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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.

Five Finger Death Touch – Mrs. Jones in Action:

Wednesday, September 15th, 2010

***

“Joseph, stand up and tell us about 1812.”

Joseph sat to my right, two rows over. At the sound of his name, he slumped over as if he had a heart attack. “OOhs” and “uh-ohs” filled the room. As he stood, I could see his hands trembling. His brown hair covered his eyes but I bet he had them closed, praying.

Mrs. Jones clapped her hands three times. “1812, boy, speak up.”

Though he probably knew the answer, Joseph just stared at his feet. Joseph was extremely smart but he had no people skills. He spent all his time reading fantasy books, drawing wizards, playing Dungeons and Dragons, and feeding quarter after quarter into Xelda at the mall arcade. Whenever a girl smiled at him, his entire body turned red and he lost the ability to speak. He was no match for Predator Jones—which is why she attacked him daily.

“Boy, did you drop your tongue out in the hall?”

“Mrs. Jones,” Myron shouted, “I tell you what happened in the war of 1812. A bunch of people died!”

The class went ballistic.

Mrs. Jones was on her feet. “That’s it, boy. That’s it! Get up here. I got somethin’ for you.”

Realizing he was no longer in her sights, Joseph dove back into his seat.

Mrs. Jones started rummaging through her drawers looking for her paddle. It was a long wooden thing with holes punched in it. She had named it Bathsheba. She told us ‘that King David in the Bible made a bad choice when he laid up with Bathsheba, so any time she pulled out the paddle, that meant somebody made a stupid choice.’

After several minutes of slamming drawers and looking under piles of books, Mrs. Jones gave up her search. Myron had hid the paddle the day before. Frustrated, she pounded her fist on the desk. Her yellow hat went lopsided and her left clip-on earring fell off. She’d worked herself into a sweat. Her freshly applied face powder was quickly turning to cake batter. She pointed at Myron. “I said get up here!”

“But, Mrs. Jones, you don’t have your paddle.”

She started cracking her knuckles. “I got somethin’ worse than Bathsheba, boy.” Mrs. Jones then lifted her hands and a made a show of curling each of her thick fingers into a fist. “You about to get the five finger death touch.”

The entire class jumped to their feet. Everyone was shouting and clapping. Since the beginning of junior high, we’d heard the legend of Mrs. Jones’ Five Finger Death Touch. Rumor was that if she couldn’t find her paddle, she would punch you in the butt instead. I had never believed it, but now here she was about to send Myron into orbit.

As he headed to the front, I told Myron, “She’s gonna beat you down.” I should’ve known by the look he gave me that something bad was about to happen.

“Oooh, Mrs. Jones.” Myron brought his hand to his mouth like he’d just heard something shameful. “Brandon said your five finger death touch couldn’t get him because he knows kung fu.”

“Oh he did.” Mrs. Jones eyes flashed like a hungry wolf that had just discovered she could have two kills for the effort of one. “Well, come on up here, boy, and let’s see if your butt knows kon fu.”

“Whoa, whoa,” I lifted my arms in surrender. “I did not say that.”

“Too late now.” With the power and elegance of a sprinting rhino, Mrs. Jones made her way around her desk.

The class was in a frenzy. The laughter and applause was louder than the crowd at an NBA final. Everyone was pumping their arms and shouting, “Go! Go!”

I couldn’t believe this was happening. I tried to reason with her some more but with all the shouting she couldn’t hear me anyway. I thought of running from the room, but honestly, even though it was happening to me, I didn’t want to miss this. I was about to become a part of Marshall Junior High history.

I met Myron at the front, in the isle between the front row and Mrs. Jones’ desk. Instinctively, my right thumb went rigid. For dragging me into this, I wanted to ram it into the soft spot beneath his floating rib to execute the horrible spinal-column-shock-and-instant-bowel-release technique. I decided to let it go.

“Y’all lean over and putcha hands on the desk.” Mrs. Jones circled behind us.

I was laughing so hard that I almost couldn’t stand. Myron moved in beside me and as we lay our hands on her desk, the sounds of laughter increased by a hundred decibels. I looked over my shoulder and Mrs. Jones was actually winding up her arms the way Popeye does just before he knocks out Brutus. Then she started doing a shuffle like Curly on the Three Stooges.

