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The Ninja

Tuesday, March 15th, 2011

One year into opening Tyler Kung Fu, I had the privilege of meeting a ninja-well, sort of.

Shuffling through paperwork one Tuesday morning in April I answered the phone, and on the other end of the line was a ninja. The conversation went like this:

“Good morning, Tyler Kung Fu & Fitness.”

“Yes, are you the sifu? I must speak only to him.” The caller spoke with an urgent whisper, as if he wanted no one around him to hear his conversation. I couldn’t resist. I whispered back, even glanced around my empty office to be sure no one was listening to me.

“Yes, I am he.”

“You are the sifu? What is your name?”

I told him.

“Ah, yes,” he seemed to approve.

Unknowingly, I’d passed the first test. He continued.

“I want to share something with you, yet it must go no further than the boundaries of this phone line. Agreed?”

Was this my first obscene kung fu phone call? Curious, I agreed.

“Sifu Jones,” the caller whispered, “I am a ninja.”

A ninja! I was speechless. I love ninjas. Since 1982, I’d studied any material available on the stealthy assassins. I’d read every book and article written by Stephen K. Hayes. Read Eric Van Lustbader’s novel Ninja, twice, and of course, watched the ultimate ninja movie of all-time, Chuck Norris’s The Octagon. I pulled in deep breath to calm my nerves. After fifteen years of study, I was finally able to speak with a ninja. Though I didn’t have his moves, I felt I did possess his intellect. We could speak as one.

“Incredible,” was all I managed to say.

“Indeed.”

“How long have you been a ninja?”

“A lifetime.”

“Wow. Where did you receive your training?”

He laughed, as a wise grandfather does whenever his grandson asked something stupid. “The entire geography of the world has been my training ground. Yet, as you know, Sifu Jones, I cannot reveal specifics.”

“Oh, of course.”

The ninja cleared his throat. “Sifu Jones, for years I have searched for a disciple. I recently arrived here in the States and after much study of you, your school, and your martial ability, I . . . well, we, have chosen you. Your mantis knowledge can greatly enhance our organization.”

Whoa! This was the happiest day of my life. Even better than when I was recruited by the Justice League.

“I’m honored, sir.” I glanced at the caller ID. It said unknown. “So you’re here in Tyler.”

“Again, I cannot answer that.”

Thinking about the we, and our organization, I asked, “Can you tell me your name, sir, and talk about your organization.”

He laughed again. “Sifu Jones, your testing of me is admirable. But no, I cannot.”

“I understand. What may I call you?”

“For now, that is not important. What is important is that we meet.”

“OK. When?” My pulse quickened when he didn’t answer. I quickly scanned the room to make sure he wasn’t already there. Finally, I heard what sounded like the squeaking of a chair and then the clicking of a computer keypad.

Another thirty seconds of silence he said, “Arrangements are being made for my associate to visit your school. You must understand, Sifu, you and I can never meet in public. Once my associate relays to me that you are onboard, we can proceed with a meeting place.”

OK. I knew this guy was nuts but now he’s venturing into psycho-nuts. I reached under my desk and made sure my .45 had a full clip. “Great,” I said. “Class begins tonight at 6:30. Have him stop by.”

“I’m afraid a class setting is unacceptable. He will arrive early; spend a few hours with you. There is much to discuss.”

“I’m in private classes until six,” I lied. “Tell him to be here by then.” No way was going to spend time alone with a psycho-ninja.

He sighed. “You’re an elusive warrior, Sifu Jones. Yet, that is why I chose you.” I heard more typing. “Yes, six will be fine. He will be there.”

I almost hung up when—“And, Sifu Jones . . .”

“Yes.”

“Welcome.”

At 6:25, cloaked in a cloud of smoke, the ninja’s associate arrived. He pulled up in a 1985 Buick. When he opened his door, a plume of cigarette smoke billowed from inside the car. I was disappointed when he climbed out and he wasn’t hooded. He had the rest of the ninja uniform, though.

I was expecting him to flip, or roll his way into the school but this poor guy could barely walk in. He could’ve been mid-forties but looked late sixties. His gray hair was in a tight ponytail and his goatee hung to his chest. Three diamond studs pierced his left ear.

