“RUTHLESS WITH A PASSION”
An Interview with
SIFU ALAN GOLDBERG
JAN / 2010
Written by Lydia Alicea
Edited by William Rivera, Kyoshi
“When asked to identify one word that best describes you, chances will be tough. One, single word that pulls together all the intricacies and pieces that really describes what you are.
At one point during our interview with Sifu Goldberg, as I listened to him talk to us about his many sides (and they are so many, my God!), his experiences, his training, his students, the magazine, his current and future projects, I tried to find one word that described him. I asked him this very same question. He looked at me and just smiled.
Ok, I will get it. As I continued to listen, just as he discussed his work as a publisher and later on as a promoter, I heard the word, several times. He described himself as ‘ruthless.’ I thought back for a moment and agreed, this man is most definitely ruthless. Here are a few reasons:
Currently producing an upcoming project on YFNCable.
Did I say a few?
People are not born ruthless. I wondered what in Sifu’s life made him ruthless so unrelenting, adamant and relentless?
I would say that it comes from his heart and soul, his love of people and the devotion to the human spirit. That is why Sifu Alan Goldberg is passionate, and hopelessly ruthless.”
“The wall caught me (more like, almost went through it) and it was flashback. It was over 25 years ago; the punch sent me flying about 8 feet, no broken bones (I have had enough of those). It was an explosion of energy at the hand of Grand Master Moy Yat. Different wall same feeling, this time at the hand of Sifu Alan Goldberg.”
William Rivera, Kyoshi
Martialforce: Sifu, where did you grow up?
Sifu Goldberg: “I lived on Ocean Avenue and Beverly Road in Brooklyn until I was 16 years old. From there I moved to the Bergen Beach area until I married, then lived in Bay Ridge and later Marine Park. Five years ago I purchased a ranch in upstate New York.”
Martialforce: When did you begin to study the Martial Arts?
Sifu Goldberg: “I was ten years old, the typical big bully story, one day I got mugged. The next day I went to school and brought with me one of those little baseball bats, confronted the three guys who held me and hit the one who mugged me. I then realized right then that I had to learn to defend myself quickly.
I began training in Shotokan with Anthony Arena, a local neighborhood guy, God bless his soul. He was part of the International School of Karate along with Harvey Cohn and George Cofield.”
Martialforce: You later moved from training with Arena to another art.
Sifu Goldberg: “I was a brown belt when I left and continued training with others in the neighborhood. I then met a man named, Maynard Miner and trained with him in Shotokan for about a year.
There were aspects of the Kung-Fu systems that intrigued me, perhaps the softness of the techniques. It drew me to another person, a Master of Five-Animal Kung-Fu. We became the best of friends and trained together for about four or five years. We later opened a school in Brooklyn. By 1974, I was the equivalent of a black belt with him, had a brown belt in Shotokan, and was doing Okinawan weapons.
It was at a Madison Square Garden event where I met a young man named Jason Lau. He was doing a demonstration with a person named Tony Lau. A couple of days later I met Jason Lau face to face on Flatbush Avenue and he told me he was opening a school in the area. When I asked him what he taught he said, ‘I teach Wing Chun.’ I had no idea what Wing Chun was.
I later met another person who was training there already. He was referring to Sifu Jason Lau’s school, six blocks away down in a church basement. He asked us to come down. We did several times and began doing Wing Chun. We really did not know what we were doing because it was so different from anything else at that time.
I was still doing Five-Animal when I began practicing Wing Chun. I fell in love with the art. At the end of 1974, I was still going to high school and living in Mill Basin. I had no car and it was pretty far from where I attended school. Sifu Lau said to me, ‘Why you not move into the school we have an extra room. I will give you a room here for nothing as long as you train in Wing Chun with me.’
Our school was not what you would normally see because we had a temple, literally a Shaolin Temple. It had two floors, rooms upstairs and downstairs. My Sifu lived there and another brother. Between four and six people lived there at all times. We had our own quarters, our own bathrooms. Over the years, Sifu Jason Lau and I became very close, literally not as brothers more like father and son.
We lived Kung-Fu, woke up in the middle of the night and did Kung-Fu, go running late at night and then go out to Chinatown. Do you remember the Guardian Angels? Well, we were the original ones, though we did not call ourselves that. We were known as the guardians of our neighborhood.”
