Skulking under the few trees around the back of the Police Training College, trying to shelter from the rain, must have made me look suspicious. They saw me, of course they did. They thought I was hiding. A police sergeant called me over to the back door. “Oi,” he said. “What are you doing out here?”
“I’m waiting for Les.”
Les taught martial arts to the cops. I’d taken a ten week course with him in a night school setting and wanted to take it further. Les told me to meet him around the back of the Police Training College.
“Well, get in out of the rain, then,” the sergeant told me, and I was in.
I thought I was meeting Les on the way out of the building, I turned out to be meeting him on the way in. I had no idea he was going to include me in his classes there.
That first day was a lulu. First off, I didn’t meet any of the other students face to face right away, all of them cops. They were there in the big room and were already at it, while I was in one corner with the teacher. He presented me with a stack of files two feet thick (no joke) and told me I’d need to read through all that and understand it before I could join in. My heart sank at the prospect, but the course I had undergone had fired me with enthusiasm and I knew if it was the only way to get in, so be it.
I wanted this knowledge for my writing. I wanted to write fight scenes. I didn’t want to write “She threw him across the room,” I wanted to write HOW she threw him across the room. It had to be accurate. This has always been important to me.
So I accepted the mammoth chore, but then the teacher took the stack away again. Apparently I had just passed the first test, Have you perseverance? I had been willing to go through the mundane to get to the excitement. Thank goodness it was just a test.
My next duty did not disappear, however, and was hugely daunting. This was in 1981, I was young woman of 23 and incredibly shy. Yes, shy. Not only shy, but scared most of the time. That was my life back then.
Les pointed out a big man in the corner, already working out with two others.
“You see the big one? Go over there and throw him down.”
A complete stranger? A policeman? The guy who was in his prime and looked like a bodybuilder? Talk about thrown in at the deep end! I wanted to run away.
“Excuse me?” I asked, hoping I had somehow misheard the instructions.
“Go over there and put him on the floor. Don’t say anything to him, just do it.”
Holy shi- Okay. My ten weeks of basics had me prepared – sort of – I knew how to do it. Had I remembered? I figured that was the test. No it wasn’t. The test was Have you courage?
Well, I was about five foot three and the guy I had to “put on the floor” was six feet something. I walked over to his little group and waited, feeling totally out of my depth. They stopped what they were doing and all eyes turned to me. I’m sure I looked like a frightened rabbit. They must have wondered what the heck I was doing in the building.
Because I was looking at him, John must have known what it was about. He sure as heck could have flattened me. I must have moved achingly slowly. I know I was shaking, and inside he must have been laughing, but I did it. I stepped forward, took hold of his hand without a word, raised it, twisted it and put him on the floor.
Then I humbly apologized. Immediately there was good-natured shouting as everyone within earshot told me not to apologize. The big guy got up off the floor, and then I had to throw him again.
The recipient of my endeavors turned out to be a 2nd Dan Black-Belt. Me? I was a White-Belt at that time (that’s the lowest level), but I was there to learn and John was okay with that. The teacher was pleased, too, because what he had learned about me was that I really was a willing student, I had passed both his tests.
That’s how I became the first civilian permitted to train with the constabulary of Crewe, Cheshire, England. I don’t know what strings Les pulled to get me into his martial arts training there, but in I came and it was wonderful. Once a week we would train just for one hour, but on the second day of the week, Sunday, we would train without the teacher and go for as long as we wanted to, usually about five hours. It was intensive. This was the inner core, the elite group, and they treated me like one of them.
I got to love that place and the people there. I trained with them for more than a year before I had to come home to Australia. Whenever they went to North Wales to team up and train with the police there, they’d take me along. I got a reputation for doing my moves quietly, without fuss and often smiling. I had some great experiences with them and a few injuries, too, in the rough and tumble of training, but that’s a story for another time.
And, yes, now I can write fight scenes.
Cheers, all! 🙂