Thursday, January 24

Origins: The Guru

Many, many years ago, there was a show called Kung Fu Theater that showcased martial arts movies. It was on Saturdays at 3pm. None of us on the block missed it. After the movie, friends and I would meet up the block to recap and reenact the fight moves from the movie. We were all in our early teens, if that. There would be about four or five of us play fighting and pretending to be Kung Fu masters or ninjas. Besides the Bruce Lee flicks we loved, one of our favorite movies was called The Five Deadly Venoms. Man, I remember we would get so pumped when first watched that movie. If the movie was good we would be on a mission to look for someone to practice on. Actually, we just wanted someone to pick on and use as a sparring dummy. None of us were taking any formal training then, we just wanted to see if the moves really worked.

We would usually find three younger kids on the block. They were friends in the fifth grade. They also shared an affinity for martial arts. We loved to play fight with them, knowing they stood no chance. We made them do training sessions we saw in the movies (36 Chambers of Shaolin), like dodge junk we threw at them, jump over fences, climb trees or balance on rocks. We would sneak up on them, and do all the moves from fight scenes. Sometimes they would cry and go home. However, they continued and played along in hopes that they could be like us self proclaimed ninjas. Maybe they just wanted to be considered one of us big kids. It was their ninja training we told them. If they pass they would be a ninja. We tested them for sure.
There was the one chunky kid, that usually took the most punishment. It was so stereotypical. Everybody loved picking on this round kid named, Pat. So "Phat Pat" was the nickname he was dubbed instantly. He was the easiest to catch out of the three. The other two were flee footed, and took more effort to catch. These two were both skinny, so our barrage of punches would hit bony parts more often. So it was painful to them and us. So our kid logic was that we could pound on Phat Pat twice as hard because he was twice as thick. Phat Pat always put up the best fight. He had fun playing with us big kids until it got too rough (when he cried). He was usually the last man standing and rarely backed out of any challenge we put up. We all shared the same imagination; a unique and unknowing bond.
Within the same year, the movie Karate Kid could not have come at a better time for us. That meant it was the worse time for Phat Pat. We were Cobra Kai, and more often than not, Phat Pat was of course, Daniel Larusso. Our favorite scene was Cobra Kai in skeleton costumes chasing and beating down Daniel.
"He's had enough, Johnny!" "I'll say when he's had enough!" "Wax on, wax off." "No Mercy." We loved that movie, including Phat Pat. Even when our spinning kicks to the gut and back fists to the head were really finding its marks, Phat Pat remained a good sport. I am pretty certain, Big Mac had dreams of kicking all our asses, like Daniel did to Johnny in the movie.
Ninja training didn't stop when summer ended. After a major blizzard with 2 feet of snow, we caught up with the three younger kids. We had a snowball fight. It was never fair. They were always out numbered or out muscled! This time since we 'captured' the three in our war scenario, we stood the three up facing a fence mimicking an execution. We executed them with snowballs. Six of us throwing dozens of snowballs we pre-made. The first two dropped quickly in pain or just from the chill of the snow running down their necks. Phat Pat was still standing. First, one of us run out of snowballs, then two, and then three. Phat Pat struggled but remained upright. We aimed for his legs. Phat Pat took it. Now all six of us ran out of snowballs. Phat Pat was still standing. We quickly resorted to make and cut out large ice blocks from the frozen snow banks. We dumped it on Phat Pat. Not the first, nor the second but the third huge ice block, that took two of us to carry, did him in. Phat Pat went down. He was holding his tears back. Probably because thats what we constantly enforced on the kids; no crying if you want to be a ninja. (Now that I think of it, I am not sure if he wanted to cry because of the pain, or disappointment for not staying up.) In our unique adulation, we gave Phat Pat credit for his determination and effort to be the last man standing. We gave him hard slaps on the back or punches in the arm. The sense of accomplishment dismissed the anguish and strain on his face.
So, did all the unfair play fights and rough housing in our youth influence Phat Pat in positive or negative way? It would probably serve negatively for the weak, not Phat Pat. Twenty plus years later, Phat Pat runs and owns a prominent mixed martial arts school. Here is where I started training with him last week. He is still a good friend of mine. I see him on family occasions. He is a 14-year Guru in Sayoc Kali, a Filipino fighting system. ( I'll refer to him as the Guru now, since Kali is his specialty. (I sometimes slip and call him Phat Pat. He doesn't mind at all... still a good sport.)
I would not be able to fathom the Guru's extensive resume in other martial arts disciplines. My attempt to list his credentials would not serve him any justice. I do not believe he is the type to equate titles with skill, nor gloat of accomplishments. There is probably one acclamation the Guru would get the most out of. That is, the chunky kid that was labeled Phat Pat, is actually now one of the nasty ninjas and mighty masters we all pretended to be on those Saturday afternoons on the old block.

(Kapatid Martial Arts, 175 Tompkins Avenue, Pleasantville, NY 10570)

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