Former boxing champion Vernon Forrest was shot and killed in Atlanta, Georgia on Saturday July 25th. The incident occured at a local gas station where Forrest was robbed at gun point and killed a few minutes later when in pursuit of the robber.
This is an extremely unfortunate event; one that every martial artist and fighter should take note of.
Forrest, 38, is best known as the first man to defeat Shane Mosley (an extremely dominant force in the boxing world). Forrest was also a member of the 1992 Olympic boxing team alongside Oscar De La Hoya. Achieving a professional record of 41-3, Forrest was able to attain the ranks of welterweight and junior-middleweight champion.
On Saturday the 25th Forrest stopped at an Atlanta gas station to refill the air in his tires. His 11-year-old son was in tow, whom Forrest allowed to enter the gas station itself. While refilling, Forrest was approached by a gun-wielding assailant and was robbed of his Rolex and championship ring.
As the robber made his escape, Forrest retrieved a firearm from his vehicle and began pursuit. The chase went on for roughly 3 blocks where the assailant was able to slip away. Forrest, still in close pursuit, encountered another individual, according to police lieutenant Keith Meadows:
“Forrest comes around the corner and he encounters another individual who we believe has a gun in his hand,” Meadows said, adding that Forrest and the second person “exchange words” before Forrest “realizes that this is not the individual who actually robbed him.
“So he turns to walk away and it was at that point the subject shot Mr. Forrest a number of times in the back,” Meadows said. – Yahoo Sports
Here we have a sports fighting phenom – strong, fast, confident, and effective. On top of that, he was reportedly a great father and humanitarian outside the ring. Yet despite all that he still fell victim to a classic case of street violence.
No matter how much ground-n-pound, kyusho, or sparring we do, we can never be sure how things will unfold on the street. Furthermore, if we let our anger and self-confidence take ahold of us, we might exacerbate an escapable situation.
No one can be blamed for Forrest’s death besides the assailants. However, it is becoming more evident that Forrest made questionable decisions in dealing with his situation. The first of which was making the choice to stop. Trainer Emanuel Steward had this to say:
“I always preach to my boxers to never stop for gas late at night when you don’t know your surroundings,” Steward said. “Vernon did, and his natural instinct as an athlete was to go after his assailant. He’s going to fight back. The problem is everyone, it seems, has a gun.” – Freep.com
Awareness and proper planning are very underrated tools for self defense. No matter how skilled or well armed you are, Steward is right – it seems like everyone has a gun.
The second issue was Forrest’s decision to chase after his possessions. I can only imagine what kind of sentimental value the championship ring must have had, but it was replaceable. As that robber ran off so did the immediate danger to Forrest and his son. Unfortunately, street justice wouldn’t have been served, and Forrest seemed like the kind of man who wanted to punish wrong doing.
Who can say they haven’t felt the same way at some point?
We need to take stock in our training and realize the importance of the mental side of body, mind, spirit. We need to be able to quickly choose when fighting is necessary and utterly required to protect ourselves and others. This is extremely difficult, especially when combined with the quick chaotic nature of true violence.
The third issue was Forrest’s disengagement from his eventual killer. When Forrest lost site of his robber, he encountered another individual who was allegedly wielding a firearm. The two exchanged words, and Forrest realized that this wasn’t the guy who robbed him. After that, he turned his back to walk away, and was shot repeatedly.
I don’t know what was said, but there is absolutely no reason to trust this random, armed individual enough to turn your back or drop your guard even for a moment.
When it comes to violent events, hindsight is easy. We can do shoulda-woulda all day, but the fact is those split second decisions determine the final outcome of the event. Perhaps we can store Forrest’s untimely death in the back our minds so that we might learn from it.
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It’s a mystical business we’re in. As you know, the martial arts were born from Asian mystics and passed on to a select few remarkable individuals. Mastery over the arts will grant you superhuman powers of telepathy, iron body, and no touch techniques.
Or so we’re told on occasion.
A lot of people are surprised at the level of flimflam that is around today, and are shocked that people buy into such “astounding” feats (like this one and this one). But if you think martial arts chicanery is new, think again. Consider the 70′s and 80′s when martial arts were just starting to reach levels of high national exposure. Bruce Lee had come and gone and left a tumultuous blend of eclectic “masters” in his wake.
One of those wannabe’s was a man named James Hydrick, or “Sum Chai” as he liked to be called.
Hydrick began his rise to fame in Salt Lake City, Utah, where he started his first martial arts studio. Therein he taught students how to control and enhance their mental abilities. Through a series of impressive physical stunts (like jump kicking a basketball net) and mental demonstrations (like making heavy bags sway without touching them), Hydrick became a local phenomenon.
In 1981 Hydrick’s true star was born when he appeared on a show called “That’s Incredible”. On the show he demonstrated his best techniques and astonished audiences worldwide:
Hydrick’s combination of physical fitness, Bruce Lee persona, and mental abilities caused him to become a sensation. It didn’t stop there though:
“The tabloid newspaper The Star quickly ran an article on Hydrick labeling him “The World’s Top Psychic.” The glowing account labeled Hydrick’s powers as “incredible and staggering.” Other newspapers revealed that Hydrick could cure headaches and colds with a touch and answer questions before they were asked. A scientist and electrical engineer from the University of Utah after much testing also concluded that Hydrick’s psychic powers were indeed authentic.” – Unexplainable.net
Here was a man that seemed to bridge the gap between the real and unreal. University-proven and publicly displayed, what was there to doubt about Sum Chai’s powers?
