by Stephen LaBounty (2007-09-25)
Stephen LaBounty

When you first walked into the Kenpo school on Ocean Avenue in San Francisco, the one thing that caught your attention was the looming post in the middle of the workout floor. Diligent, new students running around in their karategi, pant legs shrunk up around to their knees due to the "superior" fabric used in construction. At this point allow me to comment that I haven't seen so many ugly legs ever! I mean some of my fellow classmates personified the term "buggy whip legs"... But I digress.

I had come from a Judo discipline and already had my uniform. Though it was thick, San Francisco had some cold, foggy nights where the thickness got me warmed up quicker than my classmates. I was finally approached by a wiry, bespectacled, red headed man wearing white belt with four brown tips on it. He asked if I needed help---this after sitting through a couple of classes two days in succession---and then he explained the costs involved in training with that school. For the first three months, $15.00 per month; after three months, $12.50 per month for the next three months. If you were still around after six months, the cost dropped to $10.00 per month for the duration. I agreed. Heck I was an up-and-coming fry cook and probably would be in the big money soon.

I took my first class with a young man named Mike Athanasatos, who for 1/2 of an hour showed me the "basics". Now I could go into the class with the beginners, which I did. I was shown the "list" required to get your first tip (no colors at that time). There were about eleven techniques for beginners and about thirteen for advanced. The first, "Two hand lapel grab from the front", was pretty slick, except I kept pulling my partner in to throw him. His name was Rupert Farr. He was about 6'4" and 225# and was getting a bit annoyed at the constant foul-up of the newbie. When the time came for me to attack him, I received my first handsword to the throat that froze me in my tracks. Now I knew I was a karate guy.

The next day, sore butt muscles and all, I went to Chinatown and purchased my first karategi. A kind of yellowish, coarse set of pajamas with a closure tie on the breast and another at the waist. The cost: $4.50. Wow, my Judo Gi had cost $25.00 which was a lot of money. On first washing it shrunk as predicted and now I was one of the guys for sure, but with better legs.

The journey had begun. I had now realized the different application of my muscle groups and was heavily investing in the Bayer aspirin company for those first weeks. But I was definitely bit.