Not Without My Justice: The Aaron Boyd Story: By Aaron Boyd
I promised you something epic and I'm delivering. What follows are my chronicles of my two years as a student at Radunz Isshin-Ryu Karate. No quarter has granted, no words marshalled. For those unfamilair with the story...well, I've got a link to the "Worst Techniques I was Ever Taught" thread at the end. Long version: I trained at the most Bullshido school not affiliated with the Bujinkan. Short Version: They taught me to punch people in the foot.
The final document, typed out in Word with a variety of whimsical fonts, clocks in at 16 pages. I understand most of you aren't neglecting your jobs that aggressively, so in the interest of pacing, I'll be posting one installment a day for four days.
Part I: Shake Hands With Danger
Like all stories worth telling, mine begins with a teenage boy watching a kung-fu movie. Specifically, it begins in the balmy summer of 2001, those fleeting months after the divisive 2000 election and prior to the terrorist attacks of September The Eleventh. I’d like to try and justify my actions by holding them to some grand historical context, explaining these two tragic years away as the result of some misguided post-9/11 sense of revenge, or justice, or to sublimate my feelings of anger, or perhaps on a smaller, more intimate level, to never allow myself to be victimized. But I can’t bullshit you. All I wanted was to say I knew karate.
But which style? I ran through a checklist of everything I knew about martial arts. Kung fu and karate were both generic, interchangeable terms for all fighting styles. Everyone knows that. Tae Kwon Do has kicks, or throws, or both. Two check marks for TKD. Dragon style has the twisting, evasive footwork but the Eagle’s precision strikes are without rival. Maybe if I just picked two animals and crosstrained...
Decisiveness is not my strong point. I could’ve done this **** for weeks. And probably would have, if not for a certain serendipitous flyer from a local community rec center.
Instructor: Mark R. Radunz, 6th Degree Black Belt
Located at the Waterford CAI Building since 1966. Our program is designed for students who are interested in learning a martial art in a non-competitive environment. Focus is on kata (forms), bunkai (applications) and kobudo (weapons). Our goal is to teach highly effective techniques of self defense using both empty and filled hands in an effort to promote well being and security. $100 to join, includes first two months and $40/month thereafter (no contracts).
REGISTER WITH INSTRUCTOR FIRST NIGHT OF CLASS.
CAI Building, Ongoing
Tuesdays & Thursdays
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t initially skeptical. First off, like I said before, everyone knows every martial art is karate. That’s just common sense. Second, karate dojos aren’t rec centers. They’re either pagodas (real schools) or strip malls (fake schools). And third, karate masters are not named “Mark”. They are named “Hirohito” or “DeQuan”.
In spite of my reservations, I was too lazy to do any actual research so I drove to the CAI building, my mom in tow to illustrate I meant business. Also because I could not drive. The building’s façade belied nothing short of a prison; short, squat, white, wide, like a White Castle with the Downs. The parking lot existed more as an empty field of concrete and rubble, the sort of urban apocalypse dominating much of the greater Detroit landscape. And the interior smelled exactly as you’d imagine a low-rent publicly-funded Fun Hall to smell—predominantly damp, a heady bouquet of urine and bleach, buffered by an almost imperceptible papery texture.
Ascending a short flight of stairs, we came upon the dojo proper, a rectangular room that was very, very obviously meant as a dance hall. The floor was tiled and unpadded, and save for two mirrors on the far end, completely empty. There were no bags, no pads, a small stack of mats we would use exactly twice during my tenure, and a coat rack near the entrance. I’d be lying if I said this jived with the candy-colored mats and nunchuk racks I’d envisioned.
We were greeted by a man with peppery hair tied back in a ponytail, late 40’s, manic eyes. He introduced himself as Mark, sensei and 6th-degree blackbelt in the exquisite art of traditional Okinawan Isshin-Ryu Karate-Do, or the “Okinawan One Heart Method School Way Chinese Empty Hand Way” . Upon retrospect, however, I think the phrase “exquisite art of...” comes from Kill Bill. He delivered a short spiel on the history and nature of his art. I was told Isshin-Ryu evolved from Shorin-Ryu and Goju-Ryu karate and was a circular, soft style based on natural body mechanics to help defeat stronger opponents using a bare minimum of musculature. Instead of countering force with force, Isshin-Ryu deflects an opponent’s energy and seeks to retaliate with devastating blows to vulnerable targets utilizing absolute efficiency and power. Obviously a system this lethal could not permit free sparring, for the effects could be catastrophic.
Through the discerning eye of an untrained, insecure teenager his story seemed airtight. I was indeed on the smaller side, so it made sense to go with something that would rely on technique over strength. And one of the very few things I knew about fighting was that you don’t want to act unnaturally. But one thing didn’t sit well with me. It was just a passing phrase in his monologue, but it flew in the face of everything I knew about everything. Why was there no free sparring? Isn’t that supposed to be the core of martial arts training? Doesn’t Jackie Chan have, like, a gold medal in sparring? I’d never heard of any human endeavor where you could improve your performance solely through mime (except perhaps mime), which, without physical contact or actual fighting, the training would probably devolve into.
I brushed it off, of course. This isn’t the story of the time I checked out a crappy karate school for fifteen minutes and left.
Before we’d even got into the car mom remarked that, this being Thursday, I had ample time to join in time for the Tuesday class. Though impressed by the sensei, the idea of no-contact training in an empty concrete hallway in a smelly old rec center stuffed between a driver’s ed class and Advanced Senior Waltzing struck me as oddly unappealing, and I asked if maybe we should shop around a bit more. Mom was appalled.
“What’s wrong with this one?”
“I dunno, I just think we should look around for something with more…props?”
(I don’t know why I called heavy bags “props”. This tale is a tragedy and my own lack of articulation is but one facet of its sorrow)
“We’re not going to drive around forever. This is fine.”
I couldn’t figure out why she was so adamant about going with the first school we saw, but at the same time, what WAS wrong with it? Aren’t training tools just overrated gimmicks anyway? Isn’t the real issue the quality of the instruction?
As we drove off, I lost the will to argue. Mom was right. There wasn’t anything wrong with the school.
Tomorrow: Crisis in the Ashes
CLICK HERE FOR PART TWO OF THIS ISSHIN-RYU TALE OF STUFF OR DON'T