Monday, December 13, 2010
The Aikido Kid
ANGRY WHITE PAJAMAS
I don’t know of any kid who at some time before they traded in their comic book collection for rent money didn’t want to grow up and be some kind of hero. A super hero, an action hero, a kung fu hero. And of course, we all got into debates about whether or not our heroes could exist in the real world. I remember a buddy of mine reasoned that Batman might be able to exist if he was three people: a professional engineer and inventor and computer guru, a trained forensics expert, and a life-time-dedicated martial arts freak. You couldn’t be all three. Each would require a lifetime of focus to be as good as the Batman was. So, if you had to pick one, which would it be?
I was thinking about this question when I devoured Robert Twigger’s memoir of becoming an Aikido expert, ANGRY WHITE PAJAMAS. Twigger was a young poet and rambling soul who ended up in Japan, teaching English, and basically being alive without too much thought as to how to live. But when his roommates decide to take up with the world famous Akido school that teaches the Japanese Riot Squad how to kick ass, Twigger signs himself up and dedicates his life to the eleven month agony and ecstasy of martial training.
Brutal would be putting it mildly. Twigger and his mates endure endless sessions of painful exercises, demonstrations, and forms. Some of the sessions are so brutal students pass out, puke, or worse. Relentless forms are practiced, flips performed, strikes unleashed. They’d lose gallons of sweat, drink three large Pepsi bottles of water to replenish, and not have to pee once! Some students fell by the way side, from injury or exhaustion, and were treated as ghosts who didn’t deserve to haunt the school. But Twigger held on to the end by the skin of his teeth, learning to show the guts required to endure the endless strains, wounds, and injuries he’d accumulated, hopefully demonstrating that he had the “Spirit that conquerors imaginary ghosts.”
Along the way, Twigger gives us the alien eye on Japanese culture, the politics of the teaching world, and his attempts at romance that are sometimes as comical as the screw ups at the academy. We’re introduced to all the strange domestic and foreign die hards, from loud mouths and tough guys to geeks and freaks and loners, who soon realize that completing the course means surviving as much as learning. This is not the karate class you get at the YMCA with old grannies and kids with ADD. Students get hurt, for real, and a lot. A fight on the real streets could mean death, the teachers expect you to treat every fight as if it could be your last one. No weakness, no remorse. The teachers are tough and often colder than an ice pick to the skull. They don’t care if you get hurt, and only the severest injuries are an excuse to not show up. The life of the students is nasty, brutish, and, for many of them, short.
Twigger’s journey is filled with colorful characters, crippling training sequences, and a crazy lesson on finding one’s identity in the most unlikely of places. If you like the Karate Kid with an extra dose of brutality that would make Mr. Mygagi shake his head, then check out ANGRY WHITE PAJAMAS. It might help you decide which route to heroism is for you .