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.
“How long have you been a ninja?”
“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 . . .”
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.
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.