Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Martial Arts

I’ve given up Hapkido. A cabal of children forced me out. I spend my days pinching the sides of my temples, waving a hand to stop constant complaints. I went to Hapkido to sweat and exercise and do something besides staring at the wall when the sun goes down. At first, I was intrigued by the complex art. Like most things in Korea, it seemed needlessly complicated; the first move you learn is how to get out of a wrist hold. You step forward at an angle darting out your arm and twisting your wrist and then step to the side windmilling your arm and turning your hand over as if it were a blade. Then, with your free hand, you grab the attacker’s hand pinching the knuckle above the thumb and twist like a doorknob before stepping in and dipping into the upper arm with your forearm. All of this was complicated by the way everything was explained; a lack of a common language made every attempt at instruction difficult. I learned through grunts and broken English, and was continuously patted on the shoulder and shown again and again the proper way to perform the technique. When I thought I made progress a new student joined with his father. He was seventeen, even though he looked like he was twelve and acted the same age. He wore glasses and had an eggplant haircut of fiery hair, he told me he was moving to America and I imagined him as the kid everyone tells to drink cat piss as a joke. He was obsequious to the point of caricature of his own culture—following behind everyone offering them water and shoulder rubs. One day while we waited in line to roll across the mat he tried to rub my shoulders. I turned and almost hit him. He didn’t try to touch me again.
                A friend of his joined a week later. He was pale with a weedpatch of black hair growing into a long crew cut, the seventeen year old slowly began to rebel with his new co-conspirator running around the room as if it were a daycare. He was no longer obseqiuous, the idea of independence brought by his hounddog cheeked friend had turned him into an asshole.
             There were two masters, one young a few years older than me, and the other looked like the main bad guy from Best of The Best, except he had both eyes and he was in his fifties. His name was Lee and he looked like he could chop a phone book in half with his hand. After these two began running around the room, Lee showed up less and less. The less he showed the more children appeared, coalescing into a rebel force against any attempt at training. They rolled across the mat farting and giggling, singing popular Korean jingles and holding up all instruction. They spun in attempts to kick the focus mitts and fell to the floor in convulsions of laughter. The end came when a twelve-year-old, as agile as a cat, began doing backflips while I fell over attempting to do a one handed cartwheel. I left one night, with the young master besieged by the children, he stood with balled fist and I could tell, soon, very soon, one of the kids would go missing. It was at this time, three weeks ago, I found out about a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu school a few blocks from my work. I signed up as soon as someone showed me where it was.

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