What do Mac Danzig, Miles Davis, Ken Kesey, Genki Sudo, Joe Frazier, and John Irving have in common? They all have a combined talent for art and combat. The connection between artistic pursuits and the combat arts is lost to many participants on both sides of the issue (it’s hard to imagine Chael Sonnen wielding a calligraphy brush or Woody Allen choking someone unconscious) but a notable collection of warrior artists is keeping the tradition alive.
The samurai in medieval Japan were well-known as being a cultured bunch – schooled in the killing arts in addition to artistic pursuits like calligraphy, painting, gardening, poetry, and tea ceremony. With the modern popularity of MMA and their Ultimate Fighter reality show, one could be forgiven for thinking that the tradition of the creative artist / martial artist has died. But it hasn’t. It’s just been diluted by MMA’s popularity. Art is alive and well in post-medieval times and I’ve put together a quick (and obviously far from comprehensive) collection below.
Miles Davis and Joe Frazier Show the Boxing-Music Connection
The connection between boxing and jazz has been well documented by musicians like Miles Davis. In Miles: The Autobiography, Davis talks in detail about his time spent training in the Gleason’s Gym in Midtown and Silverman’s Gym in Harlem. He also credits Sugar Ray Robinson as being the key inspiration that helped him kick his drug habit. In 1971, Miles Davis recorded “A Tribute to Jack Johnson“, a double album dedicated to the legendary boxer.
Iconic heavyweight boxer and Boxing Hall of Fame inductee Joe Frazier crossed over the other way. He was already a feared boxer when he formed his band Joe Frazier and the Knockouts and recorded some songs that even made their way onto the Billboard charts.
Mac Danzig – Gifted Nature Photographer and UFC Fighter
Mac Danzig isn’t just a high-level mixed martial artist, winner of Season 6 of The Ultimate Fighter, two-time Fight of the Night recipient (vs. Josh Neer and Matt Wiman), and winner of Knockout of the Night honours vs Joe Stevenson at UFC 124. He’s also a wicked photographer with a talent for nature shots. Check out Mac Danzig Photography for a stunning collection of nature, macro, still life, and (my favourite) astronomy photos. Then take a look at this Mac Danzig MMA highlight reel to see how a photographer throws a left hook.
Ken Kesey – Legendary Author and University of Oregon Wrestling Champion
Most know Ken Kesey as the author of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, the book that inspired the Oscar-winning film starring Jack Nicholson. Some also know that Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters were the subject of The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, Tom Wolfe’s iconic memoir to the psychedelic ‘60s. What many don’t realize is that Ken Kesey was a University of Oregon wrestling champ.
Ken Kesey’s wrestling accomplishments included holding the University of Oregon record for most wins, earning an alternate spot on the 1964 Olympic team, and receiving the Fred Lowe Scholarship, an annual award for the most outstanding wrestler in the American Northwest.
- Marc Wickert of KnucklePit interviews Zane Kesey, Ken’s son, about what it was like to grow up in a wrestling family.
John Irving – Wrestler and Best-Selling Author
John Irving is another accomplished writer with a wrestling background. While not as decorated as Kesey on the mat, Irving was a wrestler and assistant coach for the Philips Exeter Academy in Exeter, New Hampshire. He’s best known for his books The World According to Garp, The Cider House Rules, and A Prayer for Owen Meany.
- John Irving explains how wrestling influenced his writing.
- “John Irving on Wrestling and Writing”, a nice article by Marcello Di Cintio.
Genki Sudo – World-Class MMA Fighter and Innovative Musician
Japanese martial artist Genki Sudo’s track accomplishments in the martial arts / combat sports are impressive:
- MMA record of 16-4-1 (11 submissions) including wins over Royler Gracie, Mike Brown, Nate Marquardt, and Hiroyuki Takaya.
- Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt under Yoshinao Watanabe.
- Winner of Best Manager award for his performances with Takushoku University’s wrestling team at the 2009 Eastern Japan University League Games, the 2009 All Japan University Greco-Roman Championship Tournament, and the 2010 All Japan University Wrestling Conference.
Outside of the martial arts, Genki Sudo and his World Order music project have been earning attention though innovative videos with unique choreography. The song Machine Civilization is a tribute to the victims of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan. Genki Sudo’s body awareness and innate understanding of movement are just as apparent in the music video as in the following MMA highlight reel.
Creative / Martial Artist in Action
And as a bonus feature, here’s a very cool time-lapse video of Chris Ryan, one of my teammates at Dynamic MMA, showing off his skills by drawing a scene from Matt Trudeau’s recent win against Tristan Connelly at the Armageddon Fighting Championships (AFC) 7 in Victoria.