At the surface, Emil Farkas’ profile is similar to many other sensei’s who have been in the arts for half a century. He is a successful martial arts instructor, author and fight coordinator. He started his martial arts career while still a youngster in his homeland Hungary. He had earned his black belt in both judo and karate before he was 20. He now holds a 7th degree black belt in karate, 4th degree black belt in judo and a 4th degree black belt in jujitsu. Behind the scenes, Emil Farkas is one of the world’s foremost and well-respected authorities in the martial arts. He is internationally recognized for a depth of knowledge in the arts that is almost unparalleled. For many years he worked as a bodyguard for numerous celebrities and is also a noted consultant and teacher in realistic street combat. Gordon Richiusa and Dana Stamos sat together with America’s foremost martial arts expert, Emil Farkas, as he shared his views about the state of the arts (past, present and future) for Legends and Legacies.
(G) First, could you give us your Message in a Bottle?
(Emil Farkas) My Message in a Bottle, what I’d like to pass on to people, the number one thing I’ve probably learned in life is, “Never Give Up”. I remember, as a young kid growing up in Hungary, one of the reasons I got into martial arts is that I was little. People used to chase me, but I could run quickly. Until one day, everybody caught up, and I got the Hell beaten out of me. So, what I did was I went and learned how to fight back. I could’ve given up, but I fought back. I’ve been instructing martial arts now for a lot of years, and I get a lot of people coming in who are afraid. They want to give up, but they have that one ray of hope of possibly changing that direction in their lives. Martial arts does that for them. It gives them confidence. It gives them the will to go on, whether it’s in a physical sense or a mental sense. I think that not giving up in life is so important. That to me is the message. “Keep going!” As long as you can walk, as long as you’re capable of thinking you never know what tomorrow is going to bring. So, rather than laying down and calling it quits, one day you’re going to reach where you want to go, and that’s my Message in a Bottle.
(G) You teach and perform Ninja Magic, as a related but side interest. How did this come about?
(Emil Farkas) A friend of mine was talking about how many of the ninja of old were great magicians. For example they would take a rope and do rope tricks, but in reality the rope was used as a weapon. They could make their shurikens disappear and reappear, pretending it was a magic tool, like a coin trick, and I was fascinated by this. I had no idea, but he said, “Yeah, some of the ninjas were really top magicians.” So, now I do a show on a regular basis at the Magic Castle demonstrating Ninja Magic.
(G) Next I want to give you a chance to talk about whatever it is you want to talk about. Is there anything that you want to get off your chest?
(Emil Farkas) Well one of my pet peeves is this martial arts hierarchy. Everybody has become a master; everybody is a hanshi; everybody is a guru. It’s so ridiculous because, for all intents and purposes you can count on your fingers the number of people who have really spent a lifetime in the martial arts and can consider themselves masters. I think it’s a shame what I see happening nowadays. Many years ago, in the ’70s, I said this: “One of the biggest problems in the United States is how [easily] black belts are getting their black belts”. When I was studying in the JKA you couldn’t get a black belt under seven or eight years. You had to work for it. Nowadays, the same people who are getting black belts couldn’t have gotten a green belt in those days. So, what does a black belt mean today? A black belt used to mean something. You had to put in your time. It’s like going to college and getting a graduate degree. Today, you walk into [some] dojos and two years later you’re handed a black belt. It’s all a numbers game. I understand there are people charging $1000 a black belt. If you can give away 500 [black belts] a year, then you’re a very rich sensei. It’s become a money factory. Everybody wants to wear a black belt. I think it’s a shame and it really is one of my pet peeves.
(G) How long have you been officially studying martial arts?
(Emil Farkas) Probably fifty-five years.
(G) When and where did you begin training?
(Emil Farkas) I started in Hungary with judo and then continued with jujitsu, karate and judo. So, those are my primary martial arts. As I said, one of the reasons I started was because I was a little kid. The bigger kids would chase me. Originally there was no such thing as martial arts in Hungary. So, I was going to do boxing lessons. There happened to be a very famous Hungarian who was an Olympic boxing champ. So, I decided to go to a sports club. When I was walking in, I saw a bunch of people throwing each other around in pajama looking outfits. That was one of the first judo clubs in Hungary. So, I stuck around and got involved in Judo that way. That’s how my martial arts career began as a coward. I decided that I no longer wanted to do that. Instead of running, I wanted to stand up and face the music.
(G) When did you move to the United States?
(Emil Farkas) In 1965, but I first moved to Canada and I began training with Mas Tsuroka in karate. Then I moved to the U.S. and would go to Japan to train at the JKA. I studied with Sensei Nakayama and all the people there. In 1970 I opened up my own dojo. I’ve been in this same location since 1970. I’m told that this is one of the oldest, still existing, dojos in the same location.
(G) And, probably the most coveted dojo title in the entire world, The Beverly Hills Dojo.
