September column from the excellent Jonathan Blaustein. Enjoy!
As a kid, I grew up on the martial arts/action movies of the 1980’s, and then went down the Jackie Chan/Bruce Lee rabbit hole in the mid-90’s.
Kung Fu movies are cool, without question, which is why Quentin Tarantino fetishized them so well in Kill Bill Volumes 1 and 2. (Of course there was plenty of Samurai-movie-porn going on there too.)
I never thought I was the kind of guy who’d learn martial arts, as I punked out of studying Aikido a couple of times because it was too slow to be functional, and I was just plain lazy.
Now that I’m in my 40’s, a sneaky-powerful time of life, (truth be told,) I’ve settled into a Wing Chun Kung Fu routine that makes me stronger, and as it’s based upon Qi Gong, or Chinese moving meditation, it also helps chill me out.
My main training partner is the equivalent of a black belt who weighs 220 lbs. He can bench press 400, also knows Aikido, and is a power-lifting security guard, so dealing with him is a challenge each time.
But other than getting thrown to the mats a lot, (as ours is an aggressive style of Wing Chun,) I never get punched. Or kicked. We practice in a collaborative way, and almost all of the violence is hypothetical.
I get to have my cake and eat it too, as the martial arts style is flowing and fun, and the skills would likely, hopefully, probably translate in a street fighting situation.
Yes, Wing Chun is designed to be vicious, as we aim for the throat and the eyes, but still. I sweat a tiny bit, and my kit stays clean, as the English say.
But a few months ago, I started occasionally training Brazilian Jiujitsu too, as it’s the predominant art at the dojo where I study. (Kung Fu has a tiny following there compared to the house specialty.)
Since then, and this is only in 6 classes mind you, I’ve scraped my foot so bloody that took two weeks to heal, cracked my head on a dude’s hip bone during a takedown and almost passed out, sweated through my underwear, t-shirt and gi each time, gotten kicked so hard in the shin it brought up a welt, been tossed up and over someone’s head so I landed on my neck, and then, this week, of course, I got kneed in the balls.
People have rubbed their sweaty bodies over mine, many times, and crushed my windpipe in a choke out, my head in a pincer, and my elbow in an armbar.
To say this shit is brutal is perhaps over-simplifying.
I’ll take my Kung Fu over this Japanese-Brazilian hodgepodge every day of the week, though. It’s graceful, cool, and stylish, and I think it will work. (Probably.)
But without question, the new training is toughening me up. These guys like to bleed, (they say so openly,) and I’ve seen a dude carted off for injury twice in six classes.
(How do you like those odds?)
What I’m getting at is that in sports, winners need grit. They have to be mentally and physically tough. They need to know how to win ugly, and these rules hold true in almost all cases.
From football to American Football to MMA to basketball to rugby to swimming to speed skating.
Arsenal Football Club are still in so many ways a product of the Late-Wenger rot. It culminated with winter capitations in two consecutive seasons, and that ghastly run of away defeats in the first half of ’18.
It was clear to any and all that Wenger’s teams lacked mental toughness at the least, and physical toughness in many cases too. Credit where it’s due on those FA Cups, (in particular the Man City>Chelsea double,) but over the course of the Premier League season, and in the Champions League, Wenger’s team was as brittle as a piece of salt water taffy that’s been left in a closet for 8 years.
(Editor’s note: I wrote this article BEFORE the Petr Cech story dropped on Monday.)
Unai Emery’s first job was to instill some spine, and some guts, into Wenger’s team. At any given time, Guendouzi/Torriera and Sokratis are the only players on the pitch that didn’t play under Wenger.
In most cases, a coach with 7 games under his belt, coming in after a dude who held court for 22 years, and we’d all be patient. Especially after five wins straight.
Each to his own opinion and all, but I very much like what I see with the Emery-era-Gunners.
Sure, the lack of fluency is not exactly fun. The first half of the Everton game being a great example of flat football, no passes strung together, no quickness of movement.
Nada. I get it.
And sure, Everton cut through Arsenal multiple times and should have scored. But how many times do we say that about lesser opponents: they should have scored?
The truth is that only the big teams have the kind of clinical strikers and forwards that can score when the pressure is on. Most of the small-to-middling teams miss most of these chances against bigger opposition.
Time and again.
Arsenal, on the other hand, now have two players who can summon a moment of magic to win a game. (RVP was the last to do it consistently over a season, and Alexis for months at a time, but rarely more.)
Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang have proven that they can make something out of nothing, and they will finish most of the presentable chances as well.
There is front-line talent on this team, a few truly exciting midfield prospects, and a defense that needs more athleticism and cohesion. But rebuilds take years for a reason, and you can bet that Raul and Sven will spend on the backline in the coming windows.
To respond to the Man City pasting and the close Chelsea away loss, in which the opposition showed off that “winner’s mentality,” Emery’s team went out and won 5 consecutive matches, including away in the North of England, and dispatched all comers.
Remember, this coach expressly said he’d rather win games 5-3 or 3-2 instead of 1-0, which means he’s not going to park the bus. But he also tipped off that he knew he didn’t have the defensive talent to run through the EPL ripping off clean sheets like I discard bandaids from my sweaty, bloody hand.
I like the winner’s spirit, and think that if these guys often play halves in which it looks like they’ve barely played together, and that they have a new coach, it’s because they’ve barely played together and they have a new coach.
Great teams build culture over time, and develop cohesion by working together over seasons, not weeks.
Unai Emery has taken a team of Wenger’s guys, who weren’t winning when they should, and now they are.
That is a huge improvement, out of the gate. The fluency and free-flowing football will come with time, but only if the wins keep coming.
Winning breeds confidence, and confidence breeds success.
Let’s see where it all stands in a month, as I think we’ll know a lot more then.
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Also, jump on the damn pod, it needs your ears on it right away.