“Did you Judo chop him?” she asked, sticking out her bony little hand and chopping at the air with her knuckles bending back. A real chick chop.
“No, I clapped him on the ear with a glass bar ashtray. Besides, there’s no chopping in Judo,” I told her, “There’s no judo chop.”
“How do you know?”
“Oh, I know…Judo. I took it as a kid,” I told her.
“I didn’t know you studied Judo.”
“Yeah, it’s just one more of the wonderful surprises about me that keep unfolding in a cascading cavalcade of wonder.”
She was lucky to be with me. I wish she could see that. I took a swig of my beer and finished it. I got up and got another.
“What color belt did you get?”
“It doesn’t matter, that shit was worthless,” I cracked the beer, sat down on my mattress and put a heel up on the milk crate, “Fighting dirty is the only thing that works. Trust me.”
Even my occasional reader might deduce by now that my life has had its share of physical encounters. Some pleasant. Others not so much. I piled my plate high with both types, then splashed myself in the face with it all. What can I say? I’m a pig beast. A repentant one, if that counts for anything. Semi-repentant.
No bad-ass, I. A more craven and fearful creature you would not find. So it was especially hilarious that such a coward would find himself in the middle of so many angry and violent physical encounters with other men. A certain cinematic masterpiece featuring Don Knotts as The Shakiest Gun in The West, comes to mind.
A fearful little bookworm, easily bullied, constantly humiliated, I withdrew deeper into my own terrible mind. I wanted to avoid people, at all costs. Summer camps, youth outings, team sports, dances, anywhere my peers gathered filled me with dread. So many more of you to deal with, or better yet, run from. Snot-wiping, ball-kicking, name-calling, nose-punching, tangerine-slice-down-on-bench-before-you-sit-down barbarians.
So I met the news that my parents had enrolled me in Judo classes at the Camarillo Community Center with less enthusiasm than perhaps another lad might have. Sure I wanted to learn how to Judo chop off the heads of my tormentors. Or kick them so hard in the nuts that they lodge in the throat and choke them. But, I figured that learning that stuff would require having it done to me. Or it would just somehow wind up happening to me. All the time. That’s how things rolled those days.
I needn’t have worried. The Judo taught at the Camarillo Community Center was of the “for recreational purposes only” variety. There was to be no ball-chopping or throat-kicking. The classes were conducted, more or less safely, by a ringer for Sulu, named Mr. Nishimori. He worked at the juvenile hall facility, and seemed like a guy who could fuck you up fast. He was nimble and quick. He’d announce the flip, then in a blur, the dude he picked to help demo, was flat on his ass.
He did all this in his office clothes. I’d watch him demonstrate flips in his nylon dress slacks and thin brown socks, a pocket full of change constantly jingling as he’d pivot and spin. It looked impressive, but weird too. It was strange seeing him flipping dudes, while in his slacks and brown stinkies, clinking change and keys swinging in his ball pocket. Some sort of civil servant bad-ass.
The rest of us had to wear Judo Gis. I never approved of the Judo version, basically a white, heavy cloth pajama. The Bay City Roller length of the pants, the white color, and generally dorky and harmless look just didn’t imply enough of a martial art threat. I preferred something a little more sinister. Something in black, with a more ninja assassin cut. I would have to wait years, when I started Kenpo Karate, which did feature ball-chopping and throat-kicking, before I got to wear a cool black Gi.
What the fuck. You play the hand you’re dealt.
We spent a lot of time learning how to forward roll. It was sort of an aggressive somersault followed by a hard hand slap on the mat. I didn’t know why it was considered so important, but over and over we would roll and slap. All the kids waiting in line for our turn to tumble. Sometimes we even had to Evel Knievel over two crouching classmates. I just didn’t get it. How is this going to help me in a fight?
Turns out, learning how to take a tumble was one of the most important things I ever learned. No fucking way I would have made it through life without the forward roll.
Turns out Marko was taking the same Judo class during that time. We didn’t know each other back then. We figured it out one night, years later, when we were drinking at his pad. Although his ability to safely tumble forward should have been a big clue, I didn’t know he was a fellow former Judo enthusiast. It was only when I had asked him if he ever heard my story about how I ran into a guy that had pissed his pants in my Judo class 20 years earlier and how I made sure to remind him of it.
“Hold on, dude,” he says, “In Mr. Nishimori’s Judo class? I remember that. Mr. Garcia cleaned it up using his foot and a bunch of wadded up paper towels. I was there!”