Unfortunately there was one man floating around who kept a close watch on claims of this nature. His name was (and still is) James Randi. Aka the Amazing Randi. A professional magician turned seeker-of-facts, Randi routinely busted metaphysical hustlers, faith healers, and mentalists. He went so far as to create a $10,000 dollar prize for anyone who could demonstrate supernatural powers under controlled circumstances. (Later Randi would up the ante to 1 million dollars and establish his own educational foundation).
Taking note of Hydrick’s dramatic rise in popularity, Randi requested a demonstration on the “That’s My Line” television program wherein Hydrick could first demonstrate his abilities, and then try to recreate those results once Randi put down some simple scientific parameters. Watch what happens, and do take note of the host whom you might recognize:
Unseen in this clip are a few more details. First, Randi offered an alternative solution to the packing peanuts, in case they were indeed somehow ruining the psychic connection; he asked Hydrick to where an ordinary medical mask over his mouth and nose. Hydrick flat out refused. Furthermore, Randi had in place a sensitive microphone that was aimed at Hydrick’s mouth during a rehearsal the day before. During the test, Randi was able to detect strong gusts of air coming from Hydrick, even though they were visually undetectable.
Certainly Randi was no fool and had no concern about losing his money that day. He also went on to explain his theory as to how Hydrick operated: “Hydrick was simply blowing the page over, and he spun the pencil around by the same means. Not immediately evident are these facts, however: First, the blast of air from a half-open mouth takes time to get to the props, and Hydrick made sure he turned his head away from the pencil and the page after giving a sharp puff of air, so that he was facing away when the action occurred. Second, one blows not directly at the prop but at the table surface” – James Randi
The rolling dowel trick as seen in the “That’s Incredible” clip was also easily explained. The wood on which the dowel moved was slightly concave. As the dowel would reach the far end from the initial roll, it would slow down, allowing Hydrick to mentally “stop” it. Then he could draw it back since the dowel was naturally inclined to roll backward. The concavity was so slight however that the friction of the wood would allow it to stop at the close end without settling back into the middle.
Seemingly foiled, Hydrick began to realize his time was limited and that he had to make one last effort to regain his fame. A few month’s after “That’s My Line” he agreed to another test, this time with magician and investigator Danny Korem. It was during this interview that footage of Hydrick’s martial arts operation and personal physical prowess became available. It was also the last straw for his credibility:
In a move that is actually quite surprising for con-men, Hydrick fessed up to the ruse. He explained his system and his personal background.
As many manipulators and con-artists do, Hydrick came from an imperfect childhood wherein he was starved for attention. he also fell into crime and used his abilities to preserve his own safety in jail. It was this combination of want and reward that led him to create Sum Chai.
Currently Hydrick is serving jail time as a registered sex offender in possible connection with his kung fu students.
Certainly James Hydrick can serve as an excellent study in the mystery of the unknown and the willingness of people to believe. Furthermore, we should take this incident as a stern warning when studying the arts to question what we see and attempt to understand why we do what we do (and how we do it). Lastly, we should be very careful as to what claims we make, as James Randi is still alive and ready to make us prove it.
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Do you remember when “Batman Begins” came out? Christian Bale and Christopher Nolan took a fairly cheesy, misguided franchise and returned it to its gritty roots. They examined the darker side of the dark knight and investigated Bruce Wayne’s ninjutsu background. What resulted was an impressive, martial arts laden movie series that experienced great success.
We may be seeing something similar with Robert Downey Jr’s “Sherlock Holmes” (coming out this December).
Based off of the classic texts by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Robert Downey Jr (Sherlock Holmes), Jude Law (Watson), Rachel McAdams (Irene Adler), and director Guy Ritchie are attempting to put a new spin on the franchise. Although the old movies, comic books, etc have been well received, Downey thinks that they are a bit unfaithful to the original character concepts and believes that this latest rendition faithfully captures both the intellect and physicality of Sherlock Holmes.
Check out this interview where Downey (after putting on a little bit of the ham-attitude that he likes to do), talks about the tougher martial arts aspects of his character:
As someone who has never read the books, I was surprised and elated to learn that Holmes had a combative background. Curious as to what exactly he studied, I ventured into Wikipedia for the answer:
“In ‘The Adventure of the Empty House’, Holmes recounts to Watson how he used martial arts to overcome Professor Moriarty and fling his adversary to his death at the Reichenbach Falls. He states that ‘I have some knowledge, however, of baritsu, or the Japanese system of wrestling, which has more than once been very useful to me.’ The name ‘baritsu’ appears to be a reference to the real-life martial art of bartitsu.” – wikipedia
Bartitsu is a historically established style created by Edward William Barton-Wright, who combined classic jujutsu, judo, savate, cane fighting, and western style boxing.
I wondered how this ‘new approach now integrated with martial arts’ might look, so I investigated a little further and found the official movie preview:
It comes quick, but you can definitely catch some hand-to-hand action and even a little Escrima stick fighting ala Rambo 3. Whether the Escrima has any textual precedence or not I don’t know. I think it can be assumed that they took liberties and hyped up the action for cinematic purposes.
The style and presentation of the movie definitely sets the stage for a grittier, more “real-world” Holmes. If done right, Guy Ritchie has the opportunity to create a remarkable mix of action and intrigue.
Personally, I’m excited for the movie. If they can learn the lessons of “Batman Begins”, use Downey’s natural humor and talent, and tell a compelling story, I think they could kick off an extremely successful franchise.
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