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Jeri's Tae Kwon Do Book;Tae Kwon Do Memoirs Chapter Nine

Chapter 9

I settled in to a long, quiet study of fitness. I had always been average in my athletic abilities. Tall people actually fall outside of the curve of efficiency. We are not "well knit," and the longer levers of our arms and legs do compromise maximum strength and speed. As a man grows taller than about five foot seven or five foot eight, he leaves maximum efficiency behind him. Similarly, as a woman gets beyond five foot four or five foot five, she also is moving away from the optimum height for athletic efficiency.

The Koreans that we saw on tape or in person were the most startling example of efficient builds and precise accuracy. Korean instructors who visited did admit to us that they viewed Americans as big and ungainly. To them, Americans, even men, have large backsides and tend to be heavy set.

Big, bluff Bull Beringer, a bull of a man with rank equal to Warren Elseman, was barrel chested and had a voice like a bull horn. He was one of those men that make others shake their heads and say, "Why did he ever need to take a martial art?"

Huge, naturally muscular, and confident, Beringer overcame the size barrier by forcing himself to learn to be aerial. While still in the lower ranks, he practiced jumping again and again until he could fly through the air on jump kicks. I watched him once, doing jump back kicks against a full sized heavy bag. He'd rush forward, leap into the air and spin, and that massive foot would crash into the bag near the top seam. Each crashing kick sent the bag shooting and shaking the other way until the chain caught it. More than once in his career, Beringer had to re-drill the beam to reinstall the anchor chain because his kicks had jarred the anchor bolt back and forth so much that the hole had widened. He'd kick the bag, and it would suddenly fly free.

When he would spar with me, he would grin at me and roar, "Come on, Jeri! Right here! Right here!" and slap his own chest in the middle. "Come on! Kick hard!"

He did this when I was a white belt, and he does it now that I'm a third degree black belt and he's a fifth degree black belt. The sequence never varies. "Yes sir!" I yell, and I fling my foot at his chest. I hit him in the chest and then slide off the barrel surface. Unaffected by a side kick that can break three boards, he'll turn to face me, arms wide, to let me do it again and bellow, "Good! Good! Good spirit Miss Massi! That was a good kick! Come on! Come on!"

One night in the dressing room, four of us girls started imitating him and giggling. We paraded back and forth, arms wide. "Come on! Come on! Good spirit!" we called to each other, trying to make our voices deep and resonant like his. We didn't know that he could hear us in the next room. He pounded on the wall. "Girls, are you making fun of me?" the deep voice called.

"Imitation is the highest form of praise, sir!" I called back.

"Okay then! Keep at it!"

When he would come to the main school, all the black belts loved to fight him. For one thing, he was the only real challenge to some of the bigger men, and the smaller men could test themselves against him.

There were times, even when Mr. Hong was alive, when everybody would be called to a halt, and we would watch Mr. Beringer and Dr. Roberts spar, or Mr. Beringer and Linwood Cisco. The floor shook as two such heavyweights of speed and skill crashed about. I think that one reason the rest of the class was told to watch these matches was to make sure that nobody got run over by accident.

Nobody in his right mind would challenge the bull-like Beringer. But one night, at his own school, he had a man and his teen age son sign up for classes. Beringer always kept an eye on teenage boys. They can be the most unpredictable of students and sometimes hit too hard on smaller or weaker people.

But this young man seemed to be earnest and careful in his training. He obeyed quickly, got along well with Bull's wide variety of students, and was enthusiastic.

But Bull started to hear complaints, and some of his students started showing injuries. To his surprise, it was not the teenager who was bullying young men smaller or weaker than himself, but the boy's father. More than once, Beringer had to tell the man to go easier with the boys. Bull himself is such an example of gentleness wrapped around devastating power, that usually his word is enough.

This new student, a father himself, had seen Bull spar and had seen him on the heavy bag. He had also seen Bull exercise that great gentleness of his with the school's one or two elderly students and with the adolescent boys and girls who studied from him.

And yet, this adult student brushed aside Bull's orders to calm down, to be careful, to avoid deliberately injuring or humiliating another student. Finally, things came to a head when the adult hurt a younger man---a mere boy---of higher rank. Beringer ended class and sent everybody else to go get dressed.

They hurriedly cleared the room, knowing that Beringer was going to give the man a talking to. Even the man's son left.

"Now look," Beringer said to him. "I've told you before. You can't hit kids hard. They don't have the strength to fight you."

"Yeah, you've said it," the man said, his eyes and face deadpan.

"You know," Bull told him. "I don't like your attitude."

"Well, I don't like your attitude," the man said right back, glaring up at him.

Beringer flicked a glance at the full length mirror on the wall. Yes, this man who was berating him really was a foot shorter than he and weighed about 150 pounds less.

"In fact," the man said. "If you got anything to show me, you better show me now! Let's get this settled."

Bull couldn't resist another quick glance at the mirror. And then he looked the smaller man full in the face. "Are you challenging me?" he asked. His voice was surprised, rather than angry.

"Yes I am! I think you got nothing to back up your words!"

The scene had taken on a dream like quality, now. But Beringer said, "Then hit me if you want a fight."

The man threw a punch, and before it landed Beringer turned and kicked a light back kick into the man's chest, right on the sternum. The man flew back and hit the floor. Gasping, he rolled back and forth and tried to sit up. He at last managed to do so. He held his hands to his chest and tried to catch his breath.

"You all right?" Beringer asked.

The man nodded and then said, "I think so."

Beringer just stood and stared down at him, still not comprehending all that had happened. At last he said, "Well, I'm going to get dressed now. You take as long as you need." And he walked back to the dressing room. He heard the front door open and close, and when he came out, the man was gone. The fellow never returned.

Challenging and showing dominance occur more with men than with women. But it does occur with women. It seldom happens to me, because I'm simply too tall.

But when I was up at the first degree brown belt level, preparing for black belt, we had two girls of equal rank. One of them, Susan, had gone to college with me. She was pretty, slender, and very well coordinated. Susan was a "bouncer," an enthusiastic student who bounces through class. She loved kicking; she loved jumping, and she had endless energy. All of the single men liked to talk with her. Susan's vivaciousness and inborn happiness infected everybody. She did practice with intensity, but I do remember that once when the teacher asked her why she took tae kwon do, she drew a complete blank. She had no idea why she took it. Typical of the "bouncer," Susan threw herself into every new endeavor that held her fascination, and she did it whole heartedly. When women like Susan are asked that question, they usually default to the sensible answer of "Self Defense," but for them that's a pretty minor reason. They're too optimistic to seriously consider being attacked.

The other girl, Nancy, was loud and confident, like me. Also like me, she was more of a plodder through tae kwon do. She did better at strength than at speed, though with training her speed had improved. She had a lot of innate ability, and she was tremendously strong. She always treated me with respect, and I enjoyed working with her because she was ready to work hard and follow directions. When I sparred with her, I noticed that she was strong, but I have so much strength for a woman that it didn't ever alarm or challenge me.

Nancy and Susan were a year behind me, fourth degree brown belts preparing to test for third degree brown. One night, with her more deliberate, strength oriented way of sparring, Nancy blocked a kick from a man straight on. The result was that the kick shot past the arm into her ribs, and cracked them.

I'd had my own ribs cracked six months earlier, trying to block a jump kick, and I sympathized with her. When ribs are cracked but not cleanly broken, they do not present a serious danger, but they are painful. You can't comfortably sneeze, cough, or clear your throat. And you can't train for at least six weeks. Jumping jacks alone would have you rolling around in agony.

"I'm sorry," I told her in the dressing room. "I think you're going to miss the test."

"I know." She let out a moan. "Darn! And I was so ready!"

"Yeah, you really were." I helped her by stuffing her clothes into her gym bag, "But lay out for a few weeks and then come back. You'll get it next time."

"But you know, I was really looking forward to fighting Susan. I knew I could beat the shit out of her!"

I stopped and stared. "What?" I asked.

She turned innocent eyes to me. "Don't you think I could?" she asked.

"I don't think anybody should beat that out of anybody," I told her honestly. "We're all friends here."

"I'm not friends with anybody I fight," she said earnestly.

I dropped the gym bag. "Okay. Well, I'll see you in six weeks."

I found Susan and told her what Nancy had said. Susan's blue eyes lit up in amazement. For a moment she looked frightened, but then she was simply puzzled.

"What do you want to do?" I asked her.

"I don't know," she said.

"Do you want me to go to Mr. Elseman?"

"No!" And suddenly the blue eyes were angry. "I'll handle it myself."


We never mentioned it to each other again. Susan stayed in training and worked with her same enthusiastic intensity. When we sparred she would get more on edge, more brittle with me than she had been before. That was the only difference.

The weeks went by. Nancy came back. She was polite to Susan and polite to me. I wondered if she had changed her mind about beating up Susan. She outweighed Susan and seemed more savvy about how to fight. If she really chose to hit Susan hard, I didn't think that lightweight, bouncy Susan could handle her.

More time passed, and the next test came up. Warren Elseman, oblivious to what was going on, matched the two of them together. Working as a pair, they demonstrated the basic kicks for him and the assembled onlookers. They did forms well, and they went through one step sparring.

I could see it in Nancy's eyes as he sent them off to get their mouthpieces. She was going to beat up Susan.

Watching the test from the rows of folding chairs, I moved to the front row, my hands knotted in anxiety. Susan suddenly seemed little and vulnerable. I love happy people, and I always do feel protective of them.

Nancy came out. The two women bowed to each other, and Nancy positively charged her, fists out.

Susan sidestepped and smacked a kick into Nancy's shoulder. It was not an effective kick, but it sure was quick. Startled, Nancy turned and came after her again, kicking with determination. Susan avoided the kick and turned. She threw a fast, explosive kick that glanced off Nancy's side, and then she pummeled Nancy with her fists and drove her off.

Startled but still confident, Nancy attacked again, and Susan, eyes set like blue ice, kicked her as she came in. Susan dodged when Nancy charged from too close, avoiding the weight that was greater than her own. But every time she got Nancy backed off to just the right distance, she kicked. And then she closed with the bigger girl and punched, driving Nancy off again and again.

It was too much. A test is not a tournament and is supposed to be conducted in a classroom atmosphere, but I suddenly yelled, "Go, Susan! Go Susan!"

Mr. Elseman was also deeply impressed. Susan had always shown skill and promise, but she had never been such a tiger before. She remained defensive in the fight but her defense cost Nancy something every time Nancy came in. He let the match go on for longer than usual. At last, he clapped, and they bowed out. Sweating and puffing, their faces red, they turned from each other and faced him. Susan could see me, sitting right behind him in the front row, and she suddenly beamed at me, back to her bouncy and happy self. I grinned back. Later, I apologized to her for not realizing that she was so tough under all that bouncy and happy exterior. Typical of Susan, she laughed a bright, happy laugh and said, "Did I teach her a lesson?"

"Yeah," I said. She'd taught me a lesson, too. Happy people can be cool as ice and hard as nails. But they would rather just be happy.

Chapter Ten

For me, the journey to black belt was very much a journey of physical fitness. I took an aerobics class for two semesters in a row. After the first four weeks, it made a difference. At first I had to stagger tae kwon do classes to give me a chance to recover from the aerobics, but as the weeks passed I resumed a three-times a week tae kwon do schedule, interspersed with two classes of high impact aerobics that lasted an hour each.

I was still losing weight, and I did notice that being lighter also made the difficult kicks and the jumps less difficult.

Professionally, I had achieved a lifetime goal when I published my first book, a fairly forgettable children's adventure called Derwood Incorporated. By the time the draft got through the editing at the religious publisher that produced it, most of the jokes and humor had been fairly well eradicated from it, but it was still billed as a comedy adventure. And though I wasn't impressed with it, the publisher wanted another one, and so I began the next in the series. Over the next six years I would sell 13 novels to this publisher.

If life has any "golden years," I suppose that mine began then. One drawback was that, just when I had my head together and had shaken off my past, and was now ready to really play and have a good time, all my friends were settling down and getting married. I knew I wasn't ready for marriage and had no interest in it whatsoever. Men, to me, were pals and were useful as highly efficient insect killers and furniture movers. In fact, my apparent inability to commit the sin of lust used to worry me. But for all that the opposite sex appealed to me, I might as well have been 11 years old. Writing adventure stories gave me great pleasure, and I loved working out in tae kwon do. And it was compensation that even as old friends got married off and moved away, I was meeting new friends. I was having a great time.

But it all came down to Hong's. I began to free spar in earnest, and I entered competitions. Tournaments were held in high school gyms, and the "rings" were regulation-sized squares marked by tape on the floor. These were the last days of the old style tournaments, when the fights were called light contact but were full contact, and the only protection was mouthpieces and shin guards. In the last year before the WTF mandated comprehensive protective equipment, the tae kwon do tournaments adopted the rubberized, lightweight gloves and foot shields made popular by the PKA competitions.

As far as the men were concerned, they may as well have just wrapped their hands in plastic wrap. And women tended not to go for knockouts, anyway. I certainly didn't. I hated the thought of knocking somebody senseless. I really did want to work on technique and kicks.

I did enter one tournament in which one of the girls, who was an inch taller than I and heavier, wrapped her gloves with duct tape. When I asked her why, she said the gloves were ripped. One of the other girls clued me in as I sat down on the sidelines.

