Tag Archives: Blind

Karate And Me – Chapter 4 – From Near Tragedy To Triumph

KARATE AND ME

CHAPTER 4 – FROM NEAR TRAGEDY TO TRIUMPH

November 1984 seemed to come around very quickly, it was just four months since my last try at my black belt, that was a miserable attempt and since then I had gone back to training five times a week, it was hard work, but I was determined and Alan was pushing me hard, there were a number of other students of a similar age that were climbing the grades and getting to train with them also, helped to push me on.

But as November started, it all nearly came to an end.

We had a family tradition on Bonfire night, in the half term school holidays, all the kids would go to my Nan’s in the day time, while out parents were at work.  The boys, myself and my two cousins, took responsibility for building the bonfire, I was the youngest at ten, the other two being 14 and 15, the girls took charge of making the Guy and making bonfire toffee with my Nan.

We always made a big bonfire, then on bonfire night, the whole family would descend on my Nan’s, my parents and my Aunty and Uncles would bring a selection of fireworks and we would all enjoy the evening.

This year my cousin decided to add a little extra to the proceedings, somehow he managed to find a recipe to make homemade bangers.  All of the components were available for even a 10 year old like myself to buy over the counter, so we made a number of these in varying sizes.  They worked, in fact the worked better than the over the counter bangers that could be bought at that time, a few years later these would be made illegal, but back then bangers were common at bonfire night.

I wasn’t involved in setting any of them off, my cousin did, I must add, under the supervision of my uncle and at no point was anything considered unsafe.  The night was going well and everyone was enjoying themselves.

As the evening went on I began to feel my eye starting to itch, I rubbed it, but it got worse and worse, getting more irritating as the night went on, eventually I went to my Mum, who took me inside to take a look, then it became obvious that something was wrong.  My eye was far worse than just itchy, my eye lids were red raw!

Immediately my Mum and Dad took me to hospital, surprisingly it was quiet, so we were seen quite quickly.  The nurses in casualty  were concerned and called a Doctor that specialised in eye injuries.

It transpired that both my eye lids were burnt, it would seem that something and probably the sellotape that we used in the bangers had gone into my eye.  The Doctor stated that I was lucky, I must have blinked at that moment, because my eye lids were both burnt, but there was no damage to my eye itself.  Had I not blinked, the melting sellotape would have gone directly into my eye and almost definitely left me blind in that eye.

I had had a lucky escape, just superficial burning, I was sent home with paste to put onto my eye lids at regular intervals, but other than that I was fine, just an eye that was uncomfortable due to the scabbing of both eye lids.

They say things can change in the blink of an eye, I learnt the truth of that sentance on that day.

I went to karate on the next night, it was a normal Tuesday training session, I went only to watch, not take part, my eye still looked a mess, though I could still use it. Alan then broke the news that there was another grading on the Saturday, up in Newcastle, he could get me a lift there and he wanted me to try again.

Between Alan, my Dad and myself it was decided I would go for it again on Saturday, as my eye was mainly just cosmetic and not anything permanent, it wasn’t too much to worry about.

So Saturday morning I left my house about five in the morning, a parent of some of my club mates took me to Lincoln, there I met up with one of the seniors from our Lincoln club, who walked me to his sister’s house and she took us both up to Gateshead, near Newcastle.

We had set off early and then arrived early too, that gave us plenty of time to put in the grading forms, both Simon and myself were grading, so Simon copied the details of my previous grading form and submitted my new forms.

This was only the second time I had trained with Enoeda Sensei, my previous black belt gradings had been under a different examiner.  Enoeda Sensei was an imposing character, he just had that air that he carried with him, he looked serious and really did scare me.  I was on my own in the training, I was with all these kids I didn’t know, whilst Simon trained with the adults.  We practiced a series of moves, in a combination that involved a number of turns, then Sensei requested we get into groups of three.

