I walked up the steep stairs and found myself surrounded by hundreds of martial arts photographs and newspaper clippings, clearly depicting a long and meaningful legacy of training and tradition. I was soon greeted by a warm and friendly "Hello" that made me feel right at home, although I was far from home.
This was downtown Manhattan, a neighborhood that some consider quite dangerous. For me it was part of my martial arts touring and training; tryin to get exposed to as much martial knowledge as I could.
The man put out his hand, and with a smile from ear to ear said, "Welcome, my name is David". His large hand enveloped mine and the warmth of his handshake made me feel like we were old friends. Later I was to discover that this kind fellow who introduced himself simply as "David", was none other than the renowned martial arts expert Professor David James, 5th dan black belt and successor to Grand Master Professor Vee (short for Visitacion) of the Vee Arnis Jitsu school of self-defense. His humility was that of a true master of the martial arts, of life itself.
Note: I am updating this blog, the year is now 2020, and it must have been 20 years or longer since this encounter. I can tell you that at this very moment I can still feel that handshake, I can still feel the warmth and kindness, I can still see his big smile. Once again I am on those stairs walking up to the dojo in downtown Chambers street, and I feel the beauty of this encounter. Do we ever really understand the power of genuine kindness?
I told him I was only visiting and thus, I was not really a potential student. I like to be honest and not misleading. With most school owners that would end the conversation. David James maintained the same happy smile and invited me to attended a few classes, at no charge whatsoever! I was being welcomed as a fellow black belt instructor. He said he would be honored to have me join them.
Of course I was thrilled. I returned the next week for two classes. The lessons I would learn from David would stay with me. Years later I can still feel his presence, I can still relive the classes.
The first lesson was his true martial character; his humility, his generosity, his ability to see the martial arts as a pure pursuit and not only as a business.
During the class David was a dynamo. He moved around talking to everyone, motivating them and pushing everyone to their limit. Clearly his enthusiasm was being communicated to his students as they too encouraged one another. Here were two valuable lessons; 1. Always be enthusiastic in your teaching, and 2, Each student must be a good partner; if it is not your turn to hit or kick but only to hold the bag, then you should actively encourage and motivate your partner to do his or her best. As a result it was an amazing, high energy class.
During the class I saw David turn periodically to a large folder. I noticed he had hundreds of lesson plans, clearly organized and well constructed Since then I have followed his example and now I have a similar binder myself. It is important to come prepared to class.
His students were powerful. I was working with one woman, Marlene, and boy could she pound that bag, and she was just a tiny thing but strong and motivated.
The class was composed of all kinds of different people but I was the only Jewish, or white person there. By the end of the class I was among family. This was true racial integration; one happy martial arts family. The bond of training brings us together. I felt as comfortable as if I were in my home.
The kindness, the camaraderie, the generosity of spirit, the intensity of the training, made it an experience I have never forgotten, and one which I have gained so much from.