Friday Prose….. My Conversation with the Sensai

As a kid it wasn’t often that I got to see my father, in fact it was rare. Silently shaved and showered, he even managed to shut the aluminum storm door without the inevitable rattle, start up his ’62 white Coupe DeVille which was parked in the driveway just beyond my bedroom window and leave well before daybreak. The roar of that huge engine never did wake me up, somehow it shifted into park every night without notice too.

With so few happy experiences of the time he was home, it wasn’t long before I just expected his absence, even secretly hoping for it at the foot of my bed during my nightly prayer.

Although it was never adequately explained (precious little was) why he was never home and what he did while he was away, the clues were there. Grease stained workboots occupied several brown, speckled linoleum treads on the basement stairway, the constant low rumbling of the washing machine and my mom dutifully trudging basket after basket of oliveish green pants and shirts up the steep back stairs, hanging them to dry on the clothesline in our backyard. Sometimes she would ask me to keep her company and hand her the wooden, spring loaded clothespins; I would have ten at the ready, one clipped to each finger.

My finger would always find the stitched,
red star patch on the shirts, and i would
trace the outline of the stars as they hung
in the warm breeze.. for some odd reason I
really loved that bright red star.


There are sounds we came to expect as kids, living on our perfect suburban street; an occasional bark from a neighbor’s dog, other kids giggling or the thwack of a baseball bat. The best sound at the end of a hot summer afternoon was the instantly recognizable, come and get it chime and loud generator of the Carvel soft serve ice cream truck, or the blinging bells of The Good Humor Man, which immediately set off an instant kid pandemonium. The sound of vehicles was distinctive and loud in the relative quiet we lived in, and subject to an intuitive body reaction in us kids.

If you heard your dad’s car engine stop in your driveway, you knew it was time to go home for dinner, the Carvel chime meant you had to find your mom, in a desperate run against time and plead for a quarter for that chocolate-vanilla swirl cone.

What ended up in our driveway just after lunch one day, was a vehicle and engine sound that none of us kids recognized. The loud sputtering pierced the Saturday afternoon silence as it sped down the street and stopped short with a screech, announcing itself with a high pitched Beeep, Beeep, Beeep! We all stopped playing, rushed over and out of the doorless vehicle jumped, of all people, my father, who none of my friends had ever seen, wearing the familiar green pants and shirt with the red star patch, smiling like I’d never seen him smile before.

This vehicle was a classic Army issue, Willy’s Jeep painted flat black with no top, no doors or windows except the greasy windshield, torn bucket seats and a stick shift between them and I was told to get in. So I did and instantly became the envy of all my friends and as we lurched out of the driveway, my dad pretended not to notice my mom as she stood screaming at him from the side stoop.

I spent the last weeks of that summer at my dad’s Texaco station, wiping windshields, having my head patted as I pumped gas inhaling the intoxicating gas fumes and listening for the ding…ding… as every dollar rolled by on the pump gauge.

I collected money and got plenty dirty and
if there is a heaven, I’ve already been there.


The timing of what happened after I resumed school is unclear, but I do remember not seeing my dad for a long time. His sudden, unannounced reappearance on Christmas Eve one year, a holiday my mom revered and he dismissed, loaded with presents and luggage did not turn out quite as he planned, when at the doorway behind him stood a short man wearing an ill fitting suit and carrying a single travel case.

He was introduced to us as Sensei Ushiro, and he bowed profusely as he shook our hands and was escorted to the basement where we were told he would be living, indefinitely.

Predictably, all hell broke loose.

I learned years later that after my few weeks spent at the Texaco station it was sold, and with the proceeds and a plan, my dad moved himself to Okinawa, Japan. There he studied Karate and Judo with some of the masters of the two disciplines earning himself a half brown belt, which in those days under those teachers was no small accomplishment. He convinced Sensei Ushiro to return to the states with him to open a school, a dojo where the discipline could be properly taught by a master, Sensei Ushiro and himself.

Despite his many flaws my dad was decades ahead of his time, the school became known quickly as the epicenter of the sport and garnered some headlines too. I was eventually convinced and coerced to join the school because according to my dad, I was too sensitive, too tentative, afraid of everything that moved. Of course in his delusional, diagnosed violent schizophrenic mind, it hadn’t occurred to him that it was him that I was afraid of, it was his irrational outbursts of anger and violence that was the source of everything I feared. His new chiseled, physical stature and prowess was a source of great pride to him.

For us, the fact that he could now kill a human being with a well placed thumb to a temple, was not anything to celebrate.

It came time to put my Karate training to the test, in a tournament held at the school and attended by hundreds. I hated going to the school every Saturday, I hated the physical contact that often resulted in people getting seriously hurt. I learned well though, I was athletically giftted and when I had my live match in the middle of the dojo with a kid who had become my friend, I broke his nose and he crumpled to the floor, unconscious. The crowd erupted in cheers as I bowed down in respect as is the custom, but I stood over him in shock, nauseated.

