Judo Ontario telling me that I needed to stop practicing Judo came as no surprise to me. The fact that they tried to play it off like I never renewed my membership license or the school itself was a slap in the face from a governing body out to protect itself. I got in touch with them as quick as I could, it took well over a month to finally get to talk to or have Joe LeStrange return my phone call. After asking him about the letter he told me that it was a standardized letter they send out to anyone who hasn't renewed their membership, funny but parts of it were handwritten.
Joe told me the worse thing that I could hear at that point, because of legalities I was going to be stopped from competing, teaching, and even learning Judo until after this whole lawsuit was over to protect Judo Ontario from more lawsuits.
I need to state something here, the people who were involved in the lawsuit were; Chester Lam and family (the sue'ers), The university of Windsor (Cause it happened there), Myself (For negligence), Sensei Ron Hammel (dead at this point, also sued for negligence), Jeffery Piasic (for actually breaking Chester's neck), and Judo Ontario (for allowing an unregistered club to operate Judo in it's jurisdiction). For differing reasons it would be a matter of first finding out who was at fault, and then secondly finding out how much each party at fault would be.
Judo Ontario took the stance that since they were being sued, no matter how stupid and frivolous the lawsuit was, and since I was the source of this lawsuit in their eyes, that I was a danger to them. I discussed this with Joe LeStrange pointing out that I was desperately trying at this point to get my Black Belt, and that any kind of setback would be disastrous to me. Joe Said that the Judo Ontario Lawyers said that any actions I might have in the Judo world would reflect on judo Ontario (pretty obvious), and to minimize the chance of negative possible feedback on this source that I was to be banned from performing Judo until the trial was over. When I asked him how long until the trial he let me know that it probably would be about 3 or 4 years. I restated my quest for a black belt to him over the phone to basically deaf ears.
In going over all of this I have come to a couple conclusions, some on my own, and some with the help of others. Judo itself wasn't what I was chasing all those years; this is probably the most profound thing I figured out in all of this. I was chasing after that place that I used to belong, that place where I had felt like I had a second family. I was chasing the place where I fit in, the place where I had learned to like myself again, and finally the place where I had been happiest in my life. The other really important thing I realized was that no matter what I tried to do, or say, that I wouldn't be getting back to that place in Judo (that time had moved on) and for the current I became a symbol to the Judo Community at large of what can go wrong.
I saw a picture on the internet not to long ago, and laughed my ass off at that time. It was a spoof of those inspirational posters you see everywhere, you know the ones with a single word, a picture, and some inspirational passage underneath. The one I saw was "mistake" the picture was a sinking oil tanker, and the caption was "maybe the whole reason of your life is to serve as a warning to others." It was damn funny at the time, but strikes a bit of a deeper chord with me now that I think about it from this point of view. How could I have expected Judo Ontario to let me continue practicing Judo, I was, please forgive the flowery imagery, the albatross around its neck. I was a constant reminder of a problem that wouldn't go away even after it had in fact gone away. They would be talking about the error of a Judo Student having his neck broken at Schools all over the world as a reminder of what can happen if you don't know what you're doing, and it happened in Ontario under Judo Ontario's watch. I'm sure they would have liked me just to give up, and I did, but not right away.
I'm sure I could have been a hell of a lot nicer to the Judo Ontario people, but to me they were the bad guys at the time. I don't make an excuse for what I said or did, I did it, I'm not proud of some of the things I said, and I understand why judo Ontario was even more reluctant to help me. Being a pain in the ass never helped anyone, unless they were a bad guy in the WWE or something. My Dad always used to say you attract more bees with Honey then Vinegar, and I wish I had been paying attention at that point. Oh well water under the bridge.
Somewhere in here things started to take shape for the trial that I knew was coming. I hadn't been served with my summons yet, but that was basically a formality at this point. The one thing I did get that really set my mind to whirl was a statement taken from the Tripp academy in Ohio. The Tripps are a well known Judo/Ju-Jitsu family in the area, hell I even fought one of them before in a match where I was thrown on my head and feared that I had a concussion afterwards (never did get that checked out, but I did loose patches of my sight for about a half hour that made me late for work). The Prosecution (Chester's side) had written to them for clarification on the rules regarding a non-black belt running a Judo School.
