November 4, 2012
THE ORIGINAL KARATE KID
A lot of people assume I was born this way. That is, the über cool, alpha male, Arthur Fonzarelli-type that every guy wants to be and every woman wants. Not so. In my youth I was actually a frightened, weak, thoroughly pathetic little boy. I cowered at my own shadow and even more at actual people. I lacked the ability to communicate without a red face and a quivering voice. Girls castrated me with their mere existence. I didn’t know how to dress, how to act, how to not cry when the lights went out during a storm. I was also fat. Somehow I ended up with a small group of friends, though I think they may have been even bigger losers than me. I mean why else would they allow themselves to be seen in public with such a pitiful excuse for a human being?
Yes, I was a deplorable little bitch who genuinely deserved get beaten black and blue by his peers every day of the week. In fact, these days I often find myself fantasizing about building a time machine to transport me back to 1983 so I can kick my own ass. My old man apparently had similar sentiments back in the day. Perhaps he wasn’t committed enough to put aside his weekend project of building a tool shed to decode quantum mechanics and construct a device capable of drilling a hole through the fabric of time or anything like that but, when he signed me up for karate lessons, the message was clear. Specifically, that I was a disgraceful little faggot and, were he back in school as a classmate of mine, he’d be bloodying his fists daily with the residue of my despicable face. As my father, however, he had a certain paternal obligation to do what he could to prevent my classmates from doing that to me (justified as they may have been). And so he enrolled me at Frankie Testerossa’s Studio of Self Defense.
I was in fifth grade then and, believe it or not, there were no bullies picking on me at school. That’s where the irony of this story kicks-in. You see, at Frankie T’s, the kids didn’t get to take their lessons in the main studio with the actual instructors. Their classes occurred in a backroom where they were taught the foot-fist way by “student instructors” – sadistic teenage bastards between sixteen and eighteen years old with green and brown belts and an insatiable urge to inflict pain on children. Thus my well meaning daddy, in an attempt to protect me from bullies where there were no bullies, hand delivered me to where the bullies were. And these weren't just your typical bullies. These bullies were older, bigger, and highly proficient in the martial arts. Thanks Dad!
Of all the student instructors I had the pleasure of training under at Frankie Testerossa’s Studio of Self Defense, the most memorable was Isaiah – a skinny but fierce African American boy with a small head and an angry face. A most zealous sensei with little sympathy and a pronounced hatred for the ancestors of those who enslaved his ancestors, there was no “wax on, wax off” bullshit with Isaiah. His lessons were conveyed through pure agonizing violence. “BAM!” he would shout each time his fist or foot pummeled a new contusion into my delicate white boy flesh.
I took my fair share of thrashings from Isaiah. During my tenure at the dojo I absorbed kicks to the side and groin, hammers to the head, and various chops to the limbs. He once even beat me with a billy club (a sort of pre-emptive revenge for the Rodney King incident). It was part of a demonstration on how to ward off an attack. He was fond of those types of demonstrations. Generally they would start with him showing us a countermove for a specific type of assault. He would then pick one lucky student (often me) to play the victim while he assumed the role of attacker. When the pupil would attempt to execute the countermove he just showed us, Isaiah would counter the countermove with another move he had not yet shown us. Generally this would end with the student (often me) flying through the air and landing face first on the carpet. It was thin carpet. The floor underneath was concrete, as I recall.
I did a lot of crying during class, pussy that I was. For the most part though, I was able to dry my tears by the time my mom came to pick me up. One time, however, I took a rather painful kick to the face that tore my upper lip and gum, causing my mouth to swell and bleed and leaving a mist in my eyes that just wouldn't dry.
“What happened?” my mom asked with a concerned look as I got into the car, trying my best to avoid looking in her direction.
“I fell all right!” I said defensively, remembering the words of one of the other student instructors, a Jheri curled teen with a Jamaican accent.
“What would yer madda tink ef she saw yuh crying lacka a little gal instead of figh-tin lacka mon?” he had asked me rhetorically.
I stayed at Frankie T’s for about a year, eventually attaining the proud rank of a yellow belt. Shortly thereafter I convinced my parents that becoming a Kung Fu master was not my destiny and they let me quit at the end of the billing cycle. While I no longer had to deal with Isaiah and company, the kids at school soon discovered how fun it was to tease, abuse, and batter me. I may have been in for rough times were it not for my experience at Frankie T’s. Compared to what I endured there, the beatings I suffered at the not-registered-as-a-deadly-weapon hands of my schoolmates seemed almost luxurious.
While I may not have stuck with it long enough to become a contender on the tournament circuit, my schooling in the martial arts left a profound mark on me that remains to this day. Thank you Frankie Testerossa for the brief but significant role you played in my development as a person. Rest in peace you fucking asshole.