Martialforce: Going to high school, did you feel you stood out or were different because you were studying the martial arts?
Sifu Goldberg: “Not really. Once I got into it, I never thought of myself as different because of it. It was part of my life. Some had baseball or football, I had the martial arts.”
Martialforce: Did it help you in school?
Sifu Goldberg: “Yes, as I gained experience and skill, it did help me with my classes at school. Wing Chun broke things down making them more straightforward, clearer to understand. It helped me so I could handle things better. Instead of walking around the block four times I learned how to do it one time.”
Martialforce: Did you do sports in school?
Sifu Goldberg: “I did play a little football. I am totally a martial artist. The martial arts are my life, my sport.”
Martialforce: How did your family feel about you studying the martial arts?
Sifu Goldberg: “My father got a kick out of it; he was supportive. My mother could not care either way. I was not a bad kid.”
Martialforce: What is Five-Animal Kung-Fu?
Sifu Goldberg: “It is a very prevalent art in China. It incorporates the movements of five animals as if imitating them. Throughout China, there are villages that do five animal and they can be very different from each other.”
Martialforce: What did you learn in Five-Animal?
Sifu Goldberg: “My main animal was the Tiger though I learned to practice all five-animals. As we practiced, everyone headed into different directions according to their body style.”
Martialforce: What are the five-animals in the style?
Sifu Goldberg: “In our school, the five animals are the Dragon, Snake, Crane, the Panther and the Tiger.
Martialforce: Did you ever compete in tournaments?
Sifu Goldberg: “No, we did full contact all the time in the school. Here is a story for you. A Grand Master was running his first tournament back in 1975. There had always been a rivalry between Grand Master Jason Lau and this particular Master (Not mentioning the name to protect the innocent). One day, the Master walks into the school and announces, ‘I am running a tournament.’ Jason says, ‘Well, we do not do tournaments.’ He then asked, ‘How are you guys going to know how to fight?’ Jason responded with, ‘Alan, come here.’ I walked over, Jason says, ‘You slap Alan in the face, and you see how we fight.’ The Master looked and asked, ‘What?’ Jason repeats, ‘Slap Alan and you see how we fight.’ The Master walked away and the whole time I stood there feeling like a dummy.”
Martialforce: How many forms does Wing Chun have?
Sifu Goldberg: “There are three hand forms, two weapons, the blade and the pole and also the wooden dummy. The forms of the dummy, the blade and the pole are almost like the hidden forms of Wing Chun. I only have a few people, one student right now that I have given the blades to, five or six that I have given the pole just below Masters Level. We do not rush, we do not make instructors and we do not give ranks. It is not part of us. Instead, it is, I am doing third form now, or I am doing the wooden dummy. That is how we judge where you are.
I always remember Rico Guy walked up to me one day and everybody is walking around with his or her belt, some with 20 or 25 stripes. I said, ‘I am glad I am a Kung Fu guy. I do not worry about what kind of belt I need to buy next week.’ He just laughed.
The truth of the matter is it is not a put down on martial arts that we do not do belts. Simply, we do not, nor do I have any testing in my school.”
Martialforce: Do you have a rank system in your school?
Sifu Goldberg: “It is your form, whatever form you are up to is your rank. Next month I will walk over to you and say, ‘Tomorrow you are starting the third form.’ I have students that compete in open tournaments, forms and full contact and we walk away with everything. My students are trained well enough to compete wherever they go.”
Martialforce: In Wing Chun, they speak about direct lines and angles in fighting. Why is this so important?
Sifu Goldberg: “You see me here and I go like this (prepares to throw a right punch) you know to step back already. Wing Chun teaches you to fight close quarter, and the close line to fight someone is a straight line without telegraphing what you are going to do. Its theories use scientific principles. That is why there are no long stances or deep stances. They are not in there because they were not necessary for fighting. They are helpful if you want to build your body and train. Wing Chun, when created, was intended to be a style appropriate for real combat. By that I mean most other systems were made for self-defense purposes.”
Martialforce: Explain that.
Sifu Goldberg: “The Samurai and the monks fought for self-defense. When the monks were up against the wall, they realized that using self-defense techniques would get them killed. Therefore, the art had to change into offensive based.
