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“Taekwondo Yo”

The healthy years: a class to kick a*& in Germany …

The widely popular Korean martial art Taekwondo mostly involves fast, combative multiple-angle kicks and strikes (jabs, chops, blocks, and choking, too). American-style Taekwondo incorporates a more comprehensive approach and includes many hand techniques. Any modern dunce knows this. Okay, maybe not. But that’s beside the point.

My thinking was that I needed to burn some of the excess energy I had been retaining, so when I stumbled upon an expatriate website posting for a few free trial sessions of American-style Taekwondo, I knew my ticket to the Promised Land had arrived.

“Adult and children’s classes will be taught in English … there is great emphasis placed on safety and respect.” With an email exchange and phone call to the class instructor, the stage was set. My invitation was verbally sealed and I was prepared to kick some ass. Enthusiasm swept over my body as I imagined numerous learned martial arts methods for beating down any malicious punks that crossed my path. However, as soon as I realized I had been influenced by countless vigilante action movies, I arrived back to reality and began to accept the sad truth that a civilized man cannot act as a violent law dog. Although, for the sake of adventure, I figured I’d give the class a shot anyway.

There I was, on my most anticipated day of physical contact. Upon entering the studio, I gazed around the classroom and realized I was the only wannabe martial arts enthusiast in black windbreaker pants. The other warriors were wearing full getups, with a complete mental mindset to boot. I began to understand that white martial arts uniforms mean serious business.

With only a couple of minutes to spare before class, I made my way over to the instructor. “Hi, I’m Dave. You’re my master. I will submit myself to your martial arts journey, one of great purpose and enlightenment,” I sarcastically thought to myself as we shook hands.

Wait, what? All of this would have to happen without socks, though? What if I stepped on something? What about athlete’s foot? What if my feet smelled worse than the next guy’s? There were a lot of unanswered questions floating around in my head. But I suppose I took the risk in the first place, so why not throw caution to the wind and abandon my strongly held belief regarding no bare feet in front of strangers? Ah, screw it. I ripped both socks off, bowed forward in martial arts fashion, and stepped onto the training room mat in preparation for my first Taekwondo session.

It all starts with the breathing, and stretching, and mental discipline, and coordination, physical skill, and ability. In layman’s terms, it’s a really long process to perfect a martial art such as Taekwondo. The few students that comprised our small training class had three to six months more experience to my zero. But, I was lucky enough to get right down to the meat and potatoes of punching during my opening act. The one-two combination punch and pull technique was first on the list, and it turned out to be loads of fun, once I got the hang of it.

We need not maintain a continual punching rhythm, our instructor informed us, since it would be too predictable for an opponent. Instead, we wanted to achieve more of a brief stop after the one-two combination, almost like a re-loading. We punched on the move coming forward, we punched and retreated backwards, and we punched for a set of twenty combinations.

“Ahhh!” Any built-up stress I had was now gone. With respect to form, I remembered that the movement should be made through the hips, and the necessary body stance weight distribution is likened to the idea of squatting over a dirty public toilet in an emergency situation. Other than that, it felt pretty damn good to punch the crap out of my class partner’s padded gloves. The receiving end was easy, too, since he hit like a skinny girl. We finished the class with some deep breathing and stretching, a rather nice wind-down to an active session.

Class continued …

Kicked in the stomach, punched and thrashed in the forearms, pushed in the chest, and stabbed in the back and abdomen with a blunt object—it was all part of the act at Taekwondo class. A few days later, I’d be whining about a bruised arm and a sore back and stomach. We were told it would be that way, though. It was necessary for us to experience what it would be like to get stabbed—not with a real knife but with a hard blunt object wrapped in tape and made to look like a knife; and we needed to learn how to combat such an unfortunate attack. Lucky for me, I had the privilege of being paired up with the instructor, who showed me no mercy.

“Come on, you can do better than that,” he commanded. He wanted aggressive stabs.

“Okay,” I timidly replied, trying to develop a pugnacious spirit on the fly.

“Good, good job,” he said after I hit him with a succession of stabs in all spots of his abdominal region. He wasn’t just going to stand there and take it either. He’d have to punch me in my forearm—the one that was doing the stabbing—in order to get me to stop. He was hitting me hard now, and it seemed to be working.

“Fuhhh!” I yelled, and swallowed the rest of what I was going to say. It was then I realized that I was competing with the likes of a New York mom and her teenage daughter, who were letting out whiny ouuus right next to me. Fair enough. I needed to act like a man, so when we switched positions, I bumped my aggression up a notch. I started punching him repeatedly in the forearm as he charged at me like a Spanish bull. Yeah. I was getting him good now. He was even kind enough to give me a compliment on a punch. I could feel no pain. Indeed, in that moment, however brief, I had arrived.

Thinking back, what an honor it was to be part of a group that would go on to make our master proud. With such force and precision, we perfected blocking techniques for combating an assailant's knife attack; skillfully threw punches in the direction of each other’s noses, with the proper combative block for that type of attack; and efficiently executed blocks against dramatic snap kicks to the stomach. I mean, how often do you willingly get to snap kick another guy in the gut? This happens only once in a lifetime.

It was all an adrenaline rush and a pretty spectacular workout. And at the other end of it, I came to understand and appreciate the many disciplined movements and relaxation techniques—windmill motion movements, back leg to front leg body shifting, and relaxed breathing—that were taught to us in the Taekwondo session. When all was said and done, I could think only like the Taekwondo kid: “Mercy is for the weak. We do not train to be merciful here. Here, on the streets, in competition: A man confronts you, he is the enemy. An enemy deserves no mercy.” (Karate Kid, 1984)


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