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Posts by Mark
David Carradine was my father. Kwai Chang Caine, Grasshopper, Snatch the pebble from my hand… along with Bruce Lee, my dad’s iconic characterization of the deadly yet peace loving Shaolin priest wandering the Old West in the original Kung Fu television series sparked the Kung Fu craze and inspired a generation.
Like so many others back then, I too set out to find a masterful teacher who fully embodied that warrior-sage ideal, at least as much as any fallible, non-fiction human being could… but who would’ve ever thought that I would actually find one, in LA no less?
His name is Mark Mikita… and now you have found him too.
16 year student of Mark Mikita
Son of David Carradine & Barbara Hershey
As a neurosurgeon and neuroscientist, I have been both a student and a teacher of science and medicine for most of my life and I can honestly say that Mark is one of the finest teachers I have ever worked with, in any arena.
He is a veritable lexicon of martial arts knowledge with an understanding of history, anatomy, biomechanics and human nature that truly sets him apart. In fact, Mark’s knowledge of functional medical anatomy surpasses that of most of my medical colleagues.
As a teacher, he goes to great lengths to custom-design a curriculum to suit the needs of the individual student. For example, as a neurosurgeon, it’s very important to me to keep my hands, my fine motor skills and my cognitive abilities intact. Mark not only puts me completely at ease with regard to those concerns in training but also teaches me how to protect those assets in actual combat without suffering a deficit in my ability to put serious hurt on anyone who would do me or my family harm.
Mark teaches everything from vicious bare-knuckle boxing spiked with elbows to the eye sockets, head butts and guillotine chokes to jungle warfare with fire-hardened sticks and big, sharp knives, yet he doesn’t attract Neanderthals looking to earn street cred through assault and battery, as one might expect. He is a thinking man’s martial arts teacher with a rare and refreshing penchant for honor and integrity.
He turns away more students than he accepts and the ones he accepts invariably end up training with him for years, if not decades, and that says a lot more than my words here can convey.
I feel privileged to be his student and I am pleased to call him my friend.”
Ian Armstrong MD
Founder & Medical Director of the Southern California Spine Institute
Former Chief of Neurosurgery, Century City Hospital, Los Angeles
10 Year Student of Mark Mikita
“As a professional athlete, I’ve worked with many top-level trainers and coaches but no one holds a candle to Mark Mikita. He has the ability to clearly explain techniques and core principles so that any person at any level learns and learns fast. And I am a prime example. Unable to read or write until I was 14, I was rightfully labeled a slow learner and believed it all my life. However, within just two weeks of beginning my training with Mark, his approach completely changed the way I see myself.
To illustrate the kind of man he is; most trainers and coaches demand to be addressed by certain titles. When I respectfully asked Mark what he’d like me to call him once I became a student, he looked me in the eye, smiled and said, “How ‘bout you just call me Mark?” He went on to explain his heartfelt belief that every person we meet is inevitably superior to us in some way and should be treated as such.
Mark’s style of teaching is riveting and you really have to stay on your toes, intellectually as well as physically, to keep up with him yet, I’ve never known a teacher to be so friendly and easygoing with his students. He has a great way of providing all the benefits of a classical student-teacher relationship without setting himself apart. Putting it another way, he earns his students’ respect by giving them his and, in so doing, he has helped me to become not only a better fighter but also a better man. There is no higher compliment I can pay him.”
“Back when I was in college, before I met Mark Mikita, I thought I knew a lot about the martial arts, and what I loved about martial arts. After meeting Mark in the summer of 1988, though, I was no longer quite sure I was pursuing martial arts with the right goals in mind.
Nothing has opened my eyes more than training with Mark. Besides the very practical, realistic physical training, I’ve come away with a much more discerning mind. In a very real sense, Mark taught me how to teach myself, not just in the martial arts, but also in my everyday approach to the world. Whereas many teachers will lead you by the nose, Mark’s approach is to develop students who can problem solve on their own.
You can’t possibly prepare for every conceivable variable that may occur in your life (or in combat); but if you can think on your feet, adapt and flow with each unique situation and not be hamstrung by the rigidity of pre-rehearsed tactics and techniques that might not apply or fit perfectly for the circumstance you find yourself in, then you should be able to “make it up” as it happens, in dealing with the problem. In a world where you typically find teachers jealously guarding their students, Mark encouraged me to go out and train with a variety of people and learn from a variety of teachers, outside of his school.