The Tripps, sorry can't remember which one had written this diatribe, put out the fact that Judo Schools could be run by non-black belts, but only in the situation where there wasn't a single black belt in the area that could teach the school. I have two problems with this. The first is the simple fact that there wasn't another single black belt in the area that would have taught at the university, Sensei Hammel had burned a lot of the bridges I ended up burning. The second and more important point is that the Tripp academy is governed by the USJA (United states Judo Association) a completely different governing body then Judo Ontario, or it's main body Judo Canada. Although they both ultimately come under the Kodokan (the Home of Judo in Japan) for rulings, they both have differing rules. It's my understanding that they wrote to the Tripps because no one in Canada had ever invoked the Non-Black belt rule before, or at least not in such a situation, and no one had a clear understanding of how it worked. As the governing body of Judo in Ontario this was Judo Ontario's responsibility to make sure that clubs knew these rules, in fact I have read the governing rules of Judo and establishing a club in Ontario and until this incident Judo Ontario had no clear position on the rule as handed down from the Kodokan.
Kind of convenient for Judo Ontario that it could so easily invoke its own iteration of the rule after the fact and lock me out.
I forgot to mention this earlier, as it's not hugely relevant, but it does play an interesting part in this whole story. After the incident with Chester at the University of Windsor Judo club Jeff Piasic got in his car and disappeared into the states for over 2 weeks. It seems he drove down to Mexico, fearing that he might be arrested on criminal negligent charges. This was never brought up at the trial, not a peep of it. It was his right to do so I have no doubt but it does speak to the mindset he was in at the time, smacks of the guilt which anyone would have felt if they had meant to do it or not.
Anyways I was served somewhere near the end of that summer. It could have easily been a scene out of any movie where someone is served; it went down exactly the same way. I opened the notice and read the letter therein (well the important parts, the ting was like 45 pages). Basically it stated that I had been named in a lawsuit, other people named as above, by Chester lam and family. Chester lam was suing for $20 Million, and under Canadian law Chester's family was suing for an additional $5 million for loss of companionship. I found the wording kind of funny when I came out of shock. Chester wasn't dead but his family was suing for loss of companionship, very unusual wording indeed.
The letter put me in a state of emotional shock. I haven't fealty anything like it since, I basically walked around feeling hollow all day, wondering if I was going to be poor my whole life, or if they were going to end up taking my family's house, or all the things my dad had worked so hard to get for us since I was living at their house. 20 years old, wondering how my life came to an end, I probably would have considered suicide at this point, it wasn't that I felt bad I didn't feel anything and that was somehow worse, but I had a brush with it earlier in life and decided then and there it wasn't for me.
Life went on. The seasons changed, the interview continued, although a lot less frequent, until the point that I wondered if the trial would ever happen. I continued to work on Judo Ontario in an attempt to continue learning Judo and the pursuit of my fleeting ideal of a black belt. Which is to say a lot of nothing happened. In the middle I started to teach myself Guitar to take my mind off what had happened, and my increasing waistline which had been the reason I had started judo in the first place.
The only real important and significant thing to happen in this time that hasn't already been covered was Joe LeStrange's stepping down as President of Judo Ontario, and the appointing of a new President. Within days of learning of this changing of the guard (I had only made sporadic attempts to contact Judo Ontario in the intervening years, shielding myself from the pain I felt every time I was turned down.) I tried to contact this man. I made it through to him with relative ease and tried to talk to him about what had happened. I don't know if Joe had talked to him in the past and explained what had happened or not, what I do know is that this new president didn't take kindly to what I had to say.
I pointed out all the things I was told by Joe LeStrange and how he had in fact lied to me about a lot of things. At this point the president told me that Joe Lestrange was an honorable man who would never have done anything of the sort to anyone, and told me not to call back. I left it at that with Judo Ontario, and that is in fact the last time that I have talked to anyone from the Main office whatsoever.
As can be expected throughout this whole thing I went up and down the chain of command in the Judo world. I first contacted Judo Canada about this; they redirected me to Joe LeStrange (not a good one there.). Also out of desperation at one point I contacted the Kodokan, and was once again redirected to Judo Canada, who once again redirected me to Judo Ontario (Thanks guys). In a final attempt I sent out a 10 page e-mail to someone at Judo Canada about what had been happening between me and Judo Ontario, and that I had been shuffled around several times with no clear answers or results. This time I received an answer that they would look into it. I'm still waiting on a reply.
