What is a paper tiger? A paper tiger is a martial arts school and or instructor that is afraid to engage in sparring outside of their own dojo. The term was shared with me last night at black belt sparring by a fellow black belt, who’s son trains at Jett Garner Martial Arts. Here is the deal- Jett Garner Martial Arts hosts black belt sparring every Friday at our dojo in Westlake. We usually have a turn out of six to twelve black belts from all over Austin. Recently, I felt the Friday Night Fights have been getting a little stale. So, I took the time to invite other black belts from other programs to join us. Every single invitation was turned down. Why? Jett Garner Martial Arts doesn’t have a poor ‘Cobra Kai- esque’ reputation. Because until recently weren’t very visible. Jett Garner Martial Arts doesn’t participate in the Texas Weekend Sparring circuit because we’re not impressed by what it has to offer in terms of the martial arts growth. So, it cannot be a poor reputation decision amongst these invitees.
The answer is paper tiger. Many schools preach and teach self improvement and a higher existence. But, once the instructors, owner/operators stop pushing themselves, cease their own cycles of evolution, then the school will follow. Our Friday night sparring is fun, challenging, and consists of a brotherhood that is hard to find anywhere else in life. The opportunity to practice techniques, and learn from more experienced fighters is priceless. Sure, we occasionally get hurt. Not often, but we do suffer the rare black eye, or bruised ribs, or sprained ankle. But, if you take the amount hours we spar, calculate the amount of techniques thrown in total hours, then look at the amount of injuries someone has had in the course of five years- well one in a million techniques leads to a small injury. Injuries that are more like badges of honor than anything else.
Paper tigers. Again, our reputation in the Westlake community is sound. Until 2010 we purposely flew below the radar as we just wanted quality not quantity. Now we want both. However, we haven’t been visible enough long enough to suffer a poor reputation amongst fellow martial art schools. My students have expressed an interest in having a friendship tournament with another school. The operative and key word is friendship. It could be fun and a great chance for two schools to come together, share, and learn. Again, I set out to contact about two dozen schools in Austin and was turned down by every school. Most of the schools did practice and believe in the value of sparring. Most of the the invited schools held the same core values about sparring that Jett Garner Martial Arts embrace. So, why the cold shoulders? Why did two dozen schools say no to a friendship tournament. This paper tiger attitude is certainly not unique to Austin, Texas. It is extremely prevalent amongst many martial arts schools.
I am confident in my own abilities as a Sensei, and as a student of martial arts. I am confident in my students. I am confident in their skills, in their mind set, and their level of sparring control. As school owner and as a student of martial arts I continually want to learn, grow, and experience other styles, techniques, ect. This is part of my evolution and the evolution of our students. So, it doesn’t seem unappealing or nervy to want to spar with other black belts from other styles. It’s an opportunity to learn, share, and grow. We don’t want to host a friendship tournament with another school so we can go ‘cobra kai’. No, we want to learn, share, and grow.
Paper tigers. I believe this phenomenon exists out of fear. Fear that we may not be that good. Fear that we may lose a student. Fear that one might get injured. Fear that one might throw a hissy fit because he was hit too hard. Fear is not what martial arts is about. Martial arts is about perpetual evolution and conquering one’s fears. So, paper tigers open your minds. Challenge yourselves and your students. Share, learn, and grow.