Me in my senior year at Barberton High School (Ohio) in August of 1982.
I started in the martial arts in December of 1982 after I “retired” from high school football. I was a star player for the YMCA team, the Oakdale Red Devils, from the 4th through 7th grade. The trajectory to stardom continued as a member of the 8th grade U.L. Light Junior High School football team in Barberton.
Things changed quickly during the summer after 8th grade when seemingly the entire team went through a growth spurt. They all became bigger and faster. I was stuck at 5’8″ and my physical attributes did not appreciably improve from the 8th grade to the 9th grade. In other words, I was too short and too slow. My dream of playing for Notre Dame and winning the Heisman went up in smoke. 😉
I continued to play football until my senior year in high school for fun, for the camaraderie and to get chewed out by a hard ass coach with the scariest laser beam glare (“Johns, I’ll bounce your g-ddamn ass off the wall if you don’t do what I say!”). My team was, hands down, the best 1-9 team in the entire state of Ohio. Looking back at it, those were fun times. However, I was never to regain the glory days of my YMCA and Junior High careers. I don’t think that the Hall of Fame will be calling me anytime!
Early on in my life, I became fascinated with martial arts and became engrossed in the Saturday afternoon Hong Kong Fung Fu flicks. I remember being fascinated with a movie called “Street Gangs of Hong Kong” and, amazingly, there is a YouTube clip.
After my famous “retirement” press conference (held in the family room of my house), I knew that I had to get physically involved in a new endeavour as an outlet for my energy. Two good friends were training in Kwan Ying Do Kung Fu in a basement kwoon in my hometown. They loved the training and urged me to try it. Providing additional encouragement was Steve Ong, a classmate who was one year ahead of me. His father was Grandmaster Feeman Ong. I was introduced to Kwan Ying Do Kung Fu in December of 1982 and trained through August of 1983, when I left to attend Notre Dame. I also trained in the summers of 1984 and 1985. My two main instructors were Bob Keen and David Jacobs, two tough gentlemen. Lots of emphasis was put on stances, conditioning, and forms.
Every class started out the same way. We bowed in and then settled into a stance routine that lasted a half hour. This consisted of holding various stances with stillness and strict form. It was a traditional conditioning exercise. I thought that I was going to die the first time I did this. My legs were so rubbery for the remainder of my first class and could barely walk the next day. I quickly got used to it as I did this routine nearly every day thereafter. We did a fair bit of forearm conditioning and other types of conditioning as well. Forms was emphasized quite a bit. Being an 18 to 19 year old, I loved the conditioning. I always felt physically charged after each class. However, in the time that I spent there, we did not spend much time on self defense techniques. Most likely, I had not advanced sufficiently in their curriculum to get into self defense techniques or applications of the forms.
See: Kwan Ying Do
My motivation for getting into the martial arts was a mixture of needing a new outlet after my football career, being a martial arts fan, curiosity, and a feeling that I didn’t fit in this world. Frankly, I was not thinking in terms of self defence or fighting. Being a “hard of hearing” person who felt that I didn’t fit into the hearing world or the deaf world left me feeling like I was in the Twilight Zone (many of my hard of hearing friends have had the same feelings). I was hoping that martial arts might help me with this in some way. I have to admit that life experiences prior to my involvement in the martial arts as well as later in life kept those nagging doubts alive. It took some time but martial arts has helped me navigate these issues quite well over the years. Bottom line: go with the flow. Duh. 🙂
The battle has never really been with the world; it has always been within. In any case, my reasons for being in the martial arts naturally changed over the years to its current focus on self defense.
Next up: My Notre Dame Years.