Article by Chuck Hardin.
Brandon Stevenson, alias "Monk" or "ScyberMonk", is a Brisbane, Australia man who claimed to be a skilled martial artist and ran a local fight club. Bullshido member Deadmeat sought out Stevenson, arranged a meeting with him, and assessed his skills in a friendly sparring session. Stevenson's skill level was poor, and when he was matched against opponents of equal size, he did badly. Unfortunately, he learned nothing from this incident and has undertaken no formal training to remedy his deficiencies.
How Stevenson Came To Bullshido's Attention
Bullshido member Conztant posted a thread about Stevenson's fight club, which was called "Musashi's Bar and Grill". He was not happy with what he had found:
I live in NZ and one day I met a guy named monk, we had a friendly chat and stuff and he seemed like an o.k. guy. But when we got on to the topic of Martial Arts he told me about his 'art' "the way of the void" so I listened to his perspective of traditional arts and such...and started to think wait a second, this is not right! He began to talk of such things as pitting his students up against each other the first time they are come. This guy is only about 26 By the way.
Conztant then provided a (currently defunct) link to Stevenson's school website, complete with videos. These drew a mixed reaction from Bullshido members. For example, FictionPimp noted that their sparring was "goofy, and very unskilled", but that they did spar full contact, and concluded that the students were "LARPer's who actually hit each other." ErikW evaluated them more harshly, characterizing the students as "highly unskilled emo's who train with modicum of aliveness" and that "all of the matches I saw were slap and tickle kicks and punches with horrific crappling thrown in for good measure." Scrapper was even less favorably impressed: "Where I become very concerned is if your students do not understand what they are getting. If you are claiming to offer effective self-defense and combat training, then you are leading them astray. ... [D]on't for one second let them think that they are learning to fight well. That would be very dishonest."
Stevenson promptly appeared on the thread as Bullshido member Scybermonk:
First off, I take a tiny bit of offense at the Larper designation. We aren't saying we are anything more than exactly what we are....fighters utilizing a new-ish method of combat, in a completely new and slightly bizarre atmosphere. Secondly, amusingly enough, he posts what seems to be a rather scathing review of my combat abilities.
Also, as a final note...every student is first required to spar me. So every single time someone joins my school, they determine, first hand, if what I know...is something they want to learn. It turns a lot of people off to it, but I don't teach people who aren't there to learn actual fighting skills.
The only sparring of myself on that site are either Firsty Spars, where my abilities are gauged to match my opponent, or in the ONE end of class spar that a student challenged me to, in which I attacked with exactly the same ferocity and tenacity I expect from any one of my students. I cannot ask of them what I am unwilling or unable to show them. ...
FICTION PIMP: All I ask, when you view the videos, is to remember that none of my Aussie students have been with me for more than 8 months, on the absolute outside. They are still incredibly green. One of end of class sparrings primary principles is to help the student learn, through direct physical application, what does and does not work for them. Every student utilizes what is taught to them in a wholly different manner, and that is the big point I try to get across. If I may myself quote the site..."I can teach you to kick, but you will never kick like I do, nor should you try." But they are still striplings, and being taught things that you may not be familiar with. Wait a bit till they get some more experience under their non-existent belts, then have a gander.
SCRAPPER: I have to ask...what, exactly, do you base that on? It looks like a fairly specific comment at first, however, it lacks anything substantial to really back it up. Now, if you wouldn't mind, please delineate your points, and what you mean by them. ... All you have to go off of are some end of class sparring videos with very very green students, and maybe one or two amazingly basic technique videos, in terms of practical combat application. ... Basiclly, what, in your mind, qualifies someone to teach...and what criteria are you using to state I am not ready?
