In the final analysis, this is a book review. But I also have to tell the story about how I found the author and the book. So it’s not any simple review.
I have been reviewing a whole range of biographical writings lately as I prepare for my next project which is a personal account of my practice of tai chi over the past near forty years. The working title is Tai Chi: Use Mind and Not Force. I will eventually notify readers of pre-order opportunities, but the book is still in early draft form right now.
In fact, over the last week, I had been working on a chapter about Simon Lim, my tai chi teacher. Then on Monday I got a call from Simon’s wife saying he had passed away the night before. So Simon’s life came right into focus for me. It reached its peak at the funeral service for Simon held in Bulli on Monday 29 January where I was asked to say some words as an early generation tai chi student of his.
After the service, I decided to go to the pool and sauna at Mount Annan near Campbelltown. This was a welcome detour for me on the way back to Sydney. After the intensity of the service, it was good to sit in the hot sauna and relax for an hour or so.
The sauna was quiet, though a heavily-tattooed, solidly-built Islander guy was sitting in there. Out of the blue, asked: ‘What you been doing today?’
‘I’ve just been to a funeral,’ I said.
He nodded. ‘Well, death makes us all equal, that’s for sure,’ he said. In his own simple way, he seemed to be echoing the eloquent words of Abraham Lincoln who once said of death: ‘It comes equally to us all, and makes us all equal when it comes.’ I had just read that quote in Don Watson’s, There it is again, also as part of my preparation to write in a clear and honest way.
After a short pause, the Islander asked. ‘What else you been doing?’
I replied that I am writing a book, that I work at home where I write.
He reacted enthusiastically. ‘Wow, I have a friend who’s a writer, he helped me write a book about myself.’
I love to hear about writers and their experiences so I had to ask: ‘But why did you write a book about yourself?’
‘Mate, I’m the fifth highest paid MMA fighter the world.’
And this is how I met Mark Hunt. I do think he was just happy to talk about books and writing more than his own career because he started going on about his writer friend, Ben McKelvey. He gave me a detailed description about Ben’s other two books. One was about Deng Adut, the former Sudanese refugee who is now practising as a human rights lawyer in Sydney. Mark was proud to claim him as a friend.
I took a break from the sauna for a while. I felt like I had been overloaded with so much information, it had all rolled off me like the sweat from my body dripping onto the floor of the hot box. When I returned after ten minutes, Mark was still in there. ‘So, tell me again. What’s the name of your book?’ ‘Born to Fight’, he replied. ‘You’ll find it online somewhere.’
He asked me whether I had any good books. I said I had a self-published few books online, one being a collection of short stories about what teenage guys got up to on Friday nights in Campbelltown in the seventies (Mostly Friday Nights). ‘Mate, kids get up to that shit all over the world,’ he commented. The shock of how he spent his Friday nights in Auckland was still waiting for me within the pages of Born to Fight.
Mark then went on to joke about how he doesn’t read many books. Maybe that’s why he enjoyed meeting a local writer. He said the only book he reads seriously is the Bible.
That night I checked out Mark Hunt on Youtube. This friendly, easygoing guy I chatted with in the sauna is one of the meanest, toughest fighters in the world today. He is known as The King of the Walk Away for the way he delivers a knock out blow and then walks away to another part of the ring waiting for the referee to count the opponent out of the fight. So often one clean punch ends it all for his opponents. I even checked his earnings. He is up around the $700,000-$800,000 fee per bout.
I was led to ponder on the contrast of Mark with my teacher Simon. At the funeral service, I related a few anecdotes about Simon. One was about the first time I met him. It was in 1980 at the gym at Sydney University at the start of a term course of an introduction to tai chi. We were all in awe of Simon, he could talk and talk and was so convincing with every word he spoke.
At the start of week two, we were outside the hall a little early so I asked him: ‘Can tai chi help us give up smoking?’ Simon automatically answered: ‘Yes, but we don’t fight it. We strengthen our body and then smoking will fall away by itself.’ And here in my first communication with Simon, a person I would go on to know over the next 38 years, was the essence of tai chi. With tai chi, we achieve success without fighting and without resistance.
Another speaker at the funeral reminded us of Simon’s desire for health care to be available to all so that in his clinic he had a sign on the wall, written in red ink, which read Fee by Donation.
Another may struggle to fathom the apparent incongruencies in the lives of these two characters. Mark Hunt, earning up to $800,000 per fight for belting a person (mostly on the chin or jaw) into submission and having a world-wide following. And then we had the quiet passing of a man who had sought to share the great tai chi idea of actionless action as we live our lives, a man with no social media presence, and one lived well within his financial means.
But actually the whole idea of tai chi, with its yin and yang symbol is that contrast will always be present here in the physical world. We do live in a time of rich contrast and this is a good thing. We have never been more able to clearly identify what we do want and what we don’t want. Tai chi is more about focusing on what we do want, and not fighting what we don’t want because such opposition only lends energy to it, makes it stronger. But I do appreciate the contrast, and all this in the one afternoon. The world is such a diverse place where each are attracted to their own.
The next day i borrowed Mark’s book from the local library and it was a great read. It is well written, well paced, a very personal account of the ups and downs of Mark’s life from when he was born to when the book was published in 2015. It’s so dramatic and offers much insight into the building of the character of a working class Samoan boy living in New Zealand and then the western suburbs of Sydney. In their younger years, Mark and his siblings faced so much violence, hypocrisy, alienation and, as he describes it, darkness. Though there always seemed to be guides and helping hands along the way for Mark. But each time it was always up to him to accept them.
I would describe Mark’s life as an amazing example of a person who moves in and out of alignment with who he really is (as we all do, but just often don’t understand). His way of understanding all this is to describe it as the fluctuation between the influence of God and the devil. That is what helped him through those times. He has a strong faith in the God side of the equation.
Mark’s story is told in a way that can get through to a lot of young people who just know there is something better for them but feel so disconnected from it at times. Like his fighting style, Mark managed to keep going forward.
One day, as he himself predicts towards the end of the book, his fighting days will be over, but he has such rich experience and understanding, he will still have so much to offer others, I can see a new career for this guy. Of course, that is once he has raised his family which is the top priority for now.
Thank you Mark.