I wrote about some the weird people that have come into my studio, so I thought it only fair to write about some of the really nice ones, too. I think I ll start with visitors, since the list of students who have been so good would be way too long.
The most recent was a retired New York policeman named Eddie Spadaro. He was getting ready to test for his fourth degree black back home. Eddie has friends or relatives in Cape Coral, which is right across the river from me. Too often, visiting martial artists come in with an attitude. This man came to learn. He took a class and when I asked him if I could offer my thoughts on his performance, he was readily accepting. Years ago I had learned that as often as not, when this situation occurs, people don t really want to be critiqued. In my early years I d rip them, just as I had been ripped. Nowadays I ask if they would like to hear what I have to say. Eddie appeared to be interested and asked questions that indicated he really was listening. There are many others who have come in and done the same, and it s been a pleasure to work with them.
Ola Svensson was a vacationing Swedish karate and Savate instructor. He just dropped by one afternoon and asked whether he could train with us. Normally, someone from a hard style has a difficult time working in kenpo and I discourage them just jumping into a class or two while they are here on vacation. I recommend the Japanese school down the street. I noticed his accent and asked where he was from. It turned out he knew Ingmar Johansson, my friend in Sweden. Ola came to us for a week and warmed up with the class, then went off in the corner to kick the bag. No attitude, just wanted to work. I showed him how to hit harder with his punches and that made him smile. He took Ed Cabrera s boxing class and said he really enjoyed that. The lesson here is that when you let someone into your class you don t know what they ll do. Hopefully they won t hurt one of your students and get you sued. This man was competent and didn t come to show off and run his mouth. Everyone likes Swedes and Aussies, said one of my black belts. Well, we got an Aussie, too.
Jack Nilon showed up one afternoon. He was a young guy in his early 20 s, traveling alone in a foreign country for a month. Tough kid, it turns out. I had met and worked with his instructor, Mike Crim, when I was in Australia in the 80 s. Mike had called me and told me Jack would be coming but he didn t know exactly when, probably in about six months. Jack was here two weeks later. He stayed about a week, then went off to LA to meet Frank Trejo and others. We liked Jack and he liked us, so he came back to stay for six months the following year. He trained every day. He came along with me to some seminars and met some of the high-ranking kenpo people. He was inquisitive and definitely a “show-me” type. After his six months I promoted him from first degree black to second. He didn t even run away – he came back a year or so later for a month – and he keeps in touch. He s keeping the flame burning “down-under”.
Another Swede comes to mind. Her name is Helena Fernstrom. If ever there was a fiery redhead, she was one. She s a black belt now, but she was a blue belt when she came to us. She was staying in the US for six months with another Swedish woman, hosted by one of my black belts. We had an exchange with Mr. Johansson s school over there earlier and they came to visit us after we went to visit them. Helena took the opportunity to stay in the States and train, taking advantage of the Florida winter. Helena came to me and asked if she could take classes during her stay and I agreed. When she
offered to pay I told her she could teach me her language in exchange. It worked for us both. She went home with a green belt and I got enough Swedish to get by on subsequent visits. They say you can learn enough karate to get yourself hurt. I have found you can learn enough of a language to get people to answer you so you can t understand them in any language.
Helena made many friends here in SW FL and she s been back to visit as well as hosting some of us when we went over there. She s gone on to get her degree in nursing and is working in the hospital in Norrkoping. She continues to be part of the studio there and visits the US when she can.
This is a short, incomplete list and, along with Strange People, will be followed with a part two at a later date.