“Watch out cause here it comes!” Both arms swinging, she stepped in. I thought of hopping over her desk but I was paralyzed with laughter.

“BAM!” she shouted as her big old fist hit me in the left butt cheek.

Myron collapsed to the floor and faked a seizure. I dropped to my knees overcome with laughter.

“Everybody sit down and shut the hell up before I tap somebody else.”

The class was over the edge. Papers were flying. Books were scattered across the floor. It was a madhouse. Even the two teachers, whose rooms were on either side of Mrs. Jones’ had rushed in to see what was happening.

We had to go to the office and after telling the principal what happened, he laughed, told us to not provoke her again, then dismissed us. I could still hear him laughing as we closed his door and started down the hall.

To this day, I’m certain that it was my kung fu skills that kept the poisonous affects of Mrs. Jones’ Five Finger Death Touch from harming me.

As for Myron, I received word recently that he lived in Colorado teaching band.

He walks with a limp.

Five Finger Death Touch – Mrs. Jones Returns:

Monday, September 13th, 2010

This tale comes with a warning: (To better prepare you for what you’re about to read, please search the archive and read the blog titled, Mrs. Jones, before going any further. For those of you who have . . . well, you’re on your own.)

And yes, all of it is true. There was a time when teachers could get away with this, especially, old ones about to retire.

With the start of each new school year, I can’t help but think about my own school days. The one teacher that still stands out in my memory is my eighth grade history teacher Mrs. Jones. I remember her not because she made a positive impact on my life, but from a skill she possessed—the Five Finger Death Touch.

Mrs. Jones was a very large, very old teacher and she always dressed as if she was going to church. Long floral pattern dress, fat clip-on earrings, and multiple pearl strands dangled around her neck. The big flowers on her dress only accentuated her double-plus size. Sometime she even wore a hat with a flower stabbed through the top. And to accessorize her saintly wardrobe, Mrs. Jones had the largest, thickest Bible I’d ever seen. It sat like a holy shrine on the corner of her desk. Rumor was it weighed fifteen pounds. One day before class, a girl named Pam sprained her wrist trying to pick it up.

My eighth grade year was her final year before retirement, after what she called, “forty-one years of hell”.

And we loved to wind her up.

One of the funniest tricks we played on her was turning our desk around to face the back of the room. We had maybe ten seconds to do this and we had to do it in complete silence in order for it to work.

Mrs. Jones was always hot, constantly fanning herself with a newspaper or one of those handheld fans she brought from church. Most days she even sweated her make-up off. That’s what we were waiting for.

No matter what she was doing, she would stop, sit down, and begin the ritual of re-powdering her face. We knew what was coming. With the stealth of ninjas, we would signal each other. The message was clear. Get ready.

I gripped the top of my desk as I watched Mrs. Jones go through each step.

With lots of grunting, she would bend over, grab her purse and plop it on the desk. The whole desk shook from its weight. She then slid off her bifocals, unsnapped her purse, plunged her hand to its bottom, and pulled out a round container of beige face powder that was as big as an IHOP dinner platter. She sat it on the desk and unscrewed the lid.

I waited, ready to make my move.

She sat the lid aside then ground the massive face pad into the powder. Then with the intensity of a herd of elephants stampeding through a small African village, she repeatedly pounded her face with the pad. Powder dust billowed around her like a brown cloud.

That was our moment to act.

In perfect synchronicity, twenty-three of us clutched the top of our desks, stood up enough to lift the desk’s legs off the floor, spun a one-eighty, and lowered the desks back to the floor. We called it the desk-flip. We had it down to an art.

I sat third from the front, middle row. I could hear her snapping the powder lid shut. The “rule” was that we were to sit there in total silence. I bit my lip and squeezed my eyes shut to keep from laughing. I knew that in three seconds, she’d put her glasses back on.

“Well then,” she said. “I guess I didn’t get the memo. Today must be Comedian Day. An ever body think they funny.”