(Emil Farkas) I certainly get my share of interesting people here. It’s funny, but one of the reasons I opened this studio was, when I first came here I worked as a bodyguard, and one of the things that would happen is that when I was a bodyguard, I would also teach on the side. When I’d give private lessons people would say, “Well, where’s your place?” I didn’t have a place, but I realized that I needed a place. It’s not that I wasn’t making any money. I was doing very well as a bodyguard, doing movies and television or whatever, but everybody kept asking, “But, where’s your place?” I started thinking about it and realized that having a place seemed to be the right thing. I decided I wanted to open a place where money was never going to play a problem. If you open up in the Valley, people may have money, maybe no, you never know. In Beverly Hills people always had money. So, I decided to open here, on the border of Beverly Hills and it’s worked for me since 1970.
(G) Who are some of the most interesting students you have trained here?
(Emil Farkas) I’ve had a lot of celebrities. Herb Alpert studied with me for years. Jimmy Caan studied here. I could give you a whole list, but there’s no point in dragging. I’ve taught a lot of movie people, because I was in the movie business for a long time. I was one of the first people to start choreographing martial arts for the movies and television. Most of the time, the people involved in those days were stunt people. Ed Parker, Bruce Tegner, there were very few people who started in the early 60s. I was doing television by ’66 or ’67. I met Dennis Hopper in his early stages. Dennis was one of my students, so was Peter Fonda. So, through them I got involved in the movie business. I was doing Mannix and Mission Impossible and Mod Squad and all those shows. Here’s a funny story. One of the people I used to teach is Kirk Douglas’s son and Kirk Douglas and I became friends. One day we were sitting at his dinner table and he said, “You know how Hollywood works?” I said, no and he said, “Well, I’ll tell you. It’s very simple. People arrive here by the thousands and you get in a line. You know you want to be a movie star, and there is this line but you have no idea where the front of the line is. You sort of get the feeling that you’re moving forward but you don’t see the front of the line. So, the thing you have to remember is it’s all about Stick-to-it-ive-ness. It’s all about never giving up. So, when people stand in that line, after a while if you don’t see the front you tend to drop out, as most people do. Those few people who get to the front of the line, get a chance.” So, that’s what Hollywood is all about. Once you’re there, your talent and luck and everything else will work for you. It’s all about being in that line, not knowing where you’re going. The people, who want it bad enough, get the opportunity.” I’ll never forget that. That’s what it’s all about. It’s like life.
(G) You used to be married, but are now with someone for a long time. Do you have children?
(Emil Farkas) I have two children.
(G) What are some of the best lessons in life that you’ve had? It doesn’t necessarily have to be in martial arts. Is there something that comes to mind that has changed your life?
(Emil Farkas) I’ve always been an avid reader. I’ve always believed that if you read, you learn. Knowledge is the most important thing in life and it doesn’t matter what knowledge. You can learn plumbing or anything. I’ve always been drawn to people who are smart, [people] who you can learn from. It doesn’t matter if it’s martial arts or learning to write better, or an art or whatever. A lot of people have a lot to offer, but sometimes they close themselves off to that. I’ve always been very open.
(G) Who do you admire?
(Emil Farkas) I admire people who are not necessarily successful but who have proven themselves to be good at what they do. One of my great friends and I admired him greatly, was Joe Hyams. Joe Hyams, what a great writer, but he was an intellectual. You could have interesting discussions about everything and anything. I admire Sensei Nakayama greatly, because he was a person who really understood the martial arts, the way it should be. He was a very humble man. He understood the dynamics of learning. I trained in the Japanese systems more than anything else, and one of the things I learned from Nakayama was that it’s always the little things that are important. You can always learn the big things, but the people who become great at martial arts or any other endeavor those people pay attention to the little tiny details. That little hip rotation, how much to pull the shoulder back, how you lock the body is what I’ve always instilled in my students. Anybody can learn to do a kick, but it’s that little nuance, the way you slant your body, whether you learn forward an inch or back an inch that’s what is going to make the difference. I’ve always admired people who understood that concept. For example, when I began magic one of the people I admired was Ricky Jay, one of the world’s great magicians. Ricky Jay understood that Magic was an art. It isn’t about tricks. It’s the art and the consistency of practice, practice, practice. Another funny story, when I first met Ricky he [told me he] does not like to teach. I asked him to teach me and he said, “No, no, no but I’ll teach you one thing. If you can learn that one thing then I’ll show you some more things.” It took me six months to learn that one thing that he showed me because he said, “until you perfect it, there is no point in learning something else.” Over the years I’ve discovered it’s not how much you learn. It’s how well you learn. So that’s how I teach and I try to surround myself with people [who feel they have something to teach]. There are plenty of martial artists who are incredibly physical, but they know nothing about the history or the philosophy of the arts. I think that’s sad, because martial arts is a much bigger thing than just learning how to kick and punch. So, I admire people who have more of that to offer.
(G) I’ve always said that your best weapon is your brain. What do you think is your personal, best weapon?
