It was a mildly cool night in San Diego in the winter of 1992. I was with Laurie, my girlfriend at the time, enjoying a quiet dinner at an Italian restaurant in La Jolla. We heard a great commotion at the door, and in walks Muhammad Ali, the greatest heavyweight boxer of all time. A large entourage followed behind him. As he sat down, the whole of the restaurant focused on Ali, watching his every move. We found out later he was there celebrating his 50th birthday.
I said to Laurie, “I really wish I could meet him”. She said, “Why don’t you?” I explained, “You don’t just walk up to Muhammad Ali and say hello”. She looked at me and said, “Why not?” I thought for a moment and said, “What would I say to him”? She said, “Just be yourself, and the conversation will take care of itself”. I thought, how often in life do you get a chance to meet one of your true heroes? Before I could talk myself out of it, I shot up out of my seat and walked over to him. I patiently waited for the moment he had a break in the conversation with his friends; I did not want to interrupt Muhammad Ali.
My heart pumping wildly, I put my hand out and said, “I would like to introduce myself. As a martial artist, I have always admired what you have contributed to boxing and also to karate”. I told him I was aware of how Bruce Lee and many others had emulated his footwork and movement in the ring and how the martial arts had benefited from this. He looked at me and in a very soft, gentle voice said, “You know what? Not many people know that. I am pleased that you realised where it came from. Here, let me give you my autograph”. He wrote his autograph out for me, as we continued our chat. Needless to say, I was beside myself as I thanked him and walked back to my seat.
As I sat down Laurie smiled at me and said, “See, that wasn’t so hard. All you have to do is reach out for the things you want in life”. I regret that I did not have my camera with me that night. But many years later, I look at this autograph from one of the true legends of sport in my lifetime, and I smile to myself.
The Night I Met Muhammad Ali: Getting What You Want Out of Life is an original article by Sensei Matt Klein.