For most of us, the story is all too familiar. Every Saturday, we sat in the glow of our low definition television sets, our frenetic energy building from the recent overdose of a hyper-sweetened cereal. As the credits of the cartoons came to a melodic close, our minds were already beginning to rehearse the complex kung fu moves that were about to unfold in front of our eyes as someone’s master was avenged, another one’s style challenged to be the best. It was the beginning a martial arts obsession that would follow many of us into adulthood. I can still vividly recall practicing my moves with reckless abandon in the living room, even accidentally, temporarily debilitating my father with a well-placed, poorly timed cowboy boot covered kick to the stomach. Yes, cowboy boots. Before you rush to judgment, don’t lie to yourselves. We all had some weird thing we were attached to as 6 year olds. Mine were my cowboy boots. Chuck Norris kicked ass in cowboy boots for years, so I was ahead of my time.
My obsession continued throughout pre-adolescence but was placed on the backburner in lieu of other sports. Basketball and football consumed my after school time, and kung fu theater gave way to weekend tournaments and away games. My love for the way of the fist and foot bubbled beneath the surface, using my spare time to wear out my VHS tapes of Speakman, Van Damme and Seagal. The bad acting and worse writing escaped me as I fast forwarded and rewound the spectacularly choreographed fight scenes, the protagonists conducting their symphony of violence with helicopter kicks and aikido throws.
The fickle bitch known as puberty brought martial arts back into my life as a teenager. My freshman year, I simply stopped growing. Once a monster lineman in the pony league, I was now the shortest, skinniest kid in my class. Football and basketball were completely out of the question. The coaches and my fellow students could barely contain their contemptuous laughter when I showed up for tryouts. The flood of competing hormones into my bloodstream wreaked havoc on my complexion and somehow deluded me into thinking that my oversized corrective lenses were totally cool. Add the fact that I transferred to this high school and knew all of one person, and you had the perfect recipe for a blank slate ready to be molded by the empty hand.
With the success of a franchise based on a down and out kid and his wizened instructor, Tae Kwon Do schools were literally everywhere. After vigorous due diligence (I visited one school), I reached my hands, laden with paper cuts from bagging at the grocery store, into my pockets and paid for my first month of classes. The sense of exhilaration I felt was palpable. No accomplishment on the field or court (and believe me, there weren’t many) compared to the anticipation I felt at that moment. No longer would I be confined to the mental rehearsal of the Dim-Mak, exploding the bottom brick in front of throngs of admirers. The journey that continues today, was about to begin. I had no idea what I was in for.