I introduced myself. He nodded and said to call him “Bill”.

Knowing he would decline, I invited him to join class.

“I come only to observe, Sifu Jones.”

I had to back up. His breath reeked of cigarettes, coffee, and corn chips. He motioned to the waiting class. “Please proceed.” Funny, his voice sounded exactly like the ninja caller. I’d told my class that we may have a ninja visit us. So far, no one seemed impressed. With much effort, he eased onto the bench and watched.

A few minutes into our warm up, he waved me over. I had a student takeover.

“Yes,” I asked, sitting next to him.

“The mantis grabs, I don’t see the effectiveness.”

Oh brother. Was he already issuing a challenge? I had a student demonstrate grabs with me then I sat back down.

Mr. Ninja actually shook his head and clicked his tongue. “Still not convinced. The way of the ninja is fast and ferocious. Perhaps we’ve made a mistake choosing you. I must test you myself.”

I knew it. Sifu Fogg had warned me of nuts challenging new school owners. Normally, the sifu has senior students deal with challenges, but being open less than a year, I had no one. Sick of this ninja stuff, I stood and said, “Please demonstrate. He said he could only go half speed due to an injury he received while on mission in Peru.

Of course.

It happened so fast that my students didn’t even notice. Not his punch. Me jerking him to the ground.

When he punched, I plucked his wrist. Stumbling forward, he punched with his other hand. I grabbed it and pulled him to the floor. He smacked his knees on the hard tile. He groaned. Everyone stopped and looked. I told them to keep training.

Grabbing the bench, he stood, but not for long. His legs gave way and he had to sit. Two seconds of combat and he was completely out of breath. I offered him some water. He declined. Said he’d seen enough and would be in touch. He limped back to his car, fired up a cig, and drove away.

It’s been fourteen years and I’ve yet to hear from him – obviously I failed the test. Or maybe, just maybe, the ninja has been watching me all this time. Waiting for my skills to develop. Waiting for me to become worthy.

I too must wait.

Think Like a Super Hero

Wednesday, January 12th, 2011

Parents often ask if the martial arts will help or hurt their already aggressive-behaving child.

I understand the parents’ concern, particularly in the way Hollywood portrays the martial arts. Often a violent cartoon or “kid’s” program showing bloody martial arts fight scenes is all a mom sees. So when little Taylor asks if he can do karate, Mom has visions of her beloved son flipping through the air with razor-sharp swords killing ninjas.

But in my fifteen years of teaching experience, I’ve yet to have a student whose aggressive behavior escalated after beginning martial arts training. Actually, I’ve noticed—along with the parents—the child’s aggressive behavior diminish and I’ve yet to hear any of my law enforcement students and friends tell me of a crime-spree involving a kid kung fu master.

On the flip side, I’ve seen very introverted children become more confident and outgoing after training in the martial arts.

True martial arts is all about self-discipline and respect for self and others. The physical side of it gives aggressive children a positive physical outlet.

In researching juvenile crime statistics involving the martial arts, all I discovered were positive articles of martial arts reducing aggressive behavior in children and teens.

One was a Texas A & M University study that showed a significant decrease in aggressive behavior of delinquent youths after they trained in the Korean martial art, Tae kwon do, for just six short months. The title of the study was Martial Arts Training: A novel “cure” for juvenile delinquency. The title alone is pretty powerful.

Yes, the martial arts are comprised of punches, kicks, and throws – violent actions, but one of my favorite teaching techniques is telling the students to think like a super hero. I ask them; just because Batman has the skills to beat people up, does he do it to every one? “Only to the bad-guys,” they shout back to me, “like the Joker!” I explain to them that knowing martial arts is exactly like having a super power and they should treat it as such, just like Batman, and only use it in times of danger and self-defense. During class we reinforce this principle with role-play of how and when the student’s kung fu powers should be used.

This example totally clicks with a child’s imagination and empowers them as well. They think, “Wow, I’m kinda like Spiderman or Batgirl. That’s cool!” Many children in my classes even quote Uncle Ben from the movie Spiderman: “With much power comes much responsibility.” That is what martial arts is all about.

Kung Fu is in Everything! (Karate Kid 2010)

Monday, July 26th, 2010

“Kung fu is in everything.”

