several decades mourned the loss of these heroes, but their passing also gave us the opportunity to reflect, pay respects, and appreciate all that they had done for the sport. In the case of my teammate, he inspired others by being the ultimate example of greatness, the standard that all others aspired to reach. However, many who admire Kevin's greatness only saw the finished product: awe-inspiring demonstrations of strength, accuracy, and technique. I believe that true greatness, like Kevin's, is defined by everything done off the mat both in preparation and in humility.

This true greatness is best explained anecdotally. The first story is one that has been passed down in Team Paul Mitchell meetings for generations. I will describe it as it has been told to us on the team:

Coach Don Rodrigues, legendary coach and co-founder of the team, peers at the team from under his Paul Mitchell visor and tells us about a couple of visits he took to Kevin's house in New Jersey. During the first visit, Kevin showed Coach many of his training rituals. Kevin would practice numerous repetitions of each of his forms in every direction… as a warm-up. This was followed by hundreds of reps of all the major point fighting techniques on both sides, as well as a litany of exercises including running on the treadmill and doing pushups. This training routine alone most assuredly would have resulted in greatness, but there was one more part of Kevin's training that impressed Coach more than all the others. He noticed a bucket full of rocks in a corner of Kevin's training room and asked why it was there. Kevin proceeded to demonstrate how he would punch directly down into the bucket of rocks to strengthen his fists. When Coach Rodrigues returned on another trip several months later, the bucket of rocks had been pummeled to dust. That, my fellow martial artists, is greatness achieved in preparation.

The next two stories recount personal experiences that I had with Kevin that attest to his humility, another part of his greatness. The first occurred at the US Open in 2008. At the time, I was ten years old and largely unknown as a competitor. I was fortunate enough to be representing the Premier Martial Arts National Karate Team but had never won a world championship or even competed on stage at a national event.

Kevin Thompson

Kevin was, of course, already widely regarded as the greatest the sport has ever seen. I happened to be competing against one of his sons that day. I hadn't realized it yet, as Keven was off competing in the adult division. I was simply waiting for my turn to complete when, out of nowhere, the greatest of all time approached my dad and me to ask if his son could borrow one of my bo for competition because he had forgotten his at home. This may seem small but seeing one of my idols act so normal and polite was an inspiring display of humility. To put things into perspective, imagine that you have taken your son to participate in a football camp over the weekend. How would you feel if Tom Brady walked up and asked if his son could borrow some shoulder pads?

The other humility story is about a moment that I will never forget as long as I live. For as long as he could, until the ALS made it impossible to travel, Kevin would always attend the Ocean State Grand Nationals. It became routine for all members of Team Paul Mitchell to turn to Kevin and pay their respects with a bow before beginning their routine in the nighttime finals. I participated in this tradition and added a personal touch every time that I was fortunate enough to win the overall grand championship. I would walk straight off stage from receiving the award to visit Kevin and his family.

The first time that I did this was after winning the title with a traditional weapons form. I requested that Kevin take the trophy home to remember how much he still inspired other competitors. He could have just taken the trophy, said, “Thank you," and that would have been it. Not only did he accept the offer, but to my surprise he asked me to sign the trophy for him. He didn't do this because he actually wanted my autograph. He did it because he understood how much it would mean to me that Kevin Thompson asked for my autograph. This is what champions do. This is what greatness is. It is understanding the impact that you have on other people as a result of the greatness you have achieved.

To any student out there who wants to leave a mark on this sport, or to any instructor who wants to help their students have such an impact, always remember that greatness is defined by so much more than the martial arts that you perform. In order to reach that level of skill you must prepare more diligently and with more passion than any of your competitors could ever imagine. More importantly, when you have finally achieved mastership as a practitioner, you must remember what cements a legacy. People may remember a great performance for a decade, but the impact that you have on others will be remembered forever. The humility and willingness to inspire everyone that he touched is why Kevin Thompson will always be remembered. That is greatness.

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Do you want to maximize your self defense skills? Learn the game of combat chess and most importantly the queen of all moves.

Allow me to intercept those who would object to the title of this article. I'm not claiming that there's a secret move, shortcut or hack that will give you the edge in any fight. Even if there was an ultimate weapon or strategy, you likely would avoid it because you
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Looking to buy some weights to gain some strength?

Looking at Dumbbell, Kettlebells or Weighted bar? How about an all in one that won't just save you some good amount of money but also space? Look no further, we bring you the GRIPBELL!

Let's face it, when we do want to work on some strength building, we don't want to go around shopping for 20 different weight equipment things. That would just not want us to even do any sort of strength training. But what if we only needed a few, a few that can do the things we want without having 20 things lay around? That's where the GRIPBELL comes in. Let me clarify with you first, these are not some heavy duty, muscle exploding weights, they are for building the level of strength we as martial artists want without going crazy and insane in bulk sizing!

