FROM THE ASHES RISES THE PHOENIX
There Is Hope
FROM THE ASHES, RISES THE PHOENIX
He was extremely angry this time, placing his hands around my throat. He squeezed hard, so hard that I couldn’t take a breath in. I could only look at him with hatred in my eyes and hope it would burn him. I thought if I looked at him a moment longer, it would end just like that. I looked down as to take my gaze off his face and wished it would end. Relief came just like if I snapped open a can of soda and the air pressure was released. He dropped me to the floor and I landed like a dead rat. I was incapable at that point of moving.
I still couldn’t breathe for the tightness only was worse because now it was swelling. I just layed on the ground. I was cringing, afraid to move. I started to cry uncontrollably.
“You faker” I heard him say. There was such malice in voice and I could feel his eyes piercing right through me with hatred. He kicked me and said I deserved it.
I went through these episodes every night. On rare occasions, when he came home in a good mood, he would let me take a walk to the local Wawa.
This one night he wanted me to go out and get a ½ gallon of Turkey Hill Iced tea. We lived on 9th street in Belmar New Jersey. I was so happy to get out of that place. I left him with the kids, who were one and two years old. I walked seven blocks to Wawa’s. I got my ice tea, and I started to walk back.
I noticed a light coming out of one of the buildings. There were these people in that room. They were doing a sort of dance. One man was dressed in what looked like a long skirt, but it was really divided pants. I know this now to be called a hokima. The man that was in charge seemed like he really had a calm, patient look on his face. I was mesmerized. I didn’t know it but he had seen me. I had been standing there for a while when he motioned me to come in. I went inside and sat down. I watched the whole class. It was unlike any martial arts that I had ever seen before. There was style and grace to the techniques that I witnessed that you just don’t see in regular karate.
I looked up at the clock and realized I had been sitting there for about two hours. I got up with the intention to leave, because I was in trouble now. Something in my gut told me I belonged in that place and I really didn’t want to leave. I made my way toward the door without saying a word. Just as I put my hand on the handle to leave, I heard someone call to me.
“Did you like what you saw?” It was the Sensei. I looked at him. My face must have been red that day because I had one of my usual bouts with the terrorist at home.
“It is different from anything I’ve ever seen, I must admit” “Yes I liked it”
“I have to go” I went to walk out the door.
“Would you like to train here with us”? He asked me quite bluntly.
“I don’t have money to train now” “Maybe in a couple of months”
I told him and went to turn away again.
“Wait” “Eve, come here” He said with a quite authority. This woman came out of the dojo. She shook my hand and even thinking back in retrospect, she had compassion on her face. I didn’t’ know it then, but this little meeting will change my life forever as it stands to this day.
“This is Eve”, otherwise known as M. She is the “Mother of the dojo, Not the paternal type” (I can’t get into what it mean, but it show’s her caliber). You go home and write a letter to me why you want to train and bring it here tomorrow. Wear sweatpants; be ready to start to train.
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. He told me not to worry about the money. I went straight home and lucky for me the idiot was sleeping. I checked on the kids, and locked myself in my room and started to write that letter. I don’t remember everything I put in that letter. I know it was arduous to write. It took me about an hour. I remember telling him that I was in an abusive relationship and that I wanted to learn to defend myself.
The next day I made an excuse to go to the store again. I went to Bushido Kai of Monmouth where I presented Sensei Chuck Davis with my letter. I sat down on the side, by myself on a bench. Everyone was warming up, and I could imagine myself amongst them and learning what they were learning. I wanted to be in their mist in the worst way.
Sensei motioned me outside. He called Eve outside too. He said to her “You are going to be in charge of Tina.” He looked at me and said" everyone here gets a nick name." Since your last name is Panzera, we are going to call you Panza (like the German tank). He tousled my hair and smiled. “It’s going to be ok Panza, you will see.”
I started my training that night. I trained with what I call my dojo brothers. Let’s see if I could remember some names. There was Cholo, CC, Aiki Mikey, Mr. Lofton, and Mr. W. Mr. Potvin, Gary, Teddy bear, Mr. Gordon. There are several others, but their names escape me. It was a new found family for me. We were all really a bunch of misfits that didn’t fit into regular society, so we made our own. We were (I wasn’t yet) an elite group of martial artist gaining some new territory on an art that wasn’t supposed to be taught in the US.
