The Old Man and the Gi


By Dave Jaffe

At age 64, I began my martial arts studies because waffles were winning.

While my weight had fluctuated throughout my youth, now I was having trouble dropping extra pounds. My Thin Dave jeans that usually fit too tight in February, then merely snug by mid spring, now hung lonely on the closet clothes bar waaaay down thataway.

I’d grown too sedentary. Friends recommended jogging but that seemed too much like running. I wouldn’t swim at the local pool out of body shame and the very real threat to others from the water I displaced. Pickleball? I don’t even know what that means.

Karate then, I reckoned, would take best advantage of my physique’s natural ability to watch martial arts movies.

One of the fundamental skills to master in the martial arts is to fall safely. Much of the karate student’s training is spent either in the air or in the air and about to hit the ground. Unless you are Carla, a proficient throwee, who is strong, fast, and 12 years old. I respect her skill as much as I resent her youth.

Learning to fall properly requires more discipline and practice than just drinking heavily, tumbling off a barstool, then repeating. Attention must be paid to tucking your head, rolling to your shoulder, then slapping the ground to absorb the impact and protect your hands and wrists. This method dates back to the ancient martial arts masters who perfected the technique in ancient saloons by drinking heavily, tumbling off ancient barstools, then repeating.

As an older person mature to the point of decrepitude, I no longer hang out in bars. I rarely even drive through neighborhoods that have bars. And if I do, doors are locked, windows are rolled up, eyes are locked forward, forehead is covered in sweat, and there’s a lot of fearful whimpering until I’ve passed the town border. So why learn how to fall?

The answer came one night in the bedroom, although not as kinky as that implies. It’s a story I call, “How Karate Saved My Life and I Wasn’t Even In a Bar Fight, or Anything!”

Okay, title needs a little work.

Preparing for bed as usual one night, I slipped off my socks. Then practicing my fadeaway jump shot, I flipped the socks across the room to land on and hang from the closet doorknob, a feat that only the legendary Jim Thorpe could accomplish.

The low chest behind me had other ideas.

I’ve never trusted that chest. My wife says it’s decorative like the bed pillows, which I also don’t trust. The chest, at least, is useful, providing me a space to store old TV wiring that cable technicians have handed me after a service call. I’m cautious about throwing them out in case there’s still carrying some electricity.

Coming down to land, Michael Jordan-like, from my buzzer beater, my calf encountered that chest’s leading edge. The chest gave an encouraging, “Hi! Mind if I kill you?” and I went toppling.

According to Freud, the human mind is directed by three elements: the Id, the Ego, and the Santa Maria. The Id is the primitive, instinctive, inhaler-using component of personality. The Ego is that cool, rational part responsible for dealing with reality and talking with police officers. The Santa Maria will not be on the final.

During that long, telescoping time tunnel of personal perception that occurs when we find ourselves in mortal danger, these attributes hold discussions to assess actions and outcomes.

EGO: (Casually stubbing out cigarette on shoe heel.) “So … you know, you’re going down? Just an FYI.”


EGO: “Oh, good! Then you know. That’ll save some time. I’ve a few thoughts, if you don’t mind.”


EGO: “Okay! First, nice shot with the socks! Second, this doesn’t necessarily have to end in us … ya’ know … dying. We might have a nice option.”


EGO: “Look, if you could take it down juuuust a couple notches. I’m trying to think, here.”

ID: “Eeyyah!!!”

EGO: “Thanks ever so! Now, do I have it right that the Big Galoot’s studying karate?”

SANTA MARIA: (In a sing-song) “In fourteen-hundred-and-ninety-two, Columbus sailed the—”

EGO: “Shut up, you! Get back in your crate! (Continuing) Anyway, Iddy, that primitive, instinctual, fight-or-flight stuff is more your bag than mine. But I think if you have the Big Galoot twist to the right, tuck his head, roll to his shoulder, and slap the ground to absorb the impact and protect his hands and wrists … wouldn’t that help?”

ID: “Eeyyah???”

EGO: “Yeah, I guess like that. But you’re running the controls right now. Whatever you think best, I’ll go along.”


EGO: “Here we go! Oh, what a lovely window dressing! Never saw it from this angle.”

I did as I was told and with what we in the martial arts refer to as a “thud,” rolled in a circular motion and came up in a crouch. I froze in that position for a few moments to assess if blood was geysering from any new holes in my body, and if, as I was beginning to suspect, I was still alive.

From downstairs, my wife called. “Did you hear that?”

Marshalling my remaining cognitive abilities, I responded in a shaky, but reassuring voice, “Hear what?”

So, no blood, no breaks, no bruises. Just the satisfaction and confidence that karate saved my life. Oh, and I didn’t pee myself!


Columnist Dave Jaffe is the author of the national award-winning Sleeping between Giants Book 1: Life, If You Could Call It That, With A Terrier, and the recently released Sleeping between Giants Book 2, Ask a Terrier: Professional Advice from a Licensed Dog.

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