by Herb Borkland
Loren W. Christensen, 10th-degree black belt and founder of American Freestyle, served 27 years in law enforcement, first as an Army MP and then as an LEO in Portland, Oregon. For a quarter of a century, he has been a defensive-tactics instructor. He’s had a parallel career as a martial arts journalist and “book doctor,” which started when he wrote a 1968 piece for Reader’s Digest. Among his works are Policing Saigon, Knife Fighter, Self-Defense for Women, Fighting the Pain-Resistant Attacker and Meditation for Warriors.
MASuccess: Where did you grow up, and what did your dad do?
Loren Christensen: I was born in Vancouver, Washington. Dad was a truck driver.
MAS: How did you first get involved with martial arts?
Christensen: I was a teenage body builder. I broke my back in a weight-lifting contest, so after that, no more lifting. I had heard about karate in 1965, and I found a school in Portland, Oregon, run by Wu Ying Mun, who trained with Bruce Lee. Knowing how to win fights was a necessity, not an option.
I went on to serve in the Army during the Vietnam War. I was an MP in Saigon at the time it was called “the most dangerous city in the world,” and I got tired of fighting after a 14-hour shift. I walked beats in bathhouses and bars. At 5-feet-10, I was the smallest MP, but my martial arts background helped. An easy night was only four fights, but usually there were 10 to 12. I came off duty with fingers wrenched, “battle lip,” torn trousers. I learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t.
I was restless after ’Nam and couldn’t settle down, so I went to college. I got involved in the college theater and wanted to go into radio, so I took a radio-ad writing class. I wrote a radio play that was accepted by a French company. I also started writing for martial arts magazines. I’d go find subjects in San Francisco — in those days a mecca for fighting stylists. Eventually, I got a bachelor’s degree in sociology in the 1980s.
In 1972 a buddy of mine, a Portland cop, said, “Why don’t you join the force?” I told him, “I just did a year in ’Nam worth 20 years on your beat.”
But I did become a policeman. I was a Police Academy defensive-tactics instructor for 25 years. With police work, you can’t punch and kick people, and it made my American Freestyle training more street-applicable.
MAS: What was your turning point?
Christensen: My first school was in a chiropractic college gymnasium with 15-foot-long windows facing west. July sun streamed through those windows, almost like a church. The floor trembled; dust danced in sunbeams. With me and martial arts, it was love at first sight.
MAS: What does the future hold?
Christensen: As long as I am still blessed and can train, I will continue. I have a few students. When the hard stuff gets too hard, I’ll go back to tai chi. I can’t imagine not training. Once, I broke a knee and sat in a chair for six months, working on my hand techniques. It’s not about fighting anymore. I don’t even think about it, although my style is street-oriented.
People ask me, “Why do you keep training?” I say, “[Because] I’m not that good.” Never be satisfied because, quite frankly, you aren’t that good. There is always somebody out there who can beat you up. There is a school of thought that says a black belt elevates you to about the level of a real good street fighter who has never had a lesson.
To contact Herb Borkland, send an email to [email protected]
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