Ahhh, the question of my past training. Been waitin' fer this one. I'ma tell you the very same thing I have told everyone else. Certificates can be faked, webmasters bribed, and belts purchased (which has been the subject of MANY a discussion here, as I recall.). If you wish to know what my fighting abilities are, then fight me now....as you cannot fight me in the past. What I have done has shaped what I am doing, and that's pretty much all the answer I'm willing to give. False pride is built on pedigree, and last I checked, I'm not a dog. I am not good purely because of who trained me, or what I trained in. I'm good because I'm good, period. You, just like everyone else thus far, have judged the school based on green student sparring. Try to avoid that.
Scrapper responded promptly to Scybermonk's query:
I base it on several factors:
That is what I based my observations on. I did not feel it was necessary to dissect the individuals involved, because as long as everyone is having fun, and everyone knows the difference bewteen what they are doing and real fight training, then it's all OK. My concern is that they think they are receiving real fight trianing.
1: I've been a competitive martial artist for going on 15 years now. I have 185 judo matches, 6 boxing matches, and 2 cage fights under my belt. I have been a bouncer and a crisis intervention team leader for the State of Connecticut's mental health system. I have been punched, kicked, bitten, attacked with a rake, headbutted, bled on, puked on, and even stabbed with syringe once. Even so, I still consider myself fairly unskilled due to the caliber of fighters I have encountered in my martial arts journey. I have watched no fewer than 7 of your sparring videos, and I intend to get through all of them by the end of the day.
Every single one of them showed untrained, fighters fighting poorly. There was no power in any body's strikes, poor footwork, no concept of distance or timing, and all the mistakes typical to people who want to fight but have no training.
2: I'll pick on Tatsu, (or is that Kel?...the big dude with the facial hair...?) because he is fairly experienced in your system.
Tatsu needs to keep his hands up, and distribute his weight better. He leads with his chin and I know at least 3 7-year-olds with faster hands. He's big and gets away with a lot of slop, but a guy in his weight class with 3 months of judo will beat him in under a minute. Might take a boxer of comparable training a full 2 minutes, (Tatsu looks like he has a decent chin). A wrestler will shoot in and take him down instantly.
Tatsu punches are what we like to call "haymakers." He swings his arms like clubs, and robs them of the speed and power proper technique would give him. He is at best an arm-puncher, and those looping swats leave him wide open. Thai boxers would salivate at the thought of getting him in the ring.
3. The grappling I observed in your videos was atrocious. Sorry. It's that bad. No concept of kuzushi, no idea how to manage levels, and no explosiveness. This is called "crappling." I don't know what horrified me more: the girl doing the full-nelson, or the girl who didn't know how to escape it.
Stevenson responded to this critique dismissively:
1. Good set of fight experience..unfortunately, doesn't answer the whole 'qualifications to teach' bit.
And I am perfectly, absolutely and utterly willing to put my skills to the test of any Bullshidoer who would like to show up at my dojo, hell, I'm willing to go to them (within reason. Please keep it to Brisbane.). I will even be pleased to put the fight online, on my schools website, win or lose. Winning proves the system, losing proves that even though I teach, I still have much to learn...a point I make to my students every single lesson.
2. Considering that I know Tatsu fairly well, I can actually explain his fighting. What you consider to be sloppy is simply because he knows he is fighting an opponent he has already gotten most of the measure of. He can take the riskier hits, as he knows the opponent isn';t going to be able to get aroound them. Nothing fancy is required. Therefore, the swinging his arms like clubs, while it doesn't look too terribly pretty, certaintly gets the job done. Also, I have known him to take several shots to the face, chest, legs, whathaveyou, and shrug them off. If you are certain enough that your opponent is going to do lasting damage, why bother with the 'correct' block? He's fought thai boxers. No one with any record, to be sure, but he didn't lose. Grapplers have tried to shoot in, and despite him looking slow...he goes as fast as he needs to, and it rarely ends well for the grappler. You seem to, again, forget that he is fighting incredibly green students......
And as the instructor of the class, he can't exactly go balls to the wall, can he?
Also, you seem to think that the end of class sparring is all the training they are receiving. That's the END of a five hour long class, in which a WHOLE lot more is done, including excercising, technique refinement, conditioning, and the like.
