Eight-year-old Nathan hid in the shadows of his parents’ living room as he watched a stranger dressed in a torn jean jacket brutally beat and murder his mother in front of him.
Nathan’s father was out with his friends at the bar having more than a few drinks before coming home. This routine had been happening nearly every work night since Nathan was six. When and if he was able to find his way back home, he would noisily enter the house, usually dropping his keys on the floor more than once.
On this night, he arrived home with the front door wide open. Nathan sat at the foot of the stairwell, sobbing with his head between his knees. All his father had to say, was, “Why aren’t you in bed?”
His father tried to pass Nathan, but the crying boy grasped his father’s leg tightly and tried to speak. His words came out as gibberish between the gasps of breath and the crying. Once again, his father tried to pass, but Nathan held tighter, pointing toward the living room.
His father looked in the direction of the pointing finger and saw a pool of blood near two bare feet. It was a sobering experience as his father suddenly became alert. He staggered his way toward the living room for a better look, calling out his wife’s name as he walked.
“Amy! Amy!” he cried out, but there was no reply.
As he rounded the corner, he saw his wife’s robed body laying facedown upon the hardwood floor. A pool of blood surrounded her battered face. Beside the blood laid a trophy that he had won in a fishing tournament a year earlier. The white, marble base of the trophy was stained red as well.
Nathan watched his father drop to his knees and wrap his arms around his mother’s lifeless body. His father looked up and saw Nathan standing at the doorway. He removed his bloodied arms from his wife, reached into his pocket, and removed his cellular phone.
After his call to 911, Nathan’s father walked over and gave his son a hug, then walked with him into the kitchen to put on a pot of coffee while they waited for the police to arrive. He asked Nathan if he knows the person who did this. Nathan shook his head to say he didn’t.
When the police arrived, the officer took Nathan to the side alone and asked him what he saw. Nathan described him as a man around his dad’s age with a thin beard the color of chocolate. He was a few inches taller than his mom and wore a torn jean jacket with dirty blue jeans. He also saw a tattoo of some kind of bird on his forearm.
The officer told Nathan’s dad, that they were going to have an officer watching the house overnight in case the perpetrator tried to return. By the time everyone left, it was nearly 1:00am, but Nathan’s dad couldn’t bear staying in the house after what happened, so he helped Nathan pack some clothes and they got into the car. The closest hotel with vacancies, was twenty minutes away. By the time they got checked in, it was already nearing 3:00am, and Nathan had fallen asleep in his father’s arms.
He laid Nathan upon the bed and slipped off his shoes before covering him up. The remainder of the night seemed to end as quickly as it had begun. A blinding light poked its way between the curtains and Nathan shielded his eyes from the radiating sun.
As he sat up, Nathan saw his dad sitting on the edge of the bed with his fingers interlocked behind his neck. Nathan sat next to him, and his father pulled him in closer without saying a word. They just sat there silently for several minutes.
After two days, they received a call from the police saying that they were permitted to return to their house now that all of the evidence had been collected and recorded. As they walked through the front entrance, the house felt colder and empty. As they walked past the living room, they were faced with the remaining blood stain on the area carpet and hardwood floor.
Nathan’s father pulled him away and they walked to the kitchen. By instinct, Nathan’s father went to the cupboard where he stored his alcohol and opened the door. He grabbed a bottle of Jim Beam and stared at it in his hand. Walking to the counter by the sink, he set a tumbler down and opened the bottle. He took one glance at Nathan, then another down the hallway toward the living room, then, tipping the bottle over, he poured the remaining contents down the sink.
He realized at that moment, that if he wasn’t out getting drunk that night, his wife would still be alive. He opened one bottle after another and poured each of them down the drain and vowed to never touch alcohol again.
Nathan was asked to go play outside for a while, and when he came back inside, his father had cleaned up the blood stains in the living room and threw away the carpet. They sat at the kitchen table and ate some lunch, but Nathan hardly touched his food.
Later that evening, Nathan was on his bed crying when his father walked in and asked if he wanted to talk about it. Apprehensively, Nathan admitted to his father that he felt like a coward. He thought that he should have been able to do more to protect his mom, but he was too afraid. His father told him that it wasn’t his fault, but Nathan still felt guilty.
The following day, Nathan and his dad went for a drive, but his father wouldn’t tell him where they were going. They pulled up in front of a business called Silent Tiger Martial Arts and went inside.
The room was filled with red and blue mats across the floor, and a few rubber mannequins mounted on weighted bases. There were people on the mats dressed in white with different colored belts wrapped around their waists, and a person dressed in black faced them and called out instructions. Nathan watched in amazement as this group of boys and girls of all different ages moved in harmony with one another, punching and kicking into the air.
A young man in his early twenties met them at the door and introduced himself as Sensei Ryan, then asked them to remove their shoes before entering the matted area. They did so and followed him to an office. Without going into too much detail, Nathan’s father told Sensei Ryan that his son would like to learn some self-defence. Before they left, Nathan’s father had signed him up.
