Thursday, 25 January 2018

Without You...




As Mick pulled into the carpark he was mildly amused to see that the sports hall still had the same graffiti on the wall as 15 years ago. The town had expanded since he’d been away but this was reassuringly still the same. Someone had long ago painted “Give Violence A Chance” in bright green across the wall next to the emergency exit at the back. 

He smiled and turned off the engine just as his phone rang. 'John Mob', the screen flashed, probably wanting to know where he was. 

“Hi mate”
“Good morning old timer, where are ya?
Mick chuckled. “Out back, just pulled in.”
“Great, I’m at the front I’ll nip round”.

The line went dead and in less than a minute John appeared, a big grin on his face. Mick stepped out of the car.

“Mickey!” John said, throwing his arms wide and Mick stepped forward and they hugged, clapping each other on the back. John looked at the car. “Christ! Can’t you afford better than that?” he exclaimed, his face creasing in mock disgust.

Mick laughed. “See your sense of humour hasn’t improved since you were a student. Put on a bit of muscle since then too I notice. You were so skinny back in the day, you had to hold your arms out to your sides every time you walked over a drain”.

John laughed again. “So good to see you mate. It’s been way too long. When I heard you were coming back I was over the moon.”

Mick was touched and nodded in acknowledgment. “Yeah, it’s been a while. What grade are you now? G5?”

John spluttered in mock indignation, “Err…no, E2”.

Mick whistled softly. “Impressive. I’m seriously pleased for you John, you were just a scared kid when I met you. Now look at you. Grading with Eyal and married with a kid”.

John smiled and put his arm around Mick’s shoulders. “Come on, the seminar doesn’t kick off for half an hour but I want to introduce you to a few people”.

As they walked around the front Mick noticed that the reception had completely changed and the interior of the sports hall was a refit on the previous times. Gone were the faded court markings and tatty nets that had hung in his day. The whole thing had been renovated and looked much more impressive. A large green net was drawn across the large hall, splitting the room in two. Only the facade, it seemed, had been left untouched.

At the reception was a young woman and John said “Honey, this is Mick. Mick my wife Jennifer. And the thankfully asleep baby in the push chair is Robert”.

Jennifer stood up and smiled as she extended her hand. She was dressed in a Krav Maga T-shirt and black sweat pants, her long black hair tied back in a pony tail. “I am SO pleased to meet you Mick. I have spent years hearing stories about you from John. You are quite the hero at our place”.

Mick blushed slightly as he shook her hand. “Pleasure’s mine. Your baby looks gorgeous.” Robert was fast asleep, oblivious to the reunion.

Jennifer snorted and said “Pain in the bum like his dad but I love them both”.

John gently pulled the pushchair out and wheeled it past the reception desk to the main hall area. About 10 guys were sat on the benches and stood around talking. All were in Krav logoed T-shirts and a few had the barred grade patches sewn onto the right leg of their trousers and shorts.

“You managed to round a few up then?” Mick said grinning. “They all want to listen to what an old fart like me has to say about Krav?”

“Yeah, these guys said they’d come. Couldn’t get any more unfortunately. Short notice and all that. They know you were around when Eyal was with IKMF and before KMG was formed. They want to hear what you have to say about things then and how it’s moved on. I mean Krav is a global phenomenon now, you’ve seen it expand. It’s gonna be good to hear stories from someone who was there back in the very early days.”

As they approached the group John said loudly “OK guys. This is Mick my former instructor. You’ve all heard about him. He’s hear to tell you what the good old days were like. Be gentle as he’s a bit long in the tooth and can’t hear too well”.

The students laughed and Mick shook their hands one at a time. All seemed happy to see him and he could feel his nervousness slipping away. To be honest, he hadn’t expected more than about ten students to turn up to hear him talk so he wasn’t disappointed.

“And…better late than never…Mick I think you’ll remember this young lady”.

Mick turned to see a very attractive woman in her early twenties walk towards them and put her kit bag on the floor. Mick didn’t recognise her at all. She walked up and stood before him and smiled, putting her hands on her hips and cocking her head to one side. “Now, Mick Tanner, don’t you DARE tell me you don’t remember me!”

The stance and the tone tipped him off and he spluttered “Chloe?!!” not quite believing that the scrawny 7 year old he’d taught Krav Maga to was now standing in front of him

Chloe laughed and threw her arms around his neck. “See John, told you he’d guess. That’s a tenner you owe me”. She stepped back and unzipped her fleece. “I even wore the T-shirt”. A faded JKW- Junior Krav Warriors T-shirt was underneath her jacket. Mick remembered that he’d had to give her an XL one as there hadn’t been any in her size left. At the time it had made her look like she was wearing a dress. 

Mick laughed. “My God, so someone still has one of those. I’m flattered you kept it. Might be worth something on Ebay in few years if you look after it”.

Chloe tutted theatrically. “I’ve been offered money for this, good money. Told them to get lost. Collector’s item”.