All the other kids around me obviously knew each other, they all got into groups very quickly and when I looked around there were no other kids to go with, I was on my own.  So I just carried on practicing the combination on my own, whilst everyone else practiced in groups.  That was when I saw Enoeda Sensei coming my way, I panicked, I kept my head down and just did what I was doing as best as I could, after I finished the combination, I looked up to see him stood right next to me, I expected a telling off for not getting into a group with the others, then I saw him smile at me and raise one of his hands to give me a thumbs up.  Wow, I expected being shouted at, I was almost ready to cry, my shy and nervous side was ready to explode, but that smile, that thumbs up, just washed away all those nerves, after that my energy levels seemed to double, I was on cloud nine, I was flying.

There was a bit of waiting around after training, whilst the next group trained, then the grading itself started.  The younger kids were usually first, so I was in one of the first groups of six called up.  My name was called and I took my place in the line before Sensei, then there seemed to be a pause, something was being discussed on the table, then Sensei pointed at me and called me to the table, my heart sunk, all the positivity of the mornings thumbs up was now ebbing away.

I walked to the table, Sensei asked my name, I responded nervously, he asked when I last grading, I told him the it was one year ago, then he asked who old I was, I said I was ten, then he pointed at the paperwork and that smile came over his face once again, with a big laugh in his voice he bellowed out for all to hear;

“It says here, you one year old!!!”

I looked down at the paperwork and to my horror, Simon had put my date of birth as my last grading date the previous November and in that box put my date of birth, it was an obvious mistake, but Sensei saw the funny side, normally he would probably have rejected the paperwork, but he laughed with me as he corrected the paperwork and with that same smile I saw from him earlier that morning he sent me back to my place in the line up.

But once again, Sensei’s smile had put me back on cloud nine, I went back to the line, gave everything I had and waiting with the rest for the result.  Back then you sat through everyone else’s gradings and waited to be called up again, if you were called up a second time for another kata, you had pretty much passed, unless you messed up that kata, I was called up a second time, flew through the kata and a little late my pass was confirmed.

Simon hadn’t passed, but you couldn’t tell, he was over the moon for me, it seemed it meant more that I passed than the result of his grading, he never showed any disappointment, I’m sure he had some, but he did a great job of hiding it.  We found a pay phone (no mobiles back in 1984) and I called my Dad and told him the news, I remember us both being in tears on the phone.

I don’t remember the ride home, it was long, but it passed so quickly, I got home and within minutes Alan turned up at the house, he was over the moon, I could see it in his face, he always took great pride in any of his students passing their black belt, but it seemed more so with me.

The next few days were interesting, there weren’t many ten year old black belts back then, especially not in Nottinghamshire, Alan contacted the papers and I had arrangements for interviews and photoshoots.  One of the papers came to my house and photographed me in my front room, another arranged to come to my school, it was a little embarrassing to have to perform barefooted in a wet school playgroup, in front of a handful of friends, whilst being photographed, although that paper did give me the nick name the mighty atom!

The previous day I had been mentioned in the local paper, not by name, but I was listed as being the only Bonfire night casualty in the Newark area, not my most shining moment, then just seven days later, I made the paper for all the right reasons.

They were six days that were a complete rollercoaster, from almost losing the sight in one eye to obtaining that black belt.  Then there were those moments during that grading which just changed things, to this day I still feel like I must have been Enoeda Sensei’s favourite student that day, he saw something in me and knew exactly how to respond to my shy and nervous persona, maybe I wasn’t his favourite student, but just for those few hours, it felt like it.

Life can change in the blink of an eye sometimes, had I not blinked that Monday evening, would I have done everything I have since then?  Would I have gone on to get that black belt, well maybe, probably not that day or in those circumstances, but I may have carried on, but everything that I have achieved in Karate since that day, has happened because of that one moment, that one blink.

Back then and through most of my life I haven’t been a Christian, I never believed, but now I firmly believe that at that moment, that blink of an eye was a moment when God’s touch was on my life.  Karate has been a major part of my life, a major part of the good that is in me, even in my lost years of drinking, it was only karate I stayed sober for, I’m sure it kept me alive in those years, it was the only thing that went right for me as the world around me crumbled, had it not been for that blink of an eye, well, I don’t even want to think about that.

BLINK by REVIVE
Teach me to number my days
And count every moment
Before it slips away
Take in all the colors
Before they fade to grey

I don’t want to miss
Even just a second
More of this

It happens in a blink, it happens in a flash
It happens in the time it took to look back
I try to hold on tight, but there’s no stopping time
What is it I’ve done with my life?