(Emil Farkas) My best weapon is patience. I have an enormous amount of patience. I don’t consider myself the greatest martial artist ever, but I consider myself a very good teacher. And, the reason is that I have a lot of patience. My expectations are exactly what someone is capable of doing, not that they have to be the greatest in the world. I expect everyone to improve, to be better than they were a day ago, a week ago and to much better six months from now. That’s the whole point of patience. Not everybody is a fighter. Some people are non-physical. You need a lot of patience to move these people along, encourage them so that they don’t drop out. So, that’s a major weapon. I also feel very fortunate that I’ve lived an unusual life. I started in Hungary. I had to go to another country and go through a lot of trials and tribulations. I had to learn a new language, which is very difficult, especially for a teenager. I had to overcome obstacles. Overcoming obstacles has been very beneficial to me. I consider martial arts by decades. You know, you have the 60s, the 70s, the 80s, the 90s and they all were different. I’ve been here long enough to see [the changes]. I know almost everybody who has been somebody in the martial arts over the years. It’s interesting to see how it all evolved. One of the things I remember about martial arts in the early days is that, as much as there was competition there was also camaraderie. If you were a black belt you could go to any dojo and you were accepted. People greeted each other. People wanted to be friendly. They wanted to exchange ideas. As the years changed things and money became an issue then the dojo was about making money, not just about teaching. Then, all of a sudden people turned on one another. “It was like, he’s bad and you’re good,” putting people down. Then of course systems came along. “Tae Kwon Do is bad and Shotokan is good,” or “Shotokan is bad and Tae Kwon Do is good.” It’s an interesting thing to witness the evolution, and how it all changed.
(G) How did you conceive the Encyclopedia of Martial Arts?
(Emil Farkas) As I said, I was always an avid reader. In school I studied cultural geography and anthropology. Those were my majors. When I started in the martial arts, obviously what I looked at was books. I studied how to kick, punch, Nishiama’s book and so on. Other than Don Drager, or one or two other people I could never find any historical information. That made me think that people don’t know anything about it [martial arts]. So, one day I spoke to one of my students who was a writer and I said, “George, I have this idea about an encyclopedia. Would you like to do an encyclopedia with me?” He asked me why and I said, “because I want to disseminate all this knowledge and I happen to be very good at research.” I love research. I can go to a library and spend hours and hours. The whole thing started with me taking a four by five inch index card where I would write down whatever. Then, I’d take another index card. By the time I finished I had 40,000 index cards, all alphabetized.
(G) So alphabetical order is how you conceived the book originally?
(Emil Farkas) Absolutely, and one of the reasons for this is, as weird as it sounds, when I was twenty years old I used to collect encyclopedias. I loved to read encyclopedias because they were a quick read. It was instant knowledge. I was not an expert in much, but I was interested in most things. When I was in Canada, I had about 30 volumes of encyclopedias, 1910 encyclopedias. They were fascinating because there were articles about everything. It was one of the best ways to learn a mass amount of knowledge. So I realized that an encyclopedia would be a great way to inseminate all the information of martial arts. When you talked to people and you brought up someone like Robert Trias, nobody knew who he was. If you were on the West Coast, you didn’t know who the people on the East Coast were, and visa versa. That gave me the impetus to say, “I think that these are the people that count. These are the people that we all should know about and here are all the little things that should go into [such a book].” That’s how the whole thing started. It was a massive undertaking. It took us close to fifteen years to put the book together. Then, the story about the encyclopedia was that because we had such a massive volume we couldn’t get it published. Finally, George dropped out of it and John Corcoran and I became friends, I knew that I couldn’t do it by myself. When we finished we had 3,000 pages of manuscript. One of my other great strengths is that I don’t give up. I believe that you keep going. So, what I did was, every year I’d take it to the American Booksellers Association Convention that they held in different cities. I’d fly to those things and walk around with this manuscript to the different publishers. They’d look at it and ask what it was and I’d say, “It’s about martial arts.” Nothing happened for years and years. Six or seven years went by and then one day I happened to be walking by one of these vendors and he called to me, “So what do you write about?” I said, “I’m a martial artist” and he had just come from Japan. He said he loved martial arts and that he was with a big company, W.H. Smith at that time. They had hundreds of bookstores and they had hundreds of books. He represented W.H. Smith in Japan. He asked what I had and I told him it was an encyclopedia. He was very impressed. He took the manuscript back to New York. Two weeks later he called me up and said he had a deal. I never gave up on it. I believed that I had something that should see the light.
(G) That’s how I feel about The Five Principles. O.K., So where were we? What was the biggest mistake you’ve ever made?
(Emil Farkas) If I had to remember one big, big mistake I’d have to say it was during the time I was opening up the dojo and I was spending WAY too much time focusing here and ignoring other things that were much more important. You get caught up in the idea that you have to build a business and you have to make money and it starts to overtake you. There’re only so many hours in the day. So, if I had to do it over again that would be the biggest mistake, not spending enough time with my kids, not spending enough time with my family. If you want to be a success in this business you pay the price.