John stepped forward. “Mick we can kick off when you’re ready, I think everyone’s here who’s coming. Guys, two minutes just get near the front of the mats and we’ll come up for the first Kida and then take it from there.” 

John led Mick to where a desk and two chairs were standing, with a large pile of certificates stacked neatly on the desk. Mick chuckled “Think you over ordered on the certifs.”

John shot Jennifer a death glare who blushed slightly but looked away and continued feeding Robert, who’d now woken up, from a bottle. 

“Oh err…yeah, we ordered loads so we could use them for other seminars. Only the first 15-ish are for today.”

Mick nodded, taking off his jacket and placing it on the back of one of the chairs. He began stretching his arms and said “When you’re ready mate”.

They walked to to the front of the mats and stood facing the students who formed a neat line, hands by their sides, ready to bow. 

John began to formally introduce Mick. “OK guys, you all know who this is. Mick Tanner, my former instructor back in Junior Krav Warriors 15 years ago. He was a big influence in my life and he’s here to teach you lot today and also tell you some tales about the good old days.”

Mick stepped forward slightly “Thanks John. OK guys…” he was about to bow when John spoke again.

“Chloe, can you do us a favour and open the net all the way. Don’t think we need it today. It’ll give us chance to spread out.”

Chloe grinned and moved quickly to the green curtain taking one end and began walking across the hall. Mick stood patiently waiting and then stared in shock at what he could see. 

As Chloe pulled the net back, there were other people standing behind it, all waiting silently. As the room became one again, they began moving forward to take up a place in the existing line. Some were wearing JKW T-Shirts and all were grinning broadly. 

“What the…?” he exclaimed and John said quietly…”You didn’t really think only 10 people would want to hear the legendary Mick Tanner talk to them did you?

The men and women spilled out and took up places till there were two ranks of people. Mick quickly did a head count and there were over forty people. He still didn’t quite comprehend what was going on. One or two faces he recognised but he was at a loss as to who most of the students were. 

When the final person had taken their place, and Chloe was back in the, line John then barked “KIDA!” and everyone bowed. “Now all of you take a floor” and the group sat down.

He turned to Mick. “I thought, as you said on the phone, that I’d get maybe 10 or 15 guys if I was lucky but as soon as your students found out you were coming back my phone didn’t stop ringing and my inbox is full to bursting. Less said about Facebook messenger the better”.

There was a ripple of laughter from the sitting students. 

“With the exception of the people I introduced you to at the start these are all your ex students. Where’s Shane?” 

A hand went up.

“Tell Mick where you came from to be here today Shane”.

“Brussels”.

"Indeed, Brussels. We’re going to make sure you get your flight home tonight in case you decide to stay”.

More laughter.

Mick looked totally confused. He remembered Shane. Big, sweet natured lad who had been brought to the club because as his mother had put it, “he’s too nice to hit bullies back”. He had a G2 patch on his black sweat pants. 

John then clasped his hands and said “Right, one at a time. Please stand up and thank Mick for whatever you feel you’d like to thank him for”.

A hand went up and John nodded. A woman stood up. “Mick, I’m Louise Jordan. You gave me special training when I got the flu when I was 9 so I could get my J5 patch. Thank you”. 

She sat down again.

Mick had to think for a moment before he remembered Louise. God yes! She’d been heartbroken when she was poorly because she’d have to miss her grading. He’d trained a few times with her to make up the lessons she’d missed and she’d passed her test with the highest score of anyone there.

Another person stood up. “Mick, my name’s Declan Jones. I was getting the living shit beaten out of me at school and the teachers told me that I shouldn’t hit back. You taught me to stand up for myself and the bullying stopped. Thank you”.

Laughter again as Declan sat down once more. Mick remembered the bruises and the fear in the boy’s 10 year old eyes. He’d told him to hit back if he had to and that it was nothing to be ashamed of.

A third person. “Mick, I doubt you’ll recognise me as I was, to put it politely, a bit fatter back then, but I’m Gary Miller and you got me to stop being a slob and look after myself. I can’t thank you enough.”

Gary had indeed been a fat kid. He was tall and athletic looking now, a P5 patch on his shorts.

One at a time the students stood up and gave him their gratitude for what he’d given them when they were kids.

The last person to stand up was a woman of about 30 and she said “Mick, I found new confidence because of you and on behalf of all of us here we just want to say thank you for what you gave us all. Without you none of us would be the people we are.” She sat back down again and applause broke out. Mick looked at John who was clapping as well. He smiled and Mick began to well up, tears filling his eyes. 

“Oh dear! Now look what you’ve done. Come on everyone, give the old man a hug” John said. 

They all stood up and mobbed him, slapping him on the back and shaking his hand. Further words of thanks and gratitude being spoken.

Finally the group thinned again and everyone formed two staggered lines. Mick knuckled his tears away and smiled at John. “Thanks mate” he whispered.

John smiled back and winked. “No mate, thank you”. He turned to the students. “Alright you lot, are you ready? KIDA!”

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