Interview with Master Bob Maxwell
Could you give us a little background - things like where you are from, how long you have been training in MA, what you do for a profession, do you have a school that you teach at and if so any info on the school?
I am originally from Washington, D.C./Bethesda, Md. Area and first started training in MA at American University with Dr. Gyi in 1961 at the first Bando school in the U.S. I am a former US Secret Service Agent and US Navy Corpsman. Currently, I live in Bethany Beach, Delaware where I am a RealEstate Agent. Upon relocating to the beach fifteen years ago, I opened a local Bando school here and have a small but loyal group of guys who train twice a week. I still manage to do several seminars a year for different groups, mostly Korean Karate groups and Isshinryu organizations.
Please tell us about your style of Bando
Bando was brought to the United States in 1959 by Maung Gyi, who is the son of one of the founders of the system in Burma.
It was Dr. Gyi's father, U Ba Than [ Gyi ] who undertook to organize Bando when he was a Minister for youth and the sports in Burma. After helping to establish the Military Athletic Club, in pre-WWII Burma, U Ba Than accepted the role of Director of the Burmese program of physical education and athletics. This appointment gave U Ba Than the opportunity to travel throughout the country, studying and learning from the great Burmese masters who were forced underground during the British and Japanese occupation. Through his interactions with these great masters, U Ba Than was able to incorporate aspects of the various systems that were 1) easy to learn, 2) effective, and 3) efficient. From this he helped develop what is Bando today.
By request of his father, Dr. U. Maung Gyi settled in the United States in 1959 to bring Bando to the United States and honor American veterans who fought in the China, Burma, India theater of war. Dr. Gyi is also very passionate that the memory of those who served during wartime are remembered so he created the American Bando Association.
The first school of Bando was started by Dr. Gyi at the American University in Washington, D.C. in 1961. The origins of the Bando System are very eclectic in nature and were influenced by Japanese/Okinawan/and Chinese systems. The basics of the system are straight-line Japanese in structure, with the advanced techniques drawing on Chinese influence. The system has very distinct and different training regimens which include empty hand forms (both Hard and Soft), weapon systems (Edged Weapons and Stick Weapons), Hard Style Continuous Freefighting, Full Contact Kickboxing, and Grappling Systems.
How did you meet and start training with Dr. Gyi?
As I young nineteen year old, I was searching for something more exciting to supplement my weight training activity. A friend mentioned this dynamic, young Burmese guy that was teaching a very hard class at American University. After watching one of the three hour classes, the energy in the room was electric and compelling. I just had to give it a try. My first nights workout was concluded with my spending a good deal of time on my knees over the porcelain bowl. I thought I was in shape before that night. As a competitive weight lifter I was lean and pretty strong, but I was humbled very quickly by the intense workouts which lasted three hours without a break. My first year in Bando consisted of three hour workouts five nights a week followed with another three hours on Saturday afternoons crawling back and forth across the American University football field. I guess you could say I was hooked.
You have been training and teaching MA for a long time, what still motivates you to train?
After almost 48 years in Martial Arts, I must admit that there have been times when I needed a break. But, it is very difficult to separate my personal lifestyle from my Martial training. You cannot do something that long without it becoming a part of who you are. I am afraid at this point in my life that I am defined by what I do, and that really isn’t a bad thing.
Could you give us your typical training routine?
At the age of sixty-five my training regimen cannot be considered “hard” any longer. My earlier years were filled with long hours and days of intense training both with my instructor and my contemporaries. I was very fortunate in my competitive career to have been with the greats in Martial Arts such as Mike Stone, Chuck Norris, Skipper Mullins, Jeff Smith, Joe Lewis and Bill Wallace. I am fortunate to still call these guys friends after all these years.
What are your goals as a Marital Artist?
My goals today are the same as they have been for all these years. I want to remain as active as I can for as long as I am able, and to be able to share my knowledge and skill with anyone who asks for my help. My competitive career is over, but the experience I have gained all these years still affords me an opportunity to give back all that I have been given.
What is your personal philosophy on MA and Life?
Wow, that is a hard one to put into words since it is such a broad question, especially for someone my age with so much that has contributed to who I am today. I guess my philosophy on the MA and on My Life are forever intertwined since the Martial Arts have played such an important role in my development as a person for all of my adult life. I spent so may years learning how to hurt someone, that it made me realize the importance of understanding how many ways we, as instructors, can influence the attitudes and development of those we come in contact with. When we take on the role of teacher/instructor, we assume an awesome responsibility to conduct our personal lives in such a manner that would not bring disgrace or dishonor to ourselves, our art and the many people who have contributed to our abilities.
Even though Bando is an eclectic system of MA, do you consider yourself a traditional marital artist, and if so, what do you feel a traditional MA is?