I remember the tears streaming down my cheeks as I accepted the half green belt and my trophy. I quit the next day.

I’ve only hit one other person since then. He was one of two twin bullies who terrorized the Brooklyn neighborhood I eventually moved to. The person they happened to be ridiculing that day was my younger sister, taunting the way she spoke. Of course they couldn’t know that it was a minor miracle that she spoke at all, she was deaf. My mom, in a stroke of brilliance and devotion, found the only school in the state, maybe the country whose teachers were committed to teaching deaf children to speak, as well as use sign language.

He was twice my weight, thick necked and stout and as I stepped between him and my sister, he came at me. Always better at protecting others than I was myself, and only a few years removed from my Karate training, I intuitively struck him right in the heart and he went down in a heap and turned blue. I felt pretty sick about that too, even though it was justified at the time.

But at least the bullying from the twins, ended that day.
Our homelife eventually settled down, and the familiar pattern of my father’s absence was again the norm. The Sensei was home more often and much of his time was spent with me, in my bedroom. It was my sanctuary, the place I felt safe and it was crammed with anything to do with war. I was a Civil War and World War II afficianado, devouring every book I could get my hands on, every plastic model I could build and paint, every plastic soldier army I could amass. There were battle enactments permanently set up on the floor, planes hung from the ceiling, and all my life like plastic rifles and gear was conspicuously displayed.

The Sensei would sit silent and cross legged on the floor, his back perfectly straight in a classic lotus position while the battles raged. Many times I’d look up only to find his eyes closed, as the sound effects of every gun, tank and plane were mimicked by me, the sounds I’d heard again and again on the endlessly aired, black and white war movies on TV. He would occasionally speak a few sentences, ask me why I enjoyed playing war games so much, but his broken English would inhibit his conversation.

One of my favorite soldiers was a Marine armed with a flame thrower, he was dark green, taller than the rest and had the large tank strapped to his back. The Whhoooosh! of the flames shooting out from the nozzle, was my favorite sound effect. My flame thrower Marine was also the secret weapon I used, when I wanted to kill as many Japanese soldiers as I could.

Whooosh! Whooosh! as scores of Japanese soldiers fell victim to the flames, I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned to see the Sensei standing raising both his hands as if to say stop, so I did. He began removing his shirt, then his pants and socks. He stood there for a long moment, then bent down and picked up the flame throwing marine and pointed at his body. I sat there with my mouth open shocked at what his skin looked like, even now it would be near impossible for me to describe the sinewy scars that covered every inch of his exposed skin.

He spoke in a hushed tone as he explained to me, that he was one of the last Japanese soldiers to be taken out of the caves on Okinawa near the end of World War II. He opened my Encyclopedia Brittanica to the pages describing what happened, so I would fully understand. He showed me his feet that barely had toes, and his hands that barely had fingers.

I can still remember the feel of his leathery hands cupping my face, consoling me as I cried.

Sensei Ushiro was the fiercest man in the dojo, a true warrior, a black belt master in the discipline and art of self defense. When he performed his Katas or forms, he grasped the wooden staff and sword with virtually no fingers. The incredible, frightening ferocity that he swung those weapons made a Whooshing! sound, that if you were in the vicinity, would scare you out of your shoes. To watch him perform was like witnessing a miracle.

And to this day, Sensei Ueshiro remains the most serene human, I have ever met.

89 thoughts on “Friday Prose….. My Conversation with the Sensai

  1. Laura Bloomsbury says:

    So brilliant – subject and narrative that I had to tweet it.

  2. You are an amazing storyteller. What experiences you had as a child…all of them adding up to make you the wonderful person you are today. I love reading your work. Your writing makes what you are saying “real.” The reader is drawn into your world and experiences what you were feeling at the time. Great story. More please, Love, G

    • oh, hitandrrun, believe me when i say there’s more, that these are only the tip of an iceberg,
      i used to be embarrassed about my past, never sharing much about it with people but since
      writing about it, i’ve come to realize that it’s certainly worth sharing to receive wonderful
      reactions like yours, ty so much.

  3. SirenaTales says:

    Potent, poetic, wrenching and redemptive. You have so vividly and poignantly evoked so many of the smells, sights, and sounds of my long ago childhood. “Too sensitive…”–I lived in a very different kind of home, but that line still rings a loud bell of familiarity…making me wonder about our parents’ frame of reference and how much that may have been less personal than I had thought and more of the zeitgeist? Kudos to you–for your prodigious artistic talent, yes, but perhaps even more, for your unflinching honesty and intrepidity. Rock on.