Fuck yeah. That’s why it was so great hanging out with Marko. Wonderful surprises were always unfolding from him in a cavalcade of cascading wonder. We figured that it was more than likely we had actually fought against each other. That did it. Both of us talked shit about how we must have beat down the other into being our bitch. What an amazing preamble to our friendship. I’ll be damned. The Universe exists.
I asked him if he remembered how Friday nights were. He nodded. “They blew dong, dude.”
The worst part of going to Judo was when class landed on Friday night. Us little kids would have to run a gauntlet of older teen-types that were hanging around The Armadillo, the teen center the city hoped would curb juvenile delinquency–curb it by giving them a headquarters equipped with pool tables, pinball machines, and a bank of pay phones.
Kids would be outside the teen center huffing solvents and smoking joints. Their long hair parted down the middle, headband optional, shell necklace not. Marlboro Reds (hardpack only) dangling from their mopey mouths. The girls reeking of patchouli, had tooled leather purses, and hair ironed straight and flat, then feathered back. They wore flared hip-hugger pants, cork wedgies and eye shadow and assumed a jaded facial expression common among old hookers, and women awaiting execution. The guys wore surf t-shirts, low-riding 501s, and either leather Wallabees or Waffle-Stomper hiking boots. All that, along with the same sullen, vacant look that was de regueur at the time. A sort of pastoral, almost bovine countenance that belied a simple-mindedness, but not without a sense of menace.
Then there was me, in something that looked like a robe cut out for a gingerbread man, with flood pants and flip-flops, trying to flap through the crowd as fast and invisible as possible. You know, really doing The Hurry. I had to book it fast before some scary older kid jumped in front of me in a karate stance to clown me in front of his laughing friends. It was something those dudes just had to do. It was part of some unwritten social contract in ’70s suburban hooliganism.
Dance nights were the worst. The Teen Center would be teeming with these sagging sack, dope-smokers and their whore girlfriends. The ones I loved more than life itself. My dad would drive me up to the curb, and I’d pause before opening the door. I’d do this thing where I would pretend that I was jumping out into a hot LZ, like I had just been choppered out into a rice paddy and now had to make it to the tree line before the mortars sighted in on me. Really.
“Roger, Wizard 5, we are down. Time to beat our boots through Cong country. I’m out!”
“I’ll pick you up right here.”
“Roger that, Daddy One-niner, fly this bird back safe.”
Slam the door and hustle. Quickly, but not too quick. Can’t just flap out of the bush like a quail. Just maintain a steady forward movement, eyes locked three feet down in front. Every step is one closer to safety. The treeline. “Though I walk in the shadow of the valley or the valley of the shadow…”
One night, while I was trying to teleport myself through the crowd as an invisible mist, I felt a sharp chop against the back of my neck. It was one of the loady-stoner hard guys giving me the Hai-Karate bit for the amusement of the other Visigoths waiting in line. He was just fucking around, but the chop hurt, and scared me into an involuntary cowering. Everyone laughed.
“Watch out, now, he’ll use some of his Kah-rah-tay on you, Roy!”
“Hai-yah! Motherfucker!” some dude joined in, feinting a chop.
Somebody else yelled out, “Everybody was Kung Fu fighting!”
More laughter. I stood frozen in fear, my fellow judo enthusiasts breaking right and left, swinging wide to avoid the enemy contact.
The worst was when some chick yelled out, “Hey, leave the little kid alone! He’s really scared!”
That’s when I started crying. Before that, I was just scared, but when that chick tried to call off the dogs, because it was so obvious how terrified I was, I lost it. I was already embarrassed, but now that I was crying, I was really embarrassed, and that made me cry harder. It was a vicious cycle of suck.
There was also something about the chick being nice, among all that meanness, that got to me. Mercy always chokes me up. Even to this day. If I witness somebody doing something merciful, I crack. Tight pain in the throat. Eye’s bulging with sadness sauce. Heart stroked like a viola.
Being on the receiving end of some of that mercy, sort of made me feel sorry for myself. Now I was being seen as a crybaby in front of all these cool people. I ran right out of my flip-flops in my flight towards the judo room. I found a corner and wiped the snot and tears away. I had to suck it up, and play like nothing happened. Hoping nobody would remember this supreme embarrassment. (Irony Alert!)
We spent the rest of the night waltzing around the blue and tan mats with each others lapels in our grip, trying to flip and pin each other, then once more, we took turns rolling forward. I did so with a little more intensity, a little more drive for achieving some excellence in this rough and tumble forward business. I even pinned out this taller red-haired kid with freckles and bad breath. Nut-crackered his neck in the crook of my arm and squeezed. Okay Red…you…go…down!