(G) Its something that you learned from though
(Emil Farkas) Absolutely! And, I’m a great believer in that. All of us are going to make mistakes in life. If you learn from it, then you learn. The problem is when you don’t learn from it then you continue to repeat the same mistakes. That’s something that we’re all careful for.
(G) Is there any person from history that you’d like to sit and talk to?
(Emil Farkas) Winston Churchill. I admire people who have a lot of gall, who believe in themselves and believe in what they’re doing. I think Winston Churchill was the epitome of that. He faced up to Germany. He faced up to Italy. He knew that you had to fight the evil and he did. So, that’s someone that I’ve always admired, or someone like that. Historically, also being Hungarian I’ve always been fascinated by Attila the Hun. He was a fascinating character in the sense that he was the Warrior’s Warrior. In those days, of course, when the didn’t have [modern] weapons, he didn’t say, “you go do it” he said, “follow me and do it. I’m a great believer in [leading by example]. If I can do it, you can do it. So, I’ve always been fascinated by him because he did everything.
(G) And, he didn’t even have a name for his style of martial arts!
(Emil Farkas) No name for his style, but, he did almost conquer Rome! Another fascinating character to me is Albert Einstein. What makes someone’s brain tick like that?
(G) Who is the most interesting person you’ve ever met?
(Emil Farkas) Probably Nakayama Sensei. He was such a humble man for someone with so much knowledge. Also, someone who I really admired was Joe Hyms. He had an enormous amount of knowledge. He’s been around an enormous amount of time, but he could talk philosophically about anything and everything. And, he was always there for you. He never came off, as I’m bigger than you. His interest in the martial arts was always amazing. He always wanted to absorb. He studied with Bruce Lee, was one of Bruce Lee’s first students. He always wanted to search. He was one of the guys that told me that I had an incredible ability with the historical, that I should keep on expanding on that. He encouraged me to put in the time and effort to produce my first book, a question and answer book on the martial arts. Joe was a mentor. He was somebody I found fascinating, and over the years I’ve met an enormous number of martial artists who I felt were really inspirational. Chuck is the perfect example of someone who is inspirational to me. He worked hard for what he got. He didn’t just get it. He believed in himself enough to keep going and more than anything else these kinds of people that I’m always drawn to Chuck was certainly humble about it. He never said, “Hey, I’m Chuck Norris. Don’t talk to me.” There are plenty of those martial arts people too.
(G) One of my instructors, Mike Eaves, who had taken lessons at the Norris studio around the corner from Bob Ozman, (where I started training), told me that he had seen Chuck many years later and he believed that Mr. Norris couldn’t possibly remember him because Mike was just one of the many guys in the class. But Chuck Norris waved across the room and yelled, “Hey Mike!” and had remembered their interactions. Mr. Eaves said that was the kind of guy Chuck Norris was. He was just so tuned into all his students and all the people he had encountered.
(Emil Farkas) I remember when Chuck was fighting. He was even humble about that, even though he was as big a champ as any of these guys. He didn’t come across as arrogant like we won’t mention names, but those guys who walk around with an air of look of who and what I am. That makes a difference. Humility is so important in the martial arts. I’ll give you another example of someone I consider one of the great martial artists of all time. That’s Fumio Demura. He wasn’t necessarily better than anyone else. There were certainly as many masters in his style, but he was so humble about it. He never discriminated. He didn’t care if you were white belt or black belt, Shotokan or Goju or Shito. It didn’t make any difference to him. He was involved in the martial arts and that’s what he wanted to pass on to you. He is certainly one of the great legends in the martial arts. Over the years everybody tries to come up with the perfect or greatest martial arts. It’s just such a silly concept because martial arts are what they are. Every system has something good in it and every system has something that is useless.
(G) And, you’ve worked with a lot of the great ones. You worked with Bruce Lee.
(Emil Farkas) I pretty much knew most of the guys who were of any consequence especially in this country and they all had something to offer. Chuck Norris, Bruce Lee, and Joe Lewis all these guys were all different. Some of them were soft style; some were hard style. It all comes down to the same thing. It’s passing on something that worked for you, that’s the most important thing.
(G) Do you think that there is some secret that you’ve learned over the years? What makes your martial arts so important to you?
(Emil Farkas) I’ll put it this way “The sad reality, if you ask the average guy why do you want to study martial arts?” What I’ve found is that most people answer is that, in some way or another they are scared. It’s an internal feeling that “Hey, I’m a coward,” but nobody wants to admit that. If you want to get in shape, martial arts is a good excuse, but why do we all go to a martial arts school? In essence we want to learn to fight. Why do we want to learn to fight? Because, there is some fear inside us. Once you study for awhile that may no longer be the case of why you stay in. But, it’s the fear factor that originally brings you in. To me, if you overcome fear on a physical level you can overcome fear on every other level. That’s really what it’s all about. Let’s face it. If you’re a six-year-old kid, and some bully punches you on the schoolyard you’re going to be afraid. You won’t want to go to school. Once you overcome that, you get more confident in everything, whether it’s learning or playing soccer or learning other things. Therefore it takes over your life. So, in my opinion it is one of the greatest things in the world that allows you to become a full human being. What keeps most of us back is fear of one kind or another.