"Duct tape sticks," she told me. "If that girl hits you in the face, it'll stick. The glove won't slide off."

I immediately complained to the referee about this and insisted that the gloves be thrown out. He got angry with me and told me to sit down and be quiet. And then she and I were called up first to fight.

The very first time she punched me, I thought a locomotive had run between my eyes. It threw me around and dropped me to the floor. The referee helped me up and asked if I was okay. I think he was humiliated, but he still didn't throw the gloves out. I said yes, I was fine, and I went back to it.

I learned a lot about fighting in the next twenty seconds. Again and again she almost had me knocked out by those sledge hammer punches. I think that the only thing that kept me up was that I was so mad at her for cheating that I refused to go down.

And then, suddenly, I realized that every time she hit me, she only hit once. She had no combinations. As I staggered towards her, I used an old trick from basketball and waved my gloved hand right in her face. Next thing I knew, I was inside. She couldn't touch me. Jab, jab, backfist, all right on her nose.

She staggered back. I was right on top of her. I knew if I backed up, she'd slam me again. Jab jab backfist. I followed her around the ring, crowding her. Somehow she got distance, and I saw that duct tape glove coming at me. WHAM!

My vision got red, but I didn't go back. I rushed her again and kept up the light fast patter on her face. This time when I saw the glove I ducked and for the first time in my life, I threw a left cross. Full force, it hit her high on the cheek bone, and she fell back. The ref got between us.

"Now, now girls, this is just for a trophy," he said. I could have killed him. The time for that speech was before the match, when he should have been throwing those blasted gloves away. He stepped back, and she slammed me in the face again. And then I was on her with the rain of right jabs and backfist strikes.

At the end of three grueling minutes, the match was declared a tie, and we were given a minute to rest. Most of the girls were on my side, and as I sank to the floor, one of them said, "If you can just kick her, you'll win. They want you to kick more."

She was right. The problem was that by now my head and feet felt like lead.

But as we were called back in, I shakily threw a kick that actually did tap the side of her jaw. And then we were back to our slugfest. But in the final few seconds, I did control the match. I was declared the winner.

And then I saw her pass the gloves to her sister, who was also very tall and very powerfully built.

I fell back onto the floor, exhausted. The haze of red over my vision gradually cleared away. Oh good, I thought. I would live. Brain still intact and both retinas still attached.

There was another match between two of the lighter weight girls, and then I was called in against Little Sister. And Little Sister had the duct tape gloves. We bowed in.

She rushed right at me, leaning too far forward, and threw a tremendous roundhouse punch at me that would have finished me. I ducked down as I slid back and then slammed a roundhouse kick right into her head as she was off balance. I used my instep rather than the ball of my foot as the striking surface, but she got the message. It threw her over sideways.

"Not so hard!" she exclaimed.

"You punch me in the face again, and I swear, I'll knock you out!" I exclaimed. "Do you understand me?"

She glanced at her sister, and then she meekly said, "Yes." Wisely, the ref said nothing.

It was a more moderate fight after that, and I won by a point.

There were more matches, and then I went up against a much lighter girl who was a lot smaller than I. She was very honest as we bowed in.

"Please, don't hurt me," she said.

"I don't want to hurt anybody," I told her. "Let's go light."

And we did. I still won by virtue of my superior reach. She was too small to get in on me and land much.

At the break, one of the women I had not fought came up and introduced herself as Arlene. "I really admire you for holding back on that little girl," she said. "That's how I like to fight. It ought to be skill, not brute strength. But I am glad you beat those two."

I introduced myself, and then I said, "Well, if you and I fight, let's agree to keep it light and fast and show some good technique."

She agreed. As it turned out, she and I were the finalists, and we fought for first place. After my bad experience with the first two girls, it was a reaffirmation to fight Arlene. We both stayed true to our agreement and spent our whole match trading kick combinations. We went fast and light, and the girls encouraged us both. We would even encourage each other and say things like "good shot!" when something landed. We went into three sudden death overtimes with each other but kept tying because when either of us landed anything, she would get successfully countered by the other. Finally, Arlene tagged me with a round kick, and that ended it. She took first place, and I took second, and one of the lighter weight girls took third.

I never saw Arlene again, but I'm always glad that I met her. As we received the trophies, one of the judges came up and shook hands with us. "You girls are examples of what tae kwon do should be," he said. "That was a great fight."

Almost everybody who had competed from Hong's had won trophies. But there was little time spent on congratulations. Come Monday, we were back in the training hall. It was one thing to excel against overweight girls who cheated by putting duct tape on their gloves. It was something else entirely to train with lean, fit people who had a passion for excellence and not for glory.

Chapter Eleven

In my last year before black belt, the school suffered a tremendous upheaval. I can only write what I was told, and I'm sure that there are two sides to the story. As I was told, Warren Elseman had wanted the school to follow the new Olympic fashion of tae kwon do. He was ready to modernize the old military style. Mrs. Hong opposed him, as did other senior black belts. It was a brewing controversy that occasionally bubbled over into arguments and then subsided again. But it never quite died out.

A meeting of the black belts was called one night, and Elseman announced that he was thinking of leaving Hong's to form his own school. And he told the black belts that since he was the only person of high enough rank to test them, they would have no choice but to come with him. Elseman was now fourth degree. One by one, as the discussion progressed, many of the black belts expressed their unhappiness with this plan, but they felt forced to agree. Until it came to Danny Kidd, a second degree black belt, a young and unmarried man, who was about the same height as the late Mr. Hong.

"No," Danny said. "No, I'll stay with Mrs. Hong. We'll work out something."

"You can't be a head instructor. You can't even test people for black belt," Elseman told him. (An instructor must have a third degree black belt to pass students to first degree.)

"I know," Danny said.

"And nobody will test you."

"I know. Something will work out," he said.

He didn't accuse Elseman or berate him. He simply refused to go along with the plan. At his refusal, others in the group changed their minds, and they decided not to pull away no matter what Elseman decided. But there were others who agreed with Elseman. With tae kwon do about to become an Olympic sport, they argued that Billy Hong would have adapted to the change. He would have modernized with the WTF.

The controversy became bitter. When Mrs. Hong found out about her senior instructor's unhappiness and the tone of some of his recent conversations, she attempted to fire Elseman. She only failed because he was already storming out. But he had taken the item of greatest value from our school: Billy Hong's black belt.

Mrs. Hong demanded it back. Our school would keep the name Hong's, and we were the school that honored his memory. But Elseman insisted that Mrs. Hong had given him the belt as a gift when he had assumed leadership of the school, and it was his. I'm sure that he was telling the truth in this, but others have leveled the charge that he obtained it by false pretenses in claiming loyalty to Mr. Hong.

I try to forgive and forget the past, but the loss of Mr. Hong's belt has always rankled with me. But Elseman does have his own side of the story. He called me personally to apologize for the unpleasant scene in the school when he had stormed out, and he did tell me that he knew he had not handled things the right way. And he asked me to forgive him. But he never returned the belt to Mrs. Hong or the school. He hung it on the wall in his own school.

The school had definitely split. Even some of the sister schools had gone with Elseman, taking with them other senior black belts. Though Bull Beringer's school in Simpsonville remained with Hong's, many other instructors had left when Warren Elseman did and stayed allied with him. Elseman was determined to follow the WTF and USTU and pursue a more Olympics oriented style of tae kwon do. The original school was just as determined to follow the military style. It was time for me to make a decision. Go with Elseman or stay with the old school.

We were certainly in a shambles. Fortunately, the current second degree black belts were scheduled to test for third within a few months. But bringing in a high ranking teacher to test them was an added financial burden, and until a teacher was found who would agree to come, there was a certain amount of uncertainty about the matter.

And it was dismaying to come to the school at night and find out who else had gone with Elseman, who else we had lost, who else was not speaking to whom. Danny Kidd became acting head instructor. He said nothing at all about all that had passed, and I learned about the secret conversations---from somebody else---only after I was a black belt. Mr. Kidd remained calm, kind, and professional through the entire transition.

When he first took over, I felt many doubts in him because he was so young, but I thought I should be true and loyal to the memory of Mr. Hong. As the months and then the years unfolded, and I learned more about Danny Kidd's integrity, his generosity, and his kindness, I came to respect and admire him tremendously. I still train under him, and I believe that he is a truly great man, both as a technician of the martial arts, and as a human being. In hindsight, I can say that staying at Hong's was the best decision.

Dr. Roberts had also stayed. He had never even known about the meeting where Danny had declared his intentions to stay with Hong's. If there ever was a great tribute paid to a man's character, it was that Warren Elseman never even bothered to invite Roberts to a meeting where forming a new school would be a topic. It was a foregone conclusion that Roberts would have voted against it. Roberts' wife Caroline was also with us, a first degree black belt preparing to test for second. We worked on rebuilding.

Months later, after I had earned my black belt ands things had settled down for the school, we had a black belt meeting at Ryan's Steakhouse. Black belt meetings serve two purposes: to eat food and tell stories. As six or seven of us sat at the table and talked, the topic of "The Split," as we called it, came up. One of the men said, "Yeah, Elseman just earned his fifth degree. The traitor!"

"And thief," I muttered.

"Jeri," Mr. Kidd said clearly. "Warren Elseman is my friend."

I looked at him, astonished. I said what everybody was thinking. "He stole Mr. Hong's belt."

"He really does believe that Mrs. Hong gave it to him," Mr. Kidd said. "Warren and I have talked on the phone, and he's apologized. His feelings were hurt because Mrs. Hong wouldn't listen to him. That hurt him. But he asked me to forgive him." He looked around at all of us. "I did forgive him. He is my friend. I want you to treat him as my friend."

"Yes sir," I said softly. "I apologize."

Months after that, I saw Elseman at a tournament. He was pleased that I spoke to him with my old respect and friendliness. But when I invited him to come back up to the school and train with us sometime, his face clouded over.

"I don't care to be trained by a man whose rank is lower than mine," he said stiffly. And he walked away. This, I thought, about a young man who had forgiven him and defended him to his enemies. But I dropped it. Danny Kidd wouldn't have cared, even if he had heard Elseman speak that way. But it was another affirmation to me that I had chosen well in my decision.

Chapter Twelve

When I was a teenager and studied Shotokan karate, a fellow student once told me that everybody wonders deep down inside what it would be like to be a black belt.

If you want to know what it's like to be a black belt, just take a big bull's eye target, thread some string through the top corners of it, and hang it around your neck. Then walk into a gun and ammo store.

That was what it was like for me when I first walked into Hong's wearing my new black belt. The days of peace were over. I was now, officially, a target.

My first degree black belt test was uneventful. I showed adequate development of the basic kicks and the forms, and I did spar well. Already, in my private practice sessions, I had broken single boards with a straight punch and had broken two boards at a time with a forearm strike. Six months prior to testing for black belt, I had overcome the aerial kick barrier by breaking two boards with a flying side kick. So it was a bit of a disappointment on the test to be asked to break only a single board with a knife hand strike, which I did. The master who came down to test us, Master Kim from Orange, New York, told me that I was a tough woman. And then he burst out with a laugh. I'm still not sure why.

But after Master Kim told me I had passed, one of the black belts from the school, a man easily old enough to be my father, took me by the hands and said, "Jeri, the black belt must serve. You must help the other students and be an example."

And right away, I said, "I will sir." Then came congratulations, warm wishes, and dinner at Ryan's.

My one claim to true martial greatness happened the first week after I had earned my black belt. We had a student named Jeff who had been a brown belt when I started my study of tae kwon do. Our school has four degrees of brown belt, so students stay in that brown belt zone for a year and a half before advancing to black belt. But even as I had advanced through the white, green, and blue belts and progressed to the brown belt zone, Jeff only tested once. He told me he was in no hurry. According to him he wanted to develop slowly and precisely into a black belt. So he remained a brown belt for six years.

But I finally figured the truth: As a brown belt, Jeff liked to spar the new black belts and beat them. He had more experience than most people who outranked him. And there was a certain, self-congratulatory way that he sparred new black belts. He would get them off balance and throw them to the floor, and then he would cuff them sharply right on top of the head. It was not a fighting blow, but rather a smack, a "trophy shot" to declare himself the winner. Of course it was humiliating for somebody who outranked Jeff to be soundly dispatched by him and to be hit that way.

I finally tested for black belt and passed. Jeff was second degree brown (second gup or second kyue). On my first night in class after getting the coveted belt, he pointed right at me and said, in front of the other students, "I'm going to spar YOU, tonight."

Right away I kept up the black belt front and said, "So?"

But I prayed through the whole class. I'd seen him really thump on black belts before. Jeff wasn't a big guy but rather wiry and agile. I'm strong for a woman, but not a very agile fighter.

I complained to God through the entire class, and at last it was time to spar. Jeff was smirking at me. I kept a look of bored patience on my face while inwardly I was eating my heart out. But then something happened inside me. I suddenly knew that if he intimidated me I would lose right from the start. It didn't even occur to me in words. I just knew it. I suddenly froze into complete stillness, but my nerves were on a razor's edge. Yet everything inside me was absolutely still, as though all of me were listening for something.

I think that poor Jeff was over confident. He moved but he didn't move much. Before I even knew what was happening, I saw my own foot way far away from me. I didn't see it move; I didn't feel it move until after I'd struck. The kick was just suddenly there, and it caught Jeff on the hip as he rose up on the balls of the feet to come in.

