Ninja Trait #10: Gifted Speech

When Gam was in Japan, she was invited to attend some fancy dinner reception for the Karate Association’s upcoming tournament.

Mid mingling, a stone-faced Japanese gentleman walked up to her and looked her square in the eye.

“My brother died in Hiroshima,” he stated coldly.

“And I lost my brother in Pearl Harbor,” she returned.

The man stared blankly.

“It appears we both have much to forgive,” Gam said.

The man softened and bowed. Gam bowed in return.

—-

“I didn’t know you had a brother!” her karate teacher whispered as they walked away.

“Oh, I didn’t,” she replied. “I was an only child.”

Tomorrow, Ninja Trait #1: Loyalty

Ninja Savasana

Gam always told me that one day I’d realize the value of being flexible.

She’s always been a bit of a bean pole. A human rubber band. Which was excellent for her karate at the dojo, her Tai Chi classes at Riddle, and the occasional games of Twister at a certain eight-year-old’s birthday party.

(As well as a few other things I honestly wished she wouldn’t have told me about, but I digress.)

Ouch

Once I attended a yoga class with her at Riddle–taught by a young gal about my age who was beyond wonderful with the ladies. Super patient, amazingly enthusiastic, ridiculously encouraging.

Yoga looks a little different with a senior crowd. Downward Facing Dogs are performed upright with a lot less bark for their bite, and the most impressive Savasanas are secured from the comfort of a folding chair–although “comfort” might not be the word chosen by the ladies in Gam’s class. 

What a sweet teacher. She approached each move with grace and patience, rewarding completion of the simplest poses with a “good job, ladies” and “wow, we’re sweatin’ butter now!”

Gam, however, was never satisfied with a simple stretch. She had to push it. Why was I surprised?

What were painstaking movements of right-arm-stretched-slighty-to-left-side became effortless full body contortions for Gam–partly for the challenge, but mostly for the show-off.

She’d throw her entire right side all the way to the left side–well past her ear, far past her waist, and all the way down to the floor. With a “WHEE!” and a giggle.

You could hear winces, gasps, and even eye rolls from those with a lot less dexterity. And a lot less patience for her theatrics.

“Your grandma’s quite the rubber band,” the instructor remarked. “She’s makes me smile.”

“She makes me sick,” a classmate mumbled.

I didn’t know whether to apologize or laugh, but I did the latter.

After all, it’s good to be flexible.

She’s Wild About the Sports Editor-And Karate


That’s the title of  feature Gam wrote for The Bulletin after her ninja prowess brought her from copy girl to staff reporter at the Philadelphia Inquirer. (She was the first female reporter in Philly.)

I found a copy of the feature and the photos they published alongside it. It’s so “her”–her voice, her style, her spunk–and I’m shamelessly proud. Enjoy!

She’s Wild About the Sports Editor–And Karate

by PATRICIA WILSON (Wife of Sports Editor Jack)

–Honor Blackman wrote a 12-part series for The Bulletin’s women’s pages last year on self defense. She has a brown belt in judo and chums around with James Bond.

I have a brown belt in karate, and James Bond can’t compare with my chum, my husband.

Dorothy Masterman contends, therefore, that I’m also qualified to write for The Bulletin–for Between Editions, that is.

“Tell us,” Dorothy suggested, “about your trip to Japan.”

“Shucks,” I protested, “that’s been so long ago–May, 1966–that I’m ready to go back.”

“Well, tell us about the girls’ self defense course you’re teaching at Drexel,” Dorothy said.

I alibied again–“I haven’t been teaching there long enough.”

Suggestion No. 3: “Just tell us about your karate.”

I’m sure she had a fourth suggestion, and a fifth, and a sixth. There is no defense, karate or judo, against Dorothy Masterman. So . . .

I started karate lessons about three years ago, for two reasons: (1) it looked like fun, and (2) I was frightened by the racial demonstrations in Chester and by a shacky delivery man who went beserk on our lawn and almost bit our dog.

Maybe I should have sent the dog to karate. I’m glad I didn’t. It has been delightful and rewarding.

My teacher, primarily, has been Teruyuki Okazaki, the high priest of this karate business. He’s a sixth degree black belt, which sort of means he could fight off the entire Eagles’ team.

The training is strenuous, but constant drills condition you. The theory is to use all the muscles in your body when striking a blow with your arm or leg, and to deliver the blow with maximum speed.

