It was Halloween Night...1972 or 73. I chose to go to Karate than to go trick or treating. I was twelve...I think.
I had been dabbling in Karate as an after-school activity. This was at the Burbank YMCA mid-week, and Saturdays. It was fast becoming a passion...or an obsession if you listened to my grandmother.
I liked it.
The instructors were good...but they were what we would consider hobbyists. They had their regular lives and did this to stay in shape and to lose weight. Truth be told, none of those instructors would be considered physically impressive by our standards today. But they had knowledge we wanted, and it was only $30 per month...so we listened and overlooked the warts.
Then one night we had a visitor to the class.
As soon as the stranger walked in, the black belts recognized him and all came to attention.
They called the class to attention. The call was "SENSEI".
We all faced the door in a very military manner and bowed.
The man was "Sensei Bob". He walked over and waved us to join him in an informal circle. He had a last name but it has long been forgotten by me.
He was different...he was not an Arnold look-alike, but he was clearly not a hobbyist. He was fit and did not have a gut. The best word to describe him was "danger". He seemed primed for movement. And at a glance he looked like he was very comfortable with a level of violence I knew nothing about.
Barefoot and with his hair slicked back he bowed back.
"Good evening", he said in a loud, but not overbearing voice.
"Its good to be back".
I later learned that "Sensei Bob" had been in Vietnam. This was 1973 after all. I never found out what his assignment was nor did I ever have the courage to ask...but as I said...there was an aura of violence...under control...but barely. Like being in a cage with a tiger that was not hungry...at that point in time.
Then the tiger spoke.
"This is the YMCA. That is good. The Young Men's Christian Association. That is what its called. But I will tell you that Christ was not a sissy. He did not come to bring peace and love and all of that drug induced nonsense".
He had my 12 year old brain's undivided attention.
"He did not - no matter what the sandal-wearing hippies will tell you in school or in church. He came to bring a sword. Yes...and next week....when I take over the training, you will all learn to use that sword to its best effects."
He bowed. We returned the bow.
That night changed everything and started an odyssey for me in the study of violence that continues to this day.
Sensei Bob...wherever you are.