(G) As Carlos Castaneda pointed out that Fear was the first enemy of a “Man of Knowledge.”
(Emil Farkas)”and I think martial arts are the perfect antidote for that. It’s why I like to teach it. I see shy people become comfortable enough in themselves and I see out-of-shape people all of a sudden get in shape. That makes them look better. It makes them feel better. It’s a very encompassing thing.
(G) Back to Carlos Castaneda, he pointed out that whatever you accomplish can become your greatest enemy. So, what would you say is your greatest enemy?
(Emil Farkas) That’s a good question. I don’t know if I have one thing that is my greatest enemy. The fact that my life has been so choppy that I’ve failed to establish real lasting relationships might be an enemy. I have a fantasy of growing up in a small town. Everybody that was around you was there when you were born. In the Western World today, not necessarily just in America, we go on. I remember many years ago reading a sociologist who said, “In America, one of our biggest problems is that we are all like islands. The average American moves every seven years. After seven years, you forgot everybody that you knew seven years ago. That to me is my greatest enemy in my older age, I don’t have contact with those people that I’ve known for 15 years and who are still close to me. I go to a martial arts convention, and we remember each other, but we don’t have much connection. When I go back to Hungary I meet people who were born in the same place and lived in the same place, the same building for the last 70 years and are just close to each other. It means something and I think it’s sad, so I think it’s an enemy.
(G) What is a lesson that you’ve learned from one of your students?
(Emil Farkas) From one of my students I learned a lesson in overcoming obstacles. I used to have a student who was a polio victim. More than anything else, he wanted to get a blackbelt. He never stopped and finally he did it, because it didn’t matter what his obstacle was, he just kept working at it. If he couldn’t do one thing, he’d do it another way. He would find ways to overcome his obvious obstacle. I think I learned from him not to ever get to the point that I was so far down that I couldn’t get back up again. How far worse off can you be than someone who is stricken with polio? Because of him, I’ve always been able to keep going. I’ve had down moments in my life and up moments, but I’ve never gotten to the point that I feel I can’t climb out of the problem.
(G) What part of training in martial arts do you enjoy the most?
(Emil Farkas) I enjoy basics. One of the things that I’ve learned is in that old saying, “Practice makes perfect.” To me, “Perfect practice makes perfect.” If I do something long enough, the correct way, then it will become perfect. That’s especially true in the martial arts and I’m a perfectionist in certain things. That’s what I enjoy the most, really working on basics. I can work on a single technique or simple movement for hours and hours. I don’t really enjoy trying to beat somebody else up. I just want to become better at what I do, myself. It’s more of an internal than an external thing. That I can beat you doesn’t mean anything to me.
(G) If you had to describe the difference between internal and external, what kinds of examples can you give?
(Emil Farkas) Most people come into martial arts wanting to learn to fight. That’s external. You attack me and I’m going to try and beat you. I learn a certain number of techniques to do that. That lasts a certain amount of time, but the people who stay in it long enough sort of transcend that. To me the internal is simply perfecting what’s inside you. Even it’s only a simply front kick. Funakoshi used to say it takes three years to perfect one kata. The kata could be simple, but it’s the perfecting of the kata rather than learning 500 things that’s what the internal is. It’s perfecting what you know, always improving upon it and never saying that you can’t add more to it. There is always more you can add, smoother, better. That’s what the internal is all about. A front kick, side kick, a kata or whatever it happens to be. You can always make everything better and if you do practice, it will get better.
(G) Unless you violate that first part, “Practice Perfectly.”
(Emil Farkas) That’s correct. If you practice imperfectly than it won’t. That’s where the mind comes in. You have to be able to understand what you are practicing and why you are doing it. That to me is another pet peeve of martial artists today. When we were studying, part of what we were learning was when we went to Instructors Training. Instructors would teach you what it was all about to BE a teacher. Anyone can be a teacher, but to teach because you have knowledge to impart is totally different. I see so many martial artists who can kick or punch well, but ask them to break it down to the physiology of what they are doing. They have no idea. They just know they can, but that will never make that person perfect that kick, because the instructor doesn’t know how to the point of [perfection].
(G) It’s the difference between a sensei and a shodan.
(Emil Farkas) People are always asking what’s the difference between a shodan, neidan, sandan etc. You know what it is? It’s nothing more than having spent more time doing the same thing over and over again. Not too long ago one of my students asked me what makes someone a fifth or sixth degree black belt. The easiest conception is this: a first degree black belt can probably do a perfect punch 50% of the time. A second degree can do the same exact punch 60% of the time. When you get up close to 10th degree you can do the same perfect punch 99% of the time, because you’ve done it so many more times. When I was in Japan I used to see these old martial artists. It’s not that they knew a lot of things, but what they did know they knew so well. One of my great joys, there was this very great judo man named Mifune. He was one of the living 10th degree black belts. I had an opportunity to see him on the mat. He was one of the smallest little guys you’d ever seen. He couldn’t have been much more than 5 foot something, 120 pounds, this was in England, at the Budo-kwai training. Seeing him, he was always two steps ahead of whatever anyone else was doing. Big guys would come and try to throw him, but he’d already moved and was standing behind them or on the side or whatever. He had an enormous amount of knowledge for a man who was in his seventies. He’d make mincemeat out of his opponents, because he had repeated the same moves over and over for 70 years of training. That’s what it’s all about.
