AN INTERVIEW WITH
SENSEI JOHN LIBUTTI
Jan / 2010
Interview By Eddie Morales
It has always been my privilege and honor to write articles, stories and interview some of the best martial artist practicing the arts. I have always been fascinated in regards to what makes a person do what they do and become whom they are. How is it that you can take two people from similar backgrounds living under the same conditions and there always seems to be a turning point that separates who they develop into. The core in my opinion is what is instilled in them that make them take the extra step. That extra step in essence, defines their lives as opposed to their counterpart. The spirit of will is a major part of the process because if you don’t believe in the result of your decision then you will not progress, which will in effect, take you nowhere. Every once and a while there are people that transcend the boundaries by taking a step forward under the worst possible unexpected conditions. They seem to turn the situation from negative to positive in regards to “whats next in life.” These people I speak of, are the true warriors of will who dominate their destiny regardless of circumstance.
The man in the following interview is the kind of human being of which I am speaking. He has within him an indomitable spirit. He took a giant step after a tragic accident that changed his life. People have choices in life and the direction you go is the result of the accumulation of those choices. Then there is another scenario where the choice is made for you through a tragedy. How you deal with the tragedy will define your future.
It is my honor to introduce Sensei John Libutti to all Martialforce.com readers. I was fortunate enough to meet Sensei Libutti through acquaintances in the martial arts community. Libutti has the true spirit of a warrior and you could sense his tenacity while he is practicing Karate. When Sensei Libutti and I spoke on the phone about the martial arts his voice embraced his passion. There was a truth, about his sincerity in relation to the dedication and practice of his art.
Libutti used his training as a vehicle to bring him back from a near death tragedy. His story is heart felt and he embodies the code of Bushido. We here at Martialforce.com are proud to bring you this interview. This is just an echo… of the life of Sensei John Libutti, we hope you enjoy it.
Martialforce: Where are you from?
Sensei Libutti: I am from Hudson County, New Jersey. Born in Hoboken and have been living here for the last 19 years. When I was born my parents moved me to North Bergen, New Jersey to give me a better quality of life.
Old picture of Li Butti’s Mother and Father
Martialforce: What got you involved in Martial Arts?
Sensei Libutti: I would say it started as a result of watching Bruce Lee movies and the Kung Fu series with “David Carradine.” My brother Frankie and I would watch Kung Fu religiously and try out the moves we saw on each other. I remember being excited about seeing Enter the Dragon at the Drive in Movie.
Competing in weapons division
Empty hand Kata
Martialforce: What style of Martial Arts do you practice and why?
Sensei Libutti: Naha Te Kempo is an empty hand style developed in Okinawa. Farmers felt the need to protect themselves. The system was developed in the Fujian Province of China, a perfect blend of hard and soft Goju. Pakua “soft” the eight diagrams to blend with the attack not meeting force with force, especially if the attacker has a weapon. Chung Fa “hard” combat used the concept of the closet distance between two points is a strait line, with a big emphasis on conditioning the body internal and externally. Sanchin Kata with deep breathing, striking the Makiwara and knuckle push-ups on the hard wood floors combined with arm and shin pounding are part of the regimen.
Martialforce: Do you currently teach Martial Arts?
Sensei Libutti: Yes I do, my strong point is in teaching Bujin “Warrior Spirit”, I teach that anything is possible and there are no limitations. Because of my situation, I have had to learn how to adapt to specific moves and or technique. As a result of the adjustment I am now able to offer great alternatives in regards to (blocking into striking), (grabs into throws), using the body, legs, neck, elbow for Kansetsu Waza “joint locks” and different ways of grabbing the hand for Kote Gaeshi “wrist twisting”. In essence I have created my own style of application for myself. When I teach, I do so in its original format with the addition of what explained as an alternative.
Martialforce: You were in a severe traffic accident, can you tell our readers what happened and how you dealt with and continue to deal with it?
Sensei Libutti: Yes in 1988 I was in a motorcycle accident and was hit in the leg at approximately one hundred miles per hour, I pulled the bike to the up right position and my body was suspended vertically over the bike. Directly before impact I pushed off from the handlebars and the bike crashed into the wall and blew up. I was thrown head first into the sidewalk with no helmet and instinctively did a perfect front roll, which is the only reason I am alive.
