I’m not given to hero worship albeit I’ve been blessed to spend time around and be mentored by some highly accomplished men and women. That being said, Chet Blalock is one of a small handful of men who will always have my undying loyalty and respect.
Chet was my mixed martial arts instructor before the UFC was a household name. When everyone still dismissed the idea that you needed to be proficient in multiple ranges of fighting. It was during a time when people either believed that martial arts were something harmless taught to children to help them in school or were the deadliest of arts where true masters avoided full contact for fear of killing each other with the deadliness of their chi.
Then I met Chet Blalock. At that first meeting in the downtown YMCA he looked at me and I could tell that he was deciding how best to disable me. It didn’t put me off. Quite the opposite. I’d seen guys with that predator look many times before when I grew up in Maryland, they would look me over and after a quick assessment, decide that I wasn’t a threat. I endured that humiliation time and time again, that secret shame and relief whenever someone dangerous decided NOT to pick on me especially in a social situation. I watched them spar full contact that night, hearing the sounds of leather striking flesh that I’d only ever heard in boxing gyms in Maryland and knew that these guys were for real. I wanted to be real too.
Chet was the first person who offered to help me claim a part of the manhood I’d always missed. Understand that I’d never had the experience of my dad teaching me to defend myself. I still remember my mom having to run out of the house to pull neighborhood kids off me. Of being grabbed and flung around, slammed repeatedly at a party because a guy was arguing with my friend and I stepped in the way. Of being mugged in a rough neighborhood in Chattanooga and escaping a beating only because I meekly submitted to my assailants.
Over the years, Chet didn’t make me a predator. He did help shape me as a man. Because of him I went from being a nervous kid to a silver medalist in the International Kickboxing Federation Nationals in 2000. I supported myself partially as a bouncer/doorman because of the skills he taught me. I excelled in the Marine Corps partially because of the experience of surviving long training sessions at Blalock’s IMB in the outdoor ring under the hot sun. It wasn’t easy. I was the smallest there for a while and getting punched in the face full force by 200+ black belts when you weigh 165lbs on a good day is no fun. But it did mean that I stopped being nervous about a lot of other things.
I thought I was there to learn to defend myself. I was wrong. Chet taught me Jeet Kune Do, which as my son, Marshal pointed out is a way of life. To this day I still approach every situation by developing a Plan A, Plan B, Back up plan and an Avenue of Exit. I still absorb what is useful, discard what is not and add what is uniquely my own. When I thought was going to lose my son, he was the person who let me cry without judgment but also refused to let me wallow in despair. Who made me channel my frustration into training and then create a Plan A, Plan B, Back up Plan and Avenue of Exit or fallback option to deal with the situation. I remember nights hanging out with his family watching WWE or UFC Pay per Views. We watched our mutual favorite Evander Holyfield defeat Mike Tyson together.
I remember him launching himself like a spear at a guy I was fighting in a nightclub in Chattanooga despite him needing knee surgery. I remember taking a guy down with ease at the door of that same club and feeling pretty good about myself until Chet walked up and showed me how I could have done it more efficiently had I chosen a different technique. I remember knocking a guy out in a dive in East Ridge with my family in the audience and Chet jumping in the ring to fight the referee because the guy refused to start the count. I remember the rest of our crew jumping in there ready to back him up without hesitation. I remember standing by his side when he lost his brother. I remember praying for years that he would come to know my Savior. I remember rejoicing when he told me that he had.
I’ve dreamed of having a black belt for years. The reason I don’t have one is my current schedule doesn’t allow me to travel up to Chattanooga to train with Chet and a black belt from anyone else doesn’t mean anything to me. I was a Blalock’s Bad Boy and that title means I won’t accept a black belt from anyone else’s hands.
Happy Birthday Chet. I pray that you have many more. After all many people in the world still need healing.