(G) You’ve studies and practiced in a lot of exotic locations. Do you have a favorite?
(Emil Farkas) No question, studying in Japan, they are so much more focused there. They are so much more direct. It’s not about 100 different things. It’s about perfecting what you are learning. Three hours for every technique and when you think you can’t lift your hands up anymore, you have to keep lifting your hands up. I’ve studied with people outside of Japan who were much more capable. One of the bad things about training in a foreign country obviously is the language problem. You might miss some of the little details that many of the JKA guys are very good at. Bruce Lee was a perfect example. He had a hard time explaining things. His students had to visually see what he was doing. The greatest way to learn is to watch. Things that I became very good at were those where I had gone to a dojo, like Sensei Demura’s, and watch him teach. If you watch someone really closely and listen to their explanations you’ll pick it up, you’ll learn. I was a dojo hound. I used to go and watch somebody that I’d just heard about. One example of an American martial artist is Peter Urban. He studied in Japan and understood Japanese better than most Japanese did. He could explain it to you in verbage that was American. If you read some of his books about the dojo you realize that he had an incredible amount of knowledge and he was able to bring it out. Therefore, the things that you learned from him weren’t necessarily all physical. However, he could explain it in ways that a Japanese instructor who could probably DO a technique perfectly could never make you understand in the same way. Peter happens to come to mind, because he was so prolific.
(G) Is there anything that you should avoid if you want to be good in martial arts?
(Emil Farkas) Yes, over-eagerness. Don’t ask, “How soon am I going to get a black belt?” You should go into it with an open mind, like an empty cup, Allow that cup to be filled, rather than trying to pour the water in, just let it go in drips. Also avoid the feeling that whatever you are studying is the only thing in the world. What you should do is focus on what you are learning before you try other things, but you should always keep an open mind. That was a problem originally, especially with the Japanese they would not open up.
(G) What other things besides martial arts do you like to do?
(Emil Farkas) Magic is a hobby of mind. I also play chess. I’m also an avid reader. I’ve always got something cooking in my brain. I’m always thinking about something, whether it’s a screenplay or a book. I don’t have many, many things that I spend my time with. I like to be with friends. I like to watch soccer, but other than that
(G) Did you play soccer when you were a kid?
(Emil Farkas) Everyone in Hungary plays soccer. They are the best in the world.
(G) How did you get into magic?
(Emil Farkas) When I was in Japan, I was walking around one day and I walked into a magic store. The proprietor was a magician who also spoke English. He asked what I did and I told him that I was studying karate there. He asked me if I knew anything about ninjas. What I knew was ninjas, assassins you know. So he said, “did you know that ninjas were magicians?” I asked him in what sense. He took out this magic wand and did a couple of tricks with it then he said, “Watch!” He unscrewed both sides, put a little dart into it and blew it into a target across the room. It was a weapon! He started to explain that many of the ninjas learned magic and that part of them passed themselves off as traveling magicians. In that way they could gain access to a castle and when they got inside, they would have all these things on them, for example a rope. In reality, the rope could also kill and choke you. Big solid coins that they could do tricks with they could also knock someone out with it. At that time, I sort of listened and bought a few trick, but I just dabbled in it. One day, Ricky Jay, one of the world’s great magicians– walked into the dojo and wanted to take lessons. Ricky was one of the great card throwers. He made me close the soji screen to about 20 inches and walked to the far end of the dojo, about 40 feet away. He took a deck of cards and threw them right through the screen! Then, when I got involved in it again, what happened was that I had a group of kids who were being rambunctious in class. I just couldn’t get them settled down. I yelled, “everybody line up!” There was always one or two that were behaving well, so I told the group that if they only would behave like “Johnny and Joey,” we’ll call them, then you would have the Ninja Skills. They all wanted to know what that meant, so I said, “sit down and I’ll show you.” I remembered a trick I’d learned and I told the kids that ninja skills involve Ninja Magic. I took out a deck of cards and went to the first kid in the line and told him to take a look at the top card. It was a King, let’s say and I placed in back on the top of the deck and told him that, “If you have Ninja Magic, and are a skilled martial artist that you can change that card by just hitting the deck.” So WHAM! He hit the deck, but the card didn’t change. I went all the way down the line, letting each kid try to change the card by hitting it, until I got to the kids who had been behaving well and gave them a try. Naturally, only they could change the card. Next class, everybody behaved. I realized I had a gimmick here.
(G) That’s brilliant!
