I was a teenager when I enrolled in the martial arts. I lived up in the countryside of northern New England, on a farm. Fights were common when I was in school – I was no exception to getting into a few scrabbles. Throwing a mean right hook in a fight was a good quality to have in the late 70’s. My instructor knew this. Upon hearing about my first fight after joining the dojang, he looked me right in the eyes and said;
“Damn it, Jack, I don’t even wanna hear about you getting into fights. But if you do have to fight, you sure as hell better win,” with his pipe dangling from his lower lip.
I loved martial arts. I loved the structure, the routine, the camaraderie. It gave me something to else to focus on. I ate, breathed, slept martial arts. I’d wake up in the morning, go do my chicken chores or milk the cows and feed the horses, then practice my patterns or my kicks in the barn. I hung heavy bags from the rafters and had to ask for a new one every Christmas. I kicked the poles, kicked the milk buckets, used the chickens as target practice – don’t worry, I didn’t actually kick them, quick buggers – and then I would go to school, come home, go to the dojang for class, and do it all over again the next day.
My instructor was rather… eclectic, to say the least. Adams. Joe Adams. Sort’ve middle-aged, Caucasian guy, maybe some French descent. Always had a pipe hanging from his lower lip, always wore sandals – even in the cold New England winters – and always had the loudest Hawaiian shirts. It always seemed like he had a perpetual hangover too, like he’d pounded the Coors Light a little too hard each night. I couldn’t know for sure, really, except that he would always beat us into the ground at class at night like he had a pounding headache and the sour taste of day-old beer in his mouth. But he knew what he was talking about, man, and he was a scary dude. His technique was sharp as broken glass and quick and it was the 70’s so if you doubted his ability to whoop your ass, he’d give it to you.
As I said before, I was prone to fighting a little. More than a little, maybe. I was a teenager involved in organized fighting – if that doesn’t tell you anything about my arrogance level, nothing will. Every time Master Adams heard about my fighting, he’d kick my ass, throw me out of the dojang and say to me; “don’t come back this week.” and sure as the shit, I’d be back the next week though, training. And every time, he took me back in.
When he wasn’t running a martial arts school or smoking his pipe or kicking my ass, Adams functioned as a bouncer at a local club. Being the guy in charge at the door, he sometimes let his students come in, regardless of whether they were actually old enough to get in. Being sixteen and nothing to do on my weekends, I’d head up to the club and get funky. Adams would tell me at the door; “don’t cause trouble.”
I don’t have to tell you that I caused trouble. Trouble just had this way of finding me most of the time. It was the opposite charge to my magnet.
I walked into the club on a Friday night. When you walked into this club, you walked in and there was immediately some stairs in front of you that led up to some pool tables and stuff. To the right was a hallway where the office was and where the bouncers hung out and straight ahead beyond the stairs was the dance floor and the bar.
So I walk in right, and I go upstairs to play some pool and have a drink, flirt with the pretty girls. This guy starts mouthing off at me. I don’t even know what he’s on about – I probably looked at his girlfriend wrong or something – but I told Adams that I wouldn’t cause any trouble, so I walk away. Head downstairs to dance, grab a drink. This kid is following me, running his mouth, saying he’s gonna kick my ass and shit, right. I ignore him. I walk away. I get my drink and I head back upstairs. I’m not gonna cause trouble, not gonna get into it with this guy, I know it’s not worth it.
I’m at the top of the stairs and I’ve just about had enough of him running his idiot mouth at me, chewing my ear off, threatening me. I don’t even look over my shoulder; I spin, and I throw a jump spinning crescent kick and I clip this kid right in the jaw.
Crack! … Boom. Boom. Boom. Boom boom boom.
Down the stairs he went, ass over tea kettle and he landed at the bottom in a heap.
I thought I’d killed him.
Honest. That’s all I thought.
Kid lands at the bottom of the stairs and my heart is in my throat. From that hallway on the right of the entrance, I see one sandal appear. Then Adams’ head peers around the corner, pipe dangling from his lip. Stupid Hawaiian shirt on, first three buttons undone. He looks at the kid, then turns his head and looks at me at the top of the stairs.
I throw my hands up, “I tried to catch him,” I say, the picture of innocence with my wide blue eyes.
The next thing I know, Adams is throwing me out of the club on my ass.
He waves his pipe at me, “Damn it, Jack,” he says, “Don’t come back tonight,” and he slams the door.
I stand, dust my jeans off, tell myself I didn’t want to stay there anyway, and head home. I made a plan to come back tomorrow night.
After all, Adams said don’t come back tonight. Meant Saturday was still free game. And it meant that I probably hadn’t killed that kid, so that was a good thing too.
*** Disclaimer *** Names have been changed for anonymity purposes.
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