One week later, on Karen’s Birthday, I had to be up early that Saturday morning for our first Aikijitsu lesson with Master Z at his Manhattan dojo. Karen had been so impressed with the way Master Z handled The Diablo’s at Millie’s Pie Café, she had talked about nothing else since then. Master Z… this, and Master Z.. that. These lessons would be her surprise birthday present. I told her I would be by to pick her up bright and early to go out to Saturday Breakfast for her birthday.
It seemed Master Z was in great demand. This was a late start for me. I’m usually out before sunrise to get the truck from the yard outfitted for the day’s work. Tools, materials, water jugs are all the foreman’s responsibility for his crew. But today, that first light of dawn held the promise of female fun and frivolity. It felt great to be up and out early on a day off. I liked my work but had never gotten that same carefree feeling of adventure as on the weekends.
It was 6:30 am when I pulled up to her apartment building. We made great time into The City. No traffic at all early on a weekend. She suspected something was up when we headed East on I-278 towards The Verrazano Narrows Bridge into NYC. She said, “Ben, Why are we going to The City just for breakfast?”
So, I told her of the surprise karate birthday present.
“It’s an 8:00 lesson, the only one I could get on such short notice.”
Karen was as excited as I ‘ve ever seen her and Master Z actually smiled when we entered his dojo.
“We are just the same size,” he said, happily. That Z is a ladies man with a sweet tooth. He worked directly with Karen, as her instructor.
I was beginning to feel left out when a big man, my size, appeared on the mat. He wore a white karate ghi tied with a black belt or obi, as Master Z called it, when he gave us our uniforms. Karen looked really cute in hers. I just looked like a thug, just like Dave Padrillo my new partner. Dave stood about 6’3” and weighed in about 200 pounds also, like me. He was African American, handsome and muscular with dark skin and curly hair, and intelligent features.
“Dave is a cop”, The Master said. “ I asked him here to work out with you, Ben. You look like you work out.”
I said, “Sure, you just wanted Karen all for yourself.”
Karen interjected, “We are the same size. And you and Dave are too.”
Karen and Z paired off. So did Dave and I. on different parts of the same huge mat.
“This is the ten-kai,” Master Z said. He swiveled around on the balls of his feet and wound up standing shoulder to shoulder besides Karen, even though a second ago he was facing across from her.
“The tin can? Karen said.
Dave performed the same move across from me.
“Now you are at my mercy,” Z demonstrated.
“I can strike any of your most vulnerable points with a back fist, an elbow, an arm bar or any one of a thousand moves from this position.”
Pointing at each spot Z instructed, “ between eyes, nose, throat, solar plexus, groin, knees, elbows, ankles, instep: all will disable an opponent.”
“And if you don’t merely want to disable?” I asked, playing devil’s advocate.
Master Z said, “It is all about how much power to use, if you don’t want to kill.”
I had already learned that one the hard way, I thought.
As Z and Karen practiced the ten kai, or tin can, it dawned on me.
Ahaa! That was the same initial move he did when The Diablos attacked him. One moment he was across from the extended arm pointing the gun at him, the next second he stood alongside the attacker, shoulder to shoulder.
After that the moves were too fast for us to follow what he did.
Dave said, “We have to practice in slow motion with beginners.”
After a few minutes of slow-mo practice, I tried the tin can and the strikes about a hundred times as Karen practiced blocking the baby strikes from the Master.
“Now,” Z said. “The only way to learn to fight…is to fight.”
He turned to Karen, bowed and said, “Ha-ja-may” which I think translates to “kick some ass.” Karen was fierce. She looked like a fierce cheerleader. Master Z seemed to be enjoying himself. Always an eye for the ladies, that Z.
Dave assumed his karate stance, legs at shoulder width apart, knees bent into a slight crouch. He began circling to this left. I went into a deep wrestler’s crouch, much lower to the center of gravity, and circled to the right to counter his motion. Concentration replaced the sporting smiles on our faces. One on one combat was serious business. Injury was likely if one didn’t go all out.
Dave made the first move – grabbing the sleeves of my jacket near the shoulders, attempting to twist around to throw me to his right. I knew he was trying to use the momentum against me, since we may have been equally strong. If I had resisted he would throw me easily.
Instead, I went with him with all my power, into the throw. In mid air, I rolled over him and came up on my feet as he hit the mat with a thud. I completed the 360 roll as I had done a hundred times in wrestling. Master Z was watching with a grin. “I thought you never had aikijitsu lessons before, Ben?”
“I never did.” I said.
“Okay,” Dave said. “Beginner’s luck. That’s all it was.”
Dave squared off across the center of the mat. I walked over across from him. This time I was the aggressor. I clamped on tight onto his jacket and torqued all my power into my legs. I dragged him over into a backwards roll, so I was on my backside on the mat. Then, in mid motion, I brought my foot up into his gut. Dave was lifted off the ground as I pulled him over with me. I completed the back roll 360 degrees, over and up, so he landed on the mat behind me as I kneeled on his shoulders, pinning him to the mat.
Slowly we returned to our feet. Dave assumed the roll of the teacher, again.
“Excellent use of my force against me, Baron!” Z smiled. Karen crossed her arms in indignation. “This is your first martial arts lesson?” Dave said.
I was enjoying the notoriety and his surprise when Karen blurted out,
“If you don’t count NY State Wrestling Champion!”
Master Z stepped over. “I seem to remember a couple years back there was a Catholic High School on Staten Island had an undefeated wrestling and football team. They even had a State Wrestling Champion – the heavyweight, I think.”
I tried to smile modestly. “That was you,” Dave said.
Karen said, “None other than my Ben!”
Master Z said, “You were the guy they wrote all those articles in the papers about how the colleges were going crazy to get you to wrestle and play football for them?”
“Guilty,” I said.
“Did you accept any of the scholarship offers,” Dave said.
“They’re still sending them. And, no, not interested. I work construction in our family business.” I decided not to say anything else about MIT.
“I’ve been suckered,” Dave said with a hearty laugh. “No more taking it easy on you, big guy.” And he certainly did not. Master Z was right. The only way to learn how to fight is to fight. And, we did for two more full hours that morning.
Dave and Master Z showed Karen and I strikes to maim and kill an opponent. Realizing that a real fight goes to ground, Dave asked me to practice wrestling skills with him, especially take downs and choke outs and other submission holds that can maim or kill, and can certainly subdue an opponent. We agreed to continue training until we could each maim or kill standing up or on the mat. I think Z already knew the art of killing and maiming, as I’m certain, from what we witnessed, as his unfortunate opponents already knew too well.