When the trial approached I had a very bad taste in my mouth I was sick of the whole situation that had been the undoing of my judo career, but there was more to come that even I didn't expect. I met with the lawyers on the defense side and went over a lot of testimony, and left that meeting seething in the back of my head, but happy it was coming to an end. It turned out that they were looking to play this thing towards Sensei Hammel being a scapegoat for everything and I being an unknowing accomplice, responsibility for this whole thing would be very minor I was told over and over. It didn't matter this was, like I said, the 4th year and I was ready to have this finished, I could also see a gold light at the end of the tunnel that might get me back on a judo mat.
What shocked the hell out of me was Chester's testimony. Chester had healed to the point where he could walk, very stiffly but walk nonetheless, and had motion over his right arm. Chester was no longer a quadriplegic and was on the mend, no one knew how far he would go, and this greatly diminished the amount he would be awarded, because at this point we knew he would be getting money just not how much, like I said though it was Chester's testimony that shocked the hell out of me. Chester was on record saying that I told all the students to stay and continue to practice Judo until 9 o'clock, which is the normal end of the class. He also was on record stating that I liked to teach dangerous and violent variations on the moves that are normally associated with Judo. That takes something that is mildly my fault and makes it squarely my fault, and puts words and deeds into my mouth. I will go on record to say that I have never, nor would I ever, teach a Judo class geared towards self defense, or make the movements of Judo more vicious or violent, it goes against everything the art is based on. Granted the Tokyo Police study Judo as a form of Self Defense and there are definite uses this way, but I knew that I didn't know enough to teach it this way.
I got the sense that it looked like Chester and his attorney were trying to make everyone look as bad as they could, and I can understand that Chester did in fact speak broken English but I never told those people to stay and, as he put it, keep continuing to practice dangerous techniques. I was told that in a lawsuit such as this the prosecution lists everyone they can possibly tie to it, knowing that they will never get the amount they are originally suing for, and name the others as sources to get as much money as possible. I was assured again by my Lawyers that I was at little risk, as they had my statement as well as statements from everyone in the class as to what happened and so far only Chester's painted me in a bad light.
I should have known better by now.
When the trial came I got a call from the lawyer, this is probably some 4 or 6 months after the final interview. I told him I couldn't afford the time off work, or gas money, or accommodations (they actually wanted me to pay my own way there and get a room in downtown Toronto.). I was told that the Lawyers would pay for the Room and Reimburse me for the mileage, but that I really needed to be at this case, and from a sunken spot in my stomach something told me I'd better be there too. Seeing as the Judo club was shut down I barely saw any of the students and had no idea what was going on with any of them, or if they had been contacted for the trial.
I went to Toronto and was vastly surprised by the room they put me in. It was lonely and dark, but nice. At the time I had been living with the woman who would be my wife, and missed her a great deal, knowing tomorrow was the trial didn't help that feeling much either, I couldn't shake the dark feeling hanging around me about the trial.
The next morning I got dressed and walked across the street to where the trial house was. I met my lawyer outside and talked to him about the case a bit. I remember I had to buy my own meals on this trip that was supposed to be paid for by the law firm, nice of them, and that I was in a little funk when I noticed that I was alone upstairs outside the courtroom. I asked about how the trial was going (they were in day 4 or 5 I think), and he answered that I was the last witness to be brought in seeing as Sensei Hammel was dead. I asked how it had been going, and was told that Jeff Piasic had built his whole entire case around the fact that I didn't tell him what was okay to use in Judo and what was not, this came as a shock to me, but like I said I should have seen that coming. I was told that Chester had lampooned me about telling them to continue class and that I had told them to do this before. I asked if Jason or Jonathan had said anything, and was told that they were never even called as witnesses.
Never called as Witnesses? What the hell was this crap? Chester's lawyer had called every Asian member of the class, who had in one way or another backed up Chester's story, and my Lawyer (yeah he was hired by the University and not myself so as I have said I should have known better) hadn't called a single witness to talk on my behalf or the behalf of Sensei Hammel? I'm sure that the lawyer saw the shock on my face because he hastily told me that everyone's testimony that wasn't called as a witness had been read into evidence. That all nice and everything but there's only so much that a neatly written letter can do, and no offense, but it doesn't come across as convincing as an actual person in the room talking it over.
