As a founding faculty member at CSU Monterey Bay, George Baldwin has played a number of roles, including co-authoring the university’s first 10-year plan, and formerly serving as vice president of the California Faculty Association chapter and chair of the Social, Behavioral and Global Studies Department.
Baldwin teaches courses centered on sociology, particularly as it relates to crime, violence and terrorism. And he can also throw a good punch.
Along with fellow martial arts enthusiasts Bob Kinney and Bill Briscoe, Baldwin co-founded the Kinney-Briscoe Karate Association in 1972, teaching taekwondo, jiu-jitsu and karate in Tulsa, Oklahoma, near where Baldwin was a student at Northeastern State University and president of the school’s karate club. Baldwin remembers the era of the late 1960s and early ’70s, when a large wave of Korean immigrants arrived in the U.S., as the “golden years of American martial arts.”
But most martial arts schools that were opening then had traditional offerings and didn’t teach things like grappling, even though there was demand for such training from students, Baldwin says. So the trio started their own school in Tulsa, and the group – now called the Wild Bunch Karate Association – today has chapters in Oklahoma, Arkansas, Iowa, Louisiana and California. Baldwin, who has reached the “grandmaster” ranking in taekwondo, combines his martial arts experience with his knowledge of crime, violence and terrorism to teach a coed self defense class at CSUMB, one of the university’s oldest continuously offered courses since 1996.
Weekly: What’s an inspiring story you have from teaching self-defense?
Baldwin: This story is both sad and inspirational. I had a student a number of years ago whose husband abused her for years. He assaulted her one night and the fight moved toward the kitchen, where she feared for her life. Using a technique learned from my class, she stabbed him in the heart with a kitchen knife, killing him. The courts determined it was self defense.
What are your hopes for the future of the class?
The class will probably end when I retire. Coed self-defense classes at universities are rare; most of them are for women only. Women and men need to train together, because that’s the only way for women to learn to defend themselves against men. I’ve probably got another five years left in me, then there will be no more coed self defense at CSUMB, unless somebody takes over.
What’s the funniest thing that’s happened in the class?
Almost every semester, students attempt the same kinds of board breaks that I demonstrate. It might be wrong to say, but it’s funny to watch someone bang hands and feet into boards and fail over and over again. Males are required to wear groin protectors, but somebody inevitably lies about having one on when they don’t, and the results are hilarious for the whole class. We’ve also had “wardrobe malfunctions,” when flimsy clothing gets ripped off when we practice grappling and throws.
What are some common misperceptions about martial arts?
Probably that we all believe in some sort of magical energy, call it “chi,” “inner force” or what have you. I don’t believe in any of that. I simply believe in the physics behind the strikes, blocks and throws that I practice. I tell people I don’t consider myself a martial artist, I consider myself a martial scientist.
Are there spiritual aspects to martial arts?
Many martial artists include a spiritual component, but I do not. I teach the science of self defense, along with compassion, altruism and mindful meditation, which can also be taught as science.
Do you think knowing martial arts makes people more or less prone to physical altercations?
Many studies of martial artists done by researchers in the social sciences show that people trained in martial arts are less prone to instigate violence, as practicing a martial art has therapeutic effects. Additionally, they are more likely to intervene and be a hero when they see abuse.
Are the star actors in martial artist movies actually great fighters?
It’s important to specify what kind of “fight” their abilities are being judged in, either competitive matches or informal street fights. Most actors are not in the tournament circuit, although a few got their start that way, and they don’t get into street fights very often. That’s not to say that actors in martial arts movies aren’t great fighters, just that there’s a lack of evidence one way or the other.