Men are top heavy. With broad shoulders and narrow hips, and the tendency to go up on the balls of their feet when they come in, they are often off balance as they attack. A hard straight kick against the hip of a slender and wiry man can knock him off his feet, and this one sure did. In fact, Jeff rolled between two other sets of fighters. That part seemed to be in slow motion as I watched. My mouth was hanging open. He crashed between a set of fighters and then stared up at me, amazed. I was amazed, too. But I closed my mouth.

"Now he's really going to kill me," I thought. But he was still lying there. And then I realized I had completely deflated his ego. The authority of a black belt suddenly fell across my shoulders like a mantle, and I heard myself order him, "Why are you lying there? Get up and fight!"

He got up, and the rest was a piece of cake for me. I sidestepped his clumsy attacks. I chased him around with my kicks. I had no illusions. I was sure eventually he would recover and get even with me. But not that night. And as it turned out, his job moved him to Ohio two weeks later. So it remains my one glorious fight.

But even at the time of my black belt test, I was on a downward spiral, physically. I had been training four or five times a week in formal classes and had a case of bronchitis that I could not shake. The doctor kept giving me different antibiotics to take. They would clear me up for a week, and then the symptoms would come back. Over the next several months, I developed vertigo, ringing in the ears, weakness, confusion, and almost constant fatigue. I became allergic to dust and to cats. I put on weight again.

I finally dropped out of training. My family physician diagnosed me with a heart murmur, and a second physician verified the find. I made an appointment to see a cardiologist.

In the interim, I read a book about the ill effects of antibiotic overuse, a condition called candidiasis. I visited a doctor who had submitted several papers on the topic to medical journals. He did a blood test and an allergy test and confirmed that I did have candidiasis.

I had to eat a special diet in which there was no sugar, not even fruit sugars, and no processed carbohydrates. But my confusion cleared up, and I lost the vertigo and ringing in my ears. By the time I got in to the cardiologist, the heart murmur was gone. He did a thorough ultra-sound scan of my heart and found it to be quite healthy. This was such a relief to me that I nearly cried. I felt freed from the burden of worrying about my health.

I stayed on this diet with incredible faithfulness for two years, but the climb back to good health took me the entire first year, and the ability to train hard was the last thing I regained. After my long absence, I attempted class for several weeks in a row, but would become too dizzy, nauseated, and weak to go on. My black belt peers encouraged me to keep trying, but eventually I had to give up. It was too shameful to wear a black belt and have to bow out of class even before the first drills were complete.

My weakness drove me to prayer. As a conservative Christian woman, I was constantly niggled by some of my brethren about being in the martial arts. Some people say the martial arts are Satanic, and some people say it is not appropriate for a woman to study them. And yet, I had rather liked it that God made me different from other women. I think that this is one of the things that has mattered most to me about tae kwon do. Somehow, it makes being so tall and so strong sensible. Perhaps it sounds silly, but in a life where I have never been special to anybody, I have always thought that God made me the way I am to remind me that I am special to Him. Tae kwon do helped me to rejoice in the height and the temperament God had given me.

And so, on my knees and with many tears, I pleaded with Him, for the sake of the hope that I had in Him, and the joy He had given me in the martial arts, to heal me.

The next week, Mr. Kidd announced that morning classes would be started, and they would be taught by our new young second degree black belt, Barry.

Barry, a young black man who was astonishingly talented, had started at fifteen, and had skipped several belts in his meteoric rise. During my year and a half out of training, he had passed me in rank. Six foot three, rail slim, with a quickness of reflex that I have never seen equaled, he easily won tournaments. From the time he was a brown belt he could defeat most of our black belts except for Mr. Roberts and the tall, lightning fast Linwood Cisco. From the very beginning of Barry's career, Linwood had taken Barry under his wing. He had trained Barry, invited him over to his house for meals, and took pride in Barry's skills and ability. When they fought in class, it was beautiful to watch. And yes, the walls shook and the doors rattled, for both of them were quite tall and powerful.

And yet, in spite of his ability, Barry was remarkable for being quiet, gentle, and shy. The kids in the children's class loved him, and the minute he walked in the door, they would run to him and wrestle with him or hug him. I'd heard all kinds of people brag at Hong's, but never Barry.

I went to him and explained the nature of my illness, and he quickly encouraged me to come to his smaller, less formal class and gradually build up my strength.

Usually, there were only four of us in Barry's class. At first I did have to stop from nausea and stomach cramps, but I took to timing my sessions and measuring how much I could endure, and as the times lengthened out, the other people in the class encouraged me and congratulated me. At first I could work out for only 12 minutes, and then week later I shakily attempted 20 minutes. It took another several weeks to accommodate to 20 minutes, but finally I advanced to 30 minutes. Once I was over the 30 minute mark, I was able to work out through the entire class. We had another woman named Betty with us, a blue belt, and a young black man named Willy who was second brown, and Bruce, a very shy, very tall white man who had played soccer in college and had the most powerful legs I think I have ever seen. I considered it purely my own good fortune that Bruce had no confidence whatsoever, because if he ever figured out what to do with those strong legs, we would all be in trouble. He was third brown.

We all encouraged each other, and God did answer my prayers. I regained my health and strength. Within about two months I was avidly training at full speed. Soon enough, I was wanting Barry to push us faster and harder, and he did. This was another golden time for me. Everybody in the morning classes, which met on Tuesdays and Thursdays, was supportive of each other and also committed to be challenged to the last degree of endurance. I eventually named us "Barry's Buddies," and we took pride in the skills that Barry so carefully taught us. At the end of each class we would all be wringing wet and exhausted. After washing up and changing, we would bid each other goodbye and rush back to work, to class, to housework, etc.

One morning, a blond haired young man showed up, somewhat nervous, and told us that he went to Warren Elseman's school, but he had been moved to second shift at work and so could not take evening classes for the next three months. He didn't say anything about the Split, but he obviously knew that the relationship between the two schools was strained. Barry politely invited him to train with us that morning. All that Barry said was, "Let's see how you do."

The young man, named Thomas, was a red belt, an equivalent to our first degree brown. He was friendly, kind hearted, and trained very hard. By the end of the class we were all glad he was there, and he joined our little group. All of us became good friends, and we visited each other at testing time to offer support and encouragement.

Thomas had the fastest full leg extension I'd ever seen. He could do a split right up into the air. He lacked Barry's strength, though as he trained with us he picked up more of the hard hitting style that we use. He and Barry had many good matches. But he never would eliminate the ax kicks and moon kicks, though even I could block them and get away from them, and I'm not a fast fighter.

Sometimes my friends in WTF Olympic style tae kwon do ask me why I hate the ax kick so much. My best answer is one of experience. I've been hit by side kicks, front kicks, round kicks, back kicks, spin back kicks, and flying side kicks. I've never been hit by an ax kick. An ax kick comes straight up and then comes down like an ax falling, and so its instant disadvantage is that if you're defending, you see it coming. Furthermore, a simple rising block will deflect it down the arm, and if you push at the right moment as you deflect, you'll knock the attacker right over.

In a tournament, an ax kick's advantage is that the judges do see it easily, and it gets a point if it lands with any force on a target area. But in real life, it's a dangerous kick to throw, because a skilled street fighter or anybody of decent timing will deflect it and throw the person over backwards.

Thomas, even with the handicap of what I consider inferior kicks, was so fast that he had to slow down to fight me. As for me, I was actually in the best possible circumstances. I was training with people who were incredibly fast and skillful, but who were possessed of such good control that they would never hurt me---not even by accident. I could fight them with complete abandon and really work on my skills.

Barry taught me one of the best skills that anybody cam learn in any martial art. Prior to training under him, I had been tense and straining all through class. I would huff and puff to rev myself up and then muscle through the techniques. Barry showed me how to stand relaxed, even letting my fists unclasp, and then to throw the kick---still loose and relaxed---and tighten up right at the moment of impact. This relaxed, fluid motion increased speed, and it also improved the impact strength of my kicks. It spared me from weariness in class, and it allowed me to work on my aim and focus as well.

The other skill that I worked on was to align my shoulder, elbow, and hand with my kicking hip to develop a straighter line kick. I learned to align everything and site down from my shoulder to elbow to the target. I now did mirror work on my own as often as I could.

One of our old die hards, a second degree black belt fellow named Will Thorson, made the conscious decision to quit. He felt that he was getting too old, that it was wearing on him. I begged his key from him, and he gave it to me. With a key of my own, I now went up to the school and trained alone. This also was a turning point for me. Over the years, I would learn to train alone with intensity, and it became my favorite method of training. At that time, though I was a regular attender at morning classes, I tried to get into the main, evening classes at least once a week, and now I could keep up well. The black belts welcomed me back, and I could see that they were happy that I had come back from illness. I timed my evening classes for Friday nights, because that was the night we would all go to Ryan's.

It had now been two years since I had earned my first degree black belt, and I asked permission from Mr. Kidd to train in preparation for my second degree. He consented. My health was recovered, and I had a secure niche in the school. Under Barry's instruction, my kicking skills had improved even as my health had also improved, and so I began the ardent journey to the second degree.

Chapter Thirteen

Teaching English is probably my first love, though it takes a lot out of me. I taught at our local tech school for five years, and for four of those years the administration of the school awarded me presidential commendations for outstanding service as a teacher.

One semester I was assigned to teach a pre-101 course to the Machine Tool Technology students. This course was the hot potato of the English Department, as none of us could figure out why in the world Machinists needed to take an English course. The Machine Tool Technology students couldn't figure it out, either. So the poor English teacher who was picked to teach it got stuck with 30 students, mostly male, who had no interest or motivation to learn the material. And the poor students were thrust into a class with little explanation or justification as to how this was going to help them.

My number came up, and I was assigned to teach the class. My first goal was to make it pertinent to them, so I made writing a resume and a cover letter two major goals, and then I decided that--in addition to some basic rules of grammar--I would teach them to use the library (if they did not know how) and I would show them all the trade periodicals available to them. Weekly assignments would consist of a couple worksheets of grammar, and an index-card sized report of any article that they read in a trade journal. By this method, they would be doing some writing every week, getting in some basic grammar practice, and also learning something that might help them in their careers: how to stay current on their trades and how to track new developments and changes.

On the first day I passed out the syllabus and started to preview the assignments with them. From the back of the room, one of the young men started a running series of comments under his breath as I talked, and I asked him to stop. When he did not but rather deliberately turned to his friend, jerked his head towards me, and said something that made his friend laugh out loud, I walked to the back of the room.

I looked him in the eye, and the rest of the class fell silent. "I asked you to stop," I told him.

His response was a sort of open leer and his friend laughed again.

I was unimpressed. This was college, not high school, and it was not going to turn into high school. "Get out," I told him.

He was a little surprised at this, but I stepped closer. "Out," I said again. He got up and left. I glanced at his friend. "You too."

To my surprise, his friend folded his arms, settled himself in the seat, and looked me in the eye. It was a definite statement that he was bigger than me, stronger then me, and I could not make him leave. For a moment I was stunned to realize I had a student physically intimidating me, but the moment was so brief he never even saw my surprise.

I stepped closer, and I remember thinking, "Buddy, if you and I end up on the ground wrestling with each other, one of us is getting out of here." I simply could not back down in my own classroom. I taught in a dress and heels back then, but it didn't matter. I knew if this kid got an inch of surrender, I would lose the entire class to him.

But I felt no hesitation, only the assertive decisiveness that I would push this issue to its conclusion, whatever that would be. We had a battle of wills for a moment. After a moment of hard staring between us, he got up and left.

I continued the class, and afterwards I went to my mentor in the school's writing center and talked with her about it. She very nearly panicked. One of the boys, she was fairly sure, had been charged with assault as a juvenile and had been sent here to school by a judge as an alternative to time served in a juvenile detention center.

I went on to the dean of students. He was a tough, stocky man who had graduated from Sterling High years and years ago. Sterling High was the segregated high school for local black residents back in the old days. I've had older students from Sterling High who could still recount the Periodic table from memory after 20 years of being out of school. It was a hallmark school, a pearl somehow produced in the tragedy of segregation, a school where the teachers held up an incredibly high standard of learning. This man had fought his way through segregation in college and had little patience with people who waste time in school or who disrupt classrooms.

I told him what happened, and after discussing the matter with me thoroughly, he approved of my promptness in dismissing disrespectful students out of my class. I insisted that they could not come back in without apologizing to me, and he agreed. He commended me for not putting up with nonsense. I mentioned the rumor that I'd heard, and he was concerned. He knew of the one student, and he told me frankly that the one boy was all bluff and probably would not come back even to apologize. The other boy, the one who had been convicted of assault, he did not know. But he also added that the first boy followed the second one. He took it on himself to meet with the boys separately.

I thought about it a lot. I'd heard of another teacher at another tech school being assaulted by a student over a grade dispute. Both boys that I had dismissed were bigger than I am (and I'm six feet tall), and they were very muscular and tough looking. The rumors about the one boy's alleged assault were all over the department, but I had no idea how to get to the truth of the matter. There was no doubt that he had tried to intimidate me with his size and strength, sitting their with his arms folded, muscles flexed, staring at me and daring me to take him on. I'd backed him off once in public, but I wasn't sure he would back off if he found me in private.