I opened one eye and peeked left. Michael Wilson was crying from holding his laughter. I peeked right and Rebecca Johnson was doing the same. I could hear Mrs. Jones pushing away from her desk. Her tired chair squealed, pleading for mercy to be set free from the burden it held. She stood.

“Well, let me tell you about the memo I did get. Today, the principal declared this class to be the retarded class. And guess what? Ever body in here gettin’ an A.”

I couldn’t hold it any longer. Neither could the class. Laughter erupted. Next to me, Michael fell out of his desk from laughing so hard.

“Now ever body turn around and shut the hell up.” She collapsed back into her chair. The old wooden thing just moaned from the onslaught of weight.

“Mrs. Jones,” Myron Anderson, the boy in front of me shouted. “You can’t say hell.”

The noise of everyone returning their chairs back to normal went instantly quiet. Myron was Mrs. Jones’ nemesis. They fought constantly and none of us wanted to miss a single moment of what was about to happen.

Mrs. Jones leaned forward, rested her elbows on her desk and started punching her fist into her palm. She stared at Myron. Behind her thick bifocals, her brown eyes narrowed to thin slits. She looked like a cobra ready to strike.

“Boy, let me tell you about hell. That’s where you about to go.” She suddenly jumped up and reared her fist back as if she was about to come over her desk. For a large woman, she could move blindingly fast. Emily and Claire, sitting in front squealed and scooted back. Every body else laughed.

“As soon as I knock you out that chair, boy, that’s where you going, straight to hell. Now shut up.”

The class went hysterical. Some students in the back shouted, “Preach on, Sister Jones.”

But Myron couldn’t leave it alone. “Mrs. Jones, how you know I wouldn’t go to heaven?”

Shantal, a girl behind me said, “Oh no, here it comes.”

Mrs. Jones sat back in her chair, crossed her arms, and shook her head in disbelief. “Cause, boy, you so evil, that’s why. You filled with nothing but the devil. Matter fact, I can’t believe the good Lord ain’t done struck you down with a bolt of lightening.” She clasped her hands together in prayer-style and looked to the heavens. “Lord, please overlook this heathen’s evil heart and don’t kill him in my classroom. Kill ‘em outside, Lord, so I ain’t got to be bothered with disposin’ of his dead body. Thank you, Lord. Amen.”

Veronica, a girl sitting in the front said, “Ooh, Mrs. Jones. That’s mean.”

Mrs. Jones sneered at her. “What’s mean, girl, is you talkin’ and killin’ us with your funky breath. Now shut up.” She looked back at the class. “Now everybody open up your books. Last night, I told you to study the War of 1812.” She squinted her eyes as she scanned the room. Her head swayed left and right and up and down, like a badger following the scent of a wounded animal he was about to eat.

Hunters tell you that the basic rule to deter a wild animal from attacking you is to avoid eye contact. After only two months into the school year, my class understood this rule very well. We all kept our heads down pretending to read. And that was fine by me. I could keep writing on my Wade Cheng Ninja Adventure novels.

Hunters also say there is an amendment to the survival rule: Don’t be the weak one. The predators always go for the weak one.

Just as I opened my journal and began writing Ninja CIA Operative Wade Cheng out of a sword fight in the middle of Disney Land, Predator Jones attacked.

***

The Seven Coolest Things Sifu Fogg Has Ever Done:

Thursday, August 12th, 2010

7.   Kung Fu Phony: Back before cell phones, Sifu carried around a big white cordless phone while he taught class at the old Marshall school. It seemed to always ring during Horse Stance time and it was always some student from another country whom he hadn’t talked to in years. I hated those students. One evening, when Sifu was fighting the whole class, the phone rang. He told us to keep attacking. As we did, he mantis hopped over to the phone, answered it, and kept talking while he beat us down with one hand. Two times, he even asked the caller to hold on while he smacked us on the forehead with the phone. He told the caller he had to squash a bug. Oh yeah, he was smoking too.

