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A Chat With Li'l Ol' Me & Fernan Vargas

Hey Crew, this is a conversation I had with Fernan Vargas in his excellent book AmericanCombat Masters. The book is chockful of interviews with some thoughtful folk; I have excised some of my own Q&A in hopes that if you find this interview or any of the other fine folks involved of interest you put the dollars in Mr. Vargas’s pocket.

Big thanks to Fernan for the insightful questions and the yakkity-yak opportunity!

What martial arts have you studied? And to what degree?

Oh, man, it’s been almost exclusively boxing and wrestling in whatever form I was digging at the moment. I have dabbled in many other arts with good folks thru the years, but with only so many hours in the day I always ballparked on what held my attention most, the old-school stuff. 

Which martial art is your primary discipline?

Throwing hands, twisting limbs, gouging eyes that is, boxing, wrestling, and rough and tumble.

How do you view your art a self defense art? A sport? Or a method for promoting health and wellness?

Oh hell, easily all three. It all depends on what you want to do with it. If you hit the cleaned up version of boxing and wrestling you have a sport. You add the old school mayhem back in and add rough and tumble and you’ve got a killing system. If you embrace the grind as all old school boxers and wrestlers advocated then you’ve got a hardcore conditioning regimen.

What did you like most about that art? Why did you choose to focus on it?

There are so many ways to answer this one, but let’s settle on just one: Pragmatics. There is nothing airy-fairly or artsy-fartsy about  banging hard, rolling with intent, and ripping for all its worth. It either will work or it won’t. Immediate feedback loops based in reality allow you to hone and focus and never wonder “Hey, is this all mere theory?” 

What can you tell me about the history of your art?

Man, we could be here for days with me rambling on about the history of this fight, or the evolution of that tactic, or the influence of this fighter and please don’t read this statement as “Man, I know so much, I am simply astonishing in my knowledge.” Read this as “I looooove what I do. I looove studying this stuff. I loooove the history of the American Frontier, the history of boxing, the history of wrestling in all its forms.” I’m a guy who is learning the very difficult [well, difficult for me] Comanche language so I can access more resources. I’m a guy who reads how certain loggers prepared for both logging and “cat-fights” [sparring sessions on logs] so I go out and drop and buck trees with 18th-century technology picked up in antique shops so I can duplicate that training. I’m a guy who found an odd tract on how keelboat men “read rivers” and “rail-kick” so I started white water rafting, go to river guides to teac
h me “river reading,” learn to gain “river-legs” so I can recreate “rail-kicking” in actual conditions. I see history as not something to merely read about, but as experiments to recreate. I drove a demolition derby so I could put tactical driving to use and not merely run a sterile course or skidpan. I took up chuckwagon cooking about 4 years ago and have added American Indian cookery, so when I’m working on a Blackfoot Indian rough and tumble tactic I can fuel up with an authentic Blackfoot Buffalo and Wild Berry Soup. I’m that weird guy.

What do you see as the most unique or beneficial aspect of your art?

 Unique—Hmm? Maybe that the frontier aspect of it seems so lost. Beneficial, hell, anything that we love to do is beneficial. I make no special claims that “my” thing is “your” thing. 

Who were your primary or most influential instructors in your art?

 My grandfather, George Washington Goins, numero uno. Beyond that, it’s more folks from alternate domains, historians, philosophers, soldiers, scouts, rivermen, lumberjacks, wildcatters, mule-skinners and so on. I find so much grist for the mill in the old works that these long dead men inform my everyday life.

Have you ever had to use your art for self defense? If so what lessons did you learn from the experience?

Only in the awareness aspect. I’m a big believer in being awake, aware, and happy. If I’m wide awake enjoying everything around me I get two benefits. The first, I have a good time. The second, if I’m always looking for the good, I find that when things start to appear to be going a bit sour I’m already awake to see it, I make my exit and look for the next good thing. If I’m lucky I will escape this world unscathed by any violence beyond what I choose for myself 6 training days per week. I love the Indian philosophy of “Run away and live to fight another day.” 

How have the martial arts helped you in your life?

Oh, Lord, it’s given me a livelihood, friends, focus, innumerable experiences. It’s been a net force for good in my life. 

What do you see as your major accomplishments in the martial arts?

It might be an odd answer, and my answer may not match how others see what I do, but to my way of thinking I’m at my best when I see an odd nexus between domains that may not at first seem combat related and make that nexus not a trivial link, but one that is meaningful and full of utility. 

What do you see as your major contributions to the martial arts?

I may shock you in that a man who rambles as much as I do, I really am not the judge of such a thing.

What is your proudest moment in your career in the arts?

Hands down—the friends I’ve made. I have gotten to meet and befriend some amazing folks around the world. That heartfelt smile and big hugs shared when you see each other again. The laughs had, the sad parting, but good memories carried away and looking forward to the next time. So many of these experiences came from me being involved in this violent business. I’m proudest of those human times with friends.

What do you think of the current state of your art? (how its practiced, taught, etc?)

Boxing, wrestling, MMA—going strong. I’ve got no complaints.

How do you envision the future of your art?

Zero idea. I’m shit for predictions, and think most folks are as well. Put me down in the “Looking forward to being surprised” column.

What piece of advice could you share with new martial artists?

Have fun! Oh, and contact. If you are trying to get thru a martial activity unscathed, you may have chosen the wrong creative expression. I’m not saying everyone needs to be knocked out, but everyone does need to be knocked about. 

How do you view Warriorship? What does it mean to you?

This is a good question and a complex one. Warriorship is most likely an overlay of “moral” force or “nobility” on top of a violent pursuit. It says more about the intent of those who advocate Warriorship than it does the combat arts themselves. There are plenty of folks who engage in fighting who have zero nobility, and there are plenty who engage in fighting who are the tip-top of humanity. I wager Warriorship is the good man or woman bringing that goodness to the fore and by dint of being a warrior we assume that the art fostered that. I have a personal code of ethics and I take it mighty seriously, but I’m not sure it derived from fighting. With that said, I do think that the grit demanded by martial endeavors can make the resolve stronger in both directions, the criminal warrior can be harder and meaner and the honorable man can become stronger in resolve by dint of the confidence of the hard skills hard won. 

What are the things that you are most excited about the current state of martial arts?

In my little corner of the world? I’ve got stacks and stacks of historical resources to get through and this stack grows by the week. Each week gleans a new aspect or tactic to be played with. Now that is exciting! A seemingly unending supply of wild information waiting to be panned for gold.

What are the things that concern you most about the current state of martial arts today?

To be honest, and no disrespect intended, I pay little attention to what goes on outside of what I do. That is not a position of superiority, it is one that recognizes how easily my attention can be captured and I would take focus off of my work. You know the whole, “Which is a better use of my time Facebook or reading John Cremony’s Apache history and/or making sense of an old journal on the top of my stack?”

Where can people find more information about you and your art?

They can go to You can also sign up for a free newsletter there and read my blog where I gush about something historical or combat related. Or, for the deep-divers, join the RAWCrew for the immersive hands-on training in your mailbox each and every month.


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