I went to Barry to talk to him about it. Barry had just fought and won two successive "Tough Man" contests in our town. Soft spoken and pleasant to talk to, Barry had not come across as tough to his older opponents (in spite of nineteen inch biceps and a nineteen inch neck). But in the first Tough Man contest, he knocked out one man in 32 seconds with a left back kick, setting a record. In the second Tough Man, every other fighter refused to kick against him, including Ray "The Kick Man" Rice, but Barry still won, just using fists.

I'm a Christian and I am supposed to believe in turning the other cheek. If either or both of these guys came after me and I were unsuccessful in defending myself, it would be wrong to get revenge on them. At the same time, the sheer crime of a man assaulting a woman occurs again and again in our society, and not much is ever done about it. I told Barry what had happened in the classroom. I asked him--if anything happened to me--to find the boys and avenge me. He told me that he would go see them right then and warn them off, but I said no. I'm a black belt, and that requires a high standard of conduct, and I didn't want to get into vigilantism. Besides, guys warning each other off is like throwing gasoline on a fire to put it out, especially when it's a black guy warning two white guys to leave a white woman alone. It would only make things worse. When I told him this, he laughed and agreed.

"It's my problem," I told him. "And I want to handle it through professional channels. But if professional channels fail, I don't want them to get away with anything. Assaulting women is a terrible crime."

He nodded.

"They're white," I told him. "So be careful if anything happens."

We both knew that the sight of a black guy confronting two white guys could cause trouble on entirely new fronts, unrelated to this issue. But Barry's clever, and his wide-eyed, gentle expression makes him look like an easy target. I knew perfectly well that he could be clever enough--if he had to--to get an aggressive, hostile white guy to attack him first and thus make any counter attack a clear case of self defense.

I wrestled with this issue for a long time, even after it became apparent that I had scared both bullies off by sheer strength of will and determination of spirit. On the one hand, I did learn that most of fighting is psychological. Simply refusing to be bullied gave me the upper hand, and I chased both boys out by possessing and using indomitable spirit.

On the other hand, I was as subject to the psychological effects of battle as they were. Suggestions of revenge really unnerved me.

And then there's the question of vigilantism. On the one hand I am an English teacher who prides herself on professionalism and the amount of positive student feedback that I get. Students would highly recommend my classes to each other, and those presidential commendations I received were always based on student input, and not on peer observations. Yet my peer observations were also good, and I introduced some new teaching methods in the ENG 101 classes that are still used at Tech. In fact, my outlines and methods of having the Machine Tool students do periodical summaries were picked up and used by other teachers for that class. The idea of having to physically fight students bothers me, and the idea of having to go to another black belt as back up really bothers me.

But I am also a woman who is determined that nobody will ever successfully assault me. I hate the danger that women are in continually, and I hate it that our legal system does not protect us from assault. Most assaults against women are carried out by repeat offenders. I vowed a long time ago (after the beatings my father gave me) that the buck stops here. I am my own deterrent to assault, and if a man assaults me, I will be his last victim. He won't do it again to another woman, no matter what happens to me as I stop him.

The boys both quit school. Neither one approached me again--not to apologize and not to harass me. The Dean of Students paid me a great honor when he told my department head that they needed more teachers like me. After it was safe to laugh about the matter, he often did, finding it very funny that a woman threw two big strapping men out of her classroom.

Until today, nobody has even known about the private discussion I had with Barry. It all turned out okay, but I still wonder about the ethics of what I did.

My example was one of a person refusing to lose in the long run. Essentially, I knew from the first moment of the confrontation that--no matter what it took--I would not let these guys subjugate me. Even if they put me in the hospital, they would be the ultimate losers in the conflict.

The question it raises in me is this: To have indomitable spirit (and thus end the confrontation by sheer strength of will, ending it without violence) was it necessary to have that end in mind from the beginning? I've been censured by other martial artists for my promptness in deciding that no matter what, no assailant will ever be ultimately successful in assaulting me, yet I wonder if that is not a necessary ingredient in attaining indomitable spirit.

Before you can act on a commitment to never be beaten (and by definition, "indomitable spirit" means the refusal to be subjugated) you have to make the commitment to never be beaten. Yet if you make the commitment to never be beaten, you have to then act on it and ensure that you never actually will be beaten, no matter what physically happens to you. This is essentially what I did.

I did not carry the violence to them. I wanted to avoid it. I was firmly resolved that they would have to carry the attack to me, and I decided to stand alone to defend myself, no matter what that was going to cost me. But I did ensure that if they carried assault to me, they would ultimately lose.

Somebody else told me I was paranoid. I tend to not think so. I mean, there was physical intimidation going on at first, and one of the boys had some type of conviction for assault. I don't think it was paranoid to think that crossing them might get me into trouble.

Yet first and foremost I want to point out that violence did not happen. The kid tried physical intimidation, and he failed against a smaller, weaker woman. So it gets into this causal relationship. In order to win, do you have to be willing to die--or to kill? If that is true, the paradox is that it seems that psychologically, the person least likely to need to defend himself/herself is the person most willing to fight the last degree. In other words, the person least likely to die in a fight is the person most willing to die in a fight.

I've never resolved this question entirely to my satisfaction. What I have learned over time is to be calm and clear when I teach, and if I have to throw students out for being disruptive, to behave as though dismissing them is a grief to me, an unhappy event that they have driven me to do. This has worked pretty well. Now I say, "I'm sorry, but these other students really need to hear this. And so for their sakes, I must ask you to leave. Time is short, and I cannot keep stopping. But I'd rather have you stay." So far, it has always worked.

Chapter Fourteen

Every black belt takes a turn at instructing a brand new student, and I usually get the new women. I give them two or three lessons off to the side of the main room as the main class is going on. Though I am not technically gifted in performing tae kwon do, I have surprised my male colleagues with my ability to teach it. I set students at ease very quickly and facilitate their natural skills.

But usually new women students are startled when they meet me. I'm six feet tall, and I lift weights. I look like a very strong woman, and that makes me something of an unknown. There are women bullies just like there are men bullies, and I'm afraid that I can easily look like a bully. I have a loud voice and am gregarious and confident. I stride when I walk, and I swing my arms. More than once in my early days as a black belt, I saw new women students show alarm in their eyes when the instructor would call me over to give private instruction. So I work very hard to keep my voice low and quiet when I deal with new women at the school. I encourage them frequently. I try to "read" them so that I can let them set the pace of their own instruction for the first couple lessons.

I can read women pretty well. They have different reasons than men for taking martial arts. Some women are perpetual girls, and tae kwon do is one more great adventure, one more fun thing to do. I call these women "bouncers," not because they are like the professional bouncers who work in bars, but because they bounce when they free spar. They're happy and confident and have no idea what pain is. They are sure that because I am a black belt I must be undefeatable. So they fling themselves at me in free sparring. Bouncers are fun to spar with because I love their enthusiasm. But they are dangerous because they tend to assume that I'm impervious to anything they throw.

I, of course, will not hit a new student and will not even kick or punch in a student's first free sparring match. Usually, all I do is block and get out of the way.

Bouncers are few and far between, though they are delightful when they come. They are the sort of student who has seen all the right movies, and they are not intimidated by me, because they instantly trust and respect me. They like me; they smile a lot; they laugh at my jokes, and they work hard. That makes up for the banged shins and bruised fore arms they give me.

There are also women who are bullies, who carry a chip on the shoulder. Not many; in fact, they are very rare. But I've gotten new students who just start out angry with me. I don't fully understand the psyche of an angry woman, but it seems that while demanding that she be treated as an equal by men, she also despises other women. However, in a tae kwon do class, it is very difficult to despise me. For one thing, there's a lot of me, and for another thing, I am gregarious and happy, and angry women don't change that. My ability to not care, and to do so with complete transparency, infuriates them.

There's not much that I can do with an angry woman. If she can stay calm and work with me, everything is all right. But I have had new women try to hurt me, and I've had new women sucker punch me. I had a new student purposefully bang shins with me. The blow to my shin was excruciating, but I stayed calm and quickly sent my other foot right into her hip, a kick that would not hurt her, but it sent her sailing across the floor, and she fell. My prompt, careless counter stunned her.

"You're not hurt," I said. "Get up."

She charged me like a bull, and I sidestepped. I put my foot on her hip and sent her on her way again. This bull fight of being charged by her continued until she was exhausted. But I never even put up my hands. She left when class ended, and she never came back. Nobody ever reproached me. I do feel pity for her. That much anger is a burden, a self-defeating affliction that forces her to make other women either despise or fear her. I'm happy to say that though angry women do sometimes sign up, they are very rare, and they usually do not stay long. Hard training strips anger away. It strips every false pretense away. And for some people, anger is their only covering. Rather than be stripped of it, they quit.

But my most typical new woman student is a little bit afraid of me. She knows that sooner or later I am going to spar with her, and she's concerned that I will hit her.

So I smile a lot; I keep my voice low and quiet; I encourage her. And when it's time to spar, I direct her to kick and punch at me, and I only block. It can be insulting to any student of the martial arts to say "I'm not going to hurt you." So I usually say, "Okay, this isn't really free sparring because first I have to teach you some basic combinations. So please go light because I won't be hitting. I'm just going to block." And then I suggest specific combinations to them. That usually works, and after a few lessons, I've built up her confidence in me.

Most women get over initial nervousness quickly, but a few do not. Hitting, for some women, is traumatic because they have a lot of emotional associations with hitting others or with being hit. A woman can be confident in every other way but still dread hitting, even light hitting, on a deep level. It's a vulnerability, a fear of humiliation rather than of pain, and I can usually see it in a woman's eyes. So if I see it, I work around it and train her more carefully.

There was an English teacher in Greenville who was a local celebrity. She did some acting in local theater, and she was known for doing Shakespeare recitations and promoting the teaching of Shakespeare. She was just about five foot four and had reddish hair and very big, dark eyes. I'd been on the periphery of social and academic functions where she had been a central figure, and she had deeply impressed me with her genuine love of Shakespeare and her sincere willingness to talk with new teachers like me about the best ways to teach 16th century literature. For being such a small woman, she radiated a definite self possession and focus. In fact, there was a rumor that one of the men chosen to play opposite to her on stage had protested that he could not do well playing opposite such a tall woman. It seemed that her reputation and stage presence had made her bigger than she actually was.

When I'd met her backstage at Merchant of Venice, I'd been amazed at how she warmly took me by the hand, asked where I taught, and thanked me for attending. When I told her that I taught English at a tech school, I thought she would be unimpressed, but immediately she said, "How do your students do with Shakespeare?" And she actually listened as I quickly told her how I got my students involved in Othello and how they responded. We talked for several minutes about the challenge of teaching Literature to technical degree students and about the best ways to make literature meaningful to them.

I was very surprised to come to class one night and find her, dressed in a bulky white uniform, standing with our head instructor at his office door. He called me over. He introduced her simply as Liz. In the training hall, of course, everybody below black belt is called by their first name. This woman of grace and knowledge would call me Miss Massi, and I would call her Liz. I was suddenly embarrassed.

She didn't recognize me from the one or two social functions years before when we had spoken briefly. I just told her to warm up while I changed into my uniform, and then I would teach her.

When I came back out from the dressing room, she was alone by the mirrors, doing toe touches the wrong way. She looked up at me, and I saw the familiar expression of both readiness and faint worry cross her eyes. I honestly wondered why she had signed up for classes. She was in her late forties by then, a small, petite woman, who showed no inclination whatsoever to engage in martial arts training.

I quieted my voice as I approached her. "Well, do you feel warmed up? You look like you're in pretty good shape."

Eyes big, she nodded and then said "Yes," out loud. She was nervous. I showed her how to stand in the ready stance. How to bow. Then I showed her the horse stance and taught her the basic punch. As I kept my voice quiet, and as I praised her efforts, she gradually lost her nervousness. I'd done this dozens of times before. But there was a pleasure in teaching her. As I had already noted, she was intense and focused, and she learned more quickly than most new students do. As she felt more at ease with me, she even asked a few questions, her voice also quiet and gentle. I showed her how to down block, and I showed her the two most basic kicks: the front kick and the side kick. We did the drill work on them together.

She did well. She had a lot of coordination and paid attention to what she was doing. Once again I could see that I was teaching somebody of greater natural ability than I possessed, but I could also see that she had no mindset whatsoever for tae kwon do. After thirty minutes, the head instructor pulled her into the regular class to work with a partner so that I could work with a higher rank student.

After the brief water break, I was told to teach her the basics of free sparring. That look of fear lit up her eyes when she realized she would have to fight on her very first night. I instantly became much more soothing in my voice and deliberate in my gestures. We spent several minutes on the fighting stance and the proper way to hold one's hands in the guard position. I positioned her in front of the mirrors so that she could watch herself execute the basic combinations of front kick, punch, punch. I taught her the all-foot combination of front kick, side kick. Again, as she realized that this was purely instructional, she calmed down.

At last, I turned her away from the mirrors, instructed her to bow to me as I bowed to her, and set her up in the guard position again. Her eyes were very large now. She was frightened but determined to do her best.

"Just go easy," I said. "Practice your combinations."

She was frozen, uncertain. I had to make my voice more stern. "Kick, Liz. Do as I say. You'll do very well."

And she flicked out a front kick. It was probably the worst front kick she had thrown all night, but I said, "That's right. Come on. Take your shots at me. Just stop short of actually hitting, okay?"

She nodded, eyes still big, and followed me around, kicking too low. "Higher, higher," I told her as I backed up. I wasn't overly concerned. I've had women students who need a few lessons before they can really focus on free sparring.

