I rammed my elbow through the last stack of boards and collapsed at home plate. The scoreboard at She Stadium read 58 seconds—a world record.
I raised my neck slightly to catch a glimpse of my name on the scoreboard and then passed out from exhaustion. The scratches up and down my right arm paled in comparison to what was to come.
I was driving home a week later while simultaneously putting the final touches on my very own karate stage show. The demonstration at Shea Stadium helped me land a national booking agent and we were both excited about what the prospects of a spectacular exhibition, including a wide array of self-defense techniques, weaponry and my patented breaking displays, would do for my career.
I said, "This guy is going to hit me." The point of impact wasn't nearly as horrific as the moments that followed. I couldn't move. Not my legs. Not my arms. And most certainly, not my back. But I never lost consciousness. I was forced to absorb both the pain and the fright in real time.
Just a week ago I had passed out after running around like madman near home plate while launching an unmerciful attack on pieces of wood. And now here I was pinned to the bottom of my car with glass piercing my skin, fully awake, and all I could think about was, "Please God, let me get to rehearsal this morning."
The doctor's prognosis resembled a life sentence. He said in no uncertain terms that I was lucky to have survived and that my new goal one day would be to walk again. I could forget about stretching, kicking, or the breaking of anything involving my greatest love for the rest of my life. It took a measly two months for me to forget close to 25 years of spiritual therapy and discipline. I felt useless.
When my toes began to wiggle my family showered me with wonderful sentiments. I felt useless. When I was able to sit up in my wheelchair for long periods of time, I felt useless. And when I started calling the wheelchair "my wheelchair," I gave up.
I closed my school and purposely avoided watching anything on television that involved physical prowess. Over the course of my heavy-heartedness I reflected upon the days in my parents' basement when I started teaching martial arts. My classes quickly grew from two to 40 students. I opened my first school at age 20. But what could I possibly have taught them? The only reason I was qualified to teach anybody was because I spent an average of seven hours a day practicing in my basement. The grandmasters, which acknowledged my rank as a tenth-degree black belt, called me a prodigy or boy genius. I just trained harder. I was a maniac. So naturally I started teaching. I taught people how to punch and kick crisply without fear, but what did I really teach?
The doctor said the extent of my recovery lies in my control. I attacked physical therapy harder than any block of wood. If I used to train seven hours to be the best martial artist in the world, I now pushed myself without limits just to teach again. I didn't miss the applause anymore; I missed the look on my student's faces when they reached new stage in their art. So, 15 years after the first student addressed me as sensei and after all the Shea Stadium hoopla, I finally feel secure in calling myself an instructor, because besides teaching how to defend, I can also teach students how to walk.
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