From my point of view, writing about Valeri is writing about Budo. Regarding every aspect that I understand of the way of the warrior. So, this short text is easy to write in a way, because I am not actually talking about Valeri, but about Budo. On the other hand, it is very difficult, because the Budo way is so deep, and so is Valeri.
I first met him in 2000, in Spain, when he became the first time European champion. He was kind of a mystery, very quiet, easy to pass, almost invisible. On the tatami you had to take notice. He was doing almost nothing, but he was winning in a very convincing manner. He was taking everything what was thrown on him, almost absorbing kicks and punching, and he was always going forward. Probably Sosai would have loved him dearly. I had to look at him from the second round of the competition because he fought with a very strong Romanian member of our team. Our fighter was doing everything, but with almost no effect. He lost in the second round because he was exhausted and it looked like Valeri was just waking up. So since then I have always watched him with interest and I was never disappointed. I don’t want to talk here about his countless titles, others have done it better, I want to talk about the man, the character, about his inner beauty as much as I can understand.
With time we became a little closer, exchanging thoughts, joking (mostly me, I am a joker), watching fights together and making bets about who was going to win. I always had a good time with him, and I think everyone who knows him considers him a very good company. But he is more than that. I always got the feeling that he understands more than he says and much more than he shows. He is very smart, but quiet, like the Budo way should be. He has a good word for everybody, he does not avoid anyone, his patience sometimes annoys me and makes me want to shake him.
I have never seen him angry. This worries me sometimes. I am joking. It was only once, at the last World Tournament, when he looked tired and worried. He was under so much pressure from everybody that I think he forgot for a moment about his true nature. But it was love that made him react like this. He did not want to disappoint his teachers, his team mates, his friends, his fans. But reality has sometimes a funny way of waking you up. And it did exactly this with Valery. After not winning the World Tournament, he changed. He become so much stronger, and I don’t mean physically, but mentally. He become one, he closed the circle. At the next competition when we talked, the World Cup from Lithuania, I asked him before the tournament if he was nervous. His answer was so good: “It’s just a competition.” He won first place. He finally understood the value of being in the present, to enjoy everything without judgement, without expectations.
Although he is a fantastic fighter, his entrance on the tatami is almost invisible, very humble, like he does not want to disturb something or someone. When he wins, he reacts in the same way like he lost. No reaction. This is understanding. Understanding of duality, of the nature of this universe of illusion in which we live. Enough suffering is produced by winning a fight against someone, you don’t need to make a spectacle out of this. And he doesn’t make it out of compassion, another characteristic of Budo.
When he came in Romania to teach in our summer camp, I told him that in my twisted mind, I see him like that beautiful character out of the cartoon movie Kung-Fu Panda, Master Oogway, the ancient wise turtle. He laughed, but he did not get mad. He has a very good sense of humor.
I was always fighting and contesting my teachers. I still do it now sometimes, but not so often. I have never seen him do something like that. He is the perfect student that any teacher would love to have, never protesting, always listening, always saying Osu! This is what will make him such a great master.
Some teachers, when they come to teach in camps, they know perfectly what they want to teach. Some of them are like an ocean that brings you waves of knowledge, technique and if you are lucky enough, fun. Valeri is not like that. He is like an ocean without waves. More like a mountain lake. Transparent and deep. He was always asking me before every training: “Harris, what do you want me to teach?” If you were intelligent enough to ask the right questions, he would answer any of them in the wisest manner, profound. Whatever you wanted he was giving with altruism and passion. But you had to have the right questions. No waves here.
He is one of the loveliest family men that I know, an ancient soul, taking care of his amazing children and his beautiful and intelligent wife. He is the embodiment of Budo in my view. I hate him sometimes for being good in every aspect of his life. I could write a novel about him, but we are in a time when people don’t have patience anymore.
Going over what I wrote I realize two things: I could only touch the surface in trying to describe Valeri, my friend, but, like Budo, it takes lots of practice and dedication to understand and to feel more. And secondly, it looks like a love letter. Gergana, I don’t want to take him away from you, but writing about Valeri gets you many Facebook likes, so I had to give it a try.
Osu! Harris Wallmen
“Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift. That is why it is called the present.” Master Oogway