I think one of the more important things we learn in life is that family isn’t always a blood relative. I can certainly attest to the fact that I’ve met a number of people who have had a profound effect on my life and have become family to me, without having any sort of blood relation to me. The best and most obvious example of this would be my wife. She’s family, and I couldn’t imagine what life would be like without her in the daily grind of my life. But often there are people who introduce themselves into our existence unintentionally, and leave a lasting impression.
A couple of years before I started karate, I met Guillaume (we just call him “Guy”). Guy was the same age as me, in the same class at school and lived in the middle of my Point “A” to Point “B” walk to school. We got to know each other reasonably well, and started befriending each other. Although we had some things in common, Guy was a bit of a complemented reflection of me. I was short, he was tall. I was stocky, he was thin. He had an obvious athleticism and was actually able to participate in sports, both at school and intramurally. But he also had a deep curiosity for science and the way things worked; a fact that was made obvious from the time he somehow made an incendiary powder from a kid’s chemistry set. But I digress…
I think one of the things that always drew us to befriend each other was the fact that both of us were outcasts and were picked on and bullied by a lot of people at school who considered themselves better and “cooler” than we were. Back then, there was no such thing as cyberbullying or using words to inflict harm, not that I’m belittling people who feel targeted now. But during my childhood, being bullied meant you were beaten to a pulp by one and/or many assailants. It seemed less prominent with him; maybe because he could walk both sides of the line with the sports side of the social circle and outside of it.
It wasn’t until the late 80’s that I realized he had a lot in common as well. We were sitting in his living room, eating chips and watching a martial arts movie (he was eating chips. I was sitting there snack-less). I had been dabbling in the martial arts for a couple of years at this point and had tried a couple of different schools. Nothing suited my health and purpose. That’s when Guy told me he studied karate. As was my custom, I started asking some key questions such as why he did it, what was required and why I had never seen him use it. He explained that martial arts didn’t require strength or speed, going in. It simply required commitment, dedication and the willingness to concentrate. He went on to explain that I had never seen him use his karate, not even in a bullying situation, because if he harmed someone else using the skills he was taught, he would be no better than they were.
To be honest, I thought he was full of shit and didn’t know karate. I figured he was just talking big and had actually never studied the martial arts. I mean, we were just about ten years old, full of pomp, piss and vinegar. Kids often say the damnedest things, and most often to impress their peers. I thought nothing more on it, until a later time when I called him on it and he challenged me to a “friendly” sparring match… Then he kicked the living shit out of me. Keeping in mind that my martial skills were far from their peak, I still had some rudimentary martial arts skills and should have been able to hold my own. That is, against an untrained opponent who had never actually done karate. This was obviously not the case with Guy.
A few weeks later when I was contemplating the next step in my martial arts journey, I considered the fact that Guy seemed not only skilled and competent, but there seemed to be almost a flow to his movement when we sparred. It seemed effortless. I decided that it might be worth looking into, so I called him. You know, since we’re talking about a time when texting wasn’t a thing and you actually had to dial someone on a shared, home phone and hope that your parents weren’t listening in. I called him up and explained that I was interested in trying out at his karate school. I asked him the usual questions, tuition cost, days and time, etc…
Curiously, he’d say “hold on a second” and talk to someone off the line after every question before providing a response. It didn’t dawn on me at the time that he was asking all these questions to someone who was there in his house. I would come to find out the following week that his instructor was none other than his father, my Sensei. In some ways, a lot of ways, if I had never befriended Guy, I never would have found Uechi Ryu Karate. As Jean de la Fontaine once said, “A person often meets his destiny on the road he took to avoid it.”
From that point on, Guy and I became brothers. We grew up together and progressed together through the many challenges that young life threw at us, including karate. And of course, we enjoyed many more intense sparring matches that became more and more evenly matched as the years and my skills progressed. I was reminded of this last week, when Guy wished me a Happy New Year and sent me this photo:
The photo is dark and old, and I believe it’s from 2000 or 2001, but I’m actually wearing a shirt, tie and vest as we were going to a formal dance. I had my back to him he had my current girlfriend at the time hold a camera at the ready and asked me to turn around. When I did, he delivered a roundhouse kick to my face! Ah, brotherly love! I like to think that the fact I got my hands up in the blink of an eye before the kick was delivered speaks to the level of intensity I had back then, but he rang my bell pretty good.
We’ve grown somewhat apart in the past decade. We both got married and built families of our own. And of course, the fact I live on the opposite end of the country now kind of prevents even the occasional visit. But as is evidenced by the obvious smile on both our faces in that photo (mine might be pain, I honestly can’t remember), the brotherhood and connection will never be lost. And such is the way of it with family. The years come and the years go, but the memories remain. ☯