I tried to talk to him again about what had happened to me in the last years with respect to my Judo career, to which he didn't even seem to care. I asked about the ban on me to perform Judo, and he finally took notice. It's funny cause I only mentioned this too him about 10 times over the past four years, but now he notices when were sitting outside the actual courtroom. He looks over at the Lawyer for Judo Ontario, and they talk a little, coming to the conclusion that since the trial was happening already that I should be allowed to continue in Judo and that he would get something from the president of Judo Ontario stating that I could in fact continue in Judo, and that Kayahara would not be included in the lawsuit (this was actually the one stipulation Kayahara put on me returning to the club, that I had it in writing that in no way would they be sued if I worked out there.).
I knew at this point that the Lawyers weren't caring about whether or not I, or anyone else involved were found to be negligent, but more about limiting the amount of money that would be paid out to Chester, leaving more people to hold the bag and more people to take the blame. Whatever the case I sat and read my book for the better part of an hour before I was called into the courtroom. I had once again gone over my testimony the night before so that I could be sure about the answers I was about to give. If there's one thing anyone should know about being in a trial it's to answer the question and the question only, when you expand on something it can be used against you if you use the wrong words, thank god the only times I expanded on something (as you can see from the length of this ramble I have a hard time not expanding on anything) it worked out okay for us, or then again did it? Who knows?
I took the stand knowing pretty much what was coming, a prosecution trying to make it look like I knowingly endangered Chester, and a defense lawyer who was more interested in containing damage then trying to prove that someone wasn't at fault. The question were pretty straightforward, and I remember there only being one time that gave my defense Lawyer pause, this being where I told the court that the bow out was a formal and world used symbol for official dismissal of a class. Beyond that everything went as these people thought it would as far as I understand. I went back home to Windsor and waited to hear something from the lawyers.
In the meantime I got in touch with their office to get re-reimbursed for the mileage that I had traveled, I actually faxed them copies of the gas receipts I had used going to Toronto. Very much Like Judo Canada I am still waiting for anything from them, and highly expect to never get anything even though it was about $80 in gas that I had been told I would be re-reimbursed.
The best part of all this comes about another 4 months down the road. You would have thought that the law firm would have been kind enough to call me and tell me what the results of the lawsuit had been, seeing as they were defending me and all, the obvious answer is that they didn't. Four or five months down the road I get a call from a friend, seems that I needed to see something in the newspaper. I'm sure you can see this one coming, right? I opened the paper to the page, and Lo and Behold, here a small 2 paragraph article stating the outcome of the trial that had been kept out of the papersfor so long.
In the end Chester was awarded 2.75 Million dollars, as I had coverage by the umbrella policy on my parent's house (5 million), and a liability policy at the university (13 million), as well as a secondary liability policy through State Farm (7 million) there was nothing to worry about financially. I knew this before I even went to the trial, but was still horrified to see that the University, Sensei Hammel, and Myself had been found responsible in the accident, Jeff Piasic, the guy who actually broke Chester's neck was acquitted of all responsibility in this matter. I guess personal representation goes a long way.
I was furious to say the least. I hadn't heard back from the Law firm, I had learned the results of the trial from the newspaper, and I had been found mostly responsible for this accident. It took a lot of self control to let it go and not write something to the newspaper about what had happened, maybe that was a mistake because it has eaten me inside every time I think about the fact that I was blamed for this, whether I had to pay a cent or not, I was considered at fault for something that I didn't do, that I didn't even know was my responsibility to do.
I attended Judo a couple of times at Kayahara before I saw this article in the paper. They were as good as their word, letting me back on the mat, but the class, and the sensei's were ice cold. I didn't feel like I belonged there and I felt they wanted me to leave sooner rather then later. I also tried Judo at another club, but it wasn't the same. I was so far out of practice that I didn't even want to think about trying to get back into competitions (the only way to get a black belt is to have enough points to test. You get points by beating black belts in tournaments, and teaching, two things I was too far out of practice to do I think.). Beating black belts for the precious points I needed to test for my black would have been hard enough before all of this started, but now after 4 years off, and WAY out of shape it was something I didn't want so much anymore. The sense of belonging was gone, the sense of family, and most of all the fun that I experienced on the mat. It was over for me, well Judo was at least.
Consequently all of these experiences, the good (which I might write about some day) and the bad have helped to shape my decision to try to move into Professional Wrestling, and the character that I intend to play therein. I'll talk more about that at another time though. I think this story needs to be laid to rest and a new can of worms opened up. For now I leave the idea of Judo behind, drained, but happy that I have told my side of the story finally. I don't know if this will ever be fully over for me, some part of me is likely to always think "what if" but that's the part I use to fuel the things I do now.