015 Using Karate to Stay Alive

As I promised before, in this podcast I am going to recall a traumatic incident where I needed to and used my Karate training to actually come out of a very awkward situation alive and in the process actually saved a person’s live during my Military career.

But be aware – this is not an ‘attacked by five persons with machetes and sorted them all out’ heroic kind of situation – I have had that – attacked with a knife, mae geri, man down, grabbed the knife, neutralized him and handed to the police – will tell you the story over a glass of wine maybe some time, but not worth sharing really – Karate is much more than that!

But first, some background. As I mentioned before, all young South African men had to do compulsory Military Service after completing Senior High School or when they turned 18 years of age and afterwards serve in a Reserve or Citizen’s force for a period of seven years in which you needed to do annual service of up to three months, depending on the operational situation, so it happened that you had to leave your friends and family during the Christmas holidays to run around in Khaki, not fun! As you were in for it for seven years, it was a good idea to make the best of it and actually volunteer for extended service, whereby one could qualify for a rank, with all the benefits, so it came that I eventually stayed in this Citizen Force regiment for 14 years, went through the Non Commissioned Officer  ranks,– from a plain Gunner to Battery Sergeant-major (in USA, I guess – called a Master Sergeant). 

After being a bit of a rebel most of my life, probably from entering life prematurely – see podcast 009 – (it still comes through now and then though!), I have learned early in life that it is better to be in a position where you are part of decision making, become a leader, than just merely being a complaining squealing follower of the decision makers and leaders! 

After studying Human Movement Science at university, I started school teaching, holding temporary or relief posts, which enabled me to have some food on the table without tying me down, still teaching Karate after hours and be able to save some money to go to Japan!

After getting married end of 1977, our first child coming along a little more than a year later, I realized that I would require a more permanent source of income – still not be dependent on Karate as an only income, as this could mean that I might have to compromise my Karate teaching to keep food on the table!

In the beginning of 1981, after returning from the great International IOGKF Gasshuku in Okinawa – which definitely has a bearing on this story – I was informed of a position in the Military Permanent Force or Regular Force which entailed a non-combat career as a staff officer for Sports and Physical training and I jumped at it, as it meant a reasonable salary and great benefits and the Military would allow me to practice my Karate unrestricted.  They even allowed me to travel overseas and teach, so a great step forward in my life. 

The post was in the Corpse of Professional Officers, with starting rank of Captain at an Air Force Base close to home, so I needed to change from brown to blue, so to speak.  I needed to do a basic orientation course and a two-month Air Force officers’ course before becoming substantive!

So it came that at the age of 33, I was sent to the Air Force Gymnasium in Pretoria for the two week basic orientation course.  During the course, you are treated as a total recruit, with rank of Candidate officer and you were instructed in theoretical and practical components, from parade ground to classroom!  

On the parade ground, the instructors were young 20, 21, 22-year-old Rambos who loved drilling you till your tongue hung out – the same for the Physical Training, every afternoon and by the second week, the PT instructor was as bored with us as we were with him!

So, one afternoon, we were doing the normal chase parade – push-ups, sit-ups, carrying each other, running the obstacle course and because the rest of the group were younger than me, barring one older gentleman, we were not really going red enough in the face to our young instructor’s liking!

We were running in a squad and singing and then we got to a narrow gravel road with a pipe going underneath the road, which was about four meters wide and the diameter of the pipe just enough for one person to crawl through with your shoulders touching the sides and your back touching the roof.  Mr Rambo made us crawl through the pipe to the other side, one by one!

Not a big deal – Except!!! I suffer from serious claustrophobia and cannot really handle confined spaces!!

But I calmed myself with the fact that it would only take about ten to fifteen seconds, breathed deep as in Sanchin, with Okinawa still fresh in my mind, and I did it and showed nothing to the instructor, but inside, my heart was beating at a rate of knots!

The instructor was a bit disappointed that we came through this apparently without any problems, so we continued running and then he halted the squad and ordered us to crawl again through another storm water drainage tunnel  – only problem – this tunnel was about fifty meters long and about three meters down – we had to climb down an inspection vent with a steel ladder and then start crawling when you got to the tunnel!

The older gentleman refused point blank and stood aside, but I guess my echo probably overrode my common sense!   I did not want to show cowardice but knew I would have to use inner mind control – such an integral part of Karate training – like never before!! 

So I immediately started breathing Sanchin style again by myself and forced my mind to relax and clear completely – not easy!

We were eighteen guys in our squad, and I was about number 12 in the line. The first guys climbed down and started crawling, almost face to backside, depending on the speed of the guy in front of you! 

