In many ways the death of John Wallace Hill was the proverbial brick that broke the dromedary’s back. It was very hard for me over the past few years watching this kid give up on life. It’s not that he didn’t want to live, at least on a conscious level, but it was very clear that on another level he was dead set on dying.
He was very stubborn, but otherwise showed no sign of discipline or willpower. I suppose that I should not take it personally that I could not get him to follow the rules of or practice or even come to a regular class of kung fu because even his lifelong love of the samurai arts could not get him to follow the rules of or practice either.
I remember the first time I met John. It was at the first M.O.C. martial arts panel. I had been hounding Roland about wanting to do a martial arts panel for several years. Martial arts figure into a lot of science fiction literature, movies, and television shows. I even pointed out to him that there were lots of martial artists who went to science fiction conventions and that he himself was a tae kwon do practitioner. Eventually Roland decided to let me do a martial arts panel and it was the first one at any science fiction convention. When I told him that I would look for other people to be on the panel he said that he had been talking to a number of people about my idea and he would just pass the word on for them to come be on my panel.
The next year M.O.C. had the first science fiction martial arts panel in history. I showed up in a full Sam with green sash, to indicate that I was Taoist, before the panel was to start. I was the first one in the room and I sat down in the audience in the front row center. Eventually some fans started filing in and then some of my panelists arrived. There was John, a lesbian woman who taught self-defense for women based on some Korean art, and a couple of others. The room filled up and they dithered for a few minutes waiting for me to show up. The other people on the panel sat there and looked lost until John decided to take charge. He stood up and announced that he thought they should get going instead of just waiting for the organizer of the panel. After introducing himself and giving a ranking in Japanese, which he claimed spuriously was one rank below the highest possible rank in his art, he had everyone else introduce themselves and they all gave a standard belt ranking. Belt ranking started with judo in Japan. Its originator was the originator of judo himself, Jigoro Kano, in the 1800s and it has become standard practice throughout Japan.
I continued to sit in the audience while they gave a brief introduction to each of their arts and then proceeded immediately to a question-and-answer period because they had no idea what else to do. Every time they started to get stuck I would ask an insightful and leading question. After fielding a few questions about kung fu John decided that I belonged up there on the stage with the rest of them and asked me to come up there and introduce myself. I then mounted the stage, turned and faced the audience and introduced myself and explained that I was in fact the organizer of this panel, whereupon John said, “I might’ve known. That’s just like the Shaolin!”
After that I led the discussion and gave the panelists topics and had them demonstrate a few simple moves. After the panel was over, I led a small group of interested audience members and John to an empty room where I continued to answer questions and teach a few techniques. That was more than 20 years ago. (I did not say that that was more than 20 years ago; Dragon NaturallySpeaking just up and typed it. I was going to say that was 18 or 19 years ago but I can’t explain why it typed that.)
The two things that stood out about John as he towered over me that first day were his leadership ability and his sense of humor. In the end his sense of humor was gone and that was how I knew that he would soon be gone as well.
Certainly this was not the last in a long line of stressful events that I’ve been dealing with nor was it by many years the first but it was the one which made me realize that if I didn’t get a break I was going to.
Copyright September 2012 Julian Thomas Reid III