When Jackie Chan said that in the new Karate Kid, I actually jumped to my feet, shouted, “Yes”, and clapped my hands. My daughters tried to bury themselves under the seat and pleaded with me to stop doing that. I couldn’t help it. That one line nailed the entire essence of kung fu!

See, for the last thirty years, kung fu has been in everything in my life. Other than my parents and my Christian walk, nothing else has been this constant in my life. A few years ago, John Cheng reminded me that for the last twenty-plus years we haven’t gone twenty-four hours without thinking about or doing KF.

I knew that watching the new movie was going to be emotional, but I wasn’t expecting it to move me the way it did on so many levels. It was like watching a time line of my own life on the big screen. That sounds hokey, I know, but seriously. With each scene of the movie came a flood of memories.

I remember meeting Sifu Fogg for the first time. Like Dre with Mr. Han in the movie, I didn’t understand what skills Sifu possessed and that what he would teach me would change my life forever. I had no clue that KF would become so ingrained in my being that there would be no distinct separation of kung fu life with no kung fu life. A kid in high school that wanted to fight me and said that I couldn’t use KF. I said OK and did anyway. I remember, for a second, trying to figure out how I could actually do that. I realized very early, that KF wasn’t something I could turn off and on. And what a revelation for a teenager! To have such a passion for something other than girls at that stage in life is huge. It gave me direction and focus even though the rest of my teen life was spinning in complete chaos. If I wouldn’t have had KF to channel my energy into after numerous girlfriend breakups, man, that would’ve been bad.

In the movie The Incredibles, the daughter had the power to create a protective force shield around her and her family whenever the bad guys blasted them with machine guns. The bullets simply bounced off. That’s how KF was and still is for me. Once I threw the first punch of a form, I entered into that bubble of protection. My life’s worry-bullets simply bounced off.

Mr. Han (Chan) demonstrated this in the scene when he was so devastated by the loss of his family that he was paralyzed with grief. Yet, once he and Dre began to train, his pain and anguish began to slip away. It was like the shackles of a prisoner suddenly breaking apart and falling to the ground.

Kung Fu is way more than a hobby or sport. It is in everything.

For Real

Thursday, July 22nd, 2010

Last Tuesday I learned real kung fu.

A new student who recently moved to the U.S. approached me after the morning class and asked me to watch him practice with the walking stick (short staff). He swung the staff with such intensity and focus that I remember thinking, Wow, he’s doing this as if his life depends on it.

Well, I found out that it did.

With little income, my student lives in a rough apartment complex inside an even rougher neighborhood. In very broken English, he told me that in just the last three days, he’d had to fight his way into his home, and then had to throw people out of his home. He said fighting is never one-on-one. Always three or four. And they are big, with big hands and big arms. They want my money, my food. They no work for nothing, he said, they only want to take. He also told me he had to use a broom as his weapon and that’s why he needed more practice with the short staff.

I stood there, not only dumbfounded, but totally humbled and even ashamed.

For the last fourteen years, I’ve been teaching martial arts professionally. And though the lethalness of the arts is always in the back of my mind whenever I teach a technique, I admit I’ve taken KF for granted. I mean, thank God we live in a society where kung fu is not a necessary skill to have in order to live from one day to the next. But in that, how many punches and kicks—entire forms filled with hundreds of techniques— have I taught just going through the motions on autopilot with little thought of how the student may really need this in order to survive the evening at home.

Weeks prior, I’d shown him a few techniques with the staff. Good stuff, effective, but I showed him the movements more as an exercise, with little focus on the combat uses. The humbling part is that he told me those moves saved his life. He shook my hand and thanked me for it. I felt an inch tall. See, in my mind, from the get-go, I should’ve taught him those techniques with the seriousness of what they’re really used for, not just exercises.

You guys know the definition of martial arts but it lets reexamine it.

The word martial literally means warfare or combat. Placing the word arts behind it implies pooling all aspects of combat, studying them and then seamlessly imbedding the techniques into your being so that it (combative moves) flows out naturally. People who train in the martial arts are students of both science and art. Think of all the physics and biology you learn just from practicing kung fu. And of course it’s the repetitive practice that forms the art.