Oh, and one more aside.
I'm Tatsu. .*snicker*But rather than Scyber, call me Monk.
Scrapper responded politely but firmly:
I'm not sure about the qualifications to teach question. What are you looking for? Mine?
How would you know?
Uhhhmmm...shodan in Judo, verifiable fight record, and endorsement form Steve Crawford? What would make me feel good about your qualifications? I would settle for verifiable experience in the field you wish to instruct. Right now all we have on you is a vampire fetish, neo-goth swordsmanship, and backyard wrasslin'.
With all due respect...I just don't buy it.
I really didn't want to rip you up that bad, because I don't think you are completely wrong in what you are doing.
You sound like every other LARPer that we find here. here is the top three list of excuses LARPers give when bad fighting is displayed:
1. Those students are very inexperienced.
2. I wasn't going all out.
3. That's not all of what we do.
...All we need now is for you to claim an injury is responsible for bad fighting and you will have the top 4 excuses. Throw in hippie chi-silliness (art of not-fighting anyone?) and you've completed the top five.
You even tossed out the long-distance e-challenge. You know damn well that none of us are gonna fly out there to spar with you. If we have local guy, you might get your wish, but otherwise you are pretty safe.
Here si another big question? What do you charge your students?
Let me change tactics:
If you were stuck in a cage with an amateur competitive fighter, in your weight class, how do you think you would do? I am not talking about the local hero, I'm talking about a guy who is just competing for the fun of it, trains a couple of times a week, keeps in shape and has 2-4 years experience.
Can you beat that guy?
What you have mentioned are good ways to show your capabilities to fight...not your capabilties to teach. What you ask for in me are ways to show my capabilities to fight...not my capability to teach. While you definately need to know how to fight in order to teach it....being able to fight doesn't mean you CAN teach it. ...
As for the theoretical cage match? Well, I hope I do better than the other guy. But to be a bit less flip...I know I'm a skilled individual. You guys feel differently, and that's fine by me, as I have said, if we can arrange a meetup, I will be more than happy to demonstrate. Hell, I am planning on being in the States around Octoberish, in the Michigan/Ohio area, so there ya go. Do I think I could beat him? Haven't the foggiest, haven't fought him. No such thing as a foregone conclusion in a fight. Something ELSE I tell my students..."Always assume your opponent is as good, if not better than, you." So really, until I cross knuckles with the fellah, I can't answer that.
The whole point of Firsty Spar is to show them why they are learning from me(they are learning to fight. If I cannot beat them in combat...well, you see where I am going with this.)...and to show me what they need to work on. As for my end of class spar....the point of what I teach is to show people that your technique shouldn't be a rigid set of movements, but that you should do exactly what needs to be done in order to achieve victory. Which, as I see it, I did. ...
[U]nlike the LARPERS...I have a website delineating everything we do. Hell, there's a class schedule on the website. Sure, I don't have every video for everything we do. I don't have time to get every video up, and I want to make sure at least the technique video's are fairly clean. As I have said, make sure you read everything to get a better idea. ...
[I charge] 50 for four lessons. That gets you four five hour lessons, once a week, on sunday. You can also pay fifteen dollars a lesson if you wanna pay as you go, but paying 50 saves you 2.50. I charge just to help defray costs of renting the hall, and getting more equipment, and even then, most of it comes out of my pocket. I'm not doing this to make money. ...
djrand also had a question about Stevenson's excuse for his display of sloppy technique: "What kind of example is that setting for your students? If someone is smaller than you or you know they are of less talent just throw all correct stance and technique to the wind?" Stevenson's reply was: "[W]hat criteria do you use to determine correct stance, and correct technique? Do you do the same thing, every time, for every opponent? I do what is required to assure victory."
It is Fake summarized the forum's general reaction well: "Your longest student doesn't have basic defense skills learned in the worst McDojo's I have seen. I've seen better defense in tippy tap point sparring."