She was dropping her hands. I nimbly zipped my hand forward and pulled her near fist higher.

"Oh, sorry," she gasped.

"Oh, you're doing fine. You know, you can hit harder, just focus your kicks-" I leaned forward to adjust her other fist and never saw her foot as it went up in a straight line, right between my legs, from the floor to my groin.

"Ulp!" was all I said when it hit. My lower insides erupted into electrical voltage and flames. I fell over, frozen with pain.

She was terrified. She stared down at me and backed up, concerned but afraid.

Weakness traveled out in a web down my legs and up my abdomen. I nearly dry heaved. She'd hit me full force with her shin. A groin kick on a man probably hurts more than a groin kick on a woman, but it still hurts when a woman is kicked there, especially if the kick comes straight up from below.

Danny Kidd quickly trotted over. "Did you get hit in the leg, Miss Massi?" In our conservative school, some of the men cannot use the word "groin" to a woman.

I nodded, unable to speak, and he got me under the shoulders and pulled me up. Believe it or not, the best way to handle a groin kick is to stand up and bounce on your feet. If you fall over and stay down, the pain and cramping get worse.

Poor Liz backed up further as I stood and bounced. "It's okay," I told her. "My fault. When a black belt gets hit, it's his or her own fault. I should have been more careful." I bent forward and tried not to retch, then looked up and smiled at her to show her I was fine. Just fine. Oh sure.

Mr. Kidd suddenly smiled. "Not the first time, is it?" he asked.

"No." Of course, it was only the second time, and the first had been 12 years ago. But I tried to behave as though it were no significant event.

I straightened up, got my breath back, smiled at her, and said, "Now, what was I saying?"

But Mr. Kidd clapped his hands, and class ended.

In the dressing room, I had to sit down on the bench before I could take my uniform off. Liz came in and stared at me for one appraising second. Suddenly her large dark eyes became contrite and concerned.

Hey! I thought, she's acting!

"I am so sorry," she said, her voice perfect. She rested her manicured hand on my shoulder. "Do you think you might be hurt?"

I shook my head. "Just sore. I'll be fine. I'll be more careful. Don't let it get you down."

She offered a shy laugh of apology. Still acting, I thought. I was stunned. She was saying what she thought should be said, what I would expect her to say. But whatever she really thought was hidden away.

She rummaged through her things, and I realized that she was embarrassed at what had happened and was going to get out without changing. In fact, as she gathered up her bag and clothing, I realized that I was nothing more than an inconvenience to her. I don't think she was glad that she hurt me, but she wasn't sorry, either.

This realization didn't anger me, because Liz had been very gracious and kind to me when we had briefly discussed teaching English, and she had listened to some of my ideas with great interest and animation. But here, in the training hall, not realizing that I was somebody she had already met in a different environment, she did not really view me as a peer. I was a black belt to her. A big thing who could give and take hits. She'd been afraid of me the whole time, I thought. And that realization, suddenly, shot humiliation all the way through me.

"I met you backstage when you did the readings from Merchant of Venice," I said suddenly, speaking to her back. She turned and stared at me. "You really helped me understand some of the themes in the play. I always wanted to thank you for that."

"Well isn't that sweet!" she said. Still acting. But the statement had caught her off guard. She took a second look at me, trying to place me, and then she said good night and left. But as she went out the door, I saw that she was still nervous or afraid. Of course. She would have to come back and fight me again.

Gingerly, I slipped off my trousers and checked for blood in my underwear, but there was none. I pulled on my heavy sweat pants, donned a dry shirt, and packed up my stuff. I replayed that kick in my mind. Could it have been deliberate? I wasn't angry. I didn't think that Liz had enjoyed hurting me. I didn't think she was especially grieved about it, either. But she was a woman of good character. There was a chance that she had deliberately hit me so hard for a mistaken reason and was now embarrassed.

The next night was a Wednesday, and the school was closed. On Thursday, I returned, and Liz was there. Mr. Kidd put us together again. At sight of me, her eyes again flickered with uncertainty, but it was not as prominent as it had been.

She did well on basics, and I taught her the back kick and the round kick. We worked on the blocking techniques. She was then put with the main class, and I rejoined the black belt line. We were not paired together, but I could still see her. She did very well, and so Mr. Kidd kept her in the main class as free sparring started. But he put me across from her. We bowed in with the other student pairs.

"Okay, nice and easy Liz," I told her, but I had one eye on her feet. She was still looking at me uncertainly, but I was more judicious this time. I wanted to know if her fear of me was an act, too. But it didn't seem to be.

I let her chase me around with kicks, but they were too low. "Come on," I told. "I'm not counter attacking. Make your kicks go higher. She nodded and continued exactly as before. Her hands were dropping.

"Liz--your hands," I said. This time, to be safe, I came to a complete stop, held up my hand to tell her to stop, and leaned forward to lift her fist to the proper guard position. Her other hand, open, raked my ear and the side of my face in a swift, defensive swipe.

"Son of a---" I caught myself in time and ducked my head to avoid the swipe, but one of her nails still scratched me. Without thinking, I threw my arm over her swiping arm, pinned the hand to me, and came down to the floor on my knees. I brought her down with me, helpless, her arm locked against the elbow and her chest pinned to the floor.

"If you ever do that to me again!" I shouted. "So help me, I'll---" And then I quickly let her go and jumped away from her. I backed away. I had never in my life gotten so angry in the training hall. It's a violation of the school to be angry or to brawl. And it had violated me.

Gasping with surprise and fear, she stared up at me from the floor but did not dare to move. I wiped my hand across the side of my face, but there was no blood on my cheek. She had not scratched me deeply enough.

"Get up!" I exclaimed.

Shaken, she straightened up on her knees.

"Stand!" I shouted. "Stand up when a black belt addresses you in this school! Or get out!"

The rest of the class was still sparring in pairs, and I'm sure that some of them heard me, but nobody came over or paid attention. It's not polite to stop sparring because of distractions.

Shakily, she stood up, clearly afraid of me. But I was furious. She didn't even have a right to be that afraid of me. I had given her no reason.

I took several deep breaths and calmed down. "Go into the dressing room," I said. "We have to talk."

She did as I asked. I took another moment to calm myself., and then I followed.

When I came in, she was on the bench, and she was bent forward. She was not crying, but she looked ready to start. I couldn't tell if she was acting or not.

I stayed standing and looked down at her. "Somebody attack you?" I asked.

She nodded.

"Your husband?"

"No," she said. "My husband's a good man."

Panic attacks, I thought. I lost my anger. If there was any place where this woman did not belong, it was here.

I slowed my breath. After a long pause, I said gently, "Listen to me When I was a kid, my dad used to beat me." She looked up at me, startled. I ignored the look. "It was difficult. He used to call me stupid, too. I grew up believing I was stupid, ugly, and useless. And I chose to be violent. I was filled with rage. Martial arts training helped me to calm down. It wasn't a perfect answer. But martial arts helped me learn to be disciplined. It showed me that people are to be respected and treated with courtesy." I set my teeth and said the rest. "Including me. I deserve respect and courtesy."

She looked up at me, and then she looked down. "I'm sorry."

"This person who attacked you---did he hurt you?"

"Not much. I got away," she said. "It was a near thing."

"Did you know him?"

"I'd seen him a few times, waiting around backstage. The police said he was stalking me."

"Why did you come here?"

She was startled by the question and became defensive, almost hostile. She glared at me. "People told me to. The police said so."

"Well, you don't take tae kwon do to hit the people who are teaching you," I told her. "Not when they have their guard down and are helping you. You don't have to be that afraid of any of us."

She shot me a look of pure resentment. "You can say that," she told me, and she looked me up and down from foot to head.

"That's right," I told her. "My dad beat me because I was big, dumb, and homely. I made it my advantage. I am big. So I made myself big and strong. I learned the art of war. You know what?" I was angry now. "It won't work for you. You can cheat as much as you like, and you can scratch me and kick me in the crotch every day you're here. And you will still never be big and strong like me."

She was startled. She stared at me, mouth open. Black belts are supposed to tell you that martial arts will make you unbeatable. This was a first for her. But I was telling her the truth. Women who are five foot five and weigh one hundred and ten pounds and have almost no muscle mass are going to have a struggle to become formidable fighters. And when they don't even enjoy training, the goal is impossible. You have to love martial arts training to excel at it. With that love, you can do anything. Without it, any amount of talent is useless.

"You don't like this," I said.

Her voice rapped out like steel. "I have to defend myself. Nobody is ever going to do that to me again."

She wasn't acting now. I had said those same words myself about my abusive father.

"Okay," I said. But I didn't leave. I heard Mr. Kidd clapping to end the class.

I thought back to the old days, to the furious rages of my teen age years. I was as surprised as Liz when I heard myself say it. "You're punishing yourself. Making yourself do something you hate and that scares you."

She glanced up at me.

"Look, take it from somebody who's been beat up. Every time you do something because of him, he wins again. If you punish yourself for not being able to beat him off, he keeps winning. You need to give this up and go do something you like."

She stared at me, and I think it was the first time she ever looked at me as a human being. She was genuinely surprised

Finally she said, "What about self defense?"

"Find a way," I told her. "Live smarter. Get a dog. Be more cautious. But this isn't working for you. You're afraid of it, and you're punishing yourself."

"I really do hate it," she said. "There's nothing wrong with it. But I don't like it. I feel so out of place."

"Even at your best, it's going to take a year for you to get any proficiency at self defense." I heard the men outside dispersing to the water cooler and the men's dressing room. We'd missed bowing out. "Tae kwon do is devastating. But it's a big mistake for a woman to think that a few lessons will give her an edge. And the smaller a woman is, the more training she has to undertake to compensate for being small and light."

"Nothing really protects us," she said at last, her voice small and hopeless.

"Nobody gets any guarantees. Not even men. Anything can happen in a fight."

She looked up at me, silent, and I looked down at her. I was about to tell her it was still her decision, and I would help her is she wanted to stick with tae kwon do a little longer. But suddenly she said, "I really am very sorry I scratched you. I'm sorry."

We didn't say anything else about it. I went out to practice one of my new black belt forms with Linwood Cisco. But Liz came out of the dressing room just as I finished. I noticed that she waited at the door, watching for her husband to come before she ventured outside. So she was already taking steps to live more cautiously.

We never said anything else about the incident. But I privately spoke to Mr. Kidd, and I told him that I thought Liz had been assaulted. Instead of free sparring, I taught her self defense. It was my first chance to take somebody entirely on my own. I emphasized that old standby of Shotokan karate: the punch. I wanted Liz to be able to throw a short, powerful punch. What I wanted most was to teach her to keep hitting until the attacker went down. I think it's a mistake for a woman to drive a man off and then run. If he can follow, he will, and he won't be stupid enough on a second attempt to let her get away again. I taught Liz the palm heel strike, and we worked on that powerful blow often. It's a terrific, straight line blow that hits with the heel of the palm. Delivered to the chin or to the nose, it can blind an attacker. And it's the easiest strike to learn.

I studied books on grappling and locks, practiced with the other black belts, and then showed her techniques for escaping holds. She did come to trust me in a professional sense, though we were still reserved with each other outside of class. But as long as I called the training self defense, she never showed the fear she had shown when I tried to teach her to free spar.

The most typical attack on a small woman is to grab her by the hair, and we practiced getting away from grabs on the hair and striking back. The next most typical attack (prior to rape) is for the assailant to rip a woman's shirt off, an instance in which the woman is defeated psychologically by such a degrading act. Of course I never ripped Liz's shirt off, but I explained to her the need for psychological coolness, for that virtue that the Chinese call "detachment." It was then that I realized that a woman will probably fight better if she views assault as an offense against God even more than it is an offense against a woman. I came to believe that men who rape hate God, and rape is their means to deface His divine order in which men are responsible to guard the dignity of women.

I don't know how much Liz agreed with my theological spin on things. But I think that talking with her about the psychology of self defense helped her overcome some of her inner fears. She had to learn not to take being attacked personally, and I think I helped her work towards a better mindset.

I think that she came to respect me. At first, I'd been just a big, strong, loud woman to her. But as I worked with her, she listened to me, and I could see it in her eyes that---though she might not choose to pal around with me socially---in class she was ready to learn from me. In the compartment of her life where she had to deal with having been assaulted, I was very welcome.

Students pay by the month, and as her first month came to an end, I knew she would not come back. Really, I had been training her to leave, not to stay, tacitly showing her how vast martial arts training really is while trying to provide her with thorough short term training. It was the best I could do.

We'd only ever made small talk in the three and a half weeks that had passed since our confrontation. But that night, as we pulled on our street clothes in the dressing room and took turns at the mirror to wash up and brush hair, she suddenly said, "I am very sorry for that time I kicked you."

"I moved too close?" I asked.

"It's like you said." She had her eyes down on the wet tunic that she was folding. "I was striking out. I'm sorry. I had no right to do it." She looked up at me. "I really was frightened. And I was trying to fight you. Really fight. But I knew you weren't ready for the kick."

I just nodded and shrugged it off. But she said clearly, "Please, will you forgive me?"

"Yes," I told her. And then I said, "You know, I've been thinking." I pulled a slip of paper from my own bag. Before class, I had neatly printed my name and phone number on it.

I stuffed the paper into her gym bag. "Just in case you have to go someplace alone. Or if you have to stay by yourself. Call me in an emergency."