Motorcycle Before accident
I had been training for about eight years at that time and was in perfect shape and I knew how to roll out “ Martial Arts truly saved my life”. When I stopped rolling I broke almost every bone in my body, from the front roll the shoulder detached and pulled the nerve off the spinal cord and the Artery off of the Heart and my right foot was severed. I continually tried to get up and on the fourth try went out and the Doctor pronounced me dead. I was clinically dead for a period of time. I felt as if I left my body and traveled fast and far. It seemed as if I went a million miles away from my body. At the time I felt as if I was given an opportunity to come back and graciously accepted. Looking back I recall the feeling of reaching for my body and grabbing hold of my arm. I could feel my arm curl with force in a fight to enter. The closer my soul came to taking shape of the body the harder it became. I don’t think I ever fought that hard for anything. I was grunting and pulling and eventually felt as if my soul and body connected. I opened my eyes and sat up and the paramedics all ready had the white blanket over my head because I was pronounced dead. I had a clear memory of everything that occurred. The cutting of my clothes, the ambulance ride into New York City to Saint Vincent Hospital and specifically the arrival at the Hospital.
The doctors looked at me in amazement because they couldn’t believe that I was coherent. The Doctor said to me “You have been in a motorcycle accident,” to which I replied, “yes I know.” He further explained that the situation did not look good and he was going to have to amputate my right leg. I recall it was at this point that I sat up quickly grabbing the doctor by the lapel of his jacket; pulled him close as I lay back down on the stretcher and told him not to cut off my leg because I needed it, “I do karate.” The doctor said, “Ill do everything I could to save your leg but the blood vessels are damaged and they have to go over the knee.” I had such Love and desire for life; I beat all of the odds stack against me. First I was told I may not make it through the operation, then I would not make it within the first twenty-four hours. Then I was told I would be in the hospital for approximately one year. I projected a positive energy and visualized my body moving even though I couldn’t control or move most of it; I simply refused to give up!
In the Hospital after the accident, genuine Warrior Spirit!
How I deal with it:
When life is taken and then given back to you that is a miracle and precious gift. When I woke after the surgery, I looked up and saw my Mother, brother and good friend John Bertoli, standing by my bedside. I mentally and spiritually reached inside of myself and looked at what I have and not what I didn’t have. This taught me that ten percent of life is what happens and ninety percent is the way we perceive it.
Martialforce: What do you feel would be different if the accident never happened and what would you say to someone in the same situation?
I would first like to say that before my accident I was a fighter in and out of the Dojo, had the body and was yellow belt. After the accident I thought my Martial Arts training was over but that’s when it truly began, it forced me to go deep into my mind, body and spirit. The only thing that could and would defeat us is in our mind. To quote the Band Flipper “ Life is the only thing worth living for”. I believe God has a plan for us and sometimes what seems like the worst thing winds up being a blessing. My situation allowed me to grow in ways that would have not been possible. Having one leg and one arm and being blessed to work the way I can, puts me in a place of maximum service to inspire and encourage.
Long training session in the year 1990
Martialforce: Who do you use as a role model if any regarding your life in general?
Sensei Libutti: My Father “Frank LiButti” a true warrior may he rest in peace. My Mother, “Margie LiButti” for her love, patience and persistence. That’s the mold I was cut from. Grand Master Ted Vollrath a double amputee who worked in and out of a wheel chair the Founder of Martial Arts for the Handicapable “M.A.H.” for his dedication to the arts and to the people.
Grand Master Vollrath came from Harrisburg, PA to visit me at the hospital. I witnessed something with him that I never experienced in a person past or present. There was a shining glow around him “It was his aura” I rubbed my eyes but there was nothing wrong with them. We started training together in wheel chairs right in my hospital room, after talking for a while at that point Grand Master Vollrath said to me “the loss of a limb is not the end of life but a beginning of a new life”. You are missed but your teaching lives on. Grand Master Sam Magee said it perfectly – “John the road was paved before you and now it’s your turn to carry the torch.”
Martialforce: Who are some of your teachers?
Sensei Libutti: I have been blessed with some of the greatest teachers. I also learned allot from most KarateKa’s at tournaments, seminars and they’re Dojos I thank you all OSU!!!
Professor Lou Ferrer is my instructor and John Prough Sensei is my Iaido instructor and Sachiko Prough Sensei is one of my teachers.
Professor Lou Ferrer and Li Butti
Professor Lou Ferrer and Li Butti 01/ 16 /2010
John and Sachiko Prough Sensei
Grand Master Lou Ferrer says, “You have one instructor and many teachers.”
