Hampstead native Mike "Cobrafast" Johnson brought home more than a silver medal when he returned late last month from the first-ever American-Russian Tournament of Traditional Forms and Sparring in St. Petersburg, Russia.
He saw an entirely different way of life in the seven days he spent in St. Petersburg -- One that made him appreciate what Americans take for granted.
"Their economy is just really bad over there," he said. "The average income there is between $5-10 a month. If you have a car, you're considered well off. We just don't realize how good we have it here in the States."
Johnson, 25, had a chance to do some sightseeing and shopping in between the history-making, three-day martial arts tournament, which had 200 North and South American competitors and 400 Russian participants.
He said the Russian people were generally friendly and there were plenty of bargains to be found, but the food and hotel accommodations left a lot to be desired.
"Most of the people were very friendly, but there was the language barrier to deal with. We were supposed to have first-class hotel accommodations, but those were changed and we ended up staying in a place fit for chickens. Three meals were offered, but I would only eat one a day," he said.
"I got sick early in the trip. I think it was a combination of the food, jet lag and a lack of sleep. You can't drink the water and I'm used to drinking about eight or 10 glasses a day."
It didn't appear to affect his effort in the tournament. In the grand finale tournament, he was one of 12 competitors from the Americas selected to participate in team competition against the Russians.
The competition consisted of 12 bouts representing different weightdivisions. The bouts last two minutes unless a competitor earned five points first.
Johnson, 185 pounds, won his bout, 3-1, but the Americas fell to the Russians, 28-24.
"It was a great honor to have been chosen among the 200 Americans to compete," Johnson said.
And what about the Russian competitors?
"I thought they were OK," Johnson said. "It's quite an honor to learn the martial arts over there and they came out slugging. They didn't show a lot of kicks. Instead they were more content with using a lot of reverse punches and countering."
As for the bargains, Johnson said he found four three-piece suits for $20 each. He also bought a heavy overcoat for $18.
His next trip likely will take him to Beijing next year, where he'll compete in a similar tournament.
Johnson is the World Martial Mania Federation light heavyweight champion, but likely will retire the title because he isn't interested in continuing to deal with the South Africa-based organization.