I didn't wait for her to say anything and just walked out. I was bitterly disappointed that we never would be friends, because I honestly admired her. I had wanted her to like me. But I also wanted her to be able to leave Hong's behind. It would always be associated in her mind with being attacked and her struggle to overcome the first waves of traumatic shock, fear, and grief that follow an assault.

I went to the office to make a call. But when I came out, she was by the front door. Waiting.

She looked at me without any fear or reserve in her eyes, only a sort of satisfaction, as though she realized that she had found something here that she had not expected. And she held out her hand to me.

I walked over to her. "Is your husband coming?"

"Yes." She had talked about her husband before, and I knew he was a good man who would look after her. She nodded through the window. "That's him down there."

She turned to me. She set down her gym bag, lifted her slim hands, and rested them on my shoulders. Her beautiful eyes lit up, an expression just for me. She looked me full in the face, and I suddenly realized that she genuinely respected me for what I was, even though she still didn't really understand it. "Your father was wrong," she said.

She let me go and then picked up the bag. Mr. Kidd strode from the office. "You have a good night, Liz!" he called as she walked out. She smiled at him. Neither of us said anything else, but I knew she would never be back. And I was glad for her.

Chapter Fifteen

Barry strongly recommended heavy bag training to me. Now that I had my own key to the school, I decided that I could not advance until I had learned to kick that heavy bag and make it move.

Ever since blue belt, I had broken boards on tests. I could break two with a punch, two with a forearm blow, and two with a flying side kick or even a standing side kick.

And yet, my kicks lacked consistent focus. And though I could competently get through aerial kick training in class, I was not good at aerial kicks. A flying side kick is a kick that advances you forward. You take a running start at the target, jump off one leg, and kick with the other as you sail at the target. A jump side kick is a kick that lifts you straight up but doesn't move you very far forward. You jump with both feet, straight up, tuck them in, and shoot one out in a classic side kick while you're in the air.

That sounds easy, and it is easy if you have narrow hips and strong legs. The wider your hips, the less easy that kick is. I was a black belt and had never really done the kick correctly. I knew that to advance to second degree I had to show a much better proficiency at the complex, advanced kicks.

People mistakenly think that a first degree black belt is some sort of master. The first degree, or Shodan, is a mark of proficiency in the basics, with a show of promise for future development. In Japanese, the term for this rank literally means "first step." The truth is, genuine, intense instruction in tae kwon do begins at first degree black belt. Up until then, the student has merely been learning his letters, so to speak.

Barry helped me when I started on the bag. I jammed everything on my first kicks. I started with the side kick, the most basic kick and my best kick. Immediately, because I was not turning my hip over far enough when I pivoted over to shoot out the kick, I jammed my ankle and instep when I hit the bag. After ten kicks, I had to sit down and vigorously rub the ankle and push against it to make it able to bear my weight.

It was like beginning all over again, and yet I was not dismayed. Many, many times in tae kwon do I have started all over again. There's a type of satisfaction in it, because each time I go back to the beginning, I think, "Now I'm really learning."

I broke down each kick into its composite stages: lift, tuck, pivot, align heel to the target, shoot. It was painstaking, but I learned in every session. To develop my ability to lift and tuck the kicking leg, I would hold onto one of the supporting pillars in the school, lift the leg to the correct position and hold it for a five count. Then I would slowly shoot it out and hold it in place, fully extended, for a five count. I did this until I could hold the kick out, unassisted, in slow motion. It took weeks to do this.

I read books on training, and I consulted Barry frequently. Though possessed of excellent fighting skills, Barry never neglected basic, thorough training. Many young men of great talent get lazy with it, relying on it, floating by with it. I'm sure that if I had been talented, I never would have developed very far. But Barry was as keenly interested in improving as I was, though he was much better.

I would get so intimidated by the bag that I forgot to relax before striking. I was killing myself by degrees, from the ankles up. He coached me again, all the way from the beginning, on staying relaxed until the moment of impact.

And then I began to make rapid improvement. I kicked the bag in its mid-point, and it swung back instead of just trembling. I began setting my sights higher and higher up the bag. I used a square of duct tape as my target. But I practiced only straight line kicks on the bag: side kick, back kick, jump side, flying side, jump back kick. Barry recommended that I add hook kicks. He was going through what I call his hook kick stage, when he used it every time he sparred with anybody. I told him he was watching too many movies, but I obeyed him.

I further revised my opinions on self defense for women. First of all, self defense is nothing but fighting. If anything, it is more genuinely imitating a real fight than free sparring is. On the street, a woman is not going to go toe to toe with a man and slug it out like she does in class. In class, we do a lot of preliminary feinting, faking, bobbing, moving, etc. None of that will apply on the street. Her life hangs on one explosive kick or hand strike. If that first blow doesn't work, then her chances of getting a second blow off are miniscule. Her attacker will have her on the ground and do what he wants with her. End of story.

Feminism, the more unrealistic branches of it, has clouded self defense issues. Now it's popular to say that a woman can be as strong as a man. Oh sure. That's why we now have so many women piano movers. The truth is, though a woman can be as strong as a man, she'll have to train a lot harder to be that strong, and there are some men who will always be stronger than she. Men do have more muscle mass than women. They also put muscle on at a faster rate than women in identical training situations. That's a fact of life. When a woman is attacked on the street, unless she's unusually tall like I am and has spent years in the gym as I have done, it's a sure thing that her attacker will be stronger than she. And even for me, the chances are still excellent that he will be stronger.

Proclaiming that women are as strong as men and that they have the same emotional outlook on violence is dangerous, and it victimizes women. Maybe, in the long term, violence has the same emotionally devastating impact on both men and women. But women tend to be emotionally devastated by it from the moment it occurs. The biggest danger to a woman when she is being made prey is that she'll keep denying it to herself, that she'll hold off on making a decisive first strike because she's telling herself this isn't really happening to her. The next greatest danger is that she won't hit hard enough when she does hit, or that she won't keep pounding an assailant until he's truly incapacitated.

I began to develop my own view of self defense for women. Assaults always end up on the ground. They start upright, but they end with her prone. A woman has to react before she goes down, and that means a fast, hard initial blow. Once she's down, it's a matter of being able to grapple with her opponent. And that's a different martial art. We do incorporate a very small amount of grappling in our classes now, but tae kwon do is mostly about kicks and punches. And a brave spirit.

This realization actually freed me up. I had started to dislike sparring in class. It really doesn't matter to me if I can beat somebody or not. My quest as I approached the second degree was personal excellence. But now with understanding of what really happens in a fight, I felt freed, able to be comfortable with my own preferences. I still respected sparring as a teaching tool and as part of the necessary instruction of tae kwon do. Nothing can replace it for its ability to develop certain skills. For one thing, the psychological skills it gives a woman are incredible. The only way she'll learn coolness and decisiveness on the street is through sparring. It also teaches quick reactions, the most vital physical component of self defense. But, especially for women, sparring is bone jarring, emotionally intense, and gets her a lot more bruises than her male counterparts.

And in many ways, sparring is a fantasy world. It only shows how good you are at sparring. In fact, Billy Hong was a great example of this. When he really fought for what counted, he ended the fight with his first strike. He did not keep things going.

I turned my focus to single, explosive kicks and hand strikes. De-emphasizing combinations in order to emphasize an explosive single blow would forever hamper me in free sparring, but I believed that it made me more competent to handle real situations. I still sparred, of course, but it surprised Mr. Kidd and even Barry to find me a lot less concerned about it, even when I stopped improving in toe-to-toe fighting skills. We sparred in every class, but to save myself for the intensive training that I liked, I would fight hard only once a week. The rest of the classes, when we sparred, I spent avoiding blows, dodging, going light. Not only was I tired of being hit, I did not want to hit people any more, not even to make them improve.

The one skill that I did want to develop was the ability to move to the side rather than to retreat straight back in sparring. This is a weakness of mine. But there were so many other things to work on that I had to put that skill on hold.

But as the months passed, my single kicks improved, especially the straight line kicks. Now when I hit the heavy bag, it jumped, and the chains jingled, a sign that the kicks were focused and not just strong. Barry's lessons on staying relaxed to the moment of impact were paying off. My back kick, which had always been difficult for me, became my most powerful kick. I'd hit the forty-five pound bag with it and make it fly all over, dancing crazily on its chains. I felt powerful, competent, and sure of myself. I was ready to test for second.

Chapter Sixteen

I have a great deal of respect for the men who have trained me. But I do get annoyed with them, and I often sense that they are blind to certain differences between the two genders. One thing that men miss---especially well meaning, kind hearted men---is a woman's ability to endure long term stress well, and the needs she will have for emotional rest and recovery.

A woman who is committed to doing what she believes in can take one hard pounding from her adversaries. Throughout history, women have sacrificed themselves for others. If you don't know the names of Mother Theresa, Amy Carmichel, Edith Cavell, Gladys Ayleward, and Florence Nightengale, then your training in courage is not complete. Their courage is on a par with the likes of Miyamoto Musashi and Robert E. Lee. But rather than turn to war and destruction, they turned to the saving of life and the preserving of human dignity. And Edith Cavell was executed for her heroism, and she faced death with calm integrity.

I settled down to studying the psychology of attack and defense and how women react to threat and danger. In the psychology of battle, we are completely different than men, far more complex. And men who mistreat women will mistreat them to generate a breakdown in the woman's emotions. It's this simple: if a man really wanted only to kill or subdue a woman, he would poison her and get away with it. But a cruel man has to see a woman suffer. Seeing her anguish and emotional reaction is the fulfillment for him. So he's at the scene of the crime, with the weapon in his hand.

This realization, of course, opened all sorts of new avenues of thought for me about self defense situations. It also showed me that fighting is far more emotional for women than it is for men. Granted, we don't have the same burden of ego riding on it. But it's still a stress situation.

I believe that women who train hard in martial arts that are explosive need to cultivate their recovery times. Young women, especially, often try to go from "fight to fight" as they seek to build themselves up to competition level. This is like thinking that by going from "stress to stress" you will make yourself endure stress better, and that is not true. To attain the calm mind needed for really good explosive fighting, a woman needs to practice calmness and give her mind emotional rest and recovery.

I rescued my cat Rubin (a female, by the way) when she was just a kitten, I found her dead mother and a litter mate in the woods, each shot through the head. The bullet intended for Rubin had probably missed her, and she had escaped. She never meowed once in all her life, and from the first day that I brought her home, wrapped up in my sweater, she devoted herself to me.

For the first week, she followed me from room to room, and when I would sit down to read or attend to my work, she would sit down and watch me. When I noticed that she was in the room, I would speak to her and call her over. Only then would she come, gentle and shy. With a nervous little trill in her throat, she would leap onto the other end of the sofa and come closer. And as I would speak to her and stroke her back, she would climb onto my lap, suddenly purring, and then all at once stretch out and fall asleep on me, deeply content. She was a gentle black and white cat, who never would wrestle with my hand or "play rough" with me. If she was indoors at night, she slept in the niche between my arm and my body, and she was the only cat I ever owned who came to me every single time I called her.

About a year after she joined me, a pack of dogs took to running through the neighborhood at night. They pulled a cat to pieces practically on my doorstep, and I was very worried for Rubin. But she was incensed against these invading dogs. And she set out on a vigilant mission to destroy them. This was a side of Rubin I had never seen. But every martial artist knows that the gentle and loyal heart, if it finds a just cause for war, is more terrible in battle than a band of hardened thieves. Be wary of those who believe all the way down to the core that they *must* fight.

Her technique was good. While the dog hesitated at sight of her, she ran up his muzzle onto his back as far as the whithers and dug her teeth and claws into him, right where the nerves were most exposed. She could cling like a leech. And the fight always ended the same way: the dog tearing down the street, howling in pain, with Rubin grimly clinging with all her strength to his back. This five-pound cat, who would not so much as bat at my hand, maintained a rule of terror over a huge great dane that lived down the street. He would start howling as soon as he saw her. And the French poodle next door stayed inside day and night. If Rubin ventured outside, he would watch her through the front window and never take his eyes off of her.

Morning after morning, Rubin came home with great tufts of fur pulled from her shoulders and nicks in her ears. I tried to keep her in at night, but I lived with other people, and she got wise to me. She would slip out in the afternoons when somebody opened the door and would not come in again until next day.

But she won. After about four weeks, the pack either broke up or chose to stay out of her territory. I never saw them again.

And I learned something during the weeks that Rubin was at war. She had a definite method of recovery from a fierce battle.

First, she would enter the house, adorned with her gashes, and would inspect the place to make sure it was secure. No dogs hiding anywhere. Under the vet's advice I didn't touch the wounds but watched for signs of infection, but they never did become infected. Rubin would eat and drink, and then wash. Her morning groomings after war were extensive and meticulous, even for a cat. I knew that it was her instinctive way of checking for injury and verifying that all was well throughout herself. Also, for a cat, a good washing is in itself reassuring and comfortable, a nice bath and a massage as well. And finally, grooming from top to tail was a quiet stretching exercise for her, as well as a subtle display of her beauty. And Rubin, gentle and loving and devoted, was also tremendously pleased with her own beauty.