I do not teach self–defense, I teach self-offense. If I see you looking at me and I think you are going to attack me, I must act on that. Kung Fu was developed by the ancients with the purpose to fight, destroy, maim or hurt. Not to be able to say, oh, I am blocking, get away, and do not come back again.
No, I had to break your leg and bring you down so that you could not get up again to hit me. The military to this day follows many of the theories of Wing Chun. For example, years ago a soldier went into the field with a hand grenade, used it and blew up a person. Today, the hand grenades a soldier uses can take out 10 to 15 people at a time.
Wing Chun has the same idea. I have to maim, kill or hurt instead of defending myself and having to fight him 10 minutes later. Therefore, the monks thought, the defense theory had to go out the window and realized it was battle to the death. It was not a battle for self-defense anymore. They did not know how many people were going to attack so, they had to be able to take out the person they were fighting. Wing Chun evolved with that in mind, and that was why all the crap and fancy moves were removed.
It is also, why none of our kicks are above the waist. Why kick you in the stomach or the chest, which are stronger parts of the body when I can kick you in the knees or shins, which are not very strong? Knock him down so they can not get back up.”
Martialforce: In Wing Chun, is the footwork taught as a system of its own?
Sifu Goldberg: “No, feet work in conjunction with the rest of your body. We use something called multiple attacks using multiple hands at the same time. Again, we never block then punch, when we block the punch is there at the same time. We may block, kick and punch all at the same time, the feet and hands move together. The first form may not have footwork but it can be added. The first form Siu Lim Tao, teaches you relaxation, stability and hand positioning. I always teach students to become a master of Siu Lim Tao. I am a master of Siu Lim Tao. The second form Chum Kiu (searching bridges) means seeking your opponent. If you are standing here, I have to learn to close that gap, the bridge is the gap.
Biu Jee (shooting fingers), is plain and simple, the emergency techniques. The techniques do not make sense to some extent because they turn into something different that you do not expect. The third form makes you think and if you remember, I said Wing Chun is the intelligent man’s art. The pole and the blades use the application of the Wing Chun theory and that is what makes the weapons unique in our system.”
Martialforce: How important is Sticky Hands?
Sifu Goldberg: “Very important, but if you have to learn how to fight you cannot depend only on your Sticky Hands training. You use it as a tool, an exercise, usually in a two-man set, without the criteria of doing the same thing all the time. You work on sensitivity and it helps you in developing your technique. Sensitivity is not something you learn from the hands. Sensitivity you learn with your eyes, and your feelings and you build that through your Chi Sau. Chi Sau is I would say 60% of what the art should be. Some people put too much emphasis on it, some too little. You need to practice a lot of Chi Sau to hone your skills.”
Martialforce: How important is it to self-defense?
Sifu Goldberg: “Again if I am here (points to where I am standing a foot away), I cannot do anything to you, but, when I am right here (moves in closer), I can. With Chi Sau everything is right there, every strike, every block is that close. In Wing Chun, you are a micro-surgeon where everything is smaller and shorter. The art is based on science, on mathematical principles like triangles.”
Martialforce: Does Wing Chun have ground techniques?
Sifu Goldberg: “Yes, if you get knocked down you better know how to fight. If you knock me down to the ground, you will have to come and get me if you want to hit me again. I therefore change everything from linear to vertical in order to transform the use of technique from standing up to lying down. To avoid getting hit you had better learn to use them. Your technique teaches you how.
There is grappling, deep grappling like jujitsu, no, but there is Chin Na that is used to control or lock an opponent. Wing Chun is effective when you choose to use your brains.
My son is a very good mixed martial artist and when he uses his Wing Chun it is hard to get a hold of him, and if you do, it is hard to keep a hold.”
Martialforce: So, the three hand forms of Wing Chun contain joint locks.
Sifu Goldberg: “I do not want to say that. What they do contain is the apparatus to understand them. I do not say I am teaching grappling, instead I say I am teaching you what to do if someone grabs you. If you want to call it grappling, I just say you grab my arm I get out of it. It is part of Wing Chun whether you want to call it grappling or Chin Na or whatever.”
Martialforce: Do you use throwing techniques?
Sifu Goldberg: “We do not throw because we do not want to chase an opponent. I am not going to throw you unless I am finished with you.”
