Kicking the Master in the balls

Never the joiner, today I jump into something Momalon cooked up:  five for ten.  I’m quite captivated by the idea of multiple bloggers concentrating on the same theme at the same time, a deliberate attempt to heighten some sort of shared consciousness.  Here goes for “courage”:

I was always the very shortest kid in my class growing up.  Sadly, Peter Wolf (the second shortest) claimed to be the very shortest one day in 7th grade so that he would get to be a team captain (since the coach said that the tallest and the shortest would be captains that day), and since Peter was more popular than me the other kids agreed that he was shorter once he wanted to be shorter.  Hah!

Somewhere around this time I took it upon myself to learn a martial art.  The only one available that knew how to get to by bus was Tae Kwan Do, and I became a diligent student for over a year.  Several days per week, in the rain, the snow or the sunny spring I rode down to the Dojo, which always smelled strangely sour and exotic, like the thick cotton of your uniform when you first bought it and tied it up with your plain white belt.

My Master was an eighth degree black belt, which was pretty impressive.  You could make first-degree black belt in around year if you really tried, but to get to the second degree was much more difficult.  Eighth degree was like a mountain peak shrouded in mist.  The Master had sleepy eyes and a few thick hairs about his chin that couldn’t really be called a beard—but it was more than I had on my pubescent chin.  He had only a few words in English, and those were spoken with such a thick Korean accent that we pretty much never spoke—a sort of worm-hole Shao Lin Temple just blocks from my family’s Jewish Temple on Toughy (looks “tough,” pron. “too-ee”).

We did drills, routines of punches and kicks, and we leapt over bars to send flying kicks into a dense and unyielding bag.  And we would spar.  For some reason I was the only kid in the class and I would often have to spar with this twenty-seven-year-old guy who towered over the instructor.  It all seemed like good stuff to toughen one up.

Months rolled by and belts changed from yellow, to blue and purple… I can’t remember them all, but one snowy Chicago day I got off the bus and trudged through fast-falling sleet, past the White Hen Pantry of the strip mall and into the silent dojo.  I changed and we waited, but no one else arrived.  The Master then put me through some exercises and drills and then he gestured for me to come at him with a series of kicks.  I did as he said, and he batted each kick away like it was a pathetic gnat.

Sleepy-eyed as ever he subtly mocked me and bid me to kick harder.  I did, but the harder I kicked the more it hurt my shin as he thwacked each attempt away with blows so deft I couldn’t quite see them.  I felt my frustration and determination rising, my shins aching with lightning bolts of pain and then, I’m not quite sure how it happened, I got the kick of a lifetime through the buzzing rotors of his arms.  Perhaps because I was a diminutive twelve-year-old, the height of my kick was pretty much testicular.  I felt my toes absorbed by something much softer and squishier than the master’s forearms, softer than the tough old bag… and then time stopped.

The Master’s eyes came terribly awake.  All eight degrees of his black belt instinct triggered awake and in a flash both instantaneous and almost languidly lyrical I found myself sailing through the air, slammed onto my back with the Master standing over me with fists of fury poised like scorpion tails over my shocked face.

I saw the Master’s sense of time and place return to him, the pain and shock receding from his groin and the realization that I was a little kid who helped pay his modest way in this city so far from his home coming back into focus.  As he stepped back, allowing me to get back up uninjured I saw one other expression flit across his face for the briefest flicker, an expression I had never seen and would never see from him again:  respect.

Tae Kwan Do had its share of strange experiences, like the grown man I met at an exhibition where you vied for your next belt.  While waiting he chose to tell me, in graphic detail, all about his work… as a mortician.  That wasn’t right.

I hit my own limit as a brown belt when it came time to break boards.  I was certain that I would only break hands and feet, and I guess my dilettante interest had run its course.

Once in New York I tried Aikido, but all I got was vertigo so serious I eventually had to go to the doctor over it—the conclusion was that my inner ears were not the best and I’d lost some hearing in one ear (probably from one particular Boomtown Rats concert).  As much as I wanted to be part of those swirling circles, those noble warriors, that path was blocked for me.

Perhaps I write about this as an inkling of what boys and girls without power sometimes experience as they try to make their way into the realms of courage—of power, respect, manhood or womanhood and the need to figure out who they are and who they are not.  As much as we want to protect our kids, sometimes they need to taste dirt in order to learn perseverance and find their true paths; and as parents, sometimes we get kicked in the tender spots and we respond, half-animal in our reactions honed over battles of many sorts waged over a longer span of years on this planet than our kids, and something in us also appreciates their fight, their life spirit and their emerging power.

