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  • Writer's pictureGary Gruber

There Was a Day...

As I sit here moaning and groaning and staring at the neoprene sleeves on my knees and my elbows and my wrists, my mind flies back to a different me, nearly 40 years ago. I have the best wife in the world -- she tolerates my whining about the pain I have to endure. The Yiddish word is “Kvetch” (one syllable), and that's a far more colorful way to describe someone who constantly complains about this or that.


Thankfully, it wasn't always this way. I used to make yearly trips back east to visit my family and friends. The highlight of my trip would be seeing my friend Michael who had a photo studio in Soho (NYC). Michael and I went to Syracuse University together, did a semester abroad in Munich West Germany, and were quite close for many years.


On this particular trip, about a month after I was awarded my first-degree black belt in karate, I was at the top of my game and could prove it at a moment's notice.


It was 1984 and the concept of exclusive nightclubs in New York City was just taking hold. These were times when the doorman would look you over and either show you in or show you out. Back in the 1940s this was called “dressing to the 9’s”, a way of emphasizing that you were impeccably dressed and quaffed, your recent manicure gleaming, and you're 32 teeth brilliantly white and aligned with one another without fail.


That was neither Michael nor me, we were pretty much “dressed to the 1s’ or the 2’s” at best…


Fortunately for us, Michael was good friends with the owner of this fantastic establishment and quickly ushered us past the long lines of young men and women dying to get in to show themselves off to everyone else. There were two floors to the venue with bands playing different music on each. You went from one to the other and your mindset shifted to match the exuberance of the rest of the players.


This was back in the day when California was considered to be as exclusive a state as one could be. When Michael introduced me to people he knew and they found out that's where I was living, I got the same reception as our astronauts who went to the moon. To say this was a heady environment would be an understatement of biblical proportions.


There was a novel, almost campy, effusiveness emanating from the staff. They set themselves apart from the guests and made sure everyone understood the different class structures between us and them. It was light and airy, not heavy and overwhelming – more Babylon Bee than New York Times.

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Many people do not understand the nature of Japanese karate. They see our punches and kicks landing an inch or so in front of our opponent and can't understand why it appears that we are “pulling” our attacks.


The uninformed think we are stopping our punches and kicks arbitrarily in front of our opponents. Nothing could be further from the truth. The entire notion of Japanese karate revolves around the notion of “focus”. Focus is a skill whereby we levy a full force attack on a particular area of the body, but as the attack is in the process of moving from me to them, my mind has already determined where the punch is going to land. This notion of focus is the primary skill that is used during board breaking demonstrations. The practitioner mentally sees three or four inches beyond the surface of the wood and that is where the punch lands. He neither sees nor feels the wood, he is punching through it, literally. The same applies to training. In the beginning the student focuses his attacks one or two inches in front of his opponent’s chest. As their skill improves the punch lands closer and closer, until the recipient is able to feel his Karate Gi (uniform) rustled by the attack.


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As I strolled around the second floor, I felt the need to use the restroom. I could see into the area from the hallway -- it was co-ed. There actually were young men and women sitting on the floor talking as others were using the facilities. It was somewhat disarming -- but when you gotta go, you gotta go…


At the entrance to the restroom was a desk, and behind the desk stood a young man in a tuxedo -- a concierge of sorts. I asked him what was required to be permitted to use the facilities. He stared me down and in a nonchalant voice said “Impress me.


I looked over my shoulder and saw that I had plenty of room, so I backed up about 10 feet. His facial expression changed to bewilderment. We spent many months training on how to roll both forwards and backwards, to either side, from any position, including standing. Without hesitation I dove forward to the floor, did a front roll and came up on one knee, directly in front of him. As I rose to my knee I let out a loud “Ki Ai” (pronounced: key eye -- the guttural sound that helps to focus the attack) and an Oizuki (front punch), landing it about a 16th of an inch into this young man's stomach. I chose this point of focus so that he would understand fully the control I had over this quasi attack.


His skin color dropped to a blanched white, and I saw rivulets of sweat forming on his forehead. I stood up nose to nose with him and said “Impressed?” He said nothing, but removed the velvet rope that blocked the entrance to the restroom. He took a step back and gave me all the room I needed to enter.


Later, after a few drinks, the urge to go hit me again -- but as I approached the restroom the concierge quickly removed the rope and vanished out of sight.


While my martial arts skills were put to the test many times over the years, this was the first and only time that I had to use them to get permission to pee.

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