This has taken me 43 years to commit to writing, I hope it resonates with those that read it...
The last few nights I have been walking my dogs and looking up at the moon. The moon was a welcome sight when I was a very young child. It illuminated my nights and made my room not so dark. The dark terrified me. That wasn't always the case. The first house I remember living in was at 48 Rockingham Street, Toledo Ohio. It was a great house, not new even in 1969. It was a big house with lots of character, a big back yard, and lots of kids on the block. I was adventurous as a child. Walking across Cherry Street at age three looking for my father scared my mother to death, but I felt secure and confident. The world was mine to explore.
That all changed in a single Saturday afternoon.
Playing outside with the neighborhood kids, as I did often, was very common when I was younger. The late 1960s were a very different time. Children were much more safe out in their neighborhoods. The clanging of the dinner bell was what we listened for while we played. Each house had its own tone, and as long as you could still hear the bell, you were close enough to home to be safe from parents’ anger or missing a meal. As a little group, we often entered each others’ houses, and got water and snacks before running out again to play in the front yards and driveways. This was so common that we rarely even acknowledged others’ family members that weren’t in our age group. Boys and girls together, streaming in and out of houses, playing in the sun, carefree and happy.
One Saturday when I was about five years old, the gang was doing our Saturday routine of playing and house hopping. We got to one house we always went into, got our water, and started making our way out the side door. I was the last in the ragtag group to make it to the door and felt myself grabbed hard at the arm and pulled down the adjacent flight of stairs toward the basement. I recognized the person pulling me as my friend’s older brother. Although I was surprised, I wasn't worried. He was after all someone that I knew.
I remember that he was swearing and breathing very heavily. His grip was very solid as he pulled me down the stairs to the partially finished basement. I'd been here before, as all the kids had many times, seeing the laundry area and the work shop that was set up in part of the basement. I knew this basement, it was very much like the one I had at my house. Pulling me to one side of the basement, the older brother was now grunting and almost thrashing.
He was talking to me in a deep voice , "If you ever say anything about this, I'll kill your family. First your mom and your dad, then I'll kill you..."
As he pushed me to the floor close to the piles of dirty laundry, I tried to resist and stand back up. He turned off all the lights, leaving the only the light in the stairwell on for illumination. He caught me and pulled off one of my shoes as he pinned me to the floor. His clothes began to disappear as he grabbed my hair and pawed at my clothes like a wild animal. As I squirmed, he lost patience and pulled my head toward his exposed groin. I have no complete recollection of the next event, but soon my pulled-off shoe ended up in my hand and I was swinging wildly at his erection, hitting him over and over. The entire attack felt like it lasted forever. It may have only been moments - I don't really remember that part...
In reflex from the pain, his hand released my hair as he repeated that he was going to kill me and I ran for all I was worth to the stairs. At the top of the stairs I pulled my clothes back together and ran home with my shoe in my hand. Before I got to the door of my house I put my shoe back on and tried to stop crying. My mother asked what was wrong and I told her I had fallen, pointing to a scraped knee I’d suffered tripping back up the stairs.
I never said a word to my parents about what had happened. But I was changed permanently.
That first night was the first time i had asked my mother to leave the hall light on. When she came in to wake me in the morning, all the lights in my room were on and I was sitting up already, awake and pretending I was ready to face the world. It was a horrible lie. So much had been taken from me that even I didn't realize it.
I almost immediately stopped taking piano lessons because I couldn't stand to be alone in a room with someone I didn't know well. I stopped venturing off my front lawn and often my front porch. I didn't go into a basement voluntarily for more than 11 years. I never went to visit my friends again. I never stayed overnight at a friend’s house. The dark started to terrify me. Terrified me. The moon became my friend as it illuminated my room when my mother finally turned off the room lights to try and get me to sleep. Every creak and grown of the old house that I found so fun just months before made me shudder. It felt good to get away from the noises of the house, but I was too afraid to be anywhere else, so the Catch-22 of my life started in full swing. By age six I was checking the locks over and over before going to bed. I looked under my bed dozens of times, blocked the closet doors, and made sure my room door was kept open so I could escape if he came for me in the middle of the night. When we moved to another house on the other side of town I thought that I would feel better. It was a new house, but I felt the same way. Even the act of climbing stairs was something that worried me and I practiced running the stairs, over and over, faster and faster, all the time the vision of being chased and caught on my mind.