Here’s to hoping that we can honor the courage we all possess, particularly the  courage of the group, and here’s to the power that accrues of our courage and hard-won wisdom, carrying the spirit of those we have lost forward with us as fortification, illumination and ensouling vivification… and to developing the restraint to then channel our love-driven power down the paths of right action and right thinking.

Namaste, Bruce

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20 Responses to “Kicking the Master in the balls”

  1. Amelia Says:

    Beautifully written, and it made me laugh out loud. Courage can be funny too! 😉

  2. Cheryl Says:

    I loved this. Especially this: “As much as we want to protect our kids, sometimes they need to taste dirt in order to learn perseverance and find their true paths; and as parents, sometimes we get kicked in the tender spots and we respond, half-animal in our reactions honed over battles of many sorts waged over a longer span of years on this planet than our kids, and something in us also appreciates their fight, their life spirit and their emerging power.”

    So very, very true. (in a side note, we got our 5 year-old into karate to help build some confidence. He got in trouble for kissing a girl, and then he quit the week before he was to test for his yellow belt: he just hated the whole sparring aspect!)

  3. TheKitchenWitch Says:

    This post cracked me up! As a scrawny gnat of a weakling myself, I cheered for you when you made that kick!! YES!

  4. Kristen @ Motherese Says:

    Like Kitch, I cheered your well-placed delivery on behalf of underdogs everywhere.

    And I appreciate your reminder that sometimes we parents must let our kids fall in order for them to learn the courage and will to get up again – not to mention the good sense to sidle away from creepy morticians.

  5. Sarah Says:

    “…as much as we want to protect our kids, sometimes they need to taste dirt in order to learn perseverance and find their true paths…”

    And there it is. It’s parenting from the sidelines, isn’t it? While this story made me laugh and smile and cheer your 12-year-old self on, you stopped with with the last two paragraphs. You speak so many truths at once it would take me 10 more minutes just to sit and break it all down.

    I believe, as you, that we all possess the courage. It is there within is. It is there waiting when we need it, if only we call it up. Like my father believed that inside everyone is goodness and light, such is true with courage and strength. There is so much depth in us, and I fear that due to our now-so-busy-all-the-time-busy lives we will miss out on seeing so much of it, realizing so much of it.

    Right action. Right thought. Yes.
    Right words.
    Thank you.

    • privilegeofparenting Says:

      It’s so nice to connect with you, Sarah, in this way—finding ways to honor our unique voices and combining them into a joined spirit of caring about our kids and our world.

      And particular thanks to you and Jen for having the courage to put it out there and engender community in the lovely way that is unfolding and coalescing this week out of your inspired, compassionate and sisterly vision.

  6. Natalie Says:

    Here, here!

  7. Amber Says:

    I am very, VERY happy to see your voice in this “courage” mix!

    Like Kristen and Kitch, I was cheering you on when you kicked the guy. : )

    • privilegeofparenting Says:

      Thanks, Amber—It’s just great to be in this with all you guys.

      BTW, although it was gratifying to kick that Master that time, I’d be remiss if I didn’t admit that I also carry a feeling of real affection for him, and for his warrior spirit—a dash of which he ultimately shared with me and helped me carry forward into my life. He also maybe taught a good parenting lesson: how to take a kick and not retaliate.

      See ya’ round the themes.

  8. cevraini Says:

    This was a wonderful story – and a great way to “wrap up” our Courage discussion. I especially appreciate how you remind us that our kids ( and US) need to taste that dirt sometimes so that we learn how to get back up.

    Thanks for joining us!

  9. Linda at Bar Mitzvahzilla Says:

    Bruce, there’s a certain amount of “The Karate Kid” in this post, I’m sure of it!

    I think it takes a lot of courage to assess yourself honestly and, instead of whining about being, um, height challenged, deciding to maximize your effect. That’s pretty impressive and definitely courageous!

    • privilegeofparenting Says:

      I like to think that if we band together we’re more like the Magnificent Seven, or seventy, or seven hundred… Ninja Turtling and Teletuby-ing our way to a better world.

      Namaste & power to the outliers!

  10. Shawna Says:

    Thank you for linking up to Five for Ten. This has been the most fun serious post so far. The imagery was fantastic. And I adore that you tied it into parenting, into giving our children the gift of courage as they struggle through this thing we call life.

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