Spending thirty years with a Sifu who relied on his KF to survive the dangerous streets of DC and New York, and then the perilous jungles of Viet Nam, I can’t help but intimately understand the combat side of martial arts. I just allowed my focus to become lazy. Not again.

Ready For Some Football – Part One

Monday, May 17th, 2010

To say that high school football in East Texas is a big deal, is an understatement. However, quitting football is even a bigger deal.

During our eighth-grade year, John Cheng and I juggled kung fu training with playing football. After practices, we’d head home drenched in sweat with our entire muscular and skeletal systems shot. Yet, we’d still roll out of John’s car and put in some kung fu time.

One afternoon, we looked at each other, and said, “Why are we doing this?” We agreed that football was not in our future but KF definitely was.

Feeling confident with our decision, the next morning we strolled to the coaches’ office to tell them we were quitting so we could devote more time to the Fu.

The season was over, and John and I were on the second team. I played maybe two games. I figured us quitting would be no big deal.

We got to school early because there was a particular coach we hoped to talk to, Coach Smith. He was in Sifu Fogg’s fraternity and he was pretty cool to us. Hoping Coach Smith was the only one there, we knocked. I was very disappointed to hear four “Come ins” from the other side of the office door.

We stepped inside the huge office to see all four coaches sitting at their desks. The place reeked of burnt coffee and cheap cologne. Each coach looked up from his newspaper and stared at John and me as if we were a pair of water bugs they considered squashing. Plastered to the wall above their heads, was a banner that read A Football Team is not just a team. It’s a Family.

My backpack suddenly felt a thousand pounds.

“What do you want?” Coach Martino, the head coach asked, as he searched for something on his desk. It was a mess. Stacks of folders, World History textbooks, copies of sports magazines, papers, and a Big Chief yellow pad scribbled on with Xs and Os covered his desk. I kept waiting for something to fall, but it never did. Coach bobbed and weaved around the assorted piles smoother than Ali dodges punches.

When I tried to speak, some kind of shrill squawk burst forth from my voice box, a toxic mixture of puberty and fear. Thankfully, John was there to take over.

“We want to quit football,” he said, “to spend more time doing kung fu.”

So there it was, out there. As quick as a blink we had stepped off the cliff.

Silence filled the room except for the ticking of the coaches’ Coors Light wall clock. It sounded like a bomb in my ears.

As if on cue, the three other coaches slowly folded their newspapers, laced their fingers behind their heads, and then leaned back in their chairs. They stared at us. The rusted springs from their swivel chairs grinded and set my already frayed nerves even more on edge.

Martino found what he was looking for, read it, scrawled something on it, then added it to another pile. He rested his elbows on top of a coffee-stained playbook then squinted at us over his round glasses the way Clint Eastwood does before he blows somebody away with his .44.

As always, John stood there with no emotion. I, on the other hand, was fighting off a stroke.

Hoping for an ally, I glanced at Coach Smith. He just scowled at me, chewing his toothpick. I quickly looked away and tried to focus on the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Calendar. It hung crooked on the dingy paneled wall above the coffee pot. Looking at hot bikini babes is usually a cure-all for a fourteen-year-old boy, but this particular morning it just made me feel stupid. It’s like she was laughing at me, saying, You just signed your death warrant, kid.

After sixty seconds of tortuous silence, Coach Martino pulls out a pouch of Redman chewing tobacco and stuffs a huge brown wad into his mouth. “Alright,” he says, as he rolls up the package of chew. “Finish class. Then clean out your lockers and tell the office you want a schedule change.” He spit in a yellow plastic cup and wiped his thick black mustache. “Now get outta here.”

The other coaches went back to their papers and Martino started writing something in a black folder.

John and I ran to the gym and didn’t look back. We couldn’t believe it had gone so smooth.

With a huge weight off our shoulders, we ascended the old wooden bleachers for the last time and found our spot midway up. Athletics was our first period. All we had to do now was get through this class. We sat and waited for the coaches.

Coaches came in, blew their whistles, and said they had some news before we started our morning run.

“Cheng, Jones,” Coach Martino shouted. “Get down here.”

Oh crap!