Your shoulders were touching the sides, but with about 20cm space on both sides and from your back the top as well – but it was manageable, just the thought that you were three meters down!  Luckily it was not rainy season, so there was no water in the pipe. 

This was a really Bad Dream! 

As I climbed down the ladder and went down on hands and knees, I was hit by the damp, rotten smell of a low oxygen and the BO of the guys in front of me, but …. – off I went!   The most horrifying was that it was completely pitch-black dark once you were about five meters in – no light you could focus on to the front or to the rear to indicate how far you have gone and how far you still had to go.   I just went into a complete blank relaxed state, as I realized that, if I panicked now, I would be dead – and there was no turn back with guys behind me!

About twenty meters in, I guess, suddenly – there were some moans and mumbling coming from the front and the crawling speed slowed down to literally inches at a time!  

The Bad Dream turns into a Nightmare! 

Another Instructor had sent his squad in to crawl through from the opposite side and the first ones were making contact with our front guys!  The second instructor did not see that a squad was already in there, as it turned out later in a debriefing!   

In the tunnel – to pass one another, both parties had to turn sideways, and when the first one came past me, there was this human touch and smell and – it just kept on getting worse and worse and the speed of moving was almost zero!

But – Sanchin, relax, realizing that any panic by anybody now, would turn this situation into a possible disaster, so we continued! Still completely pitch dark – everyone was talking softly, so you picked up when the next guy is coming from the front!

Then the Nightmare turned into a full-on Horror Show!! 

The guy in front of me stopped altogether, the guy behind me getting his nose up my backside.  I asked ‘what was happening?’ He replied: ‘the guy in front of me has passed out and is lying motionless!’

I realized this was a very dangerous situation and someone needed to take control, so I spoke out loud, not yelling, as it could cause panic and I asked my squad as well as no 2 squad to relay the message backwards and forwards that we have this situation and that everyone needed to stop, to allow us to get the guy out!  Everyone responded almost instantaneously, positively and stopped!  

I told the guy in front of me to crawl over the unconscious guy, put his one arm between his legs and grab the guy’s T-shirt to pull on while crawling forward while I would push his feet, this way dragging him forward.  I also asked no 2 squad still waiting in front of us, to help pull as we passed each one.  So, we got going – me and the guys pulling, working on a count of three ‘One, Two Pull!  Relax, One Two Pull, Relax. We were going very slowly, and it was incredibly demanding to crawl and push, I was soaked in sweat by now, but we were slowly making progress – for a while!  

Then the Horror Movie turned into ‘Apocalypse Now!!!

All of a sudden, we stopped moving and when I asked the guy in front what was wrong, a No 2 squad member from the front replied – ‘he has pushed off!’ (he did not say ‘pushed’ – use your imagination!)  – He had just let go of the unconscious guy and pee-ed off, just concerned about himself getting out!

Sanchin, deep breathing, calmness!! I told the guy behind me that I would crawl over the person and pull from the front, which we did, and with the help of No 2 squad guys, we were slowly moving along. I did not have the energy to try and keep the unconscious guy’s face to the side as we dragged him, I realized though that it would scrape the skin of his face, so asked no 2 squad guys to turn his head to the side as we passed them – feeling for his face in the dark, and turning it. After what felt like hours, but concentrating so much on One Two Pull, Relax, I noticed faint light appearing from the front, becoming stronger as we got to the end of the tunnel!  

Then it was a process to get the unconscious guy up the three-meter ladder, but luckily the guys that were out already gave a hand.   I collapsed on my back and someone was doing CPR – and after a couple of minutes, the guy came to, looking very bewildered and his face scraped, he was taken to the medical facility on the base.  

Our instructor came over to me with a very worried look on his face, as he must have wetted himself realizing what an unfortunate unforeseen turn of events just happened!   He was also aware that I could lay a charge against him and No 2 Flight instructor that would end their careers right there and would even mean court martials, military prison and criminal records.

I just looked at him and realized the stupid things I have done in my live and realizing that I have a two-year-old son back home, so I called the No 2 Flight instructor over as well, stepped away from the rest and gave them a stern but fatherly speech, told them I would not lay charges but made them promise me that they would never do anything as stupid as this ever! I did lay a charge against the guy who was in front of me who just took off and he was court martialed and dishonorably discharged the next week.

To conclude – Karate is not just about being Macho, it is like an Iceberg – 80% is below the surface! It needs to manifest in your Karate!

Be sure to visit my Global Virtual Dojo, at


Music by Basson Laubscher

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