I studied a bit of Aikido with a gentle man whose gym I rented part-time; I studied Kyokoshinkai Kan full-contact with the founder of martial arts in Israel; and I studied judo with a dear friend Martyn Miller, another national champion. One of the things one learns in judo is to slap the ground with your hand/arm to break a fall. I remember when Martyn had a motorbike accident: he was hit, thrown up in the air, but saved himself by slapping the ground as he hit.
Today, as a tourist in Chicago, I am walking with Barry up the stairs of what used to be the imposing Chicago Public Library, but which is now the Chicago Cultural Center. The steps are massive stone steps with a large lip on each – protruding, but unseen. I catch my foot, losing my shoe (trainers), but before I register what has happened, I hear the thunderous sound of flesh slapping stone. I have fallen face-first, diagonally up the steps, slapping the stone with both hands really hard, thereby muting the force with which my knees collide with the edge of another step.
For several moments I don’t move. I’m 65. What have I broken? What have I done to myself? I twist in order to sit down while Barry hovers. I look at the bright red palms of my hands and suddenly realize that my judo slap has saved me from possible broken bones and a smashed face. I’m bruised, I’m freaked, most of all I am shocked, but I’m okay.
We sit there for some time while I recover my equilibrium and then go inside. My original goal had been to pee, so I go do that while Barry searches for some ice. We are on a schedule with press tickets to a boat tour to view the architecture of Chicago from the river, so we have to go. An hour later, seated on the boat, I realize that no one on that incredibly busy corner, no one among the many going up and down those steps stopped to ask if I was okay. No one offered to help.
I’m lucky to have had so much good training in my life and astonished that despite the fact that I retired from the fight game in 1991 and have not done a judo fall for 22 years, my body flashed into automatic response and my muscle memory – that sweet little protein – did the trick. The lessons to be learned? One, stay upright. Two, as I’ve taught hundreds and hundreds of women: keep your hands free. I wear a cross-body bag or sometimes a backpack, but never a handbag. And finally, while you’re upright, go work out and learn some shit.