First up today is a book excerpt from Memoirs of a Karate Fighter.
Novelist and former karate champion Ralph Robb recounts his experiences at one of Europe’s toughest dojos and provides an insight into the philosophy and training methods of a club which produced national, European and world titleholders. In a hard-hitting story, Ralph tells of the fights on and off the mat; his experiences as one of a very few black residents in an area in which racist members of the National Front were very active; and the tragic descent into mental illness and premature death of the training partner who was also his best friend.
As a child growing up, we were poor, living in a poor neighbourhood with a high percentage of immigrants, not only from the Caribbean but also the Indian sub-continent. With childlike ignorance we thought ourselves to be in the same boat, so to speak. Black, white, brown, as kids the term ‘being disadvantaged’ didn’t apply to us. Half of us qualified for free school dinners and school uniforms were often second hand and that was the norm.
One of the main differences from today that jumps out at me, is that of bullying. Today, cyber bullying is a thing. Back then it was physical and it was a way of life. I was bullied and I certainly did my own share of bullying. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying this behaviour should ever be accepted but it was almost a rite of passage that determined a pecking order. Sometimes it did go too far, such as the times a certain individual would wait for me after school forcing me to take a different route home every day while praying I didn’t run into him.There was no complaining to parents or teachers of your problems, so I had to solve it myself. Which I did, with the aid of an old golf club I’d found in a dumpster. Again, not the sort of behaviour I would now endorse but it was over forty years ago.
Life was carefree and for the most part, I enjoyed it to the max. Loving the hours I would spend at the local park where football games would last hours, with players constantlydrifting in and out of the game. Having to leave, returning later once dinner had been eaten, or a paper-round completed, or those household chores that my mom said just had to be done.
Despite thoroughly enjoying my childhood, there was a blight on my memories. It came in the form of a local Wolverhampton MP – Enoch Powel. His infamous ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech was made when I was about seven years of age. I was too young to fully understand its implications but even at that age I understood the worrying effect it had on family members and older people in the community. This was probably the first time I became aware that people were being attacked on the streets for being black or brown.
One Friday night, shortly after we had left the Colosseum, Clinton, Errol and I had been chased by a gang of white men armed with clubs. Probably frustrated that they could not find an unaccompanied victim, they had decided to stop their car and chase three teenage boys. We scattered and I ducked into an alley that led into back streets and rear gardens. The men must have sensed easy prey and followed me into the dark. I couldn’t understand it, I was a good athlete but my legs refused to respond, it was as if I were running in a tank of treacle. Breathing hard, I rounded another corner – and something hit me. The impact was severe; arms and legs violently clashed as our bodies collapsed onto the hard ground. Fearing imminent death, I screamed out loud.
“Shut up,” croaked a familiar voice, “this way.” It was Clinton: he had returned to help me.
After a short distance we had to scale a high wire-mesh fence. Within moments the men were on the other side furiously growling obscenities and shaking the mesh but we all knew that there was no way they were going to get over the fence. As they continued to hurl their threats, I wanted to get away but Clinton stood his ground with an air of contemptuous indifference. I stared on in disbelief as he opened his flies and began pissing through the mesh. Almost hysterical with rage, the men jumped back, as if Clinton’s urine was a deadly acid.
On trembling legs, I ran back to the cinema with Clinton hoping to see Errol and to look for the safety of a crowd. “So, Ralph,” he said to me, as we slowed down to walking pace, “are you going to start training with the rest of us?”
Ralph Robb was born and raised in the industrial town of Wolverhampton, England and now lives in Ontario Canada with his wife, cat and dog. A proud father of four, Robb works as an engineering technician and loves rugby, martial arts and a good book. His world is balanced by quality TV, global events, great outdoors and of course his grand-daughter.