Black Belt Thesis: Joe McCarthy

Following is a Black Belt Thesis from one of Mr. Silverman’s students. Mr. Silverman sent it to me saying, “This is one of the finest I’ve ever received – keep in mind that it was written by a high school senior!”

A little background may be helpful for some of our newer students: I have 2 instructors: Mr. Silverman and Mr. MacDonald. Mr. Silverman owns EEMA Fitness & Martial Arts and is my instructor in Doce Pares Eskrima. His influence can be seen throughout our curriculum, most notably in the grappling and weapons components of our Masters Training Program.

“The Impact of Doce Pares Eskrima on My Life”
Joe McCarthy

Like most people, I used to find it difficult to accept changes or new things in my life. Little did I realize that I was constantly changing, in a continuous state of development that has made me who I am today. Now that I have experienced more of life and have a small idea of the huge changes still ahead of me, I can look back on the different paths that I have taken and evaluate their affects on the person I have become. In retrospect, I realize the great influence that my time studying Doce Pares Eskrima has had on me. Literally every aspect of my life has been affected, from my personality, friends, studies, and decisions, to my posture, strength, habits, and relationships. Although these changes are not necessarily due to Doce Pares in particular, and could be attributed to training in any martial art, I know that the experience I have had with Doce Pares is unique, and has shaped me in ways that nothing else could have.

My dad had to convince me to attend the first few classes at EEMA, to give Doce Pares a try. I was scared, apprehensive and excited all at the same time, still too young to really make the decision to go on my own. I remember those classes well: I was the oldest in my class, but one of the smaller boys. I felt pride at being able to keep up with the others who had been there longer than I had. The most important thing, I now realize, is my reason for sticking with it. I told everyone that it was to keep physically fit, but that was only part of the explanation. The truth is, I really had a great time at those classes. Punching and kicking, grappling, later using weapons, and just being there, made me want to go back for the next class. It felt right. This was the first time that I made a decision for that reason, because I knew that it was right for me, knew that it was right. I now see that this is one of the most important developments of my life: I had gained a sense of independence and self-knowledge which perhaps would never have come otherwise. Later, when graver, more serious decisions were presented to me, I had this sense to guide me. This was the beginning of my attachment to Doce Pares.

My experience at EEMA continued to shape me as I went through life. I became a stronger, more confident, altogether more outward, and as a result, happy person. The exact reasons for this development are difficult to distinguish from the many different things going on in my life, but I know that Doce Pares had an important influence. Confidence and strength came along with the physical work, especially the sparring and grappling. The unique mix of aggression and trust required for the fights made me more comfortable interacting with people everywhere in my life, but I do not believe that it was simply the sparring that developed my confidence. When I began grappling, the goal was to get to the positions: head-and-shoulders, cross-body, mount, etc. As I began to learn more and got the basic positions down, submissions were included and a whole new dimension was added to the fight. I had to keep a constant lookout for potential submissions that I could use and could be used against me, all the while moving from position to position. Similarly, in boxing I began fighting with only jabs and crosses, and slowly added techniques to my arsenal. As the complexity of my sparring matches grew, so did my overall confidence: not only in the fights themselves, but in all areas of my life. I found that as I dealt with more and more in the matches it became easier to deal with more in life. I became less stressed when overloaded with schoolwork, and less anxious about tests. The physical parallel to my life that Doce Pares showed me was an enormous aide in the positive development of my character.

Stickwork is still my favorite part of class: from forms to disarms to sparring, I always enjoy working with my olisi. Learning to use a weapon of any kind is an interesting and exciting challenge, but to me stickwork has a particular elegance and appeal that has had an invaluable impact on my life. I distinctly remember the first day I trained with them; I was awkward and confused while my classmates could move fluidly between the angles and blocks, and do their arkos and sirkulos without hitting themselves across the face. However, my desire to learn (and to preserve my gorgeous features) soon had me up to speed, and now I love stickwork, especially full contact sparring.

Although I would be more than happy to simply enjoy stickwork and leave it at that, I know that, of all the many things I have learned in Doce Pares, it has had the most impact on my development. Besides being equally important in the confidence building that grappling and kickboxing generated, stick fighting has indirectly taught me many life lessons which I know have been ingrained in my personality. While anyone else might say “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again”, I have learned to keep hitting: stickfighting, like life, is a cumulative process, and I cannot expect my opponents to go down in one blow. The distinctions that this has from the old “try, try again” adage are immensely important. While the saying indicates that initial success is the goal, Doce Pares has taught me that a steady, constant effort is better, and in the long run, more effective. I have adhered to this belief in my life, and seen success especially in my schoolwork. Another life lesson that stickfighting has taught me is to never retreat, and never turn my back. However hard I get hit, it will be twice as hard if I turn away, and much worse because I can never see the blow coming. If I begin to retreat, my opponent will only follow until I am backed up against a wall. Again, these lessons have crucial implications in my life. In life, as in a fight, turning away only makes the blows worse, and running from responsibility never pays off. Despite the fact that my training in all areas of Doce Pares has imparted these lessons, it is the stickfighting that I feel has had the most impact and effect on my development. Learning these lessons in the ring has been an enormous benefit for me: in a match they have direct, physical results, and are thus fixed in my mind with particular emphasis. In fact, they have become such a part of me that I did not notice them develop, and only now in retrospect can I view them separately from myself. They are part of me now, an inerasable mark left by Doce Pares that I am immensely grateful for.

My development as a person is not over and never will be if I have anything to do with it, which means that the effect that Doce Pares has had will never stop being one of the most important parts of me. Even with a black belt, even if I were ranked number one in the world, I will never be done studying and training in this martial art. As I grow and change, I will try new and exciting things, and probably have the same fear and exhilaration that accompanied me with my first classes at EEMA. Whether it is another martial art, a job, a hobby, a friend, or any of countless directions that my life may take, I will bring Doce Pares with me as a unique and important part of my self. I have been told that I have an individual energy and outlook that brings something new to my friends and acquaintances. I know that it is the culmination of my life experiences, my development, where Doce Pares Eskrima has had a gigantic impact and will continue to as long as I live.