Martialforce: How is Chi important to Wing Chun?
Sifu Goldberg: “It is intrinsic to Wing Chun, a relaxed energy that explodes with the execution of technique.”
Martialforce: What is it about Wing Chun that makes it adaptable to self-defense?
Sifu Goldberg: “Easily, I can do the same thing today that I used to do back then. Age is not a factor because Wing Chun works with your basic human abilities to stop an attack or defend against an attack. In other systems, you have to be in top-notch shape, stretching or whatever. We depend on science and mathematical principles. In addition, there is the matter of its simplicity. Wing Chun does not have 20 different blocks, punches, or kicks.”
Martialforce: When do you begin on the Wooden Dummy?
Sifu Goldberg: “I can start someone on the wooden dummy right after they learn the first form. The wooden dummy is a tool but you are not learning from it, it has no knowledge. Grandmaster Lau has proven its effectiveness throughout the world. He has used and taught its combative aspects.”
Martialforce: When do you start Chi Sao?
Sifu Goldberg: “Every person is different and the curriculum is not applied in the same manner for everyone. Chi Sau is not an apparatus to fight. You can build great skills but you have to realize that when your hands are in front of somebody you have to learn how to hit him. That is what Chi Sau is. If the person pushes you, tackles you, or knocks you down to the ground, you must use Chi Sau. Chi Sau builds great skills and you have to realize there is whole other world to it. There are different layers of fighting, whether it be close quarter or grappling, and if you do not learn those layers you cannot fight one way.
Martialforce: Were there differences in what you learned from Moy Yat compared to Jason Lau?
Sifu Goldberg: “The biggest difference, Jason was more combative, more realistic. Moy Yat taught very intelligently the basics and the mechanisms of Wing Chun. Jason taught much more footwork from the beginning.
The style itself is the same; teaching was more about interpretation by the instructor. I referred to Wing Chun as the intelligent man’s art because it gives you so much; you have to be smart enough to see there is always something more to learn. If you do not, you will not become a good martial artist.”
Martialforce: Do you teach children?
Sifu Goldberg: “I do not teach children unless they are at least 10 years old. The reason why is because a young student must have a certain level of intelligence to understand it.”
Martialforce: Has your teaching style changed over the years?
Sifu Goldberg: “Yes, of course. Back then, the hits were harder. Over the years, I have gotten gentler a little mellower (laughing).”
Martialforce: How long does it take students to learn the first form, its moves and how to use them?
Sifu Goldberg: “Everything is adaptable. You know I wanted to do an article called “The Borg.” Remember, the Borg from Star Trek: The Next Generation? I wanted to do the Wing Chun Borg. You know when something takes over the body to the point where it assimilates, well that is how Wing Chun is. It does depend on a person’s ability to assimilate as well as wanting to learn and do. There is no time limit. I have had people who took two years before they got to the second form. I have students right now, no exaggeration, almost four years still doing the first form. They can fight and I do not push it but they are still doing the first form.”
Martialforce: What does the first form teach you?
Sifu Goldberg: “The first form is very simple. It teaches you all the basic hand forms; it teaches you the positioning, the ability to use one hand in understanding with the other hand, the mirror image. We do not look at the form as a fighting piece it is almost like learning the ABC’s. The second form is where you learn to write a sentence and a paragraph, and the third form is where you write the story you are in. I always tell people ‘I am a master of the first form.’ To this day, I go into the woods, relax, and do the first form because it is almost like a Tai Chi form to me, very relaxing with an understanding of the flow of energy.
You should relax and enjoy the form. You should be enjoying yourself. If you are doing the martial arts as if you are fighting the world, you are fighting yourself mentally; instead, you should be enjoying what you are doing. I know martial artists, who makes their martial art violent and why? If you are teaching children, why do you need to do that? Teach them to defend themselves and it becomes spontaneous. When they need to defend themselves, they will be able to do it. Remember, the martial arts are for defense and health benefits.
Wing Chun is supposed to be effective and very easy to use. How can learning one form in a year prepare you to be effective? It is not like any other martial art. It is one of the only systems ever made for self-offense, to destroy and kill, but we learn how to relax through it, and it is spontaneous action. I come from three different families of Wing Chun instruction and seen the different practices.
