I took my son to his first karate lesson tonight. Boy was he excited! And I was excited for him and with him. It’s been raining here in Dallas all day and the weather threatened to make our mood as damp as the ground. But when I came home from work my happy little boy was practically bouncing off the walls, so giddy was he to go to his first karate lesson.
I did what any sane Catholic dad would do in this situation. I left him with my wife and our daughter and ran to mass.
When I returned we hopped in the car and headed over to the local rec center. We arrived a few minutes early so we sat in the lobby playing with my iPad. After a few minutes a rather rotund looking man walked past us wearing what appeared to be a traditional karate uniform. I’m no expert but, since he was the only person in the building dressed head to toe in white linen and wearing a red cloth belt I took my chances that he might be associated with the class. As he walked away from us and headed down the hall my son took hold of my face and said: “Daddy, look! That lady’s doing karate too!” This lead to Daddy having a polite talk with his son about the fact that some men simply have pony tails that hang to their butts. “But why, Daddy?” “Just because, son.” This received the very kind reply (with a chuckle) “but not me and you…” You couldn’t be more right, sonny.
We got up and followed the Crystal Gayle wannabe around the corner where he had dropped to the floor and began stretching. I thought this was a bit odd as did my son. Again, I had to politely remind him not to point, stare, and/or laugh. As the man was standing up I inquired whether he was the instructor. He quickly sprang to his feet and then bowed deeply at the waist, what we in Catholic circles might call a “profound bow”. This took me off guard, but not my son who promptly bowed right back. “No, I am not the teacher.” That was it. Dead silence. In fact, it was one of those awkward silences where I was trying to figure if he was putting me on. I finally spoke up. “So, um, who’s the, um, teacher then?” “Ah… Sabom-nim Brian. He will be here soon and you will know when he is here.” Another thirty seconds of silence. “OK, how will I know he’s” – “He makes quite the entrance.” From that moment on I was expecting my son’s karate teacher to be Cher and that he would drop through the ceiling panels with a coterie of male dancers. In fact, it was not that dramatic.
Just then a younger lady wearing the same get-up approached us. “I’m Amy. Are you new?” she asked. “Yes, my son’s first night. We registered last week but they didn’t tell us there was a uniform.” She assured us that everything would be OK and that in the pre-school group he would be just fine without the uniform for a while. As she was starting to explain everything, a very young girl wearing the exact same thing (only smaller) appeared at her side. She couldn’t have been more than seven. Amy continued, “Sabom-nim Brian will have all the forms to order the uniform for you.” Here she was cut off by the little imp. “But you can just buy them at Dick’s Sporting Goods. They’re much cheaper.” Amy stomped down on the little one’s foot, simultaneously elbowing her in the face and shooting her a death stare. Almost in a growl, “No, they’re NOT! Anyway, my master will be along shortly. You will know when he arrives.”
Master? And what the hell was this glorious, cryptic arrival? Now I was really anticipating something huge. And almost without warning Saboomboom Brian was in the mix of people around us chatting with the ponytailed man. OK, not at all what I was expecting. There was no grand entrance, unless she was referring to his ability simply to vaporize into the crowd. That was bizarre. And I was still stuck on this white Texan teenage girl’s use of “master”.
Sablome Brian reminded me of retired school safety officer, a bit portly in the middle, severely balding up top, and wearing the same white outfit as the red-belts except his hadn’t fit in twenty years, was faded, and had dark blue bands on it. We all adjourned into the studio where very quickly Amy, the little waif girl, ponytail-man, and Dipsy-Doodle Brian had arranged the twenty or so children in lines in a matter of seconds. Not bad considering many of these kids are probably medicated to the hilt for attention deficits. And then the yelling commenced. “Yah! This is first position (or whatever term he used, I wasn’t paying attention). This is the front! When I say Blah, you face front! Blah!” I could see my son with a terribly serious demeanor trying his best to do exactly what was being shown him. “Blah!” It got better. “Now, count it off with me as we engage with roundhouse kicks! Hana! Dul! Ses! Nes!” Yes, I used Google translate. Sue me. “Courtney,” barked Salami Brian to the tiny twit red-belt, “What is the difference between my counting and yours?” She came across the floor to him. “Um, I, well, uh…” She looked down at the floor. “Courtney, the answer is NOT in the linoleum. If you don’t know you bow deeply and say Master I do not know! Kevin,” he continued to a little red-belt boy. “Sir!” bellowed Kevin’s squeaky voice. “The difference is that you are loud and we are weak!” My son did a great job masking the sense of terror that I know had befallen him. “Let us continue with our roundhouse kicks!” Yes, everything he said had an exclamation point inflected after it. And roundhouse kicks? Seriously? Are you Billy Jack?
The class only lasted about thirty minutes. I began to wonder if I would be greatly aware of Shaboopie Brian’s exit as well. And I almost was keenly aware that the clock was winding down when I started hearing faint popping noises. I swear it was Sabombadee Brian’s hip coming out of its socket. One too many roundhouse kicks. The yelling subsided and the kids scattered. What on earth had I just witnessed? I gathered my son. “How’d you like it, buddy?” I asked almost about to burst into laughter. “Daddy,” he said and then paused. “It was fun, but it was hard and it was tricky.” We approached the master together, my son two steps behind me. “So, is there a uniform or something?” I said trying to hold back my laughter. And before I knew it, the Bear Bryant of children’s karate coaches was no more. The man who answered me seemed as normal as my next door neighbors (the one’s to the left as you’re looking at my house because the others are some freak-o’s). “Yeah, I can get ya’ the form next class if you like.” He stooped down to my son, looked him in the eye, and said “So did you like your first class, pal?” My boy, not knowing quite what to do simply said “It was fun, but it was hard and it was tricky.” Then he looked up at me for approval.
We walked back to the car through a light rain and had ourselves a good laugh. “What was your favorite part?” I asked him. He reminded me of how Master Brian had pulled his two little red-belts in front of the crowd to demonstrate a maneuver that involved the two of them pretending to beat each other to a pulp. “Boy son,” I said, “do you think Mommy’s going to believe any of this?” We settled on “no” and drove home.