***

The Day I Fought Chuck Norris’ Clone – El Final

Monday, July 13th, 2009

…Oh crap! I’ve only sparred in class twice and now I’m about to fight Ranger J.J. McQuade.

Miraculously I stood. My hands were at my side, feeling like concrete. My knees wobbled. I dragged my legs across the black line into the ring. I walked like a Zombie. I should’ve been praying, meditating or something as I struggled to a fighting stance. Instead, my mind raced to a story Sifu Fogg had once told me. He said he and Chuck had sparred at Mr. Norris’ home in California back in the 70’s. Sifu said he won. I swallowed and chewed my mouthpiece. Now it all made sense. Chuck commissioned Mr. Clone to Baton Rouge on a revenge mission. Take me out as an example. NOBODY defeats Chuck Norris. I was a dead man.

Judge said go. Chuck Clone smiled. Spit dripped off his chewed-up black mouthpiece. He looked like the devil. He began to circle me. I wanted to turn with him but my body wouldn’t work. He charged with a ridge hand. I thought of ducking but I moved with the agility of a dead cat. I felt the impact from the blow then my feet left the ground. I heard the roar of the crowd as I tumbled through the air. From what others told me, it was beautiful, especially the way my body cartwheeled across the gym floor. Chuck Clone had followed the ridge hand with a spinning hook kick to the back of my head. As I tumbled out of the ring, I thought of Sifu, John, my other classmates. I had let them down; then I though of Rocky. His words to Mr. T, “Come on. You’re not so bad. You ain’t nothin’.” A rush of adrenaline flooded my muscles. I rolled to my feet. Chuck Clone was going down.

I spun around, charged the ring, but Clone wasn’t there. He was already on the sidelines, surrounded by judges and awestruck fans. I was nothing but a forgotten casualty.

It turned out that Chuck Clone was actually a nice guy. He was a student of one of Mr. Norris’ last operating schools, and he’d been an extra on some of Chuck’s movies. None of my KF brothers saw the fight so on the way home I exaggerated a little to make me not look too bad.

Overall, it was a great experience. I learned to face my fear, and I learned of the enormous power of suggestion. The simple fact that Mr. Clone had Chuck Norris Fighting System stitched on his gi made him a giant in my eyes. He also had the skills to back it up, another lesson learned.

The Day I Fought Chuck Norris’ Clone – Tres

Friday, July 10th, 2009

…”Competitors,” a voice boomed over the PA, “we don’t have enough fighters in each rank to merit a contest so we will mix all belt ranks divided only by age. Please listen for your name.”

Several competitors cheered, others booed. I wanted to throw-up. The great PA voice in the sky had just announced that I might have to rumble with Chuck Clone. I shot a glance at him. He was pulling on his war-ravaged headgear. Two loose strips of tape flapped side to side. He was smiling the way I’m sure Goliath did when he went out to battle David. I had the feeling, though, that this giant-story was going to have a very different ending. I frantically searched the crowd for John and my other teammates. I needed backup. They were competing in other divisions.

“Jones,” the great PA said, “have a seat on the line.” I sat cross-legged on the black line of the gym floor and sized up my competition. There were nine fighters. Two while belts, four green, one red, a purple (whatever that is) and Chuck Clone. All of us supposedly under 19 but I swear they looked 40. I was so nervous I put my sparring boots on the wrong feet and forgot to lace up my gloves. My mouthpiece was suffocating me. I fought the urge to bolt, or to shout Wait! You have the wrong guy. I’m not worthy to represent the U.S. Kung Fu Exchange! Instead, I sat there and re-taught myself how to breathe.

Since so few fighters, the event was supposed to be set up like king of the mountain. Whoever won the bout continued to fight, but the judges already knew who’d win, so the event turned into “let’s watch Mighty Chuck Clone destroy these weak worthless earthlings”.

All grew quiet.

The judge cleared his throat, looked at the roster. I was the newest. I figured I’d be first. My head felt a hundred degrees. Salty sweat singed my eyes. The room began to tilt. My muscles twitched like I was strapped to a metal chair being torture shocked. I started to stand but the great PA voice saved me–only for a moment.