I teach Wing Chun so that you learn how to defend yourself in a very short time because you have the tools to understand how your body works. We do not copy an animal we copy the human body. Everything I show you is human, not like an animal because we fight like a human.”
Martialforce: What is the first thing you teach your students?
Sifu Goldberg: “The punching, it is very simple. When I punch with the first two knuckles, I understand that those two knuckles connect to my arm. I have to adjust those two knuckles because there is nothing really behind them, so you are hitting with the top of the hammer instead of the whole hammer, the arm and the whole body. That is why I can put my hand on your chest and literally punch and knock you ten feet back. People look too much into it when it is just using the whole body with the punch. It is not magic it is what the human body can do. It is Wing Chun science.”
Martialforce: Do you teach women differently?
Sifu Goldberg: “Not at all, the style was created by a woman. She taught us.”
Martialforce: Do you teach as you were taught?
Sifu Goldberg: “Yes I do, just as I learned in the beginning going back to day one. I will change something for my own reasons, and if someone recognizes the change my students will say, ‘My Sifu changed this for this reason knowing how it was originally done and how I may do it now.’ That is how I teach today. I stress to students to touch hands with one others because what you learn in the school is not necessarily, what you will encounter if attacked. I believe our students are superior because they have open minds. Wing Chun is simple, and to the point.”
Martialforce: How would you describe your teaching style?
Sifu Goldberg: “I am fortunate enough that I can teach and do. I can verbalize, talk about it and explain it. I was lucky to have received great lessons from instructors and be able to pass it on. I love to teach.”
M.Force: Why would a parent consider bringing her kids here, after all, there is no ranking system?
Sifu Goldberg: “I tell parents, this is a place to learn the martial arts, build confidence. A parent said to me recently, (an ex Judo practitioner) that he sees improvements in his sons’ progress in their schoolwork. In this school, we are like a family. We learn and grow together as part of the Kung-Fu life, a way of life that will always be with you.
When you work with students, you do not need to make yourself mystical. ‘Grand Master Jason Lau is my Wing Chun father.’ You are a teacher for a day and a father for life. It is great to feel the pride of him seeing me do well. One of my students is currently writing a book on The Wooden Dummy and on the theories of Wing Chun.”
Martialforce: Have you ever been challenged?
Sifu Goldberg: “Oh yeah, over the years I have experienced and handled it, usually with a shot to the chest that ended it.”
Martialforce: Do you think we have lost a generation?
Sifu Goldberg: “Some things have slipped away but we still have so much. Some guys are going to train and pass on the traditions of their styles.”
Martialforce: Changing direction. You created LESS (Law Enforcement Survival System). How did this come about?
Sifu Goldberg: “Ironically, one day a gentleman came to my class. He told me he was a cop in the city and he was a black belt in Tae Kwon Do. He trained with me for about two to three months. He stated that he wanted to become a long time student but that he came to my school for a different reason. He was responsible for finding an instructor to teach the New York City SWAT Team, because they did not have anyone teaching the Martial Arts. I looked at him and said, ‘You are kidding me?’ He explained that the academy had boxing and karate, but it was not utilizing a martial art that police could depend on in the street. I told him he came to me under false pretense and he said, ‘Yes and no, because I fell in love with what you do.’ He asked if we could put something together to teach the Police Department.
Now I already knew what I was up against, and I hate to say this, but I was up against a bunch of egos. I was not a cop so the minute I walk into a room filled with them, I was going to be challenged. I put one guy through a wall, a few down like that but they began to appreciate it after a while. I presented the system to some of the big wigs and they loved it.
In order to develop a system for the Police Department you have to learn that it has different criteria than we do, including when they were able to do certain things, and when not. It was a simple system based on escalation. The first level is when the confrontation is verbal, second when an altercation turns into restraint and third the search and destroy level. You react with your art by taking the Wing Chun theory, making the application fit to the appropriate level of escalation. Unfortunately, when there was a change in the city’s administration the program ended.”
Martialforce: Do you do any done supplemental exercises such as weight training, running etc?
Sifu Goldberg: “Sure I have done all of them, but understand that is not part of Wing Chun. Wing Chun develops the body. Look at a good Wing Chun practitioner and you will see the development of their forearms. We have drills with the pole. I always encourage my students to work together with someone different; it helps to develop your energy.
