Thursday, December 01, 2005

Enter the Dragon

As a kid, I didn't exactly have the best record sticking with the various lessons my parents signed me up for. I think the shortest activity I ever took part in were tennis lessons at the town playground, where I lasted for about half a lesson, precisely long enough to learn how to grip the racket.

There were also the musical lessons, trumpet for half the year in fourth grade and then guitar lessons a little later on. I'm pretty sure my parents weren't too sad that the trumpet thing didn't pan out, since the trumpet is a pretty loud instrument and most 10-year-olds don't exactly sound like Miles Davis. While I never master reading music during my half-year of classes, I did get pretty good at using the spit valve. The guitar lessons, well, I think I just got a little bored rocking out to Mary Had a Little Lamb on the acoustic guitar. Wasn't exactly the same as going out on tour with the Stones.

Even with a moderately long list of failed lessons behind me, I did hold out hope for my fifth grade endeavor, karate lessons at the YMCA.

I figured the karate lessons would be fun, chopping boards in half with my bare hands and tossing bigger kids around like rag dolls sort of stuff. Plus, I figured that karate would me with my bully problem. It may have come up before that I was a pretty skinny kid, but for the most part, I successfully avoided being the target of bullies. Even the one bully issue I had when I was in fifth grade wasn't all that impressive. The kid who decide he wanted to shove me around when I was near my locker was shorter than me and almost as skinny. About all he had going for him on the bully front was that he was mean and stupid. Being not all that aggressive myself, I let him be mean and stupid towards me. With karate lessons, I figured I would be able to give him a good chop to the larynx and make him back off. Hell, even my fifth grade teacher told my parents during a teacher conference that she hoped I would give the bully a quick karate chop to the head.

Unfortunately, I don't think Bruce Lee mastered the martial arts by taking karate lessons at his local YMCA. The instructor for my class was basically a former hippie who had fallen under the spell of Eastern philosophy, or at least under the spell of David Carradine in Kung Fu. Rather than teaching the class cool fighting techniques, we got the full mumbo jumbo about how it is better to avoid a fight and how karate should never be used in an aggressive manner. Shut up hippie guy! I've got a bully to whack over the head. After ten weeks of lessons, we did eventually learn some punching, kicking, and blocking techniques, all of which would have been very effective if someone wanted to fight while you were standing perfectly still and waited for you to go through a full cycle of punches and blocks done at glacial speed in a very specific order. It was getting to the point where I was pretty sure my mom's step aerobics tapes were more violent than the stuff I was doing in class.

There was probably only one good fighting story that came out of my karate class, and it happened during the week I missed karate to go to a Bruins game with my dad (back when Stan Jonathan was playing. If I really wanted to beat up bullies, I would have been a hell of a lot better off studying him rather than learning about putting my hands over my heart from Kung Fu Hippie Guy.) One of the other kids taking karate with me was the meanest, toughest bully in the fifth grade, but I was on pretty good terms with him because I would "help" him with his classwork (which meant basically giving him the answers after I was done with my work). Seeing as how friendly bully was much meaner and much more aggressive than I was, the lame pace of the karate class was probably driving him ten times crazier than it was me. Apparently, fed up one class with hippie guy's passive peace message, friendly bully challenged hippie guy to a sparring session where he neutralized hippie guys vast knowledge of karate and Eastern philosophy (or at least David Carradine's monologues) by kneeing him in the balls and sending him down in a heap on the mat.

As big of a disappointment as karate class was, it did teach me one valuable lesson, which was to never tell anyone that you're taking karate lessons.

One day on the playground, I was put in a headlock by a very small bully, one who was even shorter and skinnier than the bully who was normally tormenting me. Of course, I had no idea how to get out of a headlock, since hippie guy had never shared useful information like that at the Y. As a small circle of other fifth graders surrounded us, with the miniature bullies arms wrapped around my head, a girl I knew piped up and said "Don't worry, he's taking karate lessons." Eventually, a teacher showed up and saved me. Thanks, hippie guy!

And so ended my formal martial arts training.