(Emil Farkas) It worked well, so I had to learn more tricks. It made me want to get really heavily into magic. I would seek out guys who were really good, like at the Magic Castle and I would trade them lessons. I had my choice to study with some really good guys, and that’s how I got into magic. I realized that there was more to magic than knowing a lot of tricks. And, like martial arts what’s required most is focus and dexterity. I had the patience to spend the time and energy, hours learning how to cut a card, or make one card come from the bottom of the deck, to the top and back and forth. I was just learning the mechanics of it. Just like throwing a kick, it’s learning the mechanics of it. With magic there’s mechanics in there. I also liked the thought process of how someone can dream up a trick. How does someone come up with the idea of instead of lifting up one card they lift two cards or something like that. I remember one magician at the Magic Castle one day he showed two coins in his hands, held his hands apart, closed his hands, opened them and just like that the two coins were gone. It was like “real magic.” I asked around and found out how he did it. He had been doing this one particular move for ten years. Here’s another story. I’ll reveal this secret because it’s an interesting point. There was a magician on stage and he has this blackboard that is all covered up. He has a little booklet and he hands it to someone in the audience and asks them to write a five digit number in this thing. Then, he goes to another volunteer and another and gets six different people to write numbers and then finds someone who is good with math to add up the numbers. Finally he lifts the covering and asks the person who has added the numbers to read their total. The numbers are the same! I was amazed, even though I was into magic already about two years. I thought that he had to have stooges in the audience. The Castle has three shows, so I left and came back for the next show and with totally different guys, totally different numbers, totally different number on the blackboard he does it again and again. So, the last show I saw someone at the Castle who I knew. His name was Dennis and I said, “Dennis, this is driving me crazy. How in the world is he doing this?” Dennis laughed and said, “If I tell you you’re going to shoot yourself.” So, I went home and I pondered and thought and I couldn’t figure it out. I called Dennis and said that he just had to tell me. What’s the magic? He said, “There’s no magic.” I’m going to tell you how he did it because it’s already been written about in books. Imagine that you go to six people and ask them to write down a number on a pad then go to someone else and ask them to add the number. When you are going to the final person, you are turning over the pad to reveal six different numbers that you had already written down earlier. This guy doesn’t know any better. He thinks that these are six numbers that were just written down, so when he adds them up they equal the sum that you wanted and have already written on the blackboard. It wasnt magic. It was somebody sat down one day and figured out how he could fool people. It’s also, in a way what I find fascinating about a martial art that comes up with an unorthodox or unusual way of doing something. I always wonder, “how did they come up with that? Or, where did that come from?”
(G) And, misdirection or slight of hand skills might be especially important in point sparring, for instance.
(Emil Farkas) Absolutely! You want to catch your opponent looking the wrong way. That’s my involvement in magic. What I do now is seminars for kids that I call Ninja Magic. I go in there and talk about the ninjas, describe what they used to do and I show the kids some things that could be used as a magic prop and also as a weapon. I teach them a bunch of little tricks and they all walk about feeling good about themselves. So, especially with kids we see that magic requires focus and it really gets kids focused. Magic requires practice, so it teaches them discipline and because they practice with their friends, it makes them more comfortable performing in front of others. Some of the mothers told me that her son was afraid to take his yellow belt test but he was doing so much magic for everyone that he got comfortable being in front of people. He took his yellow belt test and, you know. It all goes hand in hand.
(G) And, even Chess goes right with martial arts too. As I always say to my writing students, “There are lots of different ways to accomplish the same thing.”
(Emil Farkas) Being a history buff, knowing where you come from transcends to learning about where you are going.
(G) Any women martial artists that you admire?