Out of pure diabolical pleasure, the judges ordered white belts to go last. Sure, allow the lambs to watch the lion eat their parents first. I grew more nauseated with each round. Chuck Clone was incredible. Purple Boy lunged at him with a snap kick. Faster than I could blink, Chuck Clone spun and drove a back kick into Purple Boy’s gut, knocking him out of the ring so hard he refused to come back. The Green Boys did worse. They moved in slow motion compared to Mr. Clone. From one agonizing round to the next, they were either swept, flipped, kicked, or all three, out of the ring without landing a blow. The crowd went crazy. I was afraid my bowels would do the same. Please somebody take this dude out!

Red Man stood, pounding his fists into his palms and bobbing his head side-to-side. I had hope for Red Man. He was bigger, meaner looking, had some wicked dragon design on his gi. He threw one punch. I held my breath. Chuck Clone ducked. Red Man dropped unconscious. The bout lasted 15 seconds. I didn’t even see what he did. The audience sprang to their feet. Chuck Clone was indestructible. No wonder Mr. Norris sent him. The two other white belts reluctantly stood. They stared at the floor with their shoulders slumped. One by one, they stepped into the ring then flew back out, headfirst.

My turn…

* * *

The Day I Fought Chuck Norris’ Clone – Dos

Wednesday, July 8th, 2009

…We demonstrated five more techniques and won first place. Great start to a first tournament. John and I went separate ways, and since I was a rookie, I entered white belt division.

It was during roll call that I first saw him. I did a double take, blinked several times to be sure. I thought that perhaps my euphoric brain, clouded from my recent victory, was playing tricks on me, but as far as I could tell, Chuck Norris was standing ten feet away with his back to me.

I stared in disbelief at the guy with blond hair wearing a starched white gi. He had Chuck Norris Fighting System embroidered in bold black letters on the back of his gi and running down each white pant leg. He was talking and laughing with judges and other competitors. My heart started pounding like an out-of-control jackhammer. My palms went clammy. My stomach butterflies began killing each other. He turned, glanced at me and nodded.

To understand my excitement, you need to know how much of a Chuck fan I was. I had seen every movie enough times to memorize the complete dialogue in each film. Play me a half-second snippet of the movie’s musical score, I could tell you the exact movie. I had every magazine with Chuck on the cover, and I had the HBO showing times of A Force of One, The Octagon, and Eye For An Eye, written on my Sports Illustrated Swim Suit wall calendar. I even lost a girlfriend over a Chuck Norris movie. I took her to see my all-time favorite, Lone Wolf McQuade. I didn’t kiss her during the film and she claimed I ignored her. Well, yeah! You don’t kiss during a Chuck movie. I know, I needed therapy, but I had found my calling through the martial arts, and Chuck Norris represented what I wanted to be at that time.

Once I saw his face, I knew it wasn’t Chuck, but only because of his age. The guy was maybe eighteen and extremely fit. Throw a beard on him, add a few wrinkles around the eyes and you had Chuck. He was wearing black tattered hand pads and matching sparring boots held together with duck tape. He moved through the crowd with confidence and a hint of bravado. Everyone seemed to know him, giving him high-fives, pats on the back. I studied his every move, learning. Though not Chuck, he obviously knew Chuck. I mean the man himself sent this kid to represent the entire Chuck Norris Fighting System. Could you be any better? I wanted to absorb everything I could from this guy.

His headgear dangled from his right hand by its Velcro strap. I instantly thought of Hercules holding Medusa’s head. The black Styrofoam head padding also had wide strips of gray tape covering battle scars. His worn, frayed and faded to ash gray, black belt hung around his waist so naturally I wondered if he ever took it off. Chuck Clone was definitely a tournament veteran. Thank God, I wouldn’t be fighting him…

* * *

The Day I Fought Chuck Norris’ Clone – Uno

Monday, July 6th, 2009

As I slid into the back seat of that 1980 Cutlass Supreme at 3:30 in the morning on a Saturday, I had no idea that in five hours I’d come face to face with my greatest hero . . . Chuck Norris.

I hadn’t even been in kung fu for three months, yet here I was with five other students headed to Baton Rouge, LA for our first martial arts tournament. Sifu Fogg had given us a crash course on tournaments for the last several weeks. I don’t remember why this tournament was so important, but I do remember the pain in training for it. Then on the Friday before, Sifu tells us he can’t go. So we were off to Louisiana without a Sifu.