I grew up afraid.
As a big kid, I was often picked on, and I simply took the abuse. It didn't bother me physically, but I didn't really know how to fight back, so I would just stand there. My nights were filled with night terrors of not being to outrun the shadowy figure springing up a flight of stairs out of a basement.
My family and I moved to London when I was 10. I thought that my concerns about someone killing me and my parents would go away, but the fears were so engrained in me that I had become accustomed to the strange things I did to make sure that where I slept was secure. This went on until I started high school. By then I could run the stairs of my house in moments, and the locks and door handles were as secure as any door in the city of London. Yet I still needed lights on at night to get any sleep at all. I grew up with my world feeling different than everyone else's, but after so many years, the strange things that I did to make myself calm seemed commonplace to me. My fear was so ingrained that it permeated everything I did. I was rarely alone, but always felt isolated. I hated being afraid, but hated worse that I always had a sense that danger lurked around every corner. I just wanted to feel like everyone else around me seemed to feel, comfortable, at ease...just for a while at least.
Entering my freshman year in high school I knew I was socially awkward. I had not dated anyone, or even hung out socially with my classmates. I just couldn't make myself want to be in a new environment.
A martial artist came to our school. He offered to start a club in the school and I jumped at the chance to do an activity that was in a place I knew well, especially something that sounded fun. At first, the class was packed with my classmates, but soon the group had whittled down to a small, dedicated group. When the school decided to have the club move off campus, I ended up being the only student who was thinking about making the move to the new location as well.
Moving the club off the school grounds almost made me quit martial arts before I had really begun, but I was so tired of being afraid that I struck out to the squash courts where the classes had been moved to. At 14, I was the youngest in the class, and certainly the most isolated. My instructors slowly broke down my wall of fear. I learned that anyone can defend themselves given the right techniques and the right attitude. My instructors made me understand that my safety was as much about attitude as it was about kicking, punching and joint locks. I slowly had to come out of my shell, move beyond the wall I had built. When I realized that my mind was my biggest anchor to my fear it was like releasing a backpack full of bricks, and I knew that I didn't want anyone else to have to live with this level of burden if I could help it.
My mother was aghast at my bruises and scrapes from training hours a day, 7 days a week. Epsom salt bathes became a regular thing to relieve pain in my muscles and joints, but I loved EVERY minute of it. I absorbed every technique that I could, a thirst for knowledge that was not only great fun, but started to remove the veil from my self-imposed, isolated life. I slowly started to have more interest in interacting with others, and was soon teaching small groups of beginner students. The decade of terror was replaced in pieces with new confidence and security. My sense of adventure and zeal for life began to return.
Knowing I could defend myself and those around me not only allowed a release for the years of pent up fear, but it made me realize that I truly had a mission in my life; To make sure that no one I would ever meet should fear life, and try to impart this sense of security I now felt growing daily. For the first time in years I started to feel like everyone else around me.
When I entered college, I began to see that there were so many people who had things in their lives that had left them feeling at least in part as I had, and I knew that if given a chance, I could make a difference to how they lived their lives. I wanted to help them take back those little pieces of control that can make life wonderful.
My confidence that I could keep people safe and my background in martial arts kills soon made me a sought after bodyguard and teacher of Hapkido, but for me, the most important thing was seeing how the people that trained with me started to feel that they could take back control of their lives, and knowing that if they needed help I was right there in their corner.
This is the story of how I was led to my profession, but it is a large part of who I am, and I hope it proves a source of inspiration to anyone wondering how to regain some control in their lives and feel a sense of peace in knowing you can defend yourself and take back your life.
Contact me and let me show you how learning Hapkido and self defense skills can make you stronger and more confident in your life.