Wing Chun is not about calisthenics, it is about combat. Hey, you can go to a gym and do your own workout. I prefer get into the meat of it. If you are in my school for two hours, you will do Kung Fu. Some people go to Karate schools for the athletic aspects. I teach the martial arts, I teach Kung-Fu and here, you are going to learn Wing Chun.
I tell my students to practice their punch, the one-inch punch is all mechanics, and it is all about body structure. If someone attacks you, I do not want you to block the attack. You are to punch him or her that is the block.”
Martialforce: Tell us about Action Magazine.
Sifu Goldberg: “When I originally began the magazine, it was being printed here in New York. Later, we went to Canada for cheaper prices. After Canada, we started printing it in China for two years. Eventually, that move did not work out because the freight costs were killing us; it was cheaper to print it in China but expensive to ship it. Therefore, I did my due-diligence, my experiment of looking around and wound up printing it in Connecticut again. I am paying the same price on a better quality paper, almost newsstand quality.
I am always looking into ways to make it a better magazine. It is hard work and very time consuming. I do all of the work, put it together, distribute it, and mail it, the advertising, every aspect involved. The hard work has paid off. It is still the largest free magazine in the martial arts community. I have been publishing it for a very long time. It is one of my passions. It has to be because it sometimes means working until 12:51 in the morning.
Ten years ago, the magazine was close to going out of business because customers were not paying for their ads. Even today, there are those who still do not pay, some past due over 12 months. It should not be this way, completely unprofessional. Understand, for me putting out this magazine is not about the money, it has never made money since day one. But, it serves a vital purpose, it is my vehicle; it helps me to get to the next level.”
Martialforce: Sifu, you are the founder and host of “Action Martial Arts Magazine Hall of Fame” event. How did the idea of an annual event come about?
Sifu Goldberg: “The annual event began 10 years ago. I actually had an idea for a large-scale martial arts event awhile back. How did it take form? Friends of mine who were hosting some kickboxing shows invited me down to The Tropicana in Atlantic City. I got friendly with some of their VIP’s who invited me to have dinner with the president at the time, of the Tropicana Hotel. After the dinner, he walked me into this room, and I said, “Oh my God! What do you want me to do with this room do you want me to run a baseball or football center?” He began laughing and said, ‘Well, Alan, we can make the room smaller if you need to.’
After my friends left the hotel, the owners approached me about hosting an event and said to me if I wanted to go forward, it was going to cost $20,000 dollars a day to rent the convention room. I looked at them and asked, ‘Where am I going to get $20,000 dollars a day to rent out a convention room?’ I told them no can do. They then asked me if I still wanted to run a dinner. I told them, ‘You have to do something. I need a room to run my seminars and to put up 40 to 50 tables.’ We sat down, hashed it out and in the first year I held the event in the convention center.
Even when I was not paying the $40,000, it was still going to cost $12,000 to $13,000 after expenses. It was only $25 per person to get into the event. In the first year close to 1,400 people attended. It was truly amazing. The next thing you know it became a staple type event for the martial arts community. Even celebrities come, though I do not pay them appearance fees or anything like that. They all want to come because they want to be part of the event. It is a showcase for them, but I tell people something very important: ‘There is only one person in this room that is different than anyone else. I do not care if you have 15 stripes on your belt, I do not care if a white belt walks in, everyone is the same in my eyes. There is only person who is different, and that is I because I am your host. I have to run this event in a manner to insure you are happy. You cannot make everyone happy, but I always try. We get crowds back every year because they like what they see. This event creates its own life.
Last year I walked into the event at about 11:30AM and you could not walk into the place; at least 2,000 people with an average of 100 people attending each seminar at a time.
Let me tell you about last year’s event. An ironic thing happened. At the Tropicana’s casino floor, where there is a beautiful fountain, the area tends to become a hangout area. As I left my room, watching people checking in and out, I walked towards the fountain, stopped and looked, and I said to myself, ‘Wow, look at this!’ There must have been 300 to 400 people standing around it. There was Joe Lewis, Bill Wallace over there and Don “The Dragon” Wilson. Among them, known celebrities everywhere all with there own little crowds, with people taking a million photographs. Then it hit me: this became an improvised party. I did not do anything, and look what happened!
