The Wave Man

[An Excerpt]

True to his word, Yoshida arranged for Ted to meet his employee whom he promised was a great fighter. Ted was not impressed. He had given up a Saturday workout to go to Tokaido Meats after their working hours to meet Yoshida. It had been a long train ride and he had thought of things he would rather have been doing. He daydreamed about his kiss with Mieko when a teenage girl sat across from him on the train and wished he was going to the Yoshidas’ house instead. Still, he considered, if he could stay on good terms with Yoshida-san it might help him, maybe even his father. The man who came into Yoshida’s office when called did not appear to Ted to possess much fighting ability. He had none of the rippling muscles of Ted’s senior instructors nor the stout builds of the older teachers.

He walked in clutching a crumpled white linen hat he wore in the processing plant. He still had on a white apron stained a blood-rust color and a pair of similarly soiled white pants. He was short, only coming up to Ted’s shoulder, and of slight build. His eyes darted keenly from Yoshida’s face to Ted’s and back again. Ted noticed he had a stubbly grey and black shadow of a beard on his chin.

Yoshida-sama, o-jama sasete itadakimasu,” he said obeisantly.

“Don’t be formal, friend,” Yoshida replied. “I would like you to meet someone special, the son of the Iowa beef representative, Takabashi-san.”

Then in English he said, “Ted, this is the chief of the meatcutting section, Obara-san. He and I are like brothers.”

Ted bowed and greeted the man with more formality than he felt was called for.

Obara looked at Yoshida, his obeisant expression gone, and asked derisively, “Is this the one you want me to teach?”


Obara sucked air in between his teeth as he shook his head doubtfully from side to side. “I cannot teach a boy. It is not games I do, you know. Not flailing the air with powerless arms.”

“Yes, he’s a boy, but test him. I think you’ll find him adequate.”

“Adequate? For what? I do not want any students.”

The exchange was fast and Ted only understood that he was considered a boy and the feeling was definitely negative toward him. Ted was glad. He could gracefully escape having to train with this fellow without Yoshida feeling slighted. The only one who would lose face would be himself, and he could afford it. He did not have time to waste training with an amateur.

“Obara-san, how long have we known each other? Thirty-five years?”

“Thirty-seven,” he replied, meek again.

“Have I ever made such a request?”


“Then please, consider him as your disciple.”

Ted was afraid the man was caving in to Yoshida’s pressure. Obara turned and focused on Ted. He could feel every part of himself being evaluated and pronounced unfit by the eyes that drilled into him.

“Come here, boy,” Obara ordered with contempt and authority. “Have you fought before?” he asked as Ted moved to face him.

Ted could see his cigarette-stained teeth clearly and could smell sake on his breath. I have studied Shorinji kempo.”

“Shorin temple boxing? What do priests know about fighting?” he sneered. “All right. Do something for me.”

Despite himself, Ted wanted to impress upon Obara that he had studied hard. He executed a combination of three techniques; block, front kick, punch. His delivery was fast, fluid, and concentrated.

“Not bad… for a dancer. Can you protect yourself?”

Ted nodded that he could, but became aware of a doubt in the back of his mind. He ignored it and said, “What would you like me to do?”

“Any attack you like. Do not stop until you have hit me, but protect yourself.”

“Here?” Ted asked, his hands waving to indicate the furnishings, which obstructed free movement.

I did not say to attack the furniture, but me.”

“Don’t worry about hurting Obara-san,” Yoshida added in English. “Do as he says.”

Ted sighed and set his mind to the attack. He assumed a posture he felt was suitably aggressive, his feet shoulder width apart, one in front of the other, and positioned his hands.

Obara stayed as he was, feet together, hands at his side, relaxed. Even as Ted moved in with a step and a kick, the thin man moved swiftly but unhurriedly to the side. Ted turned to face him again and attacked, this time with hand maneuvers.

Obara deftly avoided the first two, but as Ted snapped out a third punch, he felt sure it would find its target. To Ted’s painful surprise, Obara rapped his knuckles into his biceps and immediately the arm was filled with a burning paralysis. It shook uncontrollably at Ted’s side and he found it did not respond to his mind’s commands.

“You haven’t hit me yet. Keep going,” Obara chided.

Angry now, Ted renewed the assault. He led with a kick. The old man was never where he had been, never in range. Ted could feel control coming back to his arm and he thought he could surprise Obara by attacking with it again. He feinted with his left hand and swung painfully with his injured right arm. It never reached the target. Obara stepped in this time, driving his elbow into Ted’s already weakened biceps while digging his right thumbnail deep between Ted’s ribs.

The boy staggered back with the flush of agony that radiated from his lower chest and filled his body. He buckled over clutching his middle and winced, trying to hold in the tears which had begun to course down his cheeks.

“That was your first lesson, boy. Don’t underestimate your opponent, no matter what he looks like. And destroy his weapons. It’s easier to defend than to attack. Learn them well.”

Ted remained kneeling on the carpet long after Yoshida had shown Obara out. He would hit that man some day. He swore he would.

Copyright ©1993 Christopher Bates. All rights reserved.

This is an excerpt from the novel The Wave Man.