I trained every night I could. I would walk on ice at home, just so he would let me go. One day (he who must not be named) came home in a real bad mood. I just stayed quiet and continued getting dinner ready and the girls in the bath and getting ready for bed. I always had to make sure everything was just right before I left so that he would let me go. He started teasing me about the dojo saying that I was never going to get anywhere , that I wasn’t worth anything and that I better not forget who is in charge, He told me that it didn’t matter what I learned , he was always going to be stronger than me. He started to punch me and try to make me counter. I wouldn’t, I wasn’t ready and didn’t build up that fight in me that you really need to have to defend yourself.
When you are in an abusive relationship, you are so drilled and brainwashed that you are no good. You’ll never amount to anything. He grabbed me around my neck. It was one of his favorite things to do to me come to think of it. He choked me. He held on tight and I could see his neck muscles bulging and his face was red, and his eyes were black. He lifted me up against the wall. My feet were dangling. He slapped me real hard in the face. I felt the sting of the slap and it burned. I could feel my face grow hot where he had hit me. I remember him releasing my neck only to let me drop to the floor and grab me by the top of the head. He was in a rampage. He pulled me up off the floor by the top of my head and began banging it against the wall. At this point I was so numb to what he was doing; I don’t think I felt anything. All I could think about was that I was going to miss my class. Finally his rampage stopped. He left me and walked into the bathroom. I got up and looked at the clock. I had an hour before class started. I wasn’t going to cry. Show my weakness to this man who I thought I loved.
I didn’t think he would let me go. He came into the room like nothing happened. “You going to your class?” I nodded, afraid to say anything. My lip was all bloody and swollen. My head hurt, so when I tried to put my hair in a ponytail I couldn’t’ brush it good because of the welts on my head. I grabbed my uniform and left.
By time I got there, everyone was on the matt already warming up. I had missed break falls, and koto suburi (small wrist exercise), and the stretching, (which I loved) I walked in and I must of looked a wreck because I can remember all eyes on me when I entered. We all lined up and paired off because it was time to work techniques. We happened to be working on choke holds that night. I was paired up with Mr, Potvin. It was supposed to look like this. (Uke) grabs around neck with both hands. Tori (me) does a technique to get (Uke) off. Normally I liked these techniques because it ended up that I got to flip a person on his back and pretend I was going to slit his throat. Mr Potvin got ready to choke me so I could do the technique. I winced away from him because it still hurt very badly. It was sore, red, burned, and there were welts on my head and a bruise was starting to form under my eye. Mr. Potvin looked at me. He took his index finger and placed it under my chin. He lifted my head and turned it side to side.
“Panzer, why is your neck look like this” He looked at me with concern etched on his aged face.
“I fell into the door” I told him, not too convincingly. “Panzer, he said, looking at me in the face. “Get off the mat” He pointed to the bench and that is where I went. I was thinking “I don’t want them to know about this, just when I told him it was getting better”.
“Panzer”, it was sensei, “You have three choices. 1. I call the cops, 2. You call the cops, 3 I talk to ----“(I don’t want cops involved)
“What would you say if you talked to him?” I asked.
“I would tell him not to hit you anymore” That is what he said to me. Just like that. I didn’t know what he meant. See I thought that we were all going to sit down and talk. Things were going to be normal because Sensei would make it that way. I was under the illusion that things were going to get better.
Rich poked his head in the door to let me know that he was there to pick me up.
“Panzer, go get changed” Sensei looked at me like a father looking at his daughter and wanting to protect her. I went into the changing rooms. They were these two little changing rooms next to each other at the back of the dojo. They each had a curtain on them that had a picture etched on them. The picture when the curtain was closed was a phoenix. It was standing there proud and tall. The picture was made by a Japanese artist that wrote in Japanese lettering on the side of the bird. I went inside of the little closed dressing room and pulled the curtain. I remember seeing the silhouette of the phoenix.
I tried to hurry, pulling at the belt that tied my gi. I was so nervous I was fumbling with it until I remember to just drop my shoulders and breath. My shoulders were up in my ears because I was breathing so shallow and trying to hurry. I untied my zubon straps (my pants) and pulled my pants down. I pulled on my jeans and through on my t-shirt. I took my socks in hand and exited the changing room.
Everyone that trained was still there. They were standing sentry. They wouldn’t let me past the door. Mr. Potvin walked past and looked at me. He touched my shoulder for reassurance. He opened up the door to step outside.
What I seen, I thought I would never see.
The night was still. There were stars in the sky and a little bit of clouds because it was going to rain. Across the street, the lights were on that radiated across the baseball field. The street was nearly empty. This was a fall night in Belmar and all the summer tourist have gone home.
Sensei was one angry man. I never saw someone so angry that wasn’t going after me. He had Rich pinned against the wall. He was talking in a voice that I never heard him use. He spoke real low. It was clear what his intentions were, because ---- was more pale than I have ever seen him. Sensei was a force to be reckoned with and now he had a new person in his family and it was now his job to protect her.