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Many different types of "blocks" are taught in most martial arts school. We are taught high blocks, low blocks, middle blocks, knife hand blocks, etc. Some schools will also teach how to use the legs to block an attack, as well.

The purpose of this writing is to possibly open some minds to the possibilities of going outside the box and considering alternatives to the basics.

Blocking is taught as a way of protecting oneself from harm. Truly, we don't "block" anything, as a non-martial artist would think of it. What we call "blocking" is more of a redirection of an opponent's attack, or even a counterstrike against the opponent's attacking limb.

To block something would mean to put something, like your arm, leg or other body part directly in front of the attack. That would certainly hurt and possibly cause some damage. The goal should be to move the attack out of the way in order to prevent injury and provide a way to fight back. For example, many schools teach blocks as a limb moving toward the strike such as a circular high block.

The movement required for a block might have other uses, if you keep an open mind. The blocking techniques can also be used as attack techniques. For example, your "low block" may be used as a striking technique against the outer thigh of the attacker. Your high block might be used as a strike to the jaw. The set up for a block can be used as a deflection, as well as the actual block.

Doing a block or a series of blocks will most likely not end an attack. A block needs to be followed by a counterattack. While the block is usually taught as a separate technique in order to learn it correctly, it should also be used in combination with a counter.

The more you know, the more you realize how much you don't know. Intensive books can and have be written about basic techniques. With this writing, I am hoping to create interest in exploring the additional possibilities for what we have been taught and what we teach others.

About Grand Master Stevens

GM Stevens has been training in taekwondo for 47 years under the tutelage of the late legendary Grand Master Richard Chun. He holds an 8th degree black belt and is certified in the USA and in Korea. Grand Master Stevens is a member of the Board of Directors of the prestigious Richard Chun TaeKwonDo World Headquarters organization. He has been very active in his community and has been a volunteer with the Glen Rock Volunteer Ambulance Corps for over 11 years. He is a certified member of C.E.R.T. (Community Emergency Response Team).

Gary Stevens Taekwondo is located at 175 Rock Road in Glen Rock, New Jersey.

For more information: call (201) 670-7263, email: StevensTKD@aol.com or go to www.StevensTaeKwonDo.com

Having partners at or above your skill level is important for improving in your martial arts training. At some point, however, you will probably find yourself with a shortage of skilled partners, especially if you are an instructor.

This can happen for any number of reasons: students can move away, change their work schedules, start a family, etc., and just like that, you find that you're the highest-ranked student, or sole instructor, in your gym or dojo. This doesn't have to be a bad thing. In fact, if you take advantage of it, even working exclusively with lower-ranking classmates or students can improve your skills.

I used to host a twice-a-week training session at my dojo where I invited mostly black belts from other schools (as well as a few of my advanced students) to come and run drills. It was a blast. These were tough two- to three-hour sessions where I got to work with fighters of all different sizes, speeds, and technique preferences. My sparring improved dramatically over the next few months, and I don't think I've ever been in better shape. But unfortunately, it doesn't always work out that way. And as the old saying goes, "You gotta work with what ya got." So, make it hard on yourself.

I like to set handicaps when fighting my students. Specifically, I focus on forcing myself to work on improving my weak areas. Is you right leg weaker than the left? Then only kick with the right leg when sparring your students. Not much of an inside fighter? Don't kick at all. Training with partners of lesser skill not only helps you improve your weak points but gives them an opportunity to improve as well by working on strategy. It's also great for building their confidence. It can also be a low-cost opportunity to test new techniques and combinations, which benefits you as well.

In grappling, just like sparring, there is little benefit to wrapping lower ranking classmates into pretzels over and over, for them or you. Instead, let your partner put you in a bad situation. Let them get the mount; help them sink in that choke or armbar. If you start standing, such as in judo, allow your partner to get the superior grip before attempting a throw. This way you will get comfortable working out of a weaker position and your less-experienced partner can perfect their technique (and get experience using multiple techniques, if you get out of their first one).

You might think that giving advantages like these to students who may be far beneath your skill level is much of a challenge. Trust me, you'll reconsider that sentiment when you wind up sparring a 6'5" novice with zero control over his strength after deciding to only use your weak leg, or have a 250-pound green belt lying across your diaphragm trying to get an armlock after you let them get the pin. Remember, this is exactly what you signed up for: a challenge.

If you find yourself at the top of the heap without partners who are sufficiently challenging, there is no need to despair. Use it as a low-stress opportunity to improve your weaknesses and develop avenues to help your less experienced classmates and students to grow. You may even be surprised. One day they might present more of a challenge than you ever imagined!
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