One of the many star-turns of the Wally Jay Remembrance convention was Prof. Dave Castoldi. Prof. Dave has a quiet, yet gravelly whisper of a voice, that combined with his unfailingly affable manner, makes you realise how dangerous a martial artist he really is. Though I like to think of myself as a fairly observant fellow, it was my friend who pointed this out to me in a typically pithy fashion, “I’m just surprised he could take time out from the set of ‘The Sopranos'”. I’m hoping that Prof. Dave, who despite his skills is a gentle soul with a great sense of humour, will not take offence at this, but I couldn’t help laughing at my friend’s remark and ever since have been unable to think of him as Prof. Dave; instead he is now and will forever be ‘Don’ Castoldi!
Bear in mind that I am myself part-Sicilian, and as far as I can tell, the only Sicilian fencer left alive, and I’ve been working with stilettos since I was four years of age! So when I tell you that Prof. ‘Don’ really impressed with his extraordinary defences against genuinely perilous scenarios featuring a blade edge, against the throat or groin, please understand this is as serious an endorsement as I can give.
What made his knife defence so striking was the softness with which he moved, and this from a large, powerful man with plenty of muscle and mass to back up any kind of defence he cared to mount. I was greatly pleased for once to hear another teacher extolling the virtue of engaging the attacking with a stroke; the purpose being to avoid ‘spooking’ your opponent, the consequences of which with a naked blade edge against the carotid, the jugular or the femoral artery being too dire to contemplate. Prof. Castoldi seems to casually hypnotise the attacker in that first moment and movement of his defence, with the assailant visibly ‘jerking awake’ part-way through having the knife taken from them – very smooth!
Although not one for ‘war stories’, as he plainly has nothing to prove to anyone, Don…sorry, Dave Castoldi told a story amongst the other teachers present; apparently a few years ago, he was set upon by three knife-wielding assailants as he took a short-cut through an alleyway near his home. The first man he quickly disarmed and dropped, and the second, while the third had to be persuaded to stick around by the Professor’s large, firm hand on his collar. While listening carefully for sirens, Prof. Castoldi remonstrated with the man with the aid of a conveniently placed ‘dumpster’* by opening and closing the lid repeatedly and rapidly on the ruffian’s head.
I’m reminded of another friend of mine, Gary Stringer who was once visiting me when I still lived in Covent Garden in London’s West-end. Gary, who was a frequent visitor, would take the train down from Derby and arrive at the old St. Pancras Station. In those days, prior to its recent refurbishment into an extraordinary amalgam of high-Victorian engineering art and 21st Century showcase, there was a subway between it and King’s Cross station accessed by a long stairway. The stairway was punctuated in a couple of places with short landings, each with a public telephone on the wall. Expecting Sifu Gary one day, I wasn’t surprised initially by his call to tell me he would be with me within the half-hour. I was surprised part-way through the short conversation to hear Gary ask me to hang on for a second. As I waited I could hear a faint discussion being conducted, followed by a series of ear-shatteringly loud cracking sounds, causing me to pull the receiver away from my ear. When Gary arrived at my apartment, I asked him if he had dropped the receiver? No, he explained, some idiot attempted to mug him at knifepoint while he was talking to me; he apologised about the loud noises off, but he ‘remonstrating’ with his attacker, using the handset of the phone as the instrument of chastisement! Brothers under the skin – I really have to introduce you guys some day!
My earlier remarks may have led you to imagine Prof. Castoldi is an intimidating figure – granted, he is a great bear of a man, but like all truly tough guys he is gentle, unaggressive and unassuming; just don’t mistake that for weakness! Great guy, great martial artist; it was an honour to spend time with him.