It happens in a blink
It happens in a blink

When it’s all said and done
No one remembers
How far we have run
The only thing that matters
Is how we have loved

I don’t want to miss
Even just a second
More of this

It happens in a blink, it happens in a flash
It happens in the time it took to look back
I try to hold on tight, but there’s no stopping time
What is it I’ve done with my life?

It happens in a blink
It happens in a blink
It happens in a blink
It happens in a blink

Slow down
Slow down
Before today becomes
Our yesterday

Slow down
Slow down
Before you turn around
And it’s too late

It happens in a blink, it happens in a flash
It happens in the time it took to look back
I try to hold on tight, but there’s no stopping time
What is it I’ve done with my life?

It happens in a blink, it happens in a flash
It happens in the time it took to look back
I try to hold on tight, but there’s no stopping time
What is it I’ve done with my life?

It happens in a blink
It happens in a blink
It happens in a blink
It happens in a blink

Fireworks, Well Homemade Ones!

I am lucky that 28 years ago today I escaped with both my eyes fully operational.

As a youngster both my parents worked full time, so during school holidays myself, my sister and my four cousins spent the days at my Gran’s small bungalow.  Schools around here break up for a week in October, so the boys spent the week collecting wood and old furniture, in order to build a bonfire in my Gran’s large garden.  We went everywhere around the estate collecting anything that would burn, we would make a bonfire in excess of two meters high, ready for the November 5th bonfire night celebrations.

Our parents would chip in with fireworks, my Mum, Aunts and Gran would make the food and toffee, the girls would make a guy (an effigy of Guy Fawkes), the whole family would then come together for the first time each year, the only other time would be Christmas Day.

And the fireworks fly
And the fireworks fall
But I have seen the best of all
And it’s true, after every charge is through
I can still hear the thunder call
(Fireworks by Brave Saint Saturn)

That year however, myself and my older cousin had spent the holiday’s not only building a bonfire, but building homemade banger fireworks.  I won’t go into the full details of how we made these and the ingredients, but you do need to know that they included sellotape.

We made them in varying sizes, which had differing results, generally they just exploded with a loud bang, louder than the bangers that were available to buy in the UK in 1984.  They had power too, one large banger could provide enough force to lift a galvanised dustbin lid several feet into the air!

As the night went along, our parents set of many legal fireworks and my cousin and I set off our homemade bangers, everyone was enjoying themselves, the 10 year old me included, but then my eye started to itch, it gradually got worse.

It itched more and more, the more I rubbed it the worse the irritation and then the pain got, so I had to show my parents.  Inside, in the light, it was clear that something wasn’t right, both my eye lids were raw, not just from the rubbing, but something more sinister.  There was no alternative, hospital, so off I went with my parents whilst the others continued the celebrations.

For a bonfire night, the hospital was rather quiet, so I was seen almost immediately.  The Doctor said it was clear that there was burning to both the upper and lower eye lids, but amazingly no damage seemed to have been done to the eye itself, he said I was lucky, I must have blinked as a spark or whatever it was had shot into my eye, in doing so protecting the eye from impact and an almost certain loss of some or all the sight in that eye.

It would appear that the sellotape used in the construction had melted on ignition and shot into my eye, I never notice the impact, only the itching sometime later, but luckily as the Doctor stated I must have inadvertently blinked, which save my sight.

I was the only bonfire night casualty in the town that year, I made the local paper, although due to my age at the time they didn’t mention me by name.  I would make the paper again, only five days after this event I passed my black belt grading, so I made the local paper two weeks running, although the second time they did name me!

Last weekend at the Church getaway, it was the first time I have been close to a bonfire since that very night 28 years ago, it brought back a few memories, luckily no one brought any fireworks, never mind homemade ones, although the youthful exuberance was still evident, as the younger members of the group proceeded to jump over the fire as it died down.

Unleash Campfire

Unleash Campfire

Twenty eight years later, I thankfully still have perfect vision, despite this event and my many hours spent wasted staring at a computer screen, either at home or at work.  So now I thank God for these moments in my life, that without me knowing it, he was there looking out for me, saving me from my own arrogance and stupidity.