April 16, 2024

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Fifty-four Years is a Long Time Ago by KJN Ronald W. Stone

Fifty-four Years is a Long Time Ago by KJN Ronald W. Stone

When I was a Senior in high school, I was attending a school dance when I was attacked by three kids from another school. It was a simple misunderstanding. I was standing near a glass door when they tapped on the window and asked me to let them in. What they didn’t know was that the inside was barred with a fire alarm and couldn’t be opened like a regular door.

I tried to convey the message that I couldn’t open the door, but they thought I was simply refusing someone from another school. I assume they thought I was acting all “holier than thou” and got mad. When I finally went outside for a breath of fresh air I was jumped and mugged. In those days, thank God, that meant being grabbed by my arms by two guys while another punched me in the gut.

I went down like a sack of potatoes gasping from a lack of air, and they left laughing at me. It was a devastating blow to my psyche. I had been raised by a father who was a WW2 veteran with two silver stars and two bronze stars but who never mentioned it once during his lifetime. He became a successful Chicago lawyer and was as gentle a person as I ever met. Consequently, he never taught me to box or wrestle or fight.

I grew up with absolutely no fighting skills other than what I learned watching Gene Autry or Captain Kirk on television. That fateful night I realized I wasn’t Kirk, but rather the expendable crewman and the shock horrified me. I felt helpless and a victim of senseless violence, so the first thing I did when I went off to college at the University of Illinois was to sign up for an elective course taught by a former Marine instructor in self-defense. I loved the twice a week class and eventually passed with flying colors.

My confidence was restored, and I strutted around my dorm like a proud peacock. Confident that is, until my friend Max Rose pointed out that as a middle-class milk toast kid from the North Shore of Chicago I would be sliced and diced into little pieces were I ever to get into a real fight.

I strongly disagreed and pointed out that I had received an A in the class. Max, who never had a fight in his life, rolled up a magazine and proceeded to attack me. He even warned me about it so I quickly went into a upper cross block. The problem was, no one ever taught me that the upper block is supposed to be a flowing circular movement, not a stationary block. The magazine went through my cross block and knocked me to my knees. I saw stars. “Good thing it wasn’t a crowbar or a bat,” Max laughingly pointed out

I quickly realized I had learned just enough to get myself killed, so now I had two choices. I could either run away for the rest of my life or study more, and the first chance I got upon returning home for vacation I sought out a Martial Arts school taught by Tae Jin Suk, a Korean grandmaster in two arts.

I was given the choice of studying either Judo or Taekwondo. I had loved the part of my self-defense class where we threw bigger opponents around and I told Mr. Suk I’d rather throw someone than get punched, so he put me into the Judo class.

Classes in the early 70’s were an hour and a half of hard-core practice and I loved it. When I wasn’t studying with Grand Master Suk, I joined the University’s Judo club and worked out with them for the next three and a half years eventually winning a bronze medal in the 1974 Big Ten Judo tournament.

One incident at the University taught me a valuable lesson. After dinner one evening some friends and I were sitting in the dorm lobby shooting the breeze when I made some sort of political comment. The next thing I knew some kid who I didn’t even know got mad and told me to shut up or he would beat me to a pulp.

At the time I was very much into television’s pacifist Kung fu show and decided to try and avoid conflict. Somehow my silence gave this kid the idea I was afraid and made him even bolder. He started bragging about how he was studying Karate and would have kicked my butt. To make matters worse he bragged about this in front of a girl I was soft on.

Now you must understand that back then one simply did not mention studying the martial arts, let alone bragging about it. We never even wore uniforms outside of school and kept that information to ourselves.

I was so incensed by his behavior my fingers squeezed and punctured through the fabric of the chair I was sitting in. With a Kwai Chang Caine sense of humility, I excused myself and left the lobby. As I retired, I heard him laugh at me.

I was so upset when I finally reached my dorm room, I actually threw up from all my anger. My years of watching John Wayne stand up for himself were in direct conflict with my new found sense of Zen pacifism.

Sadly, I never did win over that girl, but a couple of days later a knock at my door revealed this same kid. I flinched in response but was pleasantly surprised by what happened next. He begged my forgiveness and proceeded to explain that he had formed a bad impression of me based on false rumors of my behavior toward some other student and was already angry when he finally met me.

Apparently. since that time, he had met several others who contradicted his opinion of me and was, in his words, embarrassed to learn that I out ranked him in the martial arts. He told me how my behavior truly demonstrated proper training and had made him feel ashamed of his actions.

In return I told him how it took real guts to admit one’s mistakes and that there was no need to worry any further. (Of course, I never mentioned my having vomited in anger). We never really became good friends, but there would no longer be any conflict between us.

That think first, evaluate second, and react to the last philosophy has been duplicated on several occasions throughout my life, thankfully with the same outcome. l the situations were defused, and no one was injured. Truthfully however, as proud as I am of my behavior, I do regret deep down not having had the chance of acting like the John Wayne would have.

There will be more tales to follow

About the author: R.W. Stone is a veterinarian in Florida. He is an avid horseman, martial artist, best-selling western author, and a firearms enthusiast. Currently Stone is ranked 8th dan in Haemukwan Hapkido, a 4th dan in Daehan Yudo and a second dan in Kukki TaeKwondo. He is the Master Instructor at the American Dragon Martial Arts Academies in Ocoee, Florida.

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