Ever the student of the art himself, Mark seeks to develop his students not to become blind followers, but to be unique interpreters of the art, from whom he himself can learn. He demonstrates perfectly the paradox of selfishness and altruism, for it is for selfish reasons that he wants his students to reach their full potential. He wants martial artists willing to explore the art alongside him; training partners who can push his own understanding and skills through the prism of martial art. And in turn, it is absolutely altruistic, the time he invests and the sacrifices he personally makes on behalf of each and everyone of his students. Mark strips away the false securities and pretentious “moral trappings” that hamper other arts and other schools, as well as the baggage of much of the rituals and politics instructors and organizations inevitably weigh their students down with. By not taking a pacifist’s approach to martial arts, preaching fanciful utopian notions of non-violence, Mark prepares his students to “face the beast” and honestly explore what it means to engage in unmitigated acts of violence to protect their life or the life of another. It is a much more adult approach; one that develops maturity and realism in how one deals with conflict and conflict resolution.”
Former UCLA Gymnast
20 Year Student of Mark Mikita
“What Mark Mikita teaches is the boiled down essence of martial arts. It is the tool that you reach for when push-comes-to-shove and you have to protect, defend or attack. Mark’s art is not about learning defensive tactics by rote, but about creating and problem solving on the spot. The core of my training (and what has probably increased my survivability rate in the field) is what Mark has taught me, and what he teaches works. Training with Mark has enabled me to survive many violent confrontations with minimal injuries. I have learned to address my fears, which allows me to operate at full capacity with undivided attention to the problem at hand. Just as importantly, I have also obtained the technical skills necessary to solve a violent confrontation whether it’s with verbal skills, my fists or the tools of my trade.”
“In the world of Martial Arts, I’ve never met anyone who rivals Mark Mikita’s talent, skill and ability to teach. There are few people for whom I have more respect and admiration. It is my honor to be his student.”
Head Instructor, InFighting Athletic Training Systems, Vancouver, BC
13 Year Student of Mark Mikita
“Do you really want to learn how to fight or do you want to go home and forget this ever happened?”
That’s what I was told when I left Mark Mikita’s Dojo in the middle of Venice Beach, California. Years of martial arts training and I got the shit kicked out of me by a witty French dude and the son of a famous actor. I felt like crap and a bit of a wanna-be. I wasn’t sure I was going to come back to this hell ever again.
But what makes Mark Mikita such a brilliant and inspiring martial artist? The first and most obvious thing that springs to mind is the years of training and experience. But I think there’s much more to it. He explored the world of combat in search of what he calls ‘science in a world of hurt.’ It sounds pretty damned painful but, by studying the history and roots of the arts and using statistics and research done by the police and armed forces to assess which techniques to apply when, Mark hand-picks all the techniques and insights that are valuable. In a nutshell, he is multifaceted and flexible of mind with an eagerness to explore every nook and cranny of his art.
Mark is familiar with the vascular system, human anatomy and the range of motion of joints and limbs. As part of Mark’s short lecture on the habits of the brain when learning new techniques and movements, he explained, “If a child doesn’t learn to throw a ball before a certain age, the child will never learn how to throw properly for the rest of its life. This will affect all ball games.”
For obvious reasons, I think many of us can be happy that Mark chose martial arts and not advertising. But he does possess the uncanny ability to explore adjacent fields of interest. Developing a way of creatively applying these findings so that both he and his students could benefit from them became a second nature to him. In short, he created a lethal toolbox that is constantly replenished and expanded upon.
If you read last month’s column by my esteemed colleague, Stein Jansen, you’ll have noticed a fondness for sports analogies. Well, it must be a thing with BSUR, because here comes another one.
When grandmasters like Bill Bernbach created the art & copy duo and the first planners were born either at BMP or JWT, the classical silos of an ad agency were created. A model that was highly successful for decades. But the remnants of these silos now restrict the grooming of both new and old talent. And this is despite the fact that these silos have partly given way to more diverse teams and disciplines.
Advertising didn’t change, not the art itself, but the different techniques and media at our disposal did. And quickly. Therefore, the required skill set these days is much closer to Mark Mikita’s adaptable school of thought than that of the old grandmasters. Furthermore, I have seen in Mark’s students that expanding your abilities alongside your core capabilities makes you mentally agile. That agility will ease the way into new fields of knowledge and tools. A must in times of rapid digital development.
The days of a single classical skill-set are numbered. At every level or discipline there should be a basic understanding of statistics, analytics and human behavior. No matter if you are agency or client-side you should look out for these agile learners. These young professionals are familiar with exploring new techniques and making them their own without losing core strength. Enhancing their toolbox and honing their classical weapons in the progress.
With flexible thinkers it doesn’t matter if they are in the art, planning, account or production department. They will display an eagerness to explore and absorb knowledge naturally. Some call them T-Shaped, some call them cross-dressers. Nevertheless, these marketing and advertising professionals are the weapons of the future.
Who knows? They might be a little zen, too.
I ended up training at Mark Mikita’s Dojo after that first encounter. I left with more than just a renewed focus, but with the inspiration to apply Mark’s lessons to more arts than those of just the martial variety.