She next found a quiet, sheltered place to sleep. In days of peace, she would sleep anywhere, but after a night of battle, she would go to a "safe" and silent place, usually under a chair in the front room, away from the television---which was in the back room. For her first couple hours of sleep, she would sleep curled up. This never varied, and I have never seen it vary in any cat who has encountered stress. During the first stage of "recovery" sleep, the cat assures itself that it has survived the battle. The curled up posture helps it "feel its body" and know that it is physically safe and intact.

After two to four hours, Rubin would move elsewhere. Sometimes she would just come out from under the chair and stretch out on her side. At other times she would come silently into a room where I might be working, if I was being quiet, and she would stretch out on the floor near me. In lying full length, she was coming in contact with her environment, assuring herself of its safety and that it was also still intact. And so she would sleep that same deep sleep of the first stage, but this time stretched out.

After one to four hours, she was ready for the more indolent type of dozing, reflection, and affection that cats engage in as recreation. She would seek me out to get some lap time or attention. At this point, she was out of "recovery" and was being a peace-time cat again. She would tuck her paws under her chest and snooze on my lap for a while, eyes closed, lifting her black, spade-shaped head as I tickled her white chin and throat. Though she never meowed, she purred well, and my attentions were always rewarded with the rich, honest sound of her contentment. Like all cats, she enjoyed and cultivated my understanding that she was the most beautiful creature in the world. Every now and then she would open her eyes and gaze up at me, communicating her happiness with me. The next battle did not worry her at all; she was gifted in enjoying the moment. She did not look ahead.

One mistake against a pack of dogs would have been her last. And yet Rubin recovered fully between battles and was always ready for the next (though she did choose the nights that she would fight). Cats adhere strictly to the principles of staying relaxed. And yet they are unrivaled in their ability to spring into sudden, vigorous action.

What I noticed for my own benefit was that Rubin instinctively gave herself time to pass through stages and levels of rest. I'm not sure what the human equivalent is to a cat's rest cycle after battle, but I'm sure that there is one. The components that I noted were these: meticulous care of herself, for she herself was her only weapon against the dogs; an appreciation of her own abilities and limitations and how to best accommodate them; an understanding of where she was safe; a capacity to tremendously enjoy certain simple and quiet pleasures that relaxed her and made her feel secure and refreshed; an ability to discard all thoughts of war after she was rested and partake in the more meaningful interactions of life (being petted and admired, and chasing ping pong balls that I threw for her).

Chapter Seventeen

Women were a minority at Hong's. But we did have several women black belts. As I ascended up to second degree, Melissa Edwards returned to training. She was already second degree black, newly married, and her husband Calvin had signed up to start classes.

Calvin Edwards was a man after my own heart. Nearsighted and lightweight, he lacked the superior coordination of truly gifted people. But he threw himself into training. He was a man who demonstrated to me the concept of a genuinely Christian love for his wife and for others. Melissa had suffered a hard life, and she was a tough looking little woman. Under Calvin's care, she had bloomed and softened. I think her greatest tribute to him was her studied imitation of his kindness and hospitality.

They became pillars of the school: ready to encourage, ready to help new students, examples of intense training, and ready to go to Ryan's and eat. Without ever becoming a formal thing, Calvin and Melissa started meeting with other Christians from the school at Ryan's after Tuesday night classes. The discussion focused on Christ, and we would have short prayer before the meal.

Lynn Forrester also returned to class. She was third degree black preparing for fourth. Lynn was a great example to me of why my reasoning about free sparring was correct. She had trained under Billy Hong and gotten her black belt from him. Never willing to give an inch or admit that a man might be stronger than she, she had suffered broken ribs, broken teeth, broken wrists and neck injuries from fighting so hard. Her neck was so damaged that more than one surgery had to be performed on her to give her more mobility. Even so, she could no longer do back spin kicks at all. She was still tremendously strong. The years had mellowed her, and she was a patient person now, past 40. But I looked at her record of injury and her current physical limitations, and I knew I had to pace myself better. I simply wanted to last longer.

Mrs. Roberts, or Caroline, had reached her second degree black belt and was holding at that fixed point. She had always been wise about pacing herself. Carrie Roberts was a tremendous waiter in a fight. Her favorite trick against me was to pull up the foot and cock it. Unfailingly, I would react too soon and block through empty air, and then she would kick me. But I learned from her that a sparring match does not have to be a slugfest. Brains play a role. Waiting to pick the best shots is a tremendous skill.

We all shared our experiences with each other. Any woman in the martial arts has encountered men who are too rough with her or who get pleasure out of humiliating her. They don't last long at Hong's, but sometimes they slip through the initial screening.

We got one young fellow named Mark who had gotten into college on an athletic scholarship. Muscular, compact, and skilled, he joined with another young man named Michael.

Mark behaved well with me. I was five inches taller and could move well enough to keep tapping him with light kicks as we sparred. But after he'd been in class for a few weeks, he slammed one of the lower ranked women with a hard kick that threw her into the wall. I didn't see it, but the young woman told me afterward. I suggested that she complain to Mr. Kidd, but she didn't want to.

The next time we all trained together, Mark was not assigned to spar with a woman, though he sparred with five or six different men. That was unusual, and I was actually naive enough to think it was a coincidence. But I had my eye on him, and during self defense practice, I saw him practice a take down on a woman and fling her to the floor, almost full force. Even throwing a man is risky, and it's important to throw people with restraint, making sure that they land safely.

The next night, after the partners' session, Mr. Kidd brought out the punching pads. These were hard, rubberized pads of great density that had little spring to them. Years ago, Mr. Hong had purchased them from a speedboat manufacturer. They were part of the shock system on boats.

They were cut into one foot by one foot pads. Each man holds a pad flat against his own stomach, and his partner punches the pad full strength. This exercise teaches the ability to take a punch as well as strengthening the stomach muscles. It also teaches a man that there's more to taking a punch than good muscles. He has to learn to expel his breath as he's hit, and to meet the punch with spirit.

Women at Hong's were discouraged from using the pad training because the old teachers in Korea believed it would ruin female fertility. But I had done "hit" training in Shotokan, with no pad. So I understood the concept.

The hard rubber pad afforded some protection to the man being hit, but not much. Barry could drop just about any man in the school with a single punch through the pad. The exceptions were Mr. Kidd, Mr. Roberts, and our brown belt student from the morning class, Willy. Willy was the skinniest man I had ever seen, and he was deeply embarrassed about his inability to put on weight. But he could take thirty punches through the pad from Barry. He would disparage himself for being so skinny and weak, and I would say, "I wish I could be that weak!" Thomas, our visiting red belt, was determined to be able to last thirty punches like Willy could, and there were some sessions when he did, and some when he did not.

On that particular night, Mr. Kidd brought out the punching pads and gave them to Mark and Michael. Then he called over Melissa Edwards and me. He set the two young men with their backs against the wall and the pads across their stomachs.

"This teaches you how to take a punch," he said. He explained to them how they should tense to meet each blow. They nodded. "Melissa, Jeri," he said. "Twenty hits each and then switch with each other and give them twenty more." I had Michael first, and Melissa had Mark. We both knew what Mark had done.

I told Michael to warn me if I hit too hard, but Melissa just started hitting Mark through the pad.

Michael, a high school senior with a good build and a history of wrestling behind him, had at first smiled with open and cheerful condescension when I warned him, but after the first eight hits on the pad, he was gray around the eyes and asked me to ease up a little. I did, and I slowed the cadence so that he could re-set his breath and muscles between each punch.

When I had finished, he nodded and thanked me. He was embarrassed and a little confused, which is normal. Many men are unused to the idea that a woman could drop them to the floor with a punch.

Mark had not done nearly as well as Michael. But there was no way Mark was going to tell Melissa that she was hitting too hard. He was pasty-faced and sullen when Melissa and I switched. I did tell Mark that I would go easy if he needed me to, but he mutely shook his head. One of the black belt men came up to me and said, "Your punching is really good. But twist more from the hip. Really sink it!"

"Yes sir!"

I sank it all right. Mark took four from me through the pad and his knees gave out. I stepped back.

"I ate something that disagreed with me," he said. He ran to the men's room.

"Mark, where are you going?" Mr. Kidd called.

"He ate something at dinner that upset his stomach, sir," I called back as Mark disappeared into the men's room.

"Okay, if you ladies are finished, go get you some water and then line up for forms," Mr. Kidd told us.

Not another word was said about the pad training. Until the next night. Again, after the partners' drill session, the pads came out, and Melissa and I were called over. This time, Mr. Kidd put me against Mark first, and Melissa against Michael.

"Now, you tell me if I hurt you," I said, my voice sincere. And I was sincere. All he had to do was ask me to ease up. I would.

He gave a jerk of his head to tell me to go ahead, and I slammed him through the pad. "One!" I yelled.

I jerked the hip the other way and slammed him with the left. "Two!"

He was already caving in. I could see it in his eyes. I hit him again through the pad. "Three!" And then again with the left. "Four!" I shouted. I even went slow with him. I knew I had incredibly strong punches, and I knew he couldn't take twenty from me.

He'd figured out how to cheat. He eased the pad out from his stomach. I pushed it back. "Don't do that or you'll never learn," I said. And then I slammed him again.

He gave out somewhere between six and eight. He was gray around the eyes. He staggered to the men's room. When he came out, he told Mr. Kidd that he had to be somewhere, and he left with his clothes. I knew he would never be back.

As everybody got water, Mr. Roberts asked Mr. Kidd why Mark had left early.

"Oh he had some place to go," Mr. Kidd said. I was standing behind them, and Mr. Kidd didn't know I was there. "Yes Phil," he said to Mr. Roberts. "We got to teach these young men to be tough." He paused and then said, with just the faintest hint of humor in his voice, "You know, so our women'll stop beating them up." And then they both chuckled with quiet, sneaky chuckles.

The punching pads were put away. I was never called upon again to teach anybody to take a punch. And neither was Melissa. Mr. Kidd never said a word about the incident. And I never mentioned it to him. But my respect for his wisdom had just gone up yet another notch.

When Melissa, her husband Calvin, and I met at Ryan's that night, Melissa and I talked about it. Calvin, like most gentle and secure men, was amazed to think that a young man would have been using smaller and lighter girls for target practice. He had been oblivious to the whole problem until we told him. Calvin was too generous to criticize Mark for being unable to ask a woman to hit more lightly. All he said was, "Well, I had a lot of growing up to do when I was only 18!"

But Calvin's complete lack of perception of a problem was pretty typical. It's a cliche to complain about men being insensitive. In looking at how kind hearted and good men at Hong's have so often missed behavior problems, I would have to say that I think that it's not insensitivity, but lack of perception. I think that when a man is beyond being a bully or a tyrant, he's slow to see it in others. Men seem to find a comfortable niche of thinking that everything is all right, and subtle clues that things are going wrong have about as much effect on them as a butterfly's wings on a buffalo. They need a pretty clear message to wake up and start correcting matters.

Because of this lack of perception, I've learned that I need to solve my own problems. Not long after Mark, we got a student from Switzerland. We called him "The Goose" because he cut his hair so that it radiated out from his head like the quills on a gosling. He had studied soft style kung fu and was pretty good at it, but not good enough to use it on men of his strength. So he practiced it on the smaller girls. Against their will. He would force them backwards to the ground in sparring or throw them down. He hurt one small girl by bending her too far backwards before she collapsed under him.

Before Mr. Kidd found out about what was going on, I was put against the Goose in sparring. He had been getting better in his skills against the smaller girls, and I knew from his face that he was going to try his kung fu stuff on me. I was anxious about this. I figured that he probably would get me down to the floor, but I'd promised myself that I would use a scissors kick from the floor or a leg sweep to take him down as well.

We both bowed in and played a waiting game. I was too smart to rush into his hold. Finally, he leaped straight up and came right down onto me, his hands on my shoulders. I'd never yet correctly thrown a jump back kick, not even on the heavy bag.

But that was when I threw my first one. And it was really solid. It hit him just above the rim of his protective cup, in his extreme lower abdomen. Technically, that's still considered a groin shot, and I was mortified with myself. Hitting somebody in the groin is the domain of white belts, not black belts. Of course, he had been jumping, and he had been forcing me down, so that hampered the kick.

It threw him right to the floor. He rolled back and forth in agony. I actually was sorry. I'd been ready to hit him hard if he tried to take me down, but I had not intended to hit him in an illegal target.

Because the Goose was always talking about kung fu and showing it off before class, he was always rolling around, so when the instructor that night saw him rolling around, he yelled at him to get up. I called back up to the teacher that I had hit the student below the belt. Every woman in the class smiled. I thought they were laughing at me.

After class, in the dressing room, they congratulated me for having put him down so solidly.

"Come on," I said. "That's an illegal kick!"

"So what!" Caroline Roberts exclaimed. "He picks on the new girls and the little girls. He got just what he deserved!" Melissa was there, and she agreed.

The others agreed, and so I shut my mouth. The next night, the Goose tried his kung fu on one of our best black belts, a man of tremendous size and speed, and when he closed too quickly, he got a black eye. That finished the lesson I had started, and the Goose learned not to crowd his opponent in a fight. Grappling an opponent who does not want to grapple takes some skill. A few weeks later, the Goose went back to Switzerland, and we bid him a fond farewell, but everybody was relieved. The men thought he was accident prone, and the women thought he was a nuisance.

Chapter Eighteen

I earned my second degree black belt when I was 32. A friend video taped the test. For the first year after I earned the belt, I was always glad to watch the tape of myself. I demonstrated the kicks, did the required forms, performed two lower rank forms to show that I was still current on everything, sparred several times, and sparred two on one. And, of course, I broke some boards. I was proud of my accomplishment.

