Pankration Magazine: First off, it's been a couple of years since we last talked - how's everything going with the WPF?
Craig Smith: Very well. A friend of mine recently told me that he thought the WPF had reached exactly where it needed to be at this time, and I'd have to agree with that. I couldn't be more pleased with where we are now, but I'm looking forward to where I know we are going in the next couple of years.
PM: A lot of people probably don't know that you were originally associated with another pankration organization before you started the WPF.
Smith: That's true. I was one of the original supporters of the USA Federation of Pankration Athlima and its parent organization, the International Federation of Pankration Athlima. My good friend Bob Boggs was Secretary General of both organizations, and I supported both organizations through my magazine,
Grandmaster. In fact, I originally created Combat Sport, the competition insert of Grandmaster, as a media venue specifically for pankration.
PM: What happened with those organizations, the USAFPA and IFPA?
Smith: They've pretty much dwindled away. One of the things that excited so many people at the time was the possibility of getting pankration back into the Olympics. There were some very high profile names who came on board the pankration movement because of this, and everyone was promoting the idea that we were working toward getting pankration reintroduced into the Olympic Games. Pretty soon, though, many of the organizations' representatives were changing the "working toward" to flatly stating that pankration "will be" in the Olympics in 2004. This was a total misrepresentation.
PM: Were they lying, or were they just getting carried away?
Smith: I'm not going to give grown men the excuse that they "just got carried away". Grown men, particularly leaders in their field, should not be "carried away" by anything. However, at that point, I can't say whether they were lying or not. If they knew that what they were saying was not true, then they were lying. If they did not know that what they were saying was untrue, they were simply wrong. In my opinion, neither is acceptable.
PM: What happened?
Smith: I contacted the IOC (International Olympic Committee) and asked them about pankration's status. They told me that pankration was not going to be an Olympic Sport in 2004, nor had pankration even made application for recognition as an Olympic Sport.
PM: Did you confront the leadership of the pankration organizations about this?
PM: What did they say?
Smith: Not much. Bob Boggs was the only one who was concerned about it. He took the information I gave him, contacted the IOC himself, and confronted the presidents of both the USAFPA and the IFPA about it. He eventually resigned from both organizations.
PM: How about the others in the organizations? What did they think about this?
Smith: They couldn't have cared less. They knew what they were doing, and they didn't want to hear anyone raining on their parade. They continued to claim that pankration was going to be in the 2004 Olympics, and that their organizations were the ones officially recognized by Greece and the IOC to field the national Olympic teams - none of which was true.
PM: That seems crazy. How could they expect to get away with it if the information was already out there disputing their claims? Why would they even try?
Smith: Why they would try is money - membership and tournament entry fees from athletes who thought they were headed for the Olympics. How could they continue to pull it off? Because people hear what they want to hear, and don't hear what they don't want to hear. People wanted to believe they were going to the Olympics - therefore, they simply refused to read or believe anything that challenged or contradicted that dream.
PM: Is that why you started the WPF?
Smith: No, not right away. Naturally, I pulled my support from both the USAFPA and the IFPA, and wrote about it in Grandmaster. But I was very busy with the magazine, and starting another organization was the farthest thing from my mind.
PM: Well, what did make you start the WPF?
Smith: Basically, because nobody else did. The good people - athletes, coaches, representatives, officials, were leaving the USAFPA and the IFPA in droves, but there was no where else for them to go to continue pankration competition. I kept expecting someone to start another organization, and I was ready to support them if they ran it honestly. But no one did. So, finally, I did.
PM: You started the WPF just because no one else did?
Smith: Yeah. Well, I saw all these good people left out in the cold, as it were, and it made me mad. In fact, a friend of mine told me sometime back that every business I've ever started was because I was mad at some situation. I guess that's true.
PM: Well, it seems to be working out.
Smith: Yes, it's working out very well.
PM: Did things go smoothly with the WPF from the beginning?
Smith: (Laughing) Hardly! The first thing I did was bring together all of the people who had left the other organizations and ask them to develop a new set of competition rules that would be unique to the WPF, as I thought some of the rules of the other organization had been a bit silly. Boy, was that a mistake!
PM: How so?
Smith: We had people from every conceivable discipline, and they all wanted things their own way. We had judo guys and karate guys and jujitsu guys and wrestlers and kickboxers - and they all wanted what they were most comfortable with, and didn't want what they weren't
comfortable (read good) at. It was like trying to hitch a bunch of bulls to the same wagon - everyone was pulling, but in different directions, and the wagon was being pulled apart. What we ended up with was a set of rules that didn't please anyone, and about three quarters of the people left and wouldn't compete with us. It was a real auspicious beginning!
PM: What happened?
Smith: Well, we erred on the side of safety with our original rules - and rightfully so, I think. But they didn't really reflect the pankration concept of "all powers"; allowing competitors from disparate disciplines to come together and test their skills against those of other disciplines with whatever skills they possessed - within certain safety guidelines, of course. We've made a number of rules changes over the past two years, and people are pretty happy with them now.
PM: What are some of the rules changes that have made a difference?
Smith: At first, we didn't allow knee strikes on the ground, or elbow strikes at any time. We allow both now, but don't allow either to the head. Also, we did not allow any head contact at the beginning. This put the strikers at a distinct disadvantage. We do allow head contact now, with punches and kicks, but require TOP TEN headgear to ensure athlete safety.
PM: That seems to make a lot more sense.
Smith: I think so. And we've had excellent response, not only in the US, but internationally.
PM: What is the main attraction of pankration?
Smith: Several things, I think. First, it is mixed martial art, which is really the best test of martial ability for those who actually want to fight, rather than dance.
PM: Is that a slam at karate and taekwondo?
Smith: It's not a slam, it's an observation. Go to an average karate or taekwondo tournament, and what do you see? Do you see any fighting? I don't. I see a bunch of silly, flippy-dippy carrying on that is laughed at by real fighters, both in the ring and on the street. Jim Harrison wrote one of the greatest articles I have ever read about what happened to point karate. I know it's going to be carried on the Grandmaster Magazine On-Line site, and if you could link to that from this interview, the readers here can get one of the best lessons they will ever read on martial competition.
PM: OK, go ahead with what you think the attraction is to pankration.
Smith: Well, as I said, it is a true mixed martial art competition which includes striking, grappling, stand-up and groundfighting, and submission techniques. It is fast-paced, and is the closest we can get to real personal unarmed combat while staying within appropriate bounds of safety in an athletic forum.
Second, it is an historical event, having been one of the most revered Olympic events for over 1,000 years. It was referred to by the Greek sophist Philostratos as the "Worthiest contest in the Olympiads and the most important preparaton for warriors." So, it has a practical application and an historical aspect that is unparalleled in the martial arts. I think people, both competitors and spectators, are attracted to both of those aspects, and we're finding that in the increases in both competitors and spectators at our tournaments.
Also, the nature of pankration, particularly since we have made the most recent rules adjustments, puts the outcome in the hands of the competitors and takes it out of the subjective judgements of judges and referees. The competition speeks for itself, and the spectator is able to enjoy onsand understand the competition without being surprised or disappointed by the application of arcane rules and subjective judgements by referees who may differ in their rules applications.