Confidence through combat

Published 9:43 pm Thursday, August 11, 2011

Mike Smith, of Holland, won his first mixed martial arts fight in a Spartyka Fight League event in February and will be competing in his second bout on Saturday in SFL IV: The Show at Norfolk Scope. Proceeds from the event are going to Wounded Wear, an organization that makes and gives away custom clothing to wounded veterans. The first of 20 bouts starts at 7:30 p.m.

Suffolk martial artist is in Spartyka Fight League night at Scope

Mike Smith isn’t 100 percent assured he’ll win his fight, one of the 20 mixed martial arts bouts in the Spartyka Fight League’s SFL IV: The Show event Saturday starting at 7:30 p.m. at Norfolk Scope.

No matter how his match turns out, Smith knows he’s squared off against bigger opponents with serious reputations, even when he didn’t know it.

Three years ago, Smith was at a party late into the night with a group of soldiers from the Army’s Fort Drum, near Watertown, N.Y. One of the men challenges anyone in the place to wrestle.

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“He’s got 30 or more pounds on me, but I said, ‘OK, I’ll do it,’” said Smith, who will be fighting in the 135-pound class on Saturday.

“I put this guy on his back three out of five times. We get done and everyone’s quiet, like, ‘What in the world just happened?’” Smith said. “It turns out this guy is in charge of teaching hand-to-hand combat (at Fort Drum).”

Instead of being insulted, the staff sergeant and soldiers are intrigued. They unofficially recruited Smith and for the next few months, Smith works with soldiers, for 3-4 hours a day of spare time teaching as much about self-defense, ninja, jujitsu and even science and anatomy, as possible.

Size and brute strength can be rendered ineffective with the right knowledge and discipline.

“Learning where to punch or kick someone, and why, is everything,” Smith said.

Smith said everything he’s able to teach was simply passing along what a friend, perhaps ironically, perhaps not, who was also in the Army, had taught him.

Matt Lasley served in the Army’s Special Forces, an Army Ranger, in Bosnia.

When Smith was a high school student at Lakeland, he was the furthest thing imaginable from a martial arts fighter.

“I was always picked on, to say the least. I had my nose broken, my ribs broken. I never fought back. I always turned the other cheek and in response, I got beaten up a lot of times,” Smith said.

Smith dropped out of Lakeland and wound up getting a GED. He met Lasley soon after. Seven years later, Smith describes their relationship as he’s the Karate Kid and Lasley is Mr. Miyagi.

“He told me, ‘You’re a brilliant guy and you could be unstoppable, but you can’t defend yourself. You have no confidence,’” Smith said.

In Bosnia, Lasley survived taking four gunshots in the back with a protective vest on while in a bodyguard detail as part of the 10th Mountain Division Infantry.

Lasley is legally blind, yet he’s an expert on firearms, to the level of helping the military write manuals on some of its weapons, Smith said.

Lasley’s trained in 16 different martial arts and speaks, at least 10 languages fluently, Smith guesses.

“While in Bosnia, he learned Croatian in two weeks, just working on it in his spare time,” Smith said.

Lasley took Smith under his wing physically and in the martial arts. Smith describes “the bombardment test” Lasley put him through years ago.

At unexpected times and places every day, Lasley would yell and sharply throw something at Smith.

“For the first two or three months, almost every time, it scared me, shocked me, and usually hit me in the face,” Smith said.

He got to the point of smacking the flying object away, then to catching it, no matter if Lasley caught him by surprise or how fast the reaction had to be.

Even while Smith’s lived in New York, Ohio, Indiana, Florida, Georgia, Pennsylvania, now back to Holland with his mother to help her after a death in the family, Smith’s learned more than fighting skills from his mentor.

For one incredible example, Smith knows nine languages. Mostly not to Lasley’s level, but from Filipino, Vietnamese and Mandarin to Spanish and German, “It’s enough in each one I could be out in public and get through just fine in those countries,” Smith said.

Lasley fought and won in an SFL event in December. Jimi Partyka, owner of the Spartyka Fight League, asked Lasley if he had any students who would be good competitors. Lasley nominated Smith. Smith won his rookie fight at the last SFL night in February.

“The first time in ring, it was about showing people who taught me. I had to show Matt, yes, you’ve taught me right,” Smith said.

The SFL is an all-amateur league. In fact, the fighters on Saturday in Norfolk will be paying to compete in their sport.

Smith’s got nothing against moving up the ranks. Making money as an MMA fighter is a great chance if it comes along. His real goal, however, is starting his own martial arts school and teaching.

Smith wants to teach anyone, competitive fighter or not, and especially women and children, for the purposes of self-defense and confidence.

Partyka won’t be in Norfolk for his league’s big debut at the Scope. He’s serving in the Navy in Africa.

The SFL honors service men and women and donates ticket proceeds to related organizations at its events.

Ticket sales will go to Wounded Wear, a nonprofit organization founded by an injured Navy SEAL to make custom clothing for military men and women who’ve been badly injured and/or had amputations.

Thirty wounded veterans who will be skydiving in’s and Skydive Suffolk’s Jumping for a Purpose event on Sunday in Suffolk will be honored.

The SFL and Honor and Remember will honor the family of Tramaine Billingsley of Norfolk. Billingsley was killed in action in September 2010. Billingsley would’ve turned 21 years old on Wednesday.

Bob VandeLinde, a Silver Star recipient in the Korean War, as well as a Golden Gloves champion boxer in his youth, will be recognized.

General admission tickets are available through Ticketmaster or at the Norfolk Scope box office. Tickets are $25 in advance or $30 at the door.