Nathan was given a two-piece white outfit that Sensei Ryan called a Karate Gi. He said it was the uniform that every student and instructor wears. As they advance to different levels, the color of the Gi would change. He also gave him a white belt with instructions on how to tie it properly.
One week later, Nathan began his classes at the dojo. He was shown how to stand in different stances, how to hold his fist when punching, and how to move his legs and feet when kicking. It was difficult at first, because he wasn’t used to this much physical activity, but over time, it grew easier and more enjoyable.
For three years, Nathan practiced every day and had made his way up to a brown belt with a black stripe, which meant his next advancement would be for his black belt, the most cherished level in martial arts. There are advancements past black belt as well, but once a martial artist reaches that goal, everything changes. He or she then becomes a Sensei (or teacher) themselves and is allowed to train the class.
Nathan was already skilled with weapons such as nunchaku sticks and a bo staff, but he also was learning to master the katana, a curved Japanese sword around thirty inches in length. Being part of Silent Tiger had given him the confidence and courage that he once lacked, and even though he was only twelve, he felt that nobody would ever make him afraid again.
It was one week after his thirteenth birthday that Nathan was able to go for his black belt testing. The tests consisted of swimming, running, sit-ups, push-ups, Kata (Japanese for forms) which involved several movements using various striking techniques. He also had to go through several stances and sparred against other black belts. The tests lasted several hours, but in the end, he successfully completed his training and was awarded his black belt.
For three more years, he took on the role of Sensei Nathan at Silent Tiger, and took pride in teaching students, (some older than him), the art of self-defence. His focus was on “Fight, Flight, or Fright,” a program where his students were put in situations where they would face fearsome opponents and would need to react in one way or another.
The students’ instincts would allow them to stay and fight back, run away to safety, or stand frozen in fear. Nathan new that he used to be the latter of the three once, but that has changed. The majority of the students that he taught would run away at first, but that was why he was there to work with them.
Nathan’s father took pride in how much he had matured and grown stronger in the five years that he trained. He was if he was no longer looking at a frightened little boy, but instead, he admired this confidant young man before him. His father was present for every belt grading and tournament that Nathan had ever had. Nathan’s dad had also kept his promise and stayed away from alcohol. Not a single drop had touched his lips since that day he poured the bottles down the sink.
They were driving back from the dojo one afternoon when Nathan asked if he could run into the convenience store to grab a Slim Jim to munch on, so they pulled into the 7-Eleven and Nathan ran inside. He went down the second aisle where the Slim Jims were and heard a commotion at the cash register. He peeked around the corner and saw a man holding a knife out threatening the clerk behind the counter and demanding all the money in the register.
Nathan watched discreetly out of the man’s view but tried to move in closer at the same time. The man behind the counter shook with fear and fumbled with the cash as he pulled it from the till. The robber began grabbing the cash and shoved it into his pockets. That’s when something caught Nathan’s attention.
On the man’s arm, was a tattoo of a bird that he had only seen once before. He waited for the man to turn his head slightly and realized that it was the same man who murdered his mother. He still had the same chocolate brown beard, but it was now bushier with traces of grey. Flashbacks of that night raced through his mind, and he found himself frozen in fear again for a moment.
It was at that moment that the door to the convenience store opened, ringing the bell above it, and in walked Nathan’s dad. The man with the knife turned on Nathan’s father and began to charge at him with the knife stretched out. He watched as his father stood frozen in his tracks. Nathan quickly jumped out from behind the counter and ran toward the assailant.
Using his right arm, he grabbed the man by the wrist that was holding the knife, gave it a twist and bent his arm back behind the man’s back. Then, using his right heel, he kicked the back of the man’s knee, forcing him to drop to the ground. From there, Nathan took his left elbow and came down hard upon the back of the man’s neck. The man fell face-first onto the tile floor. With the man’s arm still in his grip, Nathan placed one foot on top of the man’s neck and pulled up on his arm, still twisting it more as he pulled.
The man yelled in agony and dropped the knife. Nathan ordered his dad to kick the knife out of the way and for the clerk to call the police. He held the man in that submissive position until the police arrived and took over.
It wasn’t until the man was safely in custody that Nathan told his dad that it was his mom’s killer. The police took everyone’s statement and Nathan was later deemed a local hero by the media. Enrolment at the Karate dojo had increased as well after people found out Nathan was one of the instructors there.
The assailant was formally charged with the armed robbery of the convenience store, the attempted assault on Nathan’s father, and also for the homicide of Nathan’s mother. He received twenty-five years for the murder, plus an additional seven years for the armed robbery and attempted assault with a deadly weapon against Nathan’s father.
Nathan continued to study Karate and guided many students over the years on how to defend themselves, but he grew to realize that it will take that moment in time when you are face-to-face with your fears to know how you will react. Will you fight, take flight, or stay frozen in fright?