“How much can you know about yourself if you’ve never been in a fight?” asks Fight Club’s Tyler Durden, a stand in for the celebration of corrupt masculinity. Still, for those who see a loss of masculine identity in today’s postmodern society, there’s a need to struggle for something deeper. A need to fight to awaken from the despotic machinery that controls its members lives.
Better explained, Sun Tzu’s Art of War (6th century BCE) saw triumph achieved through a holistic approach, figuratively as well literally. “To know your enemy, you must know yourself,” and “not by brute force but intelligence” are philosophies contiguous with self-knowledge and awareness. The past decade has seen a dramatic upsurge in Mixed Martial Arts, an art rooted in the basic tenets of Sun Tzu’s teachings. Fighters on an inward journey have been led across the globe to an MMA sanctuary in Montreal – Tristar Gym.
Shoes off, barefoot, just a few steps in. Tristar incites the emotions. A scent, sight, feeling of dedication, blood, sweat, tradition, respect – no particular order – culminate in a sense of family. “You have offended my family and you have offended the Shaolin Temple,” said Bruce Lee in Enter the Dragon.
Located on the top floor of a squat, industrial building on Rue Ferrier, Tristar has become an heirloom in the MMA world, enlightening individuals on how to defeat opponents through their mind, body and soul. Founded nearly 25 years ago by Conrad Pla (kick boxer turned actor), it embraced the all-embracing art of mixing up the martial art disciplines with the arrival of Firas Zahabi, the current head of Tristar. A few boxing rings, an octagon, punching bags, some mats, and weights, the equipment in Tristar reflects the simplicity of MMA. Unlike other sports, with fancy equipment and rules, there’s no need to explain who the winner is to a first time observer. The complexity in MMA is all in the mind. It is the Western world’s Shaolin Temple.
Greco-Roman wrestling, Muai thai, Karate, boxing, kick boxing, Brazilian jiu-jitsu; the mats resonate multiple mystiques, as if time-traveling through the various traditions. Martial art was inspired by a 6th century Buddhist monk, Bodhidharma, who had traveled eastbound from India in search of enlightenment. Settling in the Shaolin monastery (Henan province, China), Bodhidharma’s influence resulted in Shaolin Kung Fu. This paved the way for other Buddhist-Zen related philosophies to spread alongside numerous other martial art forms.
Bruce Lee’s epiphany, expending Sun Tzu’s holistic ideology and combining different martial art forms, led to him being regarded as the “godfather of MMA.” Though scorned by martial arts masters for teaching non-Asians, Lee’s artistic approach, blending creativity and risk taking, gave rise to the MMA universally practiced today.
“I got a body like this because I’m a ping pong champion,” was the thick French accent reply on a New York subway when a young woman once asked if he was indeed a professional fighter. Witty, charming, unwavering, Québécois native Georges St-Pierre is among the many UFC fighters who train at Tristar. Better known as GSP to fans worldwide and a true gentleman, he is possibly the best pound for pound fighter in the world. GSP’s journey from being bullied as a child, overcoming language barriers, and living in drug-infested New York hostels reflect the importance of his whole inner/outer journeys; a champion in and out of the octagon.
In a pre-fight press conference, GSP once quoted the Kansas song, “All we are is dust in the wind.” GSP’s success is rooted in his understanding of entirety. “Its not always about the muscle, it’s the mind,” GSP modestly replied in a TSN interview. It’s not surprising why meditation has become an integral part of GSP’s training regiment.
Finding oneself and attaining freedom is a boundless journey requiring resilience. The Kahnawake Mohawks, reflecting their own strivings for freedoms, hosted the first MMA fight in Quebec on their reserve on April 26, 1996. As individuals, we are indebted to our true selves to find that freedom.
Fighter: The Unauthorized Biography of Georges St-Pierre, UFC Champion, by Jerry Langton, Wiley Press
UFC 158: St-Pierre vs. Diaz @ Bell Centre, March 16