    • Potent, poetic, wrenching and redemptive…..and this is everything i was hoping to achieve in this story,
      how wonderful that you could recognize it all and describe, probably better than i could.

      and my parents…. personally, i’m just fortunate to still be here. their frame of reference
      was so foreign to me, even as a naive kid i knew better than what was being passed off as parenting.
      ty so very much Sirena, you are something special…

      • SirenaTales says:

        Thank you for the kind words. Yay you for figuring out what you were, and weren’t, being given as a kid–not everyone has your discernment, as you well know. I was thinking about this powerful piece of yours, especially about how resonant it is for all of the senses and for the soul– I hope you are planning to have it published beyond your lovely blog. It would also make a terrific film, oui? cheers

      • Sirena, you’re perception and insight are quite amazing,
        and i wish mine were half as good regarding my writing.
        i honestly have little perception whether something i write
        has value beyond sharing it here on WP. i’ve never taken a
        writing course, have no formal training whatsoever. my
        heart dictates what i write, and my story structure and
        edits are intuitive.

        and if you think as you do, maybe it’s time i at least thought
        about a copyright protection? can you point me in the right direction?

      • SirenaTales says:

        Do any blogs you follow have copyright noted on them? Perhaps ask 1 of those bloggers or maybe WP has something about copyright?

      • oh, i’m so sorry, i assumed you did because so
        many of the 100+ blogs i follow do,
        i think i know who i can ask.ty Sirena.

      • SirenaTales says:

        Good luck and sorry I couldn’t help. Best wishes with your visit to the artists’ retreat! p.s. Someday, hope you’ll follow my humble blog :)….

      • i’m not following you? i swore i was,
        i certainly meant to Sirena.

      • SirenaTales says:

        I inferred that from your comment–didn’t say anything, then today decided what the heck. Please forgive any manipulation on my part–I was seeking connection. namaste

      • no worries Sirena , i’m just glad you told me,
        i really thought i was already following you.
        i’m happy were connected!

      • i just tried again from another pc, no luck.

      • SirenaTales says:

        You’re sweet to have tried so hard–thank you! Not sure what’s wrong–I just asked my son to try to get on my blog and he was able to do so from his laptop. Anyhoo, I am following you and will keep showing up here to read your lovely work and welcome you to visit when you get a chance. Was today your visit to the artists’ retreat?

      • Sirena, i tried my at home pc, a pc at work, my partners macbook and my smartphone, and i get the same message. WP is embarrassed they can’t find the page i’m looking for. i’ll just keep trying, does seem a little strange though.

        the tour is set for next Monday, and i guess i’m glad,
        gives me a little more time to wrap my head around this idea.

      • FYY…i’ve tried three times but WP is saying your webpage is unavailable..i’ll try again later.

      • SirenaTales says:

        Ugh…thanks for telling me. That is in keeping with the way many things are going here lately. My fave is when I am told that my own site is unavailable or cannot be found. Kafka-esque. I am very grateful for your attempting. Thank you!! Peace…

  4. annotating60 says:

    WT, this was a delight to read–though almost as though there were two, perhaps even three stories. I have really come to appreciate your prose style. It is lucid well timed and organized. Great read. >KB

    • i so appreciate your comment KB,ty, you know how i respect your opinion.
      and you’re right, there are at least 3 full stories, the tournament, the bullies,
      the Sensei, they are very compressed. i did it purposely to make the larger point about
      so much casual and ingrained violence in our lives.

  5. wonderful; amazing how you write these.

  6. Twig says:

    Enjoyed reading this so much. Endearing, honest… Thank you

    • hello Twig…’s so really good to see you here,
      my heart jumped a beat when i saw that you’d left a comment
      on something i’d written, ty so very much.

      discovering poetry, immersing myself and becoming commited
      to the uncovering and the reveal that happens in the process,
      has benefitted my prose immensely. i’ve since stripped away
      the metaphors i once used. because at this point, at least
      for me, it’s about the honesty, the truth as i know it and
      experienced it and hoping that truth finds a connection, some
      common ground with someone else.

      this was the first story i’ve written in that frame of mind and heart.

      • Twig says:

        Thank you again – you really inspired me, I love what you said about basically dropping all the fluff and just letting the truth be enough. It’s so hard and we’re so constantly at the mercy of our desire to just be great writers – it seems like it takes a long time to cut through all that noise so you can finally just be the writer you are, not the writer you think you have to be – it feels like you need to when it’s the one thing you survive by. When it’s your passion. I go back and forth, still weaving my way through that. I find it hard – very hard. Even when I think I’ve come to the core, I find myself struggling again. What a journey. Anyhow… Thank you again, for the kindness, the inspiration, and the good read. šŸ˜‰

      • you are most welcome Twig. and if it means anything, one of the core reasons
        i’ve admired your poetry is the immediacy of the emotion, your words don’t
        feel as though they are sifted through filters and i connect with that, deeply.
        and yes, i think i might understand the difficulty, to constantly keep our
        hearts open, to try and be in the moment, with nothing between our feelings
        and our words. it’s incredibly difficult.

        but oh, when it happens, what a miracle poetry is!

