Just before his junior year in college, he received a rude awakening. One of his fellow karate students, a brawny high school senior and newly minted black belt, had gotten himself bruised, bloodied, and ultimately knocked out in an after-school fight. The kid who vanquished him had no martial arts training. Still a couple of years away from a realistic shot at shodan rank, Eddie was surprised to learn that even a black belt was no guarantee of success in a real fight. It became evident that no assailant was going to be overcome by Eddie’s hard-won ability to strike a pose and count to ten in Japanese.
Upon hearing about the misfortune of his fellow karateka, he had tried to grill the head instructor, the third-degree black belt who owned the school, about what had gone wrong. He wanted answers about karate’s effectiveness as a self-defense method—not as a cardiac fitness regimen or as an exercise in cultural appreciation or self-esteem. But lowly purple belts were not permitted to grill the sensei. Eddie was advised to ask fewer questions and to train harder. Karate was not just about fighting; it was a way of life. In time, the sensei said, he would understand.
Returning to his dorm, Eddie had looked up the phone numbers of every martial arts facility in the area. He selected a dozen at random and left voicemail messages at each one describing what he wanted in a trainer. He wanted training that emphasized preparing for real fights, not sporting events. The instructor should be able to document having put his skills to effective use in a non-sporting combat situation. The training should take place both indoors and out in a variety of settings and should be done in street clothes and shoes, since that’s what he’d be wearing in a real fight. And he wanted straight talk about when martial arts would not be enough to save him. He never heard back from nine of the twelve schools. Two called to tell him that what he sought was unrealistic. And then he got a call from Mike Manzanetti, the proprietor of Real Life Defensive Systems.
When Mike called, they talked for about twenty minutes before arranging for Eddie to drop by for an interview. Upon arrival, he saw that the instructor was an energetic middle-aged man about five-foot-eight with a squarish build and a rolling gait. His nose had obviously been broken, perhaps more than once. He was wearing worn jeans and a black T-shirt that bore the message “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”
“I would have expected a Taoist symbol or some martial slogan, not a text from the Gospel of John,” Eddie said. “I take it you’re a Christian?”
“I am, but that’s not the point of the shirt,” Mike answered. “It’s about what we do here.”
Eddie raised his eyebrows and waited for an explanation.
“You’re not the first person to call me about the predicament you’re in,” Mike continued. “I get it from traditional martial artists all the time. They’ve mastered the stances, they’ve learned the choreography, and they’ve got their rainbow collection of belts and sashes. But deep down they don’t know if they can really fight. They don’t know if all their spirit yells and inside blocks and hammer fists will work against a real-life bad guy. What about that three-hundred-pound goon with the prison tattoos and no neck who corners them in a parking garage? What about the hood rat with a straight razor and a crack habit who demands their wallet and phone? Can they win the fight when their lives depend on it, on a cold winter night when the ice on the sidewalk rules out all the fancy dojo ballerina moves? Are they really a force to be reckoned with, or have they just spent four to six years of their lives getting a black belt in aerobics?” Mike shrugged. “The questions nag them, and they come to me for the truth.” He said this without a hint of hyperbole or braggadocio.
“How? How do you teach them the truth?” Eddie desperately wanted to know.
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