As many of you know, several of us went to Greece in November of last year as representatives of the United States. First of all, I must explain that of all the many wonderful things that the martial arts have given me during the past four decades, being selected as a member of the U.S. Delegation to Greece definitely tops the list. The primary purpose of our visit was to attempt to “re-enter” a fighting art/sport into the International Olympics. Pankration has been traced back as far as 1700 BC and was first entered into the Olympic Games in 648 BC. The art was first introduced into Asia by Alexander The Great during his conquest of India in 325 BC. Dharuma took fighting techniques from India to China in 500 AD, 2200 years after the first proven record of Pankration appeared in Greece. Between 500 AD and 1735 AD Pankration had spread throughout China and Korea. Although it may have taken on new names it was, nonetheless, the “original” martial art.
Around 1735 AD these fighting arts had traveled to Okinawa where they evolved into dozens of individual “systems” usually named after the originator. By this time Okinawa-Te (Okinawa Hands) had been polished into many powerful, often deadly forms of fighting arts which were very closely guarded by the family members and any other practitioners who were fortunate enough to have any knowledge of their particular system. Somewhere around 1923 an Okinawan martial artist by the name of Gichin Funikoshi brought his art of Okinawa-Te to Japan and renamed it Kara-Te, which is Japanese for empty hand. We of course know this as “karate”. Immediately after World War II, returning American servicemen brought this Japanese fighting art back home to the United States. In 1962 the Koreans formed the first Tae Kwon Do association. (Although Korea had other, older fighting arts, this was the first attempt to organize this relatively new sport.) This brings us to the 1988 Olympic Games where Korea, as the host country, was allowed to enter a “national sport”.
So here we are, at this time, attempting to make history by “re-entering” the original fighting art as a sport into the International Olympic Games. Please remember that Pankration was first introduced into the Olympics in 648 BC and remained in until 394 AD. That’s 1042 years! The art was eliminated as a competitive sport due to its violent nature (the athletes fought totally naked and occasionally to the death). Fortunately, although many of the techniques have remained the same, we will now demand uniforms and, I promise, no killing or bone-breaking techniques.
Anyway, the trip was a success. The Greek government and the International Olympic Committee required that we have Pankration practiced on four continents and in 25 countries within one year. On April 11, 1999 we returned to Greece. We had met all requirements within five months. The common denominator here is that all of us, men and women that had never met, each representing their own country with so many diverse martial art backgrounds, embraced this opportunity with open arms, and even more importantly, open minds.
It was an absolute pleasure to be involved with so many true martial artists. You see it really upsets me to witness so many “big frog in the small pond” situations. You know, the Black Belt instructor who wants to be known as the most important person in the world, but lacks the skill or courage to venture out into the real world and test whatever skills he or she believes to possess. In an international situation nobody knows about your worth, skill level, or importance. You must demonstrate it constantly and you had better be good or you’ll be gone.
Keith Hackney, the only certified National Trainer, and Rob Hinds, one of his assistant trainers, trained with fighters from 2 dozen countries. No egos. No “My Style Is Better”. Just dozens of athletes treating each other with respect and dignity as they exchanged old techniques and learned new ones. My time was spent with the Greek officials. As we discussed the rules and regulations, I couldn’t help but become impressed with the fact that safety of the athletes was the single most important factor. My official position is as follows: Chairman, Referee Committee, North and South America; and Member, Board of Directors, Referees Committee, International Pankration Federation. My duties include the training of officials in North and South America as well as the approval of any international rule changes.
So here we are 3700 years later motivated and excited about entering the Olympics in 2004. I can only hope that the spirits of the men that walked into the Olympic Stadium in 648 BC are smiling down on us.
I hope to see you in Athens!!