I was a brown belt when I went to Vietnam in 1969 as a Military Policeman. Many Vietnamese soldiers as well as Korean soldiers wore small, black squares above their green fatigue shirt pockets denoting how many black belts they had earned. Those with two rows had earned belts in two fighting arts.
Some of the ROK (Republic of Korea) Marines had three rows of black squares, anywhere from three to five squares in each row. Often, the more black squares a soldier had, the more chiseled his features and the harder his physique.
On one occasion, early into my tour, I was assigned to guard a building on an empty Saigon street at 2a.m. (curfew was at 1a.m.) with a rather dignified South Vietnamese military policeman who had two rows, three black squares in each, over his fatigue shirt pocket. To break the ice, I indicated that I had also trained in the martial arts, at which his face brightened and he pointed to the squares on his shirt. For the next several hours, my new friend and I swapped techniques, mostly by pantomime, and with what little English he knew and what Vietnamese I had learned.
At one point, he stepped over to a traffic sign that was attached to a tree about a foot above my six-foot-high head. He looked at it for a moment, then spun like a top, his kicking leg shooting out before it hooked back to slam that sign with the heel of what had been his rear foot, a foot wearing a heavy combat boot. I remember jumping back, probably with my mouth hanging open, going, “What was that?”
Although at that time I had been training in the martial arts for four years, I had never been taught the spinning hook kick. I had learned the spinning straight back kick, but not the spinning hook. I didn’t even know it existed at that time until I saw my Vietnamese soldier friend nearly rip that high sign from the tree.
So for the next couple of hours he taught me the kick. We leaned our M-16s against the tree, stripped off our flak vests, pistol belts and shirts, and commenced to train. He was most patient with me as I stumbled about, but by the end of our session, I have to say that I could do a pretty good spinning hook. Of course kicking as high as that sign was a ways in the future, but that night I could hit the trunk like a bandit.
The point of this story is to recognize that you can learn from anyone, anywhere. Over the years, I’ve learned from white belts, from things non-martial artists have asked me, from the school of hard knocks on the street, and once, many years ago, from a Vietnamese soldier on a sticky-hot, Saigon night, as artillery rumbled in the distance and shook the windows of nearby buildings.
You learn something every day if you pay attention. ~Ray LeBlond
Learning is a treasure that will follow its owner everywhere. ~Chinese Proverb