The Karate Story

An AVP Example 

 "Transforming power"

The Karate Story

The train clanked and rattled along the line from Johannesburg to Pretoria on a warm Spring afternoon.  Our carriage was pretty empty; a few women and children, some old folks returning from a day spend in town.  I looked sleepily at the drab houses along the track.

At one of the stations the doors opened, and suddenly a man swearing loudly disturbed the afternoon quiet.  As he staggered into our carriage, I noticed that he was wearing a torn overall, and that he was very big, very dirty and very drunk.  Screaming, he hit at a woman holding a baby.  The slap made her fall on top of some old people.  It was a miracle that the baby wasn’t hurt.

Everyone on the train was very frightened, and the old people got up and ran to the other end of the carriage.  As they did so, the drunk kicked at the back of an old woman but missed as she got out of the way.  This made him so angry that the grabbed a metal handrail and tried to pull it off the wall of the carriage.  I could see that one of his hands was cut and bleeding.  The train jerked ahead, and the passengers sat very still because they were very frightened.  I stood up.

I was young then, about twenty years ago, and I was very strong.  I’d been working out Karate - eight hours a day for three years.  I liked to kick, punch and block.  I thought I was tough.  The trouble was, my fighting skills hadn’t ever been tested in a real fight.  As students of Karate, we weren’t allowed to have real fights during our training.

“Karate,” my teacher said again and again, “is the art of making peace.  Whoever wants to fight has broken his connection with the universe.  If you try to control people, you’re already defeated.  We study how to sort out conflict, not how to start it.”

I listened to his words.  I tried hard.  I even crossed the street to avoid the thugs who hung out at the railway stations.  My discipline made me feel really good because I thought that I was not only tough, but also holy.  In my heart, though, I really wanted an opportunity to have a good reason to save innocent people, by destroying the guilty. 

“This is it!”  I said to myself as I got to my feet.  “People are in danger.  If I don’t do something fast, somebody’s going to get hurt.”

Seeing me stand up, the drunk saw a chance to direct his anger.  “Ah!” he shouted.  “A tough guy!  I think you need a lesson in keeping out of other people’s business!”

I held on lightly to the strap over my head and gave him a slow look of disgust and dismissal.  I was going to take him apart, but he had to make the first move.  I wanted him really angry, so I sucked my lips and blew him an insolent kiss.

“All right!” he shouted.  “Now you’re going to get that lesson.”  He got himself ready to rush at me.

A moment before he could move, someone shouted “Hey.”  It was very loud.  I remember the happy sound of it - as though you and a friend had been looking for something, and he’d suddenly found it.  “Hey!”

I turned to my left; the drunk turned to his right.  We both looked down at a little, old man.  He must have been well into his seventies, this tiny gentleman, sitting there in his neatly pressed shirt and pants.  He took no notice of me, but smiled happily at the drunk - as though he had an important and happy secret to share with him.

“Come here, “ the old man said in an easy, gentle voice, beckoning to the drunk.  “Come here and talk to me.”  He waved his hand lightly.

The big man followed as if he was connected to a piece of string.  He planted his feet in a threatening way in front of the old man and shouted louder than the clanking wheels, “Why the hell should I talk to you?”  The drunk now had his back to me.  If his elbow moved as much as a millimetre, I’d drop him with one punch.

The old man continued to smile at the drunk.  “What have you been drinking?” he asked, his eyes bright with interest.  “I’ve been drinking Black Label,” the labourer shouted back, “and it’s none of your business!”  Bits of spit spattered the old man.

“Ah, that’s fantastic,” the old man said, “absolutely fantastic!  You see I like Black Label too.  Every night, my wife and I (she’s seventy-six, you know), we take a bottle of Black Label into our back garden, and we sit on an old wooden bench.  We watch the sun go down, and we look to see how our vegetables are growing.  My father taught me how to grow vegetables but we’ve been worrying about our plants this year, because insects have been eating them.  Our garden has done better than we thought it would, though, especially when you consider that we had to hand-pick the insects off our cabbages one by one!  It’s great to watch our plants when we take our beer and go out to enjoy the evening; even when it rains!”  He looked up at the drunk, his eyes twinkling.

As he struggled to follow the old man’s story, the drunken man’s face softened.  His fists slowly opened.  “Yes,” he said.  “I also like vegetables fresh out of the garden….”  His voice got quieter.

“Yes,” said the old man, smiling, “and I’m sure you’ve got a great wife.”

“No,” replied the drunk.  “My wife died.”  Very gently, swaying with the motion of the train, the big man began to cry.  “I don’t have a wife; I don’t have a house, and I don’t have a job - I feel so bad.”  Tears rolled down his cheeks.

Now it was my turn.  Standing there in my untouched youth, with my clean face and clothes, and my feeling of being a hero because I was making the world a safer place - I suddenly felt a bit dirtier than the drunk.

Then the train arrived at my station.  As the doors opened, I heard the old man say gently.  “Oh no, Oh no, that’s very tough” and, patting the seat next to him, “sit down here and talk to me about it.”

I turned my head for one last look.  The drunk was lying on the seat, his head in the old man’s lap, and the old man was softly stroking his dirty, matted hair.

As the train pulled away, I sat down on a bench.  I was confused.  A little old man, with a few kind words, had just accomplished what I’d wanted to do with muscle and violence.  I realised that what I had just experienced was true Karate tested in actual combat.  For the first time, I truly understood the authentic nature of Karate - it was, it seemed to me, simply an act of love. 

I also realised that I would have to go and practice, and practice, my skills with a very different spirit - in the certain knowledge that it would still be some time before I could confidently think that I was capable of sorting out real conflict.

(Adapted from a story by Terry Dobson, Founder - Bond Street Dojo, New York)

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