You strive to increase speed, improve techniques and sharpen reflexes. And the aim of karate, so the gospel goes, is the “perfection of the character of its participants. ”

Mr. Okazaki seems to be successful in achieving both his physical and spiritual goals. I’ve seen butterballs taper their shapes not long after they joined the club, and I’ve witnessed a sharp change of attitude in men who had appeared to be arrogant bullies.

My husband and I have found many fine friends in the club, but none more delightful than the six college students who were on a goodwill world tour, representing Takushuko University.

They had names like Hirochiki, Jinzu, Shigaeo, too tangled to digest in a couple of days. So we christened them, temporarily, Harry, Joe, Kuno, Charlie, Paul and George.

They had driven 175,00 miles all over the world and had been sleeping most of the time in their Izuzu truck. We invited them to stay at our house. They were happy as teenagers at the seashore.

Every day they’d roll the Izuzu, Japanese flags flapping, to Notre Dame High to bring my daughter home from school. They helped my son build the most sensational snow man ever on our lawn–a 35 foot reclining Bhudda. Every night they strummed a Japanese ukelele and softly sang songs like “My Darring Crementine.”

“Mother Goose,” they pleaded before they left, “you must visit us in Japan.”

Mother Goose spent the next several weeks trying to convince Father Gander she should fly to Japan. Didn’t I tell you my husband was nicer than James Bond? He let me go.

When I landed at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport on May 12, all six of the boys, their parents, relatives and girl friends were furiously waving signs splashed with “Kangai Oksasar Gaucho.” My Bertliz dictionary said that meant, “Welcome Mother Goose.”

I never felt more welcome. For 28 days they provided constant escort duty. I visited the Imperial Palace, the Shinto and Bhuddist shrines.

I ate bean paste soup and rice balls wrapped in seaweed for breakfast. I chop-sticked sukiyaki in their homes. I ate an eel in a drive-in.

I trained in their karate dojos and sparred with a man who 10 days later was to become national champion of Japan.

I was transported, in a red Honda convertible, to Osaka, Kobe, Nara, Isse, Nikko and Atami. I was “Tosca” in the Kabuki Theater. I got the wholesale treatment at the pearl markets.

It’s all so memorable, but I think mostly about the funny things–

Like driving 14 hours on mountain roads to the Dake Spa on Mt. Bandai. It was 28 degrees. I was led to a steaming bath (ladies only), and the maid had to do double duty as a life guard. Nobody told me the bath was four feet deep.

Like the first time I visited the benjo (ladies’ room) in a restaurant. I walked in, screeched, U-turned and ran out. Nobody told me you had to walk through the men’s room, in full use, to get to the ladies room. (For future visits, my friends cleared the men’s room, then blocked the outer door.)

Like the time I had tea at Kuni’s mother’s and munched on the rice cookie. Nobody told me it was a coaster, not a cookie.

Like the time I insisted we all wear kimonos to go cabereting. I think they had to borrow my kimono from a sumo wrestler. Nobody told me that very few Japanese are taller than 5-7.

And like the time I phoned the clerk at the New Otani Hotel and asked for eight coat hangers. The manager and his frantic staff were at my door in half a minute. Everyone told me that in my pidgin Japanese, I actually said “I’ve hanged myself eight times.”

I was getting homesick, so I was able to survive the tears and sadness of my sayonara party. There were just as many at the airport to say goodbye as there were for my welcome. This time the signs said, in English with a touch of Japanese humor, “Prease Come Back.”

Karate was the beginning of many happy memories. Now it’s the source of a new experience. Last January, the women’s phys-ed department at Drexel invited me to teach self-defense–not karate. I taught four hours a week. My two classes, totaling 48 girls, each trained two hours. It’s about the same for this spring semester.

It is beginning to sound like I neglect the skillet and vacuum cleaner? Honest, I don’t. I seem to have more energy than ever.

And a doctor friend of Jack’s made another point.

“Your lucky with Pat taking that karate,” the friend told Jack. “You know Mary and I are great partners. But I have three operations, a tough day, come dragging home and she wants to be entertained with small talk. You don’t have that problem. You get home and Pat’s more tired than you are. She’s been fighting truck drivers at the gymnasium.”

And that’s my story. I must go now and break the ironing board.

Sayonara!

—-

Isn’t she fabulous?