6.   Bar Hopping: One winter morning at 5 AM, John Cheng and I ganged up on Sifu inside a nightclub. We were fighting on top of the bar. We fell off, repeatedly. He didn’t. (Don’t ask)

5.   The Grim Grappler: A loud-mouthed grappler visited our school once and commented that once he got hold of anyone, it was over. They couldn’t do anything about it; said he’d been studying for years and he was unstoppable. Normally, Sifu just let this kind of foolish talk go, but this guy just kept on and on. Finally, with Sifu’s permission, he let this guy wrap him up in some crazy hold. While lying there in a tight ball of arms and legs, Sifu asked the guy three times if he was ready. I heard the dude say yes, and then I heard him scream. He sprang to his feet and ran out of the school still screaming. He never returned.

4.   Butterfly Stance: In Sifu’s early days of being in Texas, he only had Karate people to fight with. One evening, he fought an entire Karate school while sitting in butterfly stance. (How do you explain being beaten up by a man never stood up?)

3.   Immovable Horse Stance: Following an afternoon training session at his house, Sifu sat in horse stance with his back to the bumper of his Ford Falcon and had a student put the car in reverse and ease down on the gas pedal. Sifu held the car in place for at least 60 seconds while the driver steadily increased pressure on the gas.

2.   Falling Ashes: Often times when fighting with me, Sifu would be smoking. On many occasions, the ashes would grow really long. It was amazing. As fragile as cigarette ashes are, these somehow remained intact. Despite Sifu kicking, jumping, hopping, and beating me to a pulp, these ashes seemed to defy gravity. They simply dangled from the end of his cigarette while my life dangled from the end of his fists. I concentrated on not watching the ashes, but I couldn’t help it. I kept waiting for them to fall. Finally, they did, and without missing a beat, Sifu would hit me, catch the falling ashes with the same hand, and then hit me again. While I tumbled across the hard wood floor, Sifu would just smile and light another cigarette.

1.   Sorry, I’ve been sworn to secrecy on this one.

Quit?

Friday, August 6th, 2010

As some of you may be aware, last weekend was our yearly national titling in Austin, Tx where many of the schools associated with The United States Kung Fu Exchange gather to test our upper level students.   This year, we had two students ready to title, Philip Anthony (Level 2) and Tina Knight (Level  1).   Both did very well and helped uphold the excellent reputation that our school has earned.  So be sure to congratulate them when you see them!!

Now on to my topic; Following the Titling on Friday night, we had Sigung Fogg’s workshop on Saturday.  We started around 8:30 with a warm up, followed by two seminars from Sifu Leverett and Sifu Medley, Lunch, a seminar by Sifu Jones, and then Sigung Fogg’s, ending around 4:30.  Since 7+ hours of Kung Fu is not enough, we moved outside (in the Austin summer heat) to play some hands.

After playing with several of my Kung Fu cousins, I had the pleasure of touching hands with Sifu Medley.    At this point, I was tired, very tired.  I fought myself to keep moving almost as much as I fought Sifu Medley.  My hands felt like they were filled with lead, and my feet felt like they had begun melting into the concrete on which we stood (not even having started yet).  I felt like I was moving in slow motion, barely able to move to attempt to deal with the incoming attacks.  Then something amazing happened, which has happened many times before, and I was hoping would occur, It got FUN.   The weariness drained away, clearing my mind, pulling energy from where my body stored it, using it to keep me alive (and loving it).   Time outside of the hands ceased to matter and passed without my knowledge (estimated at around 20 min or so). I was keenly aware of my surroundings, but my focus was wholly upon the Kung Fu master in front of me.  When we finally stopped, around 6:40pm, Sifu Medley said “You Tyler guys don’t know how to quit.” “No Sir.” was my response.

Quit.  To Give Up.  To Admit Defeat.  – “No Sir” I will have none of that.  And neither will Sifu.   I’m told that the inability to give up is a character flaw.  I do not accept that.

At Tyler Kung Fu and Fitness, we do not quit.  Not when so tired we want to fall down.  Not when our family is in danger.  Not when everything seems hopeless.  Not Ever.   It is the same attitude that produces survivors in otherwise fatal instances (Read ‘Deep Survival’ by Laurence Gonzalas ).  It’s the same attitude that makes the Navy SEALS and Army Rangers the best in the world.

There is nothing in this universe that will make me give up on my beliefs, my family, or my friends.

Quit?  Not a chance.