Grand Master Ted Vollrath concept was to adapt and utilize what you have to work with. When we trained, he would not let me use my prosthetic leg; I would be forced to do everything on one leg. The leg’s back then were not as technically advanced as they are today. It would easily come off in a combat situation, so if the leg did detach he taught me I would still be able to defend myself.
Grand Master Ted Vollrath
Martialforce: How did you get interested in (Kobudo) weapons?
Sensei Libutti: Watching the magic of Bruce Lee’s with the Nunchaku. When we were kids we would cut down broom handles and make Nunchaku’s and use the wooded coat rods as Bo Staff’s and we even had a Sparring Kata with out knowing what Kata was. I like the concept of the weapon being an extension of the body. I learned to make my prosthetic leg a natural extension of my body. I think that’s why I adapted to weapons as fast as I did. Some of my favorite weapons are the Sai, Tonfa, Kali Escrima, Boken and with blades Katana, Wakizashi, Tanto and Balisong.
Martialforce: Do you enjoy competing and were you a consistent competitor before the accident?
I love competing in tournaments for the reasons that it pushes me to greater levels while diminishing any thoughts of possible limitation, which don’t exist in my school of thought. It’s also a great learning experience seeing different styles and watching top competitors. Mainly it gives me the opportunity to express my life of Bushi Do. The Warrior Way is the only way for me; I have to live by this code always. Sometimes people look at me and say, well you have to give him credit for coming out on the floor with one arm and one leg but after seeing my expression of the warrior spirit they treat me as an equal, maybe even as competition.
Before my accident I had just started with tournaments while I was in the hospital. The Henry Cho Tournament was coming up and my school was going to compete. I remember a feeling of defeat because I was not going to be a part of it. I trained really hard in the hospital, got out after three months from the date of the accident. Approximately one week later was the tournament and no one from the Dojo competed, but I did. I worked too hard and it meant allot to me. I did not even have my leg yet; I went on one crutch and entered the yellow belt division. I performed Tensho Kata and tied for second place, we tied three times then they brought out two new judges and I beat my competitor and won second place. I was exhausted performing Tensho Kata four times on one leg but happier than words can describe, this was a big accomplishment for me. One month after that was the Don Nagle Tournament and I won the Kata division and received a standing ovation that brought my Mother to tears, it was good healing for her and myself. I then entered Kumite (Fighting). At first Grand Master Ralph Passero was not going to let me fight standing on one leg and with my arm in a sling at that point Grand Master Edward McGrath said “No! You let him fight.” The fight was to say the least amazing because we went into over time with a tied score of two points. The next point would determine the winner. I jumped up in the air with a back fist and got disqualified for excessive contact “ It was glorious”.
I have been pretty consistent winning at tournaments in the Tri State area and I am working on a new form “Sanbonme Bujin No Kata” that I am looking forward to performing in the tournament circuit in 2010.
Martialforce: It sounds like you have had a multitude of negative experiences that you turned into positive. Do you have any closing statement for our readers?
Sensei Libutti: In closing: I want to thank MartialForce.com and especially Hanshi Eddie Morales for this interview. It has been very therapeutic and allowed me to reflect on the many blessings of life. After each phone conversation I had with Hanshi in regards to this interview, I felt pumped up to write or train because I felt the passion he has regarding the Martial Arts and his online magazine. My wishes are that any one that has any kind of life changes and or struggles will look deep inside themselves and find the strength and courage to keep moving forward in life. There is always someone that has it harder then you but when you see a person with a life threatening disease and is living for the moment, this is in itself the true essence of life. Never give up, sitting on the couch is not an option for me. I am obsessed with the Martial Arts and never satisfied. I maintain my stride forward the more I learn and improve my technique the more I feel like I’ve reached a new beginning. My training is the key to my existents. It is the pathway to my soul, a constant development of mind, strengthening my body and uplifting my spirit. My training gives me a sense of completion. Martial Arts are my way of life Bushi-Do (The Way Of the Warrior). Martial Arts Through its dedicated practice becomes a part of your subconscious until it creates action without thought.
The time is now, so live your life everyday like it is your last one. Life is what happens too you in your journey and your responsibility is to stay positive when you react to its change. Everything is possible if you put your heart and mind into it. Please feel free to contact me it would be my pleasure.
Honor and Respect
Thank you Sensei Libutti for this interview. It has been very informative and enlightening. I feel fortunate that you were available for this interview. Stay strong in all your future endeavors.