Stevenson continued his refusal to specify his martial arts experience or credentials despite repeated requests to do so, and asserted that the only fair way to judge him was to spar with him. Deadmeat made an offer to meet Stevenson and assess his skills. Stevenson accepted the offer.
On August 30, 2007, Stevenson met Deadmeat and wrestler "Big Jim" Yorke for a match.
The only video still available online is that of Stevenson's match against Yorke. This was a contest between men of roughly similar size and strength, which was necessary in order to evaluate Stevenson's technique and skill.
The result was dismally one-sided; although Deadmeat tried to characterize the event politely, Stevenson was clearly out of his depth with Yorke, and the conclusion was obvious: "I do not feel he is of sufficient proficiency to teach individuals intending to compete in MMA, nor to compete in MMA himself." When pressed for a more specific evaluation of Stevenson's fitness to teach martial arts at all, he replied: "I don't feel he is qualified to teach Martial Arts in the capacity that I know them." Yorke's judgment was less ambiguous: "... a good guy, but a little misguided. Not instructor level, but with enough toughness and potential to get good if he trains at a good gym."
Unfortunately, Stevenson appeared to have learned less than he should have from this experience. He announced breezily that he would continue teaching martial arts: "I'm a damned idiot if I didn't learn from Thursday, and an even bigger one if I didn't pass that on." Nobody on the thread who saw his performance agreed that he was qualified to teach any martial art.
However, Stevenson has not returned to Bullshido at this writing, and he still describes himself as a martial arts teacher on his website.
Bullshido member Cy Q. Faunce spoke with Stevenson via Yahoo Messenger on January 19, 2010. Stevenson reported that the Grill was not active at that time, but that he might reopen it in mid-2010. He is still self-training, a regimen he described as: "weapon forms, hth forms, cardio... some Grill stuff, primarily the excercises like the RHW, and then basic bo, iato, kenjutusu stuff. And, on occasiaon, stuff I make up at the moment." The RHW is a reference to the "Right Hateful Walk", a "variation on the lunge that also helps teach the front thrust kick" which was inspired by the Monty Python "Ministry of Silly Walks" sketch, again according to Stevenson.
Other Indications of Stevenson's Character
Stevenson's self-absorption was not restricted to martial arts. On his personal website, he assessed all of his personal characteristics between 15 and 19 on a scale where human performance is generally measured between 3 and 18. His webcomic featured himself as the main character "Monk", complete with superpowers. He even insisted on being called "Monk" at his place of work, and would answer to no other name when dealing with Bullshido members.
The most revealing observations about Stevenson's character were provided by his friend Kuma, who had a past association with Musashi's Bar and Grill:
I have helped to run the Grill, when it was here in Toledo, several years ago. In that capacity, I offered advice on fundamentals and moral support to participants. I considered it then, and still do, to be more of a fight club than a dojo. In all honesty, it was fun. It was educational. Somewhere, things went awry and egos got huge. While I do miss it, I'd probably forget about it completely if I had the time and money to invest in a good local MMA gym.
Later in the thread, he was even blunter:
I'm also aware that the utter lack of technique reflects very badly on the instructor. I have been making suggestions to him for some time on possible remedies, to no avail. This might be the wake-up call to overhaul the entire thing, and re-evaluate everything he knows.
Unfortunately, this was not the case.
Brandon Stevenson is an enthusiastic but basically unskilled martial arts instructor who has no business claiming the ability to teach people to fight. The success he enjoys in sparring with his students owes more to his size and strength than to technique, and although he and his students spar with aliveness, they are not doing anything to improve their fighting skills. Unfortunately, Stevenson has neither admitted his lack of qualifications nor addressed them through training.
Stevenson and the Musashi Bar and Grill show us that aliveness is not enough by itself. It requires unusual genius to invent a wheel for the first time, and attempts to reinvent it are more often the result of vanity than of real innovation.