I first became interested in martial arts through my friend Scott when I was a kid, maybe ten or eleven years old. He studied martial arts in my home town of Summerside with his brother. At his house he’d show me how to flip someone, and we’d practice flipping one another. It was pretty effective, at least for a couple of kids. I remember it being Karate that he was taking but flipping people is more of a Judo thing so probably he was learning a hodge-podge of stuff. At one of my karate dojos many years later we’d study techniques from all sorts of styles; I always enjoyed that.
So Scott placed the idea of studying martial arts in my brain but I didn’t pursue it until I was living in Toronto attending Ryerson Polytechnical Institute. One of my friends in the Radio & Television Arts program told me she was taking self-defence classes from a guy in downtown Toronto on Yonge Street in a second-floor studio above a store. I accompanied her one day and met Wally Slocki.
Wally was born in 1947 and this was about 1986 or 87 so he would have been in his late thirties. I remember him with blondish hair, a bit long in the back, slim and strikingly athletic. He looked a bit tough, the real deal, a Chuck Norris type, like he could handle himself in a pinch, yet despite the obvious latent power there was a genuine warmth to him. According to my friend he was a “somebody” in the martial arts community but I had no idea what this meant.
I always remembered his name over the years (I’m not entirely sure why) but for decades afterward I thought his last name was spelled “Sloki” so the couple of times I thought to look him up on the internet I never found anything, and presumed he’d vanished into obscurity. Then, after mentioning Wally in a previous blog post, fellow Karateka Brian Martin corrected my spelling of Wally’s name and I looked him up again and discovered to my astonishment that Wally Slocki really was a somebody in the field of martial arts. Among other claims to fame, he was the 1967, 1968, and 1970 Canadian National Champion (I’m not sure of exactly what, but obviously some significant martial arts association). He was also the 1968, 1969, and 1970 Ontario Champion. He once fought boxer Joe Louis in a demonstration match during which Joe Louis broke Wally’s nose (Louis apparently had forgotten about it being simply a “demonstration”). He’d apparently been training since the age of and by the time I met him he’d been teaching martial arts for several years.
We didn’t wear gis (Karate uniforms) in Wally’s class. It was T-shirts, sweat pants or shorts. Wally was the first to tell me (and the other students) that the best way to win a fight was to run away, if you could. “Somebody always gets hurt in a fight,” he told us. So, best not to fight at all. Makes sense, and I would hear this in every dojo I attended.
Wally taught us several self-defence techniques. They were clever, effective. One of my roommates was dating a woman interning as a physical therapist with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats football team. She told me that one of the football players liked to grab her from behind, wrapping his arms around her, pinning her arms against her sides. She felt helpless to defend herself. I taught her Wally’s method for getting out from such a hold: with the limited range of motion available to her with her arms pinned, she would still be capable of pinching this nincompoop as hard as she could in the tender flesh between his inner thighs. Have someone try it on you: it hurts like heck. The next time this guy wrapped his arms around her she did it. He yelped, let go, and yelled, “Where the hell did you learn that?” From Wally Slocki, that’s who.
I loved what I was learning but maybe a little too much. I liked to try the techniques out on people. One friend in particular, who quickly grew annoyed with me, cuz many of these techniques hurt. Also, the classes were early Saturday mornings, I was a university student, and my social life in those days wasn’t really conducive to studying martial arts early Saturday mornings. One day after class I told Wally that I wouldn’t be continuing.
Wally sat with me on the stairs and tried to talk me into continuing. He was kind, patient, generous. He told me that he saw something in me, that he thought I could be good at martial arts. Maybe there was some latent ability but the one thing I lacked, in so many areas of my life at that time, was discipline. An ability to commit. I just didn’t have it in me. He attempted to refuse payment for the classes I’d attended so far but I insisted on paying. (I may have lacked discipline and commitment but I did possess a certain integrity.)
After a few years had passed I began to regret not continuing Wally’s classes. I actually remember this now with shame. Such a missed opportunity. Now that I know who was attempting to teach me martial arts back then not only do I regret it but usually do so with a brief burst of profanity. Still, despite my brief tenure with Wally Slocki, I remember much that he taught me. And I don’t regret how my life has unfolded; had I continued training with Wally I know that my life would have been different but not necessarily better.
About a decade later, after an unfortunate incident on a subway, I tried again, with a different teacher.