It is funny how everyone gets so much energy from the first night that carries over into the next day. Everyone is filling up the restaurants, the nightclubs, the casino, the stores, as if the whole hotel was on fire the entire night. People came up to me the next morning saying, ‘Hey, great party last night!’ I had not done anything, yet.
I run three seminars in one room. It gives everyone a better feel being together and the energy level is great. Then of course, you have a few knuckleheads who complain and say to me, ‘How I dare charge $25 to get into the expo.’ They forget that the seminars are free. I tell them, ‘Listen, where can you go and have Don “The Dragon” Wilson, Joe Lewis, Bill Wallace just to name a few, celebrities, movie stars and top world champions in the same place at the same time?’
The magazine (Action Magazine) has been a reputable force for the event during its first ten years. When I walked into the banquet room the night before the dinner, and saw the enormity of it, huge, the size of a football field. You have to believe that you will not be able to see people on the other side of the room, that is how big. I just walked and looked around and tears came to my eyes. My father was a big supporter of me. I looked up and said, ‘Dad, look, I could not believe I could get so many people to come.’
Every year our numbers go up a little or down a bit, but we have never had less than a thousand people in this room. It has always been a major event. Actually, it is the largest catered event at the Tropicana, and one of the largest catered events held in Atlantic City.
Joe Piscopo, one of my students and a great friend, told me it is bigger than the Golden Globe Awards. I actually met Joe from my event. He was involved in the martial arts, heard about it, and came down. He wound up training and hanging out with me.
Joe has opened up a new world to me of celebrities who are martial artists and non- martial artists who happen to be some of the nicest people you ever want to meet. Joe is a truly kind-hearted soul, who goes out of his way to raise funds for events and charities and has always supported my event. Phil Morris one of my Kung-Fu buddies is another wonderful supporter.
I have made great contacts over the years and continue to meet wonderful people. I get involved in many things because of this little magazine. Let me say this: I am frank and I tell people things simply. I am a publisher and a promoter and that is what you see of me. The martial artist is a different side of me. Therefore, in the martial arts world I act completely different than I do as a publisher and a promoter. I am ruthless as a promoter because I know I have to pay those bills and there is a lot riding on the event not just for myself, but also for those who attend. In the martial art world, people are too gentle when it comes to promoting things. By that, I mean, people constantly say, ‘You know I will pay you tomorrow;’ Many do not. I say why do I have to worry about being paid tomorrow, why not pay me today? I have to work with this stuff all the time.
I know many people who will jump in front of a bus for me because of what I have done for them. There are people who do not like me, they are many, and they do not because I am ruthless in that way. I get emails from people that want to come to my event and ask me to pay their way or pay their limo. I ask, ‘What, are you nuts, what kind of drugs are you on?’ I do not even know half these people and I should pay their way.
I tell people if you are part of my world, or become part of what I do, I do not want you kiss my feet, just be my friend, and I will do the world for you. However, if you want to fight me I got the power to fight you back. Moreover, I never use the magazine to get back at anyone. If you do not like the chef, do not go back to the restaurant.
I know you asked me initially about my event and my answer has taken several directions.”
Martialforce: That is quite all right. Please continue.
Sifu Goldberg: “Great, allow me. First, I will tell you two stories. In my first year of the event, I had Stephen Hayes attend. What a wonderful man, gentle but he is the ‘American Ninja.’ Besides him, who else but Ronald Duncan, I had the two American Ninjas. At a seminar going on, Stephen grabs my arm and says, ‘Alan, would you please come over here. I hear you have Ronald Duncan coming.’ I am thinking, oh no, here we go. He says, ‘You must make a personal invitation, because we have never met and I am so in awe of him.’ I tell him, ‘No problem. He will be here soon.’
I step out into a hallway and see an entourage going up the escalator. It is Ronald Duncan. He stops me. I know Duncan going back 35, 40 years. He says, ‘I have to talk to you about something.’ I say, ‘Yes sir what can I do for you?’ Duncan: ‘I hear you have Stephen Hayes here.’ I say, ‘Yeah, what is the matter?’ Duncan: ‘Can you introduce us; I have never met the man I am in awe of the guy.’ So here, I have Stephan Hayes in one room and I am walking with Ronald Duncan and his entourage, when all of a sudden these two groups converge, I walk towards the middle of them and see Hayes come together with Duncan grabbing and hugging each other! You can see the awe in both their faces, both telling each other, ‘Sir, it is an honor.’