(Emil Farkas) Graciela Casillas-Tortorelli. She is someone who studies, works hard and is willing to go out there and put herself on the line. She is putting in the time and effort. There’s another girl named Elisa Au, the world AAU champion now. Here’s a girl who gets involved in a sport that is all male oriented and rises to the top. She perfects what she knows. I could sit here and ramble off names. I admire any of these women who have studied hard, are the top in their field and now give back. Of my students, I could name names but it wouldn’t mean anything to you. I’ll give you an example of someone I admire. I have an instructor who is a banker, his name is Yves Cistoron. He came in one day and asked if he could get some private lessons. He said he wanted to get his black belt in two years. I said, “Great. Good luck. It ain’t gonna happen.” When he asked why not, I told him that I don’t give out black belts like that. You’ve got to work. He said, “I’m willing to take as many lessons as it takes.” Well, I’ve heard that many times and everybody wants to do it until they see how hard it is. So, I said “O.K. how many lessons do you want to take a week?” He started off with four lessons a week and that turned to seven lessons a week and Sunday’s was two hours. He got his black belt in two years, but this guy wanted it. He was dedicated like nobody else and this wasn’t his life. He was a banker. I was shocked, but that’s what it is all about. When people ask how many black belts I have I can count how many I’ve given out in 40 years. Other instructors tell me that they have 700 people that they’ve given black belts, but to me it means something. So, when someone is willing to put out and is dedicated then I’m fine with it. A perfect example of someone who deserves everything he’s got is Benny [Urquidez]. He came from nothing and worked his way up. He’s the kind of guy that anyone can go to and he’ll bring you up and show you what you want to know, whether it’s kickboxing or traditional. These are the kinds of people I want to know. That’s exactly why what you guys are doing is so important. If you go ask an average kid who Chuck Norris is, they have no idea. Maybe Bruce Lee they’ll know, but other than that no. That’s what books should be doing, telling us about people who really left behind great legacies. I’m working on another book called The Martial Arts Book of Knowledge. I’ll tell you exactly what it is. Everybody has questions and I’ve always felt that the easiest way to learn is to ask questions. So, I’m doing a question and answer book, but I’m going to do it differently. Since I have access to almost everybody [in the martial arts], if you have questions about grappling “who is the best grappler in the world, Gene LaBelle! I can pick up the phone to Gene and say, “Gene, give me an answer to this question.” Then, in the question/answer book I can say ” Gene LaBelle says “Say you have a question with sport karate, I can pick up the phone to Bill Wallace and get his opinion. All of these people are legendary. It’s not me answering these questions, though it may be in my words, but the wisdom is coming from them. I want to give these people credit. I feel very fortunate because I have access to these people that I can do this kind of research. Historically, I wish I could pick up the phone to Don Drager. I can’t, but obviously he’s written enough about what he researched and found that he should be given credit.
(G) Isn’t it wonderful that we have such easy access to information these days?
(Emil Farkas) It’s funny that you mention that, because one of the things that I find so sad is how many of these people are dying off before they really got exposure or, at least left that knowledge behind. There are so many people today who have never been videotaped or had a chance to say how they feel about these things. Yet, they have an enormous amount of knowledge. I want to get to these people before it’s all over.
(G) It seems like WorldWideDojo.com, where you are the head of the Board of Advisors, is a great forum for you at this point in your life.
(Emil Farkas) Yes, Absolutely. Though it’s tough to be in a position to say that one person belongs and another doesn’t, and I am not sure I want to be out there saying I’m the guy who is going to make that decision. But, you can’t compare Benny the Jet with some guy picking up a trophy, a person who has only been doing martial arts for ten years and calling himself a master. There are legends and then there are black belts. It’s a different situation. Dana is working on something where true legends, people who’ve been in the martial arts for 30 years or more can get together, not to get a trophy but to just meet each other and talk. There is nothing wrong with the belt system. It’s a great motivation for some people, but the problem is when it becomes the end all. The belt ranking system, they have it in Europe, but you can’t just open up a dojo in Europe. You have to have permission from a federation. You’ve got to go in front of a board. If you want to do nails in this country, you have to have a license [at least from the state]. But, to teach people how to fight? Anybody can do that. So, forums like the one you are talking about are necessary.
(G) In fact, all of these LEGENDS &LEGACIES columns are destined for exactly the kind of book you are talking about.
(Emil Farkas) You have to be careful though, because everybody WANTS to be in this column. You’ve got to be really selective. Otherwise, what does it all mean? There has to be that criteria. If not then [the word Legendary] becomes meaningless.
(G) You are saying things, by the way, that people who are not only in the martial arts, but people who are contributing to my book The Five Principles of Everything are saying. One of my favorite quotes from one of these other people is that the two things people strive for in life are “Success or significance.” This person is a successful business person and he adds that we can have both of these things, but in the end, significance, how we feel about ourselves, really matters more.
(Emil Farkas) I think the one thing that people really lose sight of is that the key factor in life is happiness. Happiness doesn’t have anything to do with success or how well you are known. The happiest people in Southern California are the people of Mexican heritage [it seems]. They appear to be happy. They appreciate everything because they have a solid core of relationships; they always have family and friends around them. They are satisfied with what they have. They don’t have to have a zillion dollars. I had one woman come in here, Mexican heritage with three children, a single mother. She wanted to have her son get lessons but she had very little money. I let her clean the dojo for lessons. She was always cheerful. I asked her to explain and she said that she had everything that she needed. I learned from her that when you keep your expectations in check, then you are happy for everything that you get. Whatever I end up doing in a day, I’m happy with it. If you think that you have to achieve something and if you don’t get it you will be unhappy”that’s unfortunate. If I write a book and it gets published, great, but if it doesn’t get published I’m still happy because I enjoy writing. That’s how magic is for me. Not because I can show a trick to you. I enjoy the fact that I managed to master it. A lot of people lose sight of this, and even I’ve lost sight of it at a certain point in my life. Sometimes I walk up and down in Beverly Hills and see tourists looking with envy at the huge homes or businesses, but they don’t realize what’s going on behind those doors. Some of those people have a $50,000 a month mortgage and they are stressing and struggling. When those people get older, they realize that it’s not what it is all about. There are more important things in life than striving for success and fame. If you have good friends, a good relationship with somebody, it’s much more important than a million dollars.