(Hang on, I need to drive my search-engine count up)
Yes, a boy with freckles on his face, as opposed to a young woman with sexy freckled breasts. Freckled breasts. Yes, how about ’em? Those freckled boobs. Freckled breasts are a different thing than a freckled face. Freckled breasts are breasts that are freckled. That’s why they’re called freckled breasts.
(That should do it. Gotta throw those guys a bone. Long story. Google freckled breasts)
Besides learning how to break my fall, Judo taught me something else. Something every man should know. Bitches will fuck you up.
We had girls in our class, and if you thought I had some sort of chip on my shoulder, you should Judo fight a woman, and see what kind of pent-up anger she has to tap into. These chicks weren’t just trying to throw your ass to the floor, but the ass of every man who had ever bossed, bullied, or belittled them. Even by nine, most girls already had a death list.
“I read the kite, bro. A la verga, your name is on the list, ese.”
It was nervy doing Judo with girls. Any attempts at chivalry on the guy’s part were seen as cheap pandering, you perceiving them as a weaker sex. They made sure you paid for it. This was during the 70’s. Women were starting the revolution without us. The girls in our class weren’t putting up with any horny horseplay either. They’d kick your fucking legs out and leg-scissor your throat closed. Lights out, Romeo.
For the record, I think it’s perfectly fine to underestimate a woman. You just have to be willing to pay the price.
One Saturday, I was enrolled in one of them Judo Tournamental events. Big deal. Lots of people, mostly families. My dad was there, with his camera. It was awful. Usually, I would have been happy to have gotten out of there without crying or pissing my pants. But that day, I was on a hot streak. I don’t know what was going on, but I was flipping and pinning dudes left and right. I kept advancing and racking up points. I couldn’t believe it.
I beat five guys in a row. This kind of shit just didn’t happen to me. From my feverish calculations I was in the running for a trophy. In fact, all I had to do was take my next opponent to a draw. In that tourney, the tie went to the runner, and the person who had fought previously would advance. Hell, I was beating these dudes, and now all I had to do was tie, and I would win a trophy! I had never won a trophy before. Not even a lame one for penmanship or posture. For once, my Dad being there with his camera seemed okay.
Ham on cheese, this was going to be sweet.
Why was I so sure I could tie? Because I noticed that my next opponent was a girl. She was a cute, short, slightly chubby, Filipino chick. She looked like she was nice. As we stood facing each other before the match, my eyes looked into hers. “Don’t worry,” they said, “I’ll be gentle.”
We bowed to each other. The referee yelled “Hajime!” We grabbed each other by the lapels. Perhaps I did it a little roguishly, after all, I was the victorious conqueror. Feeling very Marius the Great, I thought, “What good is war without spoils to ravish? What good is Victory without a wench and her sweet wine?”
She looked up and smiled.
Hey, I think she like’s me.
She leaned back, put her foot into my solar plexus, then rolled backwards, launching me like a sack of rocks from a Trebuchet. The successful flip was called. I lost the match in less than six seconds, to a girl. Now that was the kind of shit happened to me. Back to normal.
I went home that night without a trophy, but I did get a new metaphor, one that would repeat itself throughout my life. Don’t worry, I won’t hurt you. Smile. I think she likes me. Foot in the gut. On my back, destroyed in utter defeat. Again and again.
It was my first lesson in an eternal truth. Bitches will fuck you up. So proceed with complete reckless abandon. It will totally be worth it. I want a trophy!
It’s 1996, and I’m sitting at a red light. I look over to the other lane and see a dude, I recognize. Hey, that’s the guy that pissed his pants in Judo class, almost 20 years ago. I lean over and get him to roll down the window. “Hey, you’re the guy that pissed his pants in Judo!” I yell. I was figuring to blow his mind, you know, that some random guy would remember him and then remind him of a moment he buried deep into the moldy folds of his medulla. Freak him out that a witness still remembers. It was a total dick move on my part, one I paid for with enough karmic drunken pants-pissing to let me remind that same guy again, in another life, and still be square.
Anyway, Judo turned out to be somewhat beneficial. Not as useful as Kenpo, but it got me used to physically mixing it up with other kids, to be a little bit less of a pussy about physical combat, however watered-down the version. Win, lose, draw, at least I was participating in something. And if a fight ever went to the ground (and they always do) I would at least have some idea of what to do. Just roll forward. Preferably out the front door of the bar and into your car so you could hit the liquor store before they stop selling.
Hai-Yah! Judo chop, motherfuckers!