I knew at that moment what I had created was a culmination. It was something that was so special, and no one saw this, except their students and me, it was so unbelievable.
My other story even bigger than that, goes back to a group we had from Japan. It was incredible. His name is Tanaka, one of the last Samurai family heads from Japan. This guy is very hardcore, unbelievable. You look at him, and I do not care how tough you are, you think of Yakuza, cut your hands off, your arms. You would love him, a true gentleman. A friend comes over and he says, ‘Could you introduce us?’ I asked him why. My friend: ‘Well, my son is a cop, and his partner is married to a Japanese girl and she is standing over there. She would like to say hello to Tanaka.’ We began walking over together, my friend, the partner, and his wife. As we are walking over talking, I learn that her father was the ruling head of the other Samurai clan.
These two clans were at war for three hundred years. They never spoke, never anything, did not bother with each other, just like the Hatfields and McCoys. They introduced her and before you know it; they began speaking Japanese back and forth. A week after the event, they met in Japan and since then play golf ever Sunday. That is literally out of a storybook!
When you walk into the room hosting the trade show, with 7,000 to 8,000 people showing up, there is not one ego, not one person walking around with 25 stripes and the whole nine yards that goes with it. One thing you learn about me is that I hate any ranking system, titles and all the bullcrap that goes along with it. I always ask what happened to Sensei and Sifu, what happened to the two most honorable words in the dictionary of the Martial Arts. Everything else I can abide by. People are just nuts they have gone crazy. I get a letter from a person who has so many abbreviations after his name. What is that all about?
I am a very firm believer that you are whom you are, and if you write something that you are not, people are going to learn about it. People will track it down and ask who is this person? Here is a person who knows nothing, has no traceable ties or connections and is presenting himself as a 10th degree Black Belt?
Myself, what am I? Some call me Master, Grand Master, but I am Sifu Goldberg that is what I actually go by. I use Grand Master, because I do have students that are Masters, but I really do not want to do that if it is not necessary.”
Martialforce: Do you feel that way because of your art?
Sifu Goldberg: “I have been a businessman for many years. I own this building and have my businesses here. I am not ruthless in the sense that I cut people’s throats. That is not what I mean. I am ruthless in the sense that if I have to spend time working until 2AM and sleep three or fours hours a night, then that is what I do. Ruthless means I do not stop. When I have to put out a thousand invitations in one week, I get it done. Ruthless means I never stop until the last minute, the last breath, I keep on working and pushing. I do not do 100 percent I do 110 percent.
I take care of everyone to make sure people are happy. The people who come to my event, come to support it, it is a matter of rapport not about paying to come. They know that they can get a lot more from me by coming to my event.”
Martialforce: Does it surprise you that some of the celebrities you meet, are into some form of martial art?
Sifu Goldberg: “Yes and no. Many of them have been practicing some form of martial art. Take for example, Phil Morris. Until he came down and started hanging out with us, no one knew he was a martial artist. He has close to 30 years under his belt”
Martialforce: In closing, Sifu, what are you thinking about for the upcoming Hall Of Fame Event?
Sifu Goldberg: “Here are my thoughts: We as martial artists do things for each other because we are old school. Some people complain that I make money out of this event. Yet if you throw a kickboxing event, you must pay the fighters, the location and make some profit. I love what I do, because the event makes the connections. I love to meet the people and I love the enthusiasm of the people who get excited when they come. I say to all, do not come with your ego, do not come with any expectations about who, what, when, where. Come to have a good time. This is a rejoicing, a compilation of all the good everyone has received from their lives in the Martial Arts.”
You feel it when he talks about Grand Master Jason Lau, when he talks about his son, when he talks about people such as Joe Piscopo, Don Wilson, and so many, many others. You can feel it when he is talking; it is love, respect, thankfulness it is passion, and it is the family that is the World of Martial Arts.
Martialforce.com wishes to thank Sifu Alan Goldberg for his time, and welcoming us into his family.