Steve Sanders (now Steve Muhammad) is the greatest karate instructor I’ve ever known, and the Black Karate Federation was, in its heyday, simply amazing. How amazing? Well, at one point in the late 70’s, seven out of ten of the top competitors in the California-Nevada-Arizona tri-state area were Steve’s direct or indirect students. Mind blowing.
Anyway, I thought I’d offer a few observations about my days training there.
1) All the brown belts looked pretty much the same. All the black belts looked VERY different.
2) If you were doing the techniques correctly, you could goof around a bit. But if you were struggling with the techniques, you’d better the hell be deadly serious.
3) I remember a student nicknamed “Marine” who was a Shotokan convert. He was sparring with another guy who was leaping and spinning and playing around. Marine stepped in with a perfectly judged reverse punch and nailed him out of the air. Steve stopped the class and said: “you see all that fancy stuff? That’s great until you meet a man. And when you meet a man, you have to stop and fight.”
- Steve had great women fighters. Great. And his comment was: “fight like a man, and walk away like a lady.” Loved that.
- On the subject of fancy kicks, someone asked him once when was the appropriate use of a jump spinning crescent kick. He thought for a moment, then said: “If you’re walking down the street with your girlfriend, and a guy jumps out at you, and you hit him, and hit him, and hit him again and he’s just about to fall over anyway…THEN use a jump spinning crescent.”
- The basic technique taught in that school, the distinguishing signature technique, was the “over and under” punch. A three-move combination. In its simplest form it was a “handcheck over and under”. Deflecting or trapping an opponent’s front hand (hand check), followed by a reverse punch (“over”) and a step through reverse punch (“under”). We did thousands of these, marching up and down the floor until the windows were steamed with sweat. Practiced so many variations: but the core was always there. We practiced that like most schools practiced simple reverse punches. That meant that, per hour of practice the reverse punch may not have been as idealized, but the flow between movements was amazing. As was the “slicing time” aspect: the capacity to see or perform multiple motions in a single time frame.
- The first time I ever saw Steve, he was performing a mass attack demo at a Martial Arts expo at the L.A. Sports Arena. Four students attacked him and he responded with a level of speed, power, and precision I’d never seen in my life. And…a kind of calm in the midst of the storm. Faster than any Aikido randori I’ve ever seen, with a blinding variety of punches, kicks, chops and strikes…but never hurting them. I said right there, at that moment: “I want THAT.” And sought him out. Years later, I was one of the attacking students in the demo. And discovered, to my astonishment, that his only instruction was: “attack me.” Holy crap. No choreography. No holding back. Just mastery. Forty years later, I’ve sometimes asked myself: “how did I know? How could I know that Steve was the real thing? That if I stayed true to his path, I would get everything I needed from the arts? How did I have eyes to see?” It was some combination of clear vision…and the fact that he shined so brightly. That his essence, expressed in motion, clearly said: “come with me, young man, young woman. I will make you strong.” In all these years, he’s never let me down.
Respect, and much love, Steve. You made me the man I am today.