Sunday, December 20, 2015
T'was the week before Christmas
Once upon a few years back... it was a cold and cloudy day at the training hall a week before Christmas and I was teaching the 6:30 family class which had a mix of adults and children. David and Zachary were about 10 years old and were quintessential pre-teen boys; all snips and snails and puppy-dogs' tails. They are cousins and as anyone could see, best friends.
On this particular day we were working on One-Step Sparring, a training device that molds the mind and body through repetition to accept without fear direct attacks to the face, and a series of defensive techniques designed to incapacitate an attacker.
Teaching involves good judgment, pairing the right people together, pushing practitioners to the limit, but stopping before they break down. This exercise can be taxing to the students as they have to really try to attack and defend while demonstrating good judgement and control. Accidents happen, and sometimes an injured party is not always immediately forgiving. Therefore, you want men with men, green belts with green belts, and kids with kids. You never place a husband with his wife, a brother with his sister, and never, ever, a David with a Zachary. Ever.
The size and make up of the class left me with few options, and after pairing everyone up as best as possible I was left with Zach facing David. Well, I figured; how bad could it be?
As required, the boys began by facing each other at attention. They bowed; and giggled. They changed into Ready Position; and giggled. Zach stepped back into a pre-attack position and smiled. David signaled for the attack to begin with a cross between a spirited yell (as taught) and a burp. Zach laughed and lunged with an attack only Larry, Moe, and Curly could appreciate. David completely lost focus and fell down laughing. Zach tried to help him up and tripped over him. There was no pretense of decorum.
As the instructor, I had to assert my presence and put an end to this folly. After all, self defense is serious business and Zachary and David's moms would not be amused if their little ones tried to fake-fart their way out of battle. (That particular technique only works if attacked by nine year old girls.) I swallowed my laughter, bit my tongue, marched over to the self absorbed semi-adolescents and said, "Mr. Zachary. Mr. David. That is not the way we practice Tang Soo Do! Now focus boys, I'll be watching." And laying a finger aside of my nose, I turned around and authoritatively strode away.
It was hopeless and I knew it. I would occasionally stare at them with the Eye of Sauron hoping to quell the onslaught of giggles, gaffs, and goofs emanating from the vortex of child-like energy, imagination, and excitement. Because there is a God, and because she sometimes shows mercy on me, the class eventually came to an end. After the final meditation, and requisite courtesy bows, I called the troublesome two over to have a last word. "Messrs David and Zach, I hope you will come to the next class with a little more focus and effort in your concentration and training." "Yes sir", they replied showing every bit of respect and contriteness their 10 year old bodies could muster. (it wasn't much) I excused them and away to their mothers they flew like a flash.
I was immediately summoned to the waiting room by their moms, half expecting a pair of overworked, over-shopped, not-quite-ready-for-the-holidays women with very defensive questions for the overbearing teacher (that would be me!). Instead, I heard, "So our boys weren't very good for you in class today. Do you think we should 'speak' to them at home - what do you suppose is the problem?"
What was the problem? In the wink of an eye and a twist of my head, I replied, "Ladies, Zach and David are ten year old boys and it's a week before Christmas. They're fine, just excited." I encouraged them to come back to class often over the next week to burn off some of the excess energy (a completely hopeless endeavor by the way), and explained that after the holiday, they would be back to their normal selves - which happened to be fairly delightful.
Zachary and David are older now, and have earned their black belts. In subsequent years their pre-holiday behavior was less disruptive, more controlled, and focused - exactly as you would expect as little boys grow into young men. While I admit to being proud to have been a small part of their growth and maturation, I also cannot help but miss the two little boys who, for at least one class, were allowed to be little boys.