After this night, sensei became a second father to me. A new sense of duty, not only to myself but to my kids too. It didn’t happen overnight. I won’t stand here and say after that night I was free and everything was alright. It didn’t happen that way. I did go home with the idiot that night. He didn’t touch me for a long time. I was the dumb ass who stayed with him. It took a long time to get away from him. Finally when things got so out of hand, Sensei and M took it upon their selves to get me and my kids out. My sensei and M are 85% responsible for getting me out of that mess. They let me make my own choices along the way, because ultimately I had to decide what was important. I did eventually get away.
It took someone to care and to help me along the way, but like the phoenix, that spent his life and burned up, he rose again out of the ashes.
I went on to train after that. I loved my life with sensei, and M. I moved into a house in Matawan and I worked and went to school. It was rough being a single mom. I still trained whenever I could. M called me one evening.
“I want you to find a babysitter Saturday and come with me to Oradell NJ.”
“There will be a big seminar and you are to come and represent the dojo.”
“ I can’t train because I hurt my back and no one is available.”
“Why do you want me? I’m only yellow belt and I’m the most inexperienced person there.”
“Panzer, you are dedicated and have integrity and you would be perfect to represent us. I wouldn’t be more proud” Eve said this, and I started crying.
“You will be fine” we hung up. I had agreed to go but I was thinking,
(What am I getting myself into?)
I made arrangements for the girls with my dad. M drove her car into the driveway and told me to just bring my gi and my weapons and she already brought water and packed food for us. This was going to be an all day event.
M gave me the run down on what to expect. “Now don’t look at this man,
He doesn’t like Americans. He didn’t want the art of Daito Ryu to be in the states. He didn’t smile, ever. Do not make eye contact with him.
I was thinking what am I going to do? We drove for an hour before we reached our final destination. I was so nervous I had to pee. We got there and parked. What now? We went inside and all I saw was red belts and above. Two hundred people were there. They were all over the matt trying to find a spot. Each school had to be in their own place. I was the only one for our dojo so I was alone and on my own. I turned and looked at M. She was watching me like a hawk. She nodded with her eyes to where Shihon Yonazawa was. I looked at her and gave her the thumbs up. I noticed at this point that I could suddenly feel my feet. They were cold. My toenails were plain compared to a couple of ladies that had painted toenails. That has never been me. Everyone was milling around trying to find their spot on the floor, I just stayed where I was because I didn’t know what else to do.
It was time to work techniques now. I was paired up with this woman. M and I knew her from another dojo that we trained with and she earned the nick name “black widow”. She had a ruthless attitude and was self centered and thought that she could do no wrong. I was stuck with her. I just smiled and told myself that I was there to learn and that she wasn’t going to ruin it for me.
The technique we worked on was done from seated position called seiza. It was a double wrist grab from behind. The person being grabbed would flex their hand in order to make wrist a little bigger and then made a circular movement with both arms and moved your body in such a way to give you momentum and you breathed a certain way. I dropped my shoulders and relaxed. I made my move and the black widow went flying backwards. I had done this technique correctly. Mean while everyone around me was trying to get their opponent off of them. Out of all the people in the room, red belts, brown belt, black belts and degrees higher, Yonazowa came running , I mean running out of his seat toward me and clapping his hands, a smile from ear to ear, yelling at me:”VERY GOOD TECHNIQUE, VERY GOOD TECHNIQUE!!!!!”
At first I thought he must have been talking to someone else. I realized he was speaking to me. I looked at him for a moment, I faced the ground and did a proper bow to him and thanked him. I turned to M. She saw the whole thing and she was beaming at me.
That night, I was presented with a banner. It was a high honor to have one. I was one of the five people to get one. M told me that I showed special dedication and represented my dojo in a good way.
The banner itself now is 15 years old. It will have no significance to anyone but me. It is old and frayed and faded. It is blue in color with white Japanese writing on it. It says SHIHON YONAZOWA DAITO RYU 1992
This is a banner that I hold to this day. It is hung up in my car on the rear view mirror. It is something that reminds me when I forget that I am unique and a much loved person. I know what the banner means and that is the important thing in my life. It always reminds me of where I’ve been and how far of a road I traveled to get to where I am today.
My story was one that was difficult one to write. If I can teach anyone something, it is with the hope that they understand that no one deserves to be treated in a way that takes all their human rights away from them. We are worth so much more than the way that some people would treat us. One life is just as important as many. All it took was someone to care for it. It is possible to rise from the ashes. I’m living proof.