I have not had any martial arts training of any sort in this life time. I say that neither confessing nor bragging. It simply has not been on my path.
In the early ’70s, I lived with my first wife on Bank St. in the Village in NYC. On a rainy fall Saturday night, we ventured out to Queens to a party that went quite late. We came home around 3:30 Sunday morning on the 8th Avenue Line and got off at the 14th St. Station. Emerging onto the surface, Manhattan seemed a ghost town–no people, no traffic, no open business, nothing. Eighth Avenue was just six lanes of north-bound vacuum.
We were walking south on the east side of 8th. Out of the corner of my eye, I see a figure emerge from the shadows on the west side of the street–I have always had excellent peripheral vision. He is coming toward us at an angle that I calculate will put him on the sidewalk just behind us. Even now, common sense tells me that this is a time to panic, to freak out. Scream and run like hell.
But that is not what I did. I carried on with the banal conversation I was having with my wife. But deep inside me, I went into a state of perfect calm. The only out-of-the-ordinary movement I made was to switch the rolled-up golf umbrella I was carrying from my left hand to my right. My whole attention was focused on every step the interloper was taking.
Just as he lifted his left foot to come up onto the curb from the street surface, I whirled around simultaneously grabbing the umbrella with both hands, lifting it high above my head and screaming “HAAAAAAAAAAA!” My right foot was thrust forward, and I was in a state of perfect balance. Instinctively, I knew that if he took one additional step towards us, the umbrella would crack down at the juncture of his neck and shoulders. Somehow I knew that if this were a real blade and not an umbrella that his head would roll down the sidewalk.
Fortunately, at some level, he was a man of reason and simply took flight down the dark street at a rate that would have impressed Bob Hayes. My wife was startled to say the least, “What the hell just happened?” That was my question, too. What the hell just happened?
Flash forward 30-some years. I am sitting in a theater in Boca Raton with wife number 3. “The Last Samurai” is just getting good. Tom Cruise has been captured by Ken Watanabe and is being taken to mountain village. As they ride into the village, I begin to sob softly. I cannot control it. The new wife says, “What the hell is going on?” That is my question, too. What the hell is going on? It is a good movie, but not THAT GOOD.
A year or so later, we bought the DVD. In one of the bonus features, Edward Zwick, the director, is talking about the production of the movie. It was filmed in New Zealand (I think) and the company had taken great pains to reproduce a period Japanese mountain village. Before filming, they brought in several older people who had lived in such villages to get their response. Their response: they began sobbing softly, to the last man.
I think these things happen to other people, not just me. But they tune them out, discount them. But at some level, we all have these responses. My first wife (very Jewish) was fascinated with Ireland. She read books about it and drove me crazy talking about it (with a name like O’Dell, I have an obvious connection to the “Old Country”). Once when I had her deeply hypnotized, she began speaking with a male voice, heavy Irish accent and warning me that I was “fooling with the devil’s toys” and to “be gone with you.”
I am a tennis fan–big time. The US Open is winding down. And there is one extremely popular player that I cannot stand to watch. My skin crawls when I see him. They say that he moves like a cat, that he floats on the court. I don’t know, because I do not watch him play. And he frequently dresses in all black.
Why should I dislike him so intensely? It makes no sense. I should just forget about it. But I cannot. He Is Ninja. I Am Samurai.