Yes, I do consider myself a “Traditional” Martial Artist. Many people believe that in order to practice a “Traditional” system, it must be a “pure” system like Shotokan, TaeKwonDo, Gung Fu, and on and on. Over the years the “original” systems that were introduced in this country, by first generation “Masters” such as Robert Trias, Don Nagle, Mas Oyama, Gogen Yamaguchi, Ki Wang Kim, Jhoon Rhee and many others, have fragmented into subsystems run by new generations of “Masters”. Case in point, the Gracie family introduction of their art which has grown into the largest segment of current martial arts instruction today as evidenced by the popularity of the UFC. Since its introduction, even that has evolved into MMA which has a life of its own and only superficially bears a resemblance to the original competition in the days of Royce Gracie’s domination of the sport. We even have “American Karate” now which bears no obvious alegience to any traditional art. If you watch a lot of competition today, even Katas bear no resemblance to any concept of tradition. I don’t think the old Masters conceived of “musical” katas.
What is your feeling of MMA do you think it helps or hurts MA?
I firmly believe that MMA has its place in the Martial Arts. It is one finger on the hand of knowledge that every well rounded martial artist should embody. In order for anyone to be able to adequately defend against the broad range of techniques and styles out there, one must at minimum have a working knowledge of the techniques employed by each system. I have always believed that in a real fight, it won’t take long for the fight to end up on the ground. If you don’t know how to fight against an opponent who can employ a variety of weapons, you are vulnerable. That is why I have always incorporated grappling and ground fighting in my training along with the techniques of punching and kicking.
Who are some of your Martial Arts influences?
The most notable influences on my training and knowledge base over the years would have to be first and foremost Grandmaster Dr. Maung Gyi, after that I am lucky to have trained with Master Robert Hill, Master Rick Niemira, Master Donald Bohan, Master Steve Denty, Master Tim Fleming, Grandmaster Harvey Hastings, Grandmaster Tom Lewis, Grandmaster Jeff Smith, Grandmaster Bill Wallace and the many other superb martial artists who competed against me over the years.
I know you use to promote and be heavily involved in MA tournaments what do you see in the difference of tournaments today and in previous years?
Over the years I have promoted or officiated in everything from Open Traditional Tournaments to Full Contact Competition. There have been many differences in both the caliber and style of competition in the past forty years, that it is difficult to address them all in a few words. So, I will address a couple of the most obvious differences.
Who would you consider some of the MA best Fighters and why?
This is an easy question for me. I rate fighters on not only their physical ability, but their skills of strategy, control, demeanor both in and out of the ring, and their ability to analyze their opponents strengths and weaknesses and capitalize on them. In no particular order, I believe these people are among some of the best fighters of my day:
Over the years there have been many great fighters, but they were of a different era than I.
Do you have any hobbies other than MA?
The Martial Arts has taken up most of my free time over the years. However, I was a competitive Pistol Shooter and skier for many years until the hip replacements and the need for glasses.
What is your favorite book?
I really enjoy everything written by Clive Cussler, Dan Brown, James Patterson and W.E.B. Griffin.
How do you think MA today differs from MA artist say from the 70’s 80's and 90's?
From what I see, especially on television, there is much more emphasis on the gymnastic ability of practitioners today. Of course, the rise in popularity of MMA and UFC have transformed the impression that people get of martial artists today. The line between systems and tradition has blurred so it all runs together today. Folks are no longer identified by the system they study or even who their instructor may be.
What is a typical Bando class like?
Very simple to explain. We spend a great deal of time working on “defensive” skills by blocking against a stick which is used to simulate all angles of multiple attacks. This is combined with drills to evade the direct line of attack and set up opponent for a counter attack. We emphasize reaction time and covering of vulnerable areas. After that we combine logistics (covering distance to deliver the weapon on the target), with attacking non traditional targets with non-traditional weapons from non-traditional angles.
Do you believe in supplement training such as running, lifting weights, etc?
Yes, I have done all those during my training career. I have benefited the most from interval training with my running as opposed to just long and slow mileage. I was a competitive weight lifter before I started my MA training and bulk actually slowed me down. I believe that weight “training” as opposed to lifting will actually enhance the strength and flexability of tendons and connective tissues which are important to strengthen weapons and avoid undue injury during hard training.
If you had to pick one fight that was your favorite, could you tell who it was and why?
Since you hold me to “one”, I would have to say my fight with Skipper Mullins in the finals at Ki Wang Kim’s Tournament. I had just returned from VietNam and decided to enter the tournament to test how my skills were after a long layoff from training. Somehow, I found myself in the finals after knocking out two opponents in the eliminations (it seems my control had suffered while in Nam) or maybe I was just too pumped up on adrenalin. Anyway, Skipper and I were old friends and he was stationed with the Marines at Quantico at the time and he was the defending champion for his weight division.
What do you feel makes a good Marital Artist?
I must reiterate, I think a good Martial Artist should possess several important elements:
A lot of Marital Artist say that MA are a positive metaphor for living, how do you feel MA can have a positive effect on ones life outside the training hall?
I believe that the mental and physical discipline demanded in our art lays the groundwork for a lifelong activity which allows us to live longer, healthier and with more self confidence to face life’s challenges. Personally I thing the the element of “self control” is the most important skill learned through MA study.