It was late August, 90 degrees before the sun even came up, and the car’s A/C wasn’t the best. The back of my legs stuck to the tan vinyl seats. To beat the heat, I wore my Ocean Pacific tank top, short running shorts, and blue-striped tube socks that climbed to my knees. (Remember, this was the 80’s. Tube socks were cool. Sly even wore them in Rocky III. And if Stallone said tube socks were cool—then tube socks were cool).

Titus, the driver, and proud owner of the Cutlass, was a huge reggae fan. For the three-hundred-plus road trip, we gulped Mountain Dews by the case and bobbed our heads to the syncopated melodies of Bob Marley and others. I truly wanted dreadlocks by the end of the day.

The tournament began at 10. Four wrong turns and two wrong highways later, we arrived at 9:50. We scribbled our names at the registration, rushed to the changing rooms, threw on kung fu clothes, and sprinted to the taped-off section of the gymnasium where we were to compete, doing all this as the tournament director called our names over the PA.

John Cheng and I had entered a “practical self-defense” division. It was an event where you had someone attack you then you showed your stuff by dealing with it. That was the first event and we were scheduled to perform first. (Guess who played the bad-guy.) With no warm-up, we jumped into the center of the ring.

The first technique was to escape a standing chokehold. Due to our tardiness, Cheng and I missed the rules discussion, one of which was to perform the routine slow the first time then fast the second time. I pulled in a quick breath to focus then clutched Cheng’s neck. Already nicknamed “Buzz saw hands” for his incredible speed, Cheng’s left hand shot under my left hand, broke the grip, blasted my temple with his right elbow, rammed a knee into my gut then threw me to the floor. It happened so fast and I hit the gym floor so hard, the crowd actually gasped. The judges rushed to my side, asked if I was OK. I gave them a thumbs-up and sprang to my feet. The previous weeks of intense training with John on full-speed mode had conditioned my body.

After seeing that, officials huddled for a serious pow-wow and decided to bring in a mat for competitors to fall on. They also asked John if he could slow down—three different times…

* * *

The Bug Within

Monday, June 15th, 2009

It was an average enough day. Nothing out of the ordinary, when a strange man came up to me at work. I was helpful and got him what he needed, but I had second thoughts about his mental competence. He went on his way, and I went mine, thinking nothing more of him and moving on to the next customer.

About fifteen minutes had passed and I heard a page on the intercom system. It said, “Mr. Decker to the front lobby, REDLINE.” This means to drop what you are doing immediately and get to the front. This is when my spidey senses told me something was wrong. I could hear the anticipation and nervousness in the person’s voice that called me, and I was off with the speed of a ninja.

Once I got to the front lobby, I saw a manager, a helpful customer, and the same man that I had encountered earlier, sitting down on the ground. I then ask the manager, “How may I be of assistance?”, as I pushed out my chest and dropped the tone of my voice. He told me that the man sitting on the ground made it to the front, left his groceries and proceeded to stand on the counter. He then began to undress. They stopped him from undressing and got him to the lobby and called for backup. Since I was backup, I introduced myself to the gentleman and ask his name.

He was very nervous and couldn’t sit still. He then began to take his shoes off. I called him by name, asked him to sit still until the police came, and asked him to put his shoes back on. He said “WHY. I would never hurt anyone.” He then stood up and came toward me with his hands out.

Without thinking, my body reacted. I blocked his hand, moved to the side, twisted his hand behind his back, and helped his face to the floor. He started kicking violently and yelling. I told him to be still and the police would be here soon. The more he moved and twisted, the further I pushed his fingertips up his back.

The police arrived soon after, and my heart was still beating 100 miles an hour. Once the man was off with the police the manager turned to me and said, “How did you do that?” I gave him the best answer that I had; “I don’t know.” It was really all a blur to me, I really didn’t know what I had done. It was pure animal instinct. It actually kind of scared me. The manager said, “Show me how to do that. That was the coolest thing I’ve ever seen.” It wasn’t just animal instinct; it was the “BUG” inside me busting out. I told him I couldn’t show him how to do it. I could show him the moves, but he would have to come and train to find the “BUG” inside him.