This Monday, President Donald Trump is meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Finland. As pundits and politicians pontificate and predict who will come out on top at the summit like Las Vegas gamblers for a UFC fight, it made me think back to my fighting days and even Putin’s alleged martial arts mastery.
A former State Department official who spent decades preparing meetings between U.S. and Russian leaders gave the New Yorker this explanation in comparing the summit competitors: “I’m afraid our guy here is like an amateur boxer going up against Muhammad Ali.”
What’s fascinating is that mainstream media outlets have done more to elevate Putin’s pre-fight persona before Trump ever steps into the ring with him. Rolling Stone even put a dog in the fight by citing Russia expert and Trump advisor Fiona Hill in her book, “Mr. Putin: Operative in the Kremlin” as “valuable insight into Putin and his leadership of Russia.” RS wrote, “‘Working with people’ [rabotat’s lyud’mi] was a hallmark of the Soviet spy agency under Yuri Andropov, who ran the KGB for much of Putin’s 16-year career there. For a former case officer like Putin, Hill wrote, ‘it meant studying the minds of the targets, finding their vulnerabilities, and figuring out how to use them.'”
I’m all for assessing the strengths of an opponent – that’s a necessary warfare strategy. But elevating them to some super-status that prompts fear and dread is just plain stupid. Far better is the strategy of how to use an opponent’s strength to overcome him. That’s a tactic I repeatedly used to become a six-time world karate champion.
The art of jiu-jitsu is to use an opponent’s weight and strength to your advantage. President Trump needs to leverage fear and intimidation (Putin’s strengths) against him. The truth is, Putin needs to fear and respect Trump even to have a good relationship. Trump should never barter or concede friendship with him in absence of fear and respect.
It’s interesting that, in 2013, several news stories ran with the headings, such as, “Putin trumps Chuck Norris in black belt stakes” and “It’s Official: Vladimir Putin Could Beat Up Chuck Norris…”
Apparently, and allegedly – as at least the story goes – while on a visit to South Korea, Putin received a ninth-degree black belt from Choue Chung-won, president of the World Taekwondo Federation, according to Russia’s ITAR-TASS news agency.
At the time Putin said, “I’m not sure if I deserve this.” Maybe he was being humble, or maybe he was right. Maybe it was more like an honorary degree.
Though I’m always asked by the press to comment on edgy stories like those involving me, especially when they pit me against intriguing characters like Vladimir Putin, most of the time I don’t comment. I don’t need to. However, I will say this now: it’s one thing to earn the belt, but quite another to use it and win competitions and national championships. Putin has never fought in professional and international competitions.
Though I’m not one to flash degrees or advancements, I have been truly blessed and honored to earn a 10th-degree black belt in Chun Kuk Do, a 9th-degree black belt in Tang Soo Do, an 8th-degree black belt in Taekwondo, a 5th-degree black belt in Karate, a 3rd-degree black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu from the Machado family, and a black belt in Judo.
More valuable to me than those self-defense honors, however, I’ve been able to use my martial arts expertise to start my wife, Gena, and my non-profit foundation, KickStart Kids, which seeks to build character in middle school students through karate.
As far as who would win if I were to step into the ring with Putin? Let me just say this: it would be similar to what would happen if I were to become a politician – something I’m regularly asked to become. The reason I can’t become a congressman, senator, governor, president or any politician is because the second someone disagrees with me, I’ll be tempted to jump over any barrier between us and choke out my opposition!
Now, that wouldn’t be very nice, would it?