Mickey Mantle, Martial Artist
Mickey Mantle was a legendary baseball player, and I think there are lessons from his life that martial artists should learn.
Mantle was a switch hitter, meaning that he could bat both right-handed as well as left-handed, and typically batted left-handed. Although Mantle thought of himself as a better right-handed hitter, he actually hit more home runs left-handed. Some think that Mantle hit more left-handed home runs because the right field fence in Yankee Stadium was closer than the center and left field fences, but I have another theory.
In Big Stick Combat I teach you to hold the stick as though you are batting left handed. I just read Ted Williams book on hitting, and he argues that having your dominant hand as the upper hand results in greater power. I disagree. I know –who am I to disagree with Ted Williams?
But could the weaker hand on the bottom be a convention that isn’t true? Many former truths have been re-examined. When the first high jumper did the Fosbury Flop and jumped over the bar backwards, everyone knew he was doing it all wrong. In time, though, athletes recognized the superiority of his technique.
When you swing a bat, the hand near the pommel is the dominant hand, which is stronger because it pulls the bat through the swing, while the upper hand is less effective because it pushes. If your stronger, dominant hand grips near the pommel of he bat, you will hit harder. Perhaps this explains Mantle’s greater number of left-handed home runs, as well as his bat swing, which was called “ferocious.” (Mantle also practiced batting left-handed from a young age.)
A critical component of hitting power is speed. Mantle alluded to this fact when he said “If you swing for distance, you almost have to have the bat in motion before the pitch is even released.” So not only did Mantle have a fast swing, but he accelerated quickly. The ability to explosively whip the bat forward at great velocity not only enables you to hit hard, but to get the jump on the opponent.
Consider the following quote of Mickey Mantle: “Stan Musial and Ted Williams were both every bit as strong as I am. The difference is that they were always trying to meet the ball, while I always wanted to kill it.”
I believe the martial artist needs to have the same attitude as Mickey’s, not to hit the opponent, but to obliterate him. The mindset of Mantle’s is one of total effort and commitment to crushing the opponent, which in his case was a baseball. When I studied Tapado with GM Vasquez, I was surprised to learn that the system has no feints, no set-up strikes, and no moves designed to lure or draw the opponent. Every strike in Tapado is all-out in the most direct line.
Combat is not just a matter of learning techniques, but learning a new way of thinking. It takes courage to commit yourself totally. As Mantle said, “When you keep aiming for the fences, you’re bound to strike out a lot.” Often a fear of failure, of losing, of getting hit, or getting hurt, makes us hesitate, and use half measures.
Fearlessness and total commitment are valuable lessons for all of us, both in combat and in our daily lives.