Archive for February, 2007

I see yellow on your belt

Posted in hit bull win steak on February 15, 2007 by samsondoggie

This morning: “Maybe what would be best is if you could get him to channel his energy into something like karate,” says Louise.

It could hardly be a different diagnosis than the one that led me to martial arts twenty five years ago. I was the kid who was getting bullied, usually by either Alec or Matt, at Fairfield Country Day.

The solution was Mas Oyama, the worlds’ most powerful practitioner of martial arts. Actually, I did not train under the master himself. I suppose he was busy. I trained with the guys who had decided they wanted to be like Mas Oyama. It should have been an omen, but who reads school mottoes: It was not “to serve, not to be served,” or “in truth there is life,” but to learn ‘techniques that would be good in a real fight.”

My mom would drive me down to the martial arts center after we got out of school. Country Day let out at 4:30, so that was already pretty late. It took 20 minutes to get to the dingy corner of Tunxis Hill where the pack of Oyama fighters trained. You parked in the front, then ascended some concrete steps that wrapped around the building and reached an entrance on the second floor in the back. There was a drainage ditch running just past the door, from the Cal-Dor parking lot up on the hill. The drive down would go something like this:

“Mom, I’ve been thinking that maybe I’m not meant for martial arts.”

“Well, you can finish the 26 lessons we paid for, and then you can drop it. What about Matt and Alec?”

I had no defense against the dual logic of spent costs and genuine need.

“I don’t think I’m that worried about Matt and Alec anymore,” I persevered, “but I could maybe quit now.” I tried another gambit:

“I wouldn’t mind coming home straight from school.”

My mom would not be listening anymore. She’d pipe up: “Did you see that crazy driver?” then go back to charting our Jeep Wagoneer on its unchangeable course to the second floor torture den.

I was always a white belt. I have seen kids getting yellow and green belts, nowadays, but the world is softer. Grade inflation, green belts, its all part of the same illusion. White belt until you can go a minute against the instructor. That’s the rule.

Our instructor never spoke to us directly. We repeated the same workout every time. But when he looked at me, I could tell that he was thinking about a belt.

“Ha,” I bet he was thinking. “You can think about a belt stained with yellow. You surely have a lot of yellow stains. Your mommy can help you with that.”

He was like that because his mentor, Mas Oyama, was tough. He killed three bulls. He chopped the horns off of forty nine others. Oyama had a technique, the “Godhand,” where he could break the fists of any one who hits his bicep.

Class consisted of learning a few basic kicks and a arm swirl that was ended with a punch. That was fine. I could do that. Then we’d spend the last few minutes of the lesson working as a group to conquer the wanna-be Mas Oyama.

That was a problem. If your goal was wanting to be Mas Oyama, spitting nails was only a beginning. His philosophy was “One Strike, Certain Death,” if that helps to frame a picture of the situation. When he wasn’t fighting bulls, Mas Oyama would fight men in succession. In the 1950s, he fought over 300 challengers during three straight days, one at a time.

So that is what we did. All twelve kids would simultaneously take on the instructor, who was taking us on with Oyama’s spirit in his heart.

It was a bit like All Quiet on the Western Front. We were comrades. My ally was Cam. Cam was from my neighborhood. He’d been bullied by the same enemies. He was also my size. But we both realized our fear had gotten us into bigger trouble now. We were together, if only because we were equally struck with terror.

We made a deal: Cam, I’ll kick the instructor. You approach from the other side. Maybe one of us will hit a kidney.

I approach. I rock back, bringing my leg up and flexing my knee. It is the basic kick he has taught us for a month now. I guess he sees it coming. It might have been a laugh, or some kind of primal scream. Something like a guffaw comes out of his mouth, his first words that I feel are directed at me. The instructor grabs my instep and locks my thigh against his tricep. At this point, my kneecap is torqued backwards. I hop on my other foot, hoping to maintain a straight posture so that I won’t crack it against the steel of his arm.

Its over in a second. He spins me, then lifts and throws me to the floor. I think this is known as The Flying Triangle Choke.

Gradually, the game would get more serious. I think we did it at the end so that lessons would end promptly. Our hope was not armistice, but rather the appearance of one of those Jeep Wagoneers or Plymouth Volares that heralded at least another two days of healing. Oh, let me just do some Algebra!

The Wagoneer came bit after seven. My dad liked to eat dinner at six. It didn’t always have to be at six. He was willing to eat at 6:05, too. By then, the instructor would be sated with his devastation of our motley band of middle schoolers. But I hid anyway. I mean, he could always come back.

“What’s the matter,” mom would say when she arrived, “why are you lying on the floor underneath that sack of sweaty towels? Did you take your pills?”

About Alec and Matt, I did do some weight lifting next year. Alec became a lacrosse player at a Methodist University in the South. I learned to wrestle. That is a great sport.

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