It’s about time I dedicated a whole post to Steve Morris. Not because I’m one of his fanboys, (of which there are few enough, despite his obvious ability and outgoing personality) but because the case of Mr Morris illustrates several points about the martial arts as a whole, and yes, even some points about human nature as a whole.
Some background: Mr Morris is the quintessential martial artist. By all accounts he has studied more martial arts than most people have ever heard of, in places most martial artists have never visited. (Despite the art they’re studying having originated there.)
According to Mr Morris himself, his first exposure to the martial arts was as a young boy, when his Army PT father trained him in boxing and to a high level of physical fitness… and also as a boy when the arguments he got into with his peers became physical. As the son of a serving soldier, he no doubt became the victim of local children’s bullying wherever his dad happened to be stationed. Mr Morris states further that he was beaten harshly by his mother, who was exasperated by his thrill-seeking and dangerous antics. He went into the army at a very young age, and was by his own admission known for his ability to fight by this time.
This is Mr Morris. Picture used without permission.
Here we have a childhood that is almost guaranteed to produce a violent person. And it undoubtedly did, but Morris was a little different than the standard roughhousing thug. For whatever reason, perhaps simply a naturally analytical mind, he was driven not merely to engage in violence, but to study it religiously. He took up Karate, traveled to Asia seeking the ultimate expression of martial skill… but that which he found he didn’t consider to be very good.
To cut a long story (which is better told by Morris himself here) short, Morris returned to England and created one of the first no-holds-barred gyms to be found in the last half of the 20th century. By this token, he is known by some in the UK as a pioneer of mixed martial arts.
Morris’ technique and theories are too detailed to be fully dissected here. One should visit his website, blog and his youtube account to look at his material by oneself.
Instead, what I wish to do in this short post is to remark on the oddest facts surrounding Morris: Despite obviously being more skilled as a martial artist and as an instructor than people like Sid Sofos, Steven Seagal, George Dillman and all the rest of the pathetic martial frauds that litter the globe… Morris appears to be less successful than any of them. He isn’t as famous as any of these conniving fools. He doesn’t have as many students. He hasn’t made as much money.
The question is: Why?
Morris wonders about this question himself, periodically. My personal conclusion is that this situation is a result of several overlapping flaws in human nature; blind spots that allow frauds to easily prey on the majority of humanity. It’s also a result of flaws in society, blind spots like media distortion and sensationalism.
Firstly, the primary reason that Morris is not as successful as the George Dillmans of the world is that he’s first and foremost a fight trainer. And like every other fight trainer, he will never ever get the same numbers of students as the local Karate McDojo sensei will. Why? Because the vast majority of karate training is easy compared to real fight training.
Think about it for a moment: In every karate school you will see: Overweight people. Infirm people. Physically inept people. Now this is fine. The problem arises when you look back at the club in six months’ time and see the same overweight, infirm and physically inept people… unchanged. Except for the colour of their belt, of course.
Now look at a typical MMA gym. What do you see? mainly fit, healthy fighting men and women. There may be a few overweight or physically untalented people… these will be beginners. Come back in six months’ time, and you’ll notice that these people will either have lost weight and become more skilled, or they won’t be there at all, having left the gym.
Some karate fans or practitioners may say “see? so-called fighting gyms are elitist. We have all sorts of people in our dojos! It’s “Inclusive”!” When the actual truth is that dojos don’t improve people’s fitness or martial skill to the same degree as a proper fight-gym… because their training is easy.
Kata are easy. no-gi grappling is hard and tough.
Kihon are easy, shootboxing is hard and tough.
And no-contact/point-contact Karate sparring is easy… Fighting in the ring/cage is hard, tough… and yes, scary.
Real fight training involves getting as close to real fighting as one safely can… and even though this is still quite a way from real fighting on the map, it’s close enough to scare people off.
How many mums and schoolkids do you see in MMA gyms? Virtually none. Because real fighting is scary, hard and tough… and fight training must also be scary, hard and tough.
The reason you DO see mums and schoolkids at Karate schools is that Karate is so far away from fight-training that it’s no longer scary. It’s watered down enough to be palatable.
Sadly, at the same time it’s utterly useless for self-defence and/or physical fitness.
The second reason Steve Morris is less successful than the fraudulent martial gurus that litter the planet like a malignant growth on the face of humanity, is that he’s simply not exciting enough for the public, or the media.
This is George Dillman.
George Dillman seems exciting. He claims that he can render someone unconscious with a mere poke of his digit.
In fact, Dillman’s only real power is the power to render me (and people like me) angry with his bulls**t. He’s clearly an unfit, unskilled and lying idiot. But his copy is dynamite! The headlines read: “Martial Art Master demonstrates no-touch knockout!”
And it sounds exciting. People want to learn this skill! Partly because it sounds cool and partly because they want to have the power to physically defeat an opponent without having to do all those pesky press-ups or spend all those gruelling hours on the mat and in the ring.
So the press loves Dillman, and wannabe kung-fu killers love Dillman. He can be proved wrong on TV, and nobody cares. Students flock to his misbegotten banner. Sad, but true. Meanwhile, what’s Steve Morris’ message? Essentially Steve says: train like a fighter, and you might become one. If you don’t train like a fighter, you definitely won’t.
That’s not exciting. That’s not newsworthy. The fact that the best way to learn to knock someone out is by hitting very heavy objects and very heavy sparring partners for hours and hours and days and days and weeks and years… isn’t exciting. In fact, it sounds downright tiring!
So Mr Morris’ message isn’t popular with anyone but fighters. And since he doesn’t own a gym, he hasn’t got that many students even among fighters. Frankly I don’t think he has the financial capital to start such an endeavour.
Lastly, we have the question of Mr Morris’ “attitude problem”. He has a reputation for being a fiery and uncompromising man, and despite being in his sixties, there are reports that he incapacitated a prominent british cage fighter a couple of years ago when said cage fighter became belligerent at one of Mr Morris’ seminars.
As stated earlier, Steve’s a man capable of some serious violence. But has he ever bullied his students? Has he ever started a fight while teaching, or victimised a weaker opponent? I can’t find anyone who claims that he has.
In fact, the majority of claims that Mr Morris has a bad attitude appear to originate not from people he’s beaten up, but from people within the Karate and other exotic, esoteric “martial” arts circles who don’t like what he has to say. One must regard their rants with suspicion.
Only joking. This is the real George Dillman. This is also the real clown.
So there we have the sad story of Steve Morris: A man ahead of his time, an expert in his field, with belts and- more importantly- experience bursting out of his ear-holes… and he’s pipped to the post by scum like Ashida Kim, due to a combination of the sensationalism and gullibility of the media, of people in general, and- slightly more pitiably- the fear of physical conflict among those who wish to master it.
Welcome to humanity, population seven billion. It’s often a laughably stupid location.
NB: I have been picking on Karate and its derivatives in this article, but regular readers of this blog will be aware that I am fully cognisant of the fact that there are a tiny number of Karate schools that do train hard and well. It’s just that I’m also fully aware that virtually any MMA club trains harder and better.