      • Twig says:

        It means everything… And I agree, what a miracle. Thank you!

  7. SSMatthews says:

    Very Much I enjoyed the tale of the Sensei. The story’s well written and rings of authenticity. The characterizations are developing nicely and you’ve applied enough detail to make it all believable. Well done my friend! S

    PS I’ve just moved and been out of touch a few days, this was a pleasure to return to.

    • welcome back MrM, and ty for making this a destination on your return,
      the Sensei was a profound influence on me, i was 8 when this happened.
      i lost all the misplaced passion i had for war reenactments, and the
      lessoni was so graphically taught that day, still remains.

      ty for taking the time to read this,
      you know how much i value your insight.

  8. “you can trust your car
    the man who wears the star
    big bright texaco”

  9. Chess says:

    Very well done, kudos to you!

  10. Wow that was incredible I was completely swept away. My dad is a psychopath (he spent his youth in jail for setting a man on fire simply to watch him burn), alcoholic, paranoid schizophrenic so I related to that fear. My mom left my dad at 8 so instead she sent me on the weekends to stay with him alone. The ice cream truck made me smile here in Sweden (at least the city I am in) the ice cream truck comes in all weather it can literally be -12 outside and I will hear it, Who on earth runs out for ice cream in that temperature I don’t know. it also comes quite late at night which makes it rather creepy. The Sensei sounds like an amazing man, a true warrior wow. I took Japanese in college though I speak very little Japanese now. I thoroughly enjoyed this and good job standing up to that bully. I took karate also in college but only a little. I am very uncoordinated so I wanted to learn how to control my strength and how not to hurt people if that makes sense. We didn’t have competitions and it was a lot of fun. No injuries.

    • geez, being alone at 8 years old with a psychopath, my anxiety spiked just thinking about that mindlovmisery. that must have been incredibly difficult.

      yes, it makes sense to me, to be in control of your power, use it when you need it. that’s the ‘Self Defense’ philosophy, it’s one of the few things i did like about the classes, and it actually has come in handy. there is also a ‘body language’ that comes with that knowledge and skill. sometimes, that’s all you need to display.

      ty for reading this and leaving such an engaging reaction, seems we have lots to share.

      • It was difficult but he was sometimes so drunk as to be incapacitated the problem was when he was drunk but still conscious

        I think so too. This really is
        a masterpiece =)

      • well, i’m sorry you had to live that, i really am.
        but we’ve both come through, and despite the scars
        here we are, with a family, and a partner and creating.
        so, i’m exceedingly happy for us both!

        ty for that, you humble me now.
        i was on the verge a few weeks ago
        of totally abandoning prose, i’ve gotten
        so many wonderful comments, i’ve changed my mind.

      • I am so glad you have decided to continue with prose because you are amazing =) I am happy for us too!

      • well, ty. honestly i have no training, never taken a class in writing,
        so i’m a terrible judge of my own work. all my writing is from my heart,
        and all the editing and story structure is intuitive. so it really helps a
        lot to hear folks comment on it, ty again.

        and i’m very curious about the table that moves,
        hubbie sounds as amazing as you!

      • I went to college and studied Nutrition I was afraid to take writing courses.The thought of reading my work to a room full of people well you can imagine, it is a shame I didn’t take advantage of the opportunity but in truth I like writing from the heart and would probably rebel if too heavily restricted creatively

      • yes, i would rebel too..and shut down emotionally. we all have to find our own process, you and i are fortunate to have found ours.

        and i’m not fixing what ain’t broke! LOL!

      • haha I have tried that many times and let me assure you it does not work!

        I forgot to say that if my husband satisfactorily completes his project he will likely take photos or even a video that I can send so you can see how it turned out. He loves learning so he is always challenging himself, which means he can do a lot of different things

      • yes, please do that, i’ve worked a lot in wood too,
        but not on anything that had movement involved.

        feel free to write anytime,
        my email should be in the notificaion.

      • Thank you very much. This is his first such project so we don’t know yet but if he succeeds it will be mad cool haha

        my email is

      • yeah, mad cool,
        that’s why i’m so curious …anytime!

  11. You sir, are a story teller. This is beautiful, touching, heart breaking yet joyous. Great skill. I look forward to more šŸ™‚

    • and it’s wonderful, encouraging comments like yours that have revived
      my passion for storytelling. i was all set to abandon prose, having discovered
      poetry, but you all have convinced maybe that wasn’t the best idea i ever had ! LOL!

      ty Melanie, the Sensei was a very important figure in my young life, in many ways.
      i might not be finished writing about him and what he meant to me then.

      ty for finding me Melanie, for being so supportive. i am so happy we have met.

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