“Don’t ever become a spectator! Be a participant. 

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He was a 3 degree black belt. With a wrist flick, he could coax you forward on to your toes and like lightning, turn his back, dip down and lift you on to his hips and send you ass over teakettle on to the judo mat. It was magic: Instant one you’re leaning forward-instant two your back is flat on the mat.

Lots of martial arts masters have amazing techniques. In the beginning, it was Doug’s skill on the judo mat that first captured my attention. But in addition, he possessed a skill far greater than throws, arm locks and choking.

Occasionally we look deep inside ourselves and try to uncover any talents or even genius we might possess. At that time we would do well to meet up with Mr. Bone. At one stage of my life, he offered motivation and the key I needed for a better direction and career path.

When I think back to Doug’s inspiration, it was not judo that comes back to me: It was the apple strudel. Each evening after practice he would invite his class to the neighborhood pastry shop for coffee and strudel. What we got was the poetry of life in a British accent, according to Master Doug. Judo was simply the vocabulary he used to convey the philosophy behind his life’s quest. The three months of Doug’s strudel can be summarized in two words; Carpe Diem: Seize the day.

The sermon he preached: “Don’t ever become a spectator! Be a participant. In Judo and life, you gotta take risks!. Like you seize the collar of your judo partners you must seize the opportunities each day affords you. Be audacious!”

Doug grew up as a tough teenager from the Moss Side of Manchester, England. What is Moss Side? A bad place to start life. If you don’t need drugs, prostitutes or wish to rub someone out, stay out of Moss Side. The employment opportunities it offered Doug included petty crime and the art of head butting. These were leading him toward a life of hard crime.

His father had higher aspirations for Doug and intervened. Dad demanded that Doug seek a higher calling: Welding.

“Learn a valuable trade and no matter how hard it gets, you’ll always end up on your feet.” was Dad’s firm message.

Early in Doug’s apprenticeship an acetylene tank fell over, blew up in his face: Almost killed him. Following a year of reconstructive face and chest surgery, rebuilding his scarred lungs, the doctor recommended vigorous physical therapy. Doug couldn’t afford it so with his Doctor’s blessing, settled for a rigorous sports program.

He considered dancing and judo. The girls in dancing class were more attractive but as a small weak boy in a scrappy neighborhood, Doug chose judo. The throwing, choking and arm-lock moves suited the mean streets better than a grand plié, pirouette or mambo.

Doug came to enjoy the sport and soon he met with success both in tournaments and on the dark alleys. By age twenty he had his second degree black belt.

That achievement forever altered his dream in life. Goodbye gangs. Goodbye, mean streets. Doug had found his life quest: To become a third degree black belt. That would put him among the elite Judoka in the world.

Then came another obstacle: His Manchester judo sensei one day confronted him: “Doug, I’ve taught you all I know. You will find nobody in Brittan who can teach you more. A third degree belt will not be possible for you here.”

Doug decided to move to Tokyo.

For an inner city Manchester welder to pack up and move halfway around the world, take up residence in Japan, all with less than adequate funds, that was audacious. But clinging to his unimaginable quest, he set off for the Kodokan Judo School. He made it as far as Edmonton, Alberta when money ran out.

As a master welder, he quickly found a day job in town. His nights were free so he could teach judo at the local school. It would take two more years welding to save up funds to continue the trip. This third degree black belt goal was starting to look like a lifetime project.

I was a college student at the time looking for a summer job. I had flown to Edmonton and found a work in a hospital. I was an enthusiastic but directionless kid before I found Mr. Bone.

During the days I was an orderly, emptying bedpans and shuffling bodies around the morgue. I’d practiced judo in college so I signed up at Doug’s judo dojo. The result was three months learning techniques. I got more.

Doug was in his late twenties with not much hair when we met. He was neither tall nor short,- almost boney. He looked nothing like any fighter I’d seen. He was soft spoken with dancing, sparkling eyes. Instantly I saw the impish grin on his baby face. Then I noticed the scars where his cheeks had been sown back on like meat slabs after the acetylene blast. He reminded me more of a joking circus clown than a combatant. Other than the lively eyes and scars, he had no noteworthy features. Once on the judo mat, his skills became obvious immediately.

When Doug wore a judo uniform, the loose skin lesions and stitch marks could be seen all over his chest. Whatever damage the explosion had done to his body or mind, it did not hamper his judo moves.

Over strudel after practice, Doug would advise. “Don’t be confined to where you were born. There is an entire planet out there with unimaginable opportunities. Expect setbacks. Your own gas tanks will blow up in your face but deal with it. You too will run out of money along the way and you’ll have to stop and bide your time, maybe for years. Persist! Let nothing stop you!”

He quoted Disraeli “Through perseverance many people win success out of what seemed destined to be certain failure”

This was an uneducated welder from Manchester. It was marvelous how a welder/judo teacher could give inspirational speeches night after night to our class.

Eventually, the summer came to an end. I said my goodbyes to the judo class and went back to college.

Doug made it to Japan, got his 3rd degree black belt, settled down, married and raised a family. There he died seven years later of leukemia. But his impish smiling words of “participation” and “persistence” remained long after among all us strudel eaters.

Categories: Humor

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