But there came a point where I was not so satisfied. The kicks began to look shoddy to me, and the sparring seemed slow, and I looked like I had no real sense of timing.

So after about another year, I put the tape away. I realized that I had a lot more work to do.

But in the first glow of my accomplishment, I was still faithfully attending classes, especially the morning, "Barry's Buddies," classes. Betty had dropped out, but Willy still attended. Our young, former soccer player Bruce was preparing for his first degree brown belt test, and Thomas was preparing to test for his black belt from Warren Elseman' school.

Thomas had invited Barry to come to Elseman' school on Saturdays. The young men who were the best fighters would train together and then spar with each other for an hour or more. Elseman had allowed Barry to attend, but as the fights got hotter and hotter, he actually encouraged the visits. Certainly, Barry gave the black belts there excellent contest, and sharpened their skills. And Elseman' top fighter, Bobby, was just good enough to really challenge Barry. The rivalry could have gotten out of hand, but even as the two men got more and more competitive with each other, they liked and respected each other more and more.

Barry would sometimes come to a Tuesday morning class, look at me with chagrin in his wide, dark eyes and say, "That Bobby, he really tagged me one on Saturday. That boy's pretty good!" And I could just see him thinking and plotting for the next match.

We all critiqued Thomas in class, to help him, and Barry tailored the classes for what Thomas would need to do for his test.

Thomas invited the whole Buddies gang to come to Elseman's school for the test. He didn't know the time, even up to the last week before the test itself, but he promised to call as soon as he knew.

The Thursday before the test, Barry called me up, and he said, "Thomas' test is scheduled for two."

"Okay, Buddy, I'll be there," I told him.

Well, at two o'clock on Saturday, I was amazed to see that there were no cars parked in front of Elseman' school. I pulled up and parked, went up to the double doors of the school, and opened one of them. It was unlocked. I stepped inside.

I had never been inside Elseman' school, and for a moment I just glanced around, like anybody does in a new place. I checked my watch. It was ten until two. Surely they should be here by now. The people testing would need a good half hour to stretch and warm up.

There were folding chairs by the door, and I sat down and waited. It didn't make sense. The door was open. So why was nobody inside?

I sat there for fifteen minutes, but nobody came. Surely it had been canceled or postponed. I had no idea why the door had been unlocked.

I stood up and threw my glance to the wall to my left, and then I saw it. Mr. Hong's black belt.

For a moment, I just stared at it. I recognized it at once, the black faded to gray from years of his sweat and toil.

I looked outside. The parking lot was empty, and the building was set so far off the road that nobody had seen my car. Nobody knew I was there. Barry, of course, might know because he had told me to come here at two. But I was pretty sure that if I stole that belt and returned it to Mrs. Hong, Barry would ask me no questions and would keep his mouth shut.

I stared so hard at that belt that my eyes watered. This was the chance of a lifetime. I could take the belt, anonymously leave it at Mrs. Hong's house, and restore everything to its rightful order.

I really almost did it. Even the remote possibility of consequences didn't concern me. Just to give it back to her satisfied me. And I knew that many people from Hong's would be glad that it had been done. We all thought that she should have her late husband's belt.

But the command, "Thou shalt not steal," is something that really admits no exceptions or mitigating factors. I wrestled with this for a moment. But what really settled it for me, was remembering Mr. Kidd telling us that Elseman was his friend, and he expected us to treat Elseman as his friend. I knew that stealing the belt back would displease Danny Kidd. In fact, it would distress him because it would open up a new rift between the schools.

I made myself turn away, and I wouldn't let myself think with any words as I strode back to my car. I just got in, my mind forcibly numbed, and I drove home.

The decision to do the right thing was not accompanied by satisfaction or pleasure. In fact, I cried a little as I drove away. I kicked myself for the rest of the day and lay awake that night eating my heart out because I could have taken the belt and returned it to Billy Hong's widow, and I did not.

I said nothing to anybody about the incident for three days. Even on Tuesday, at the morning class, the only thing I said to Barry was, "I showed up at two, but nobody was there."

"Ten," Barry said. "The test was at ten."

"I thought you said two!"

"No, no, ten! But he did real well."

Thomas, in fact, had passed. Another few weeks went by, and then I finally told Barry, and only Barry, what had happened. When I told him that the door had been unlocked, he said that the lock had been broken for several weeks. Elseman didn't really care because there was no expensive equipment lying around in the building. The school was really just a big, bare room, with mirrors on one wall and carpeting on the floor.

Barry didn't say anything either way about my decision not to take the belt. He had not known Mr. Hong. I think he understood that I had a sense of guilt for not defending the honor of my late teacher. But Barry himself, for being such an excellent fighter, was really a man of peace. The only thing he said was, "People would have gotten mad. But it is her belt."

A great tragedy struck us soon after the belt incident. I came up to the school one afternoon to work on the heavy bag alone, and Barry was there.

"Hey big Buddy!" I called to him as I came in and bowed. "What the heck are you doing here? Pretending you know tae kwon do?" And then I laughed at him and put up my fists as though we were going to fight.

He smiled at me, his eyes cautious. And then he said, "Jeri, you haven't heard, have you?"

"What?" I asked. He didn't quite look grim, but his wide, kind eyes told me that something was wrong.

"Calvin Edwards was killed yesterday," he said. "In an accident at work."


Barry went to the office and pulled out an obituary that had been clipped out of the morning paper. Calvin had been struck and killed by a truck on his job site. I was instantly furious with the driver of the truck, but Barry said that the poor man was sober and had followed all safety precautions. For some reason that nobody ever knew, Calvin had run behind the truck as it slowly backed up. It was a big cement mixing truck. One of the protruding iron rods on the back had struck him cleanly on the temple, and he had gone down, unconscious, under the back wheels. The driver, though looking in the rear view mirrors the whole time, had never seen him.

Calvin had always been meticulous about safety on the job. He had always been a careful worker. Nobody ever knew why he had run across the truck's path as it had backed up. His body was so ruined by the massive back wheels that it was unrecognizable, and Melissa had identified him by his wedding ring.

"She was here at the school last night," Barry told me. "They called her here and told her to come to the hospital. She had been wondering why he was late."

And that was all there was to say. In an instant, Calvin was gone from the face of the earth. And his happy life with Melissa was blown away like dust.

The black belts attended Calvin's funeral. We sat together in a long row, the men in dark suits and ties, and the women in dresses, all of us stricken by this loss. I was the youngest of us there, and I cried very hard when they carried out the casket. I think I was still young enough to be completely bewildered by death. Caroline Roberts put her hand on my shoulder as I wept, but other than that, the group was sober and silent.

Melissa left the school, not able to face the place where she had found out that her husband had been killed, and where they had spent so much time together. I'd always seen a logic and a reason in the actions of God, but that was one event I had to take by faith. With so many cruel people in this world doing wrong, it was hard to see Calvin's casket as it was carried down the aisle of the church. He was, I thought, a man who possessed true goodness. It was wrapped in human frailty, but it was there, shining through.

About a year after second degree, I lost my enthusiasm for tae kwon do. This was more than just the weariness that sometimes hits a person and makes him skip a class. I had already cut down class attendance to allow for weight lifting, which I really enjoyed. But even this limited attendance began to be too much.

I struggled through six more months of minimum training. But there's never any reason to be half hearted about tae kwon do. I decided that rather than let the doldrums gradually make me quit, I would make a conscious choice to stay out of tae kwon do for the next full year. In place of it, I took up bicycling.

I had hoped that my fitness from tae kwon do would make me a promising cyclist, but my mediocre talents once again were prominently displayed. I did have more endurance than beginning cyclists, and I quickly adapted to 12 - 18 mile rides. But my top speed, on a level surface with a smooth blacktop, was 16 miles per hour. I was slower than the pregnant women who rode together. I'm the slowest cyclist I've ever met. In fact, I had a group of middle-aged bicycling enthusiasts reject me from their informal club because I did not meet their standards for setting a pace.

I can't even say that this bothered me. It really didn't. Typical of my quirky personality, I like going 16 miles per hour. Going faster makes me worry about what will happen to me if a tire blows out or if I have to reach for the brakes in an emergency. I'd hit my 16 MPH niche and my mind would slip right into that dreamy, happy, optimistic state that runners and joggers and cyclists love.

I was good on hills, and I found that hill climbing on a bicycle was what I actually enjoyed most. I trained on Piney Mountain and Paris Mountain in Greenville and found great satisfaction in climbing them on wheels.

I spent a fortune in bicycling shoes, bike shorts, and those cool jerseys that bicyclists wear. And then I took the big plunge and went on a bicycling vacation in northeastern Vermont. It was great. We traveled about 40 miles each day, up the steepest, most ornery hills you'll ever find, and we spent our nights in bed and breakfasts, eating rich food and talking about books. I went alone on the vacation. But the group that did the vacation together was lively, well educated, and warm. They had never met a Christian woman black belt bicyclist before, and they had many questions about the martial arts and about how I meshed martial thought with Christian thought.

What really amazed me about bicycling was how dangerous it was. In my first eight weeks on wheels, I read about local cyclists breaking ankles, breaking wrists, having teeth knocked out. One man was killed. I went to the library and read up on the sport, and I was amazed to find out that bicycling is the most dangerous recreational activity in the United States. Certainly, I saw far more injuries in bicycling than I had seen in any given eight week period in tae kwon do.

But both bicycling and tae kwon do were put on hold when I lost my contract job as a technical writer. I was quickly hired by a new company, 250 miles away. Unhappily, I packed up my things and moved to Raleigh, North Carolina. Within two months of arriving in Raleigh, I developed asthma and liver trouble. Once again, I went through a dark time of illness. It took me another six months to get my physical strength and energy back.

By then, I had been a second degree black belt for over three years, and I had made no progress in my training at all. I was stronger from weight lifting, and as long as the asthma stayed moderate I had good endurance. But my skills had not advanced.

I trained at Hong's for several Saturdays, making the long drive down from Raleigh each weekend. I was still seeing no progress.

I joined a gym in Raleigh. It had a huge aerobics room that was empty in the mornings. I began to train in front of the mirrors in the aerobics room: quiet, slow training.

After several weeks of this private training, supplemented with Saturday workouts at Hong's, I asked Mr. Kidd to help me set a date to test for my third degree black belt. We agreed that it would take about a year for me to prepare.

The difference between second degree black belt and third degree black belt is like the difference between white belt and black belt. I knew I had a lot of work to do, and for the first time, I faced the possibility that no amount of training would be sufficient. I knew that I had no real talent other than intensity and a long reach. But I was suddenly re-charged and determined. Whatever it would take, I wanted to make the attempt, and so I made the commitment to begin intense, earnest training, from 250 miles away, to test for my third degree black belt at Hong's.

Chapter Nineteen

I spent my preparation time for third degree black belt living in terms of my car. I would get up Monday morning, make sure the gym bag had two sets of workout clothes in it and one spare set of street clothes. I'd toss it into the car. Next, make the coffee. I learned to pour it into the travel mug and put it by the door so I wouldn't forget it.

Every week I had to spend two days at the Glaxo-Wellcome research facility in North Carolina, working on-site. I molded each day around the two-hour sessions when I practiced my kicks in the run-down, shabby Nautilus club. The Nautilus club gym had a heavy bag and a big aerobics room, where I practiced forms, kicks, and jump kicks in front of the wall of mirrors, undisturbed. The carpet in the aerobics room was held together with duct tape. Some of the mirrors were cracked in places. The heavy bag was hung in a corner of the sprawling weight room of the gym, an old EVERLAST bag marred by years of dirty shoes hitting it. I struck it with bare feet. The soot came off onto the soles of my feet. I showered them off at the end of each workout in the primitive, unheated women's showers.

Wednesday mornings, I changed out all the used items in the gym bag for the second set of two uniforms, two black t-shirts, two sets of underwear and other items for shower, hair, etc. Throw the gym bag into the car again. My department had a morning meeting at work every Wednesday, and as soon as it concluded, I would pack up my Day Timer (which doubled as my workout journal), my software, data disks, manuscripts, and any other items I needed to review. Throw them into the car. Drive to the gas station and go.

It's a four-hour trip to Greenville, South Carolina. I'd play tapes the whole way: science fiction stories that I was writing and had recorded. Listening to them as I drove gave me something to think about. Besides, I enjoy my own stories. That's why I write them. While the rolling Carolina landscape flashed by, part of me was somewhere else in the galaxy, watching the pageant of Good and Evil being played out by unearthly actors in non-terrestrial settings. My science fiction stories are uncomplicated things with neat gizmos, sterling good guys, and lots of fight scenes.

I would unpack the car when I got to Greenville, except for the gym bag. Then I'd finish out the work day on the home computer. Next day, Thursday, I would work from my Greenville apartment. Owing to the laws of contract employment, Glaxo-Wellcome paid the equivalent of a per diem to me, and so I could keep my residence in my home town. And my kind hearted boss let me telecommute so long as I could keep up with my work load.

Thursday nights, I would go to a tae kwon do class. Mr. Kidd used this class to help me with technical detail. All week long on my own I would practice everything that he pointed out, and he would note my improvement or point out other weaknesses so that I would know what to practice for the next week.

One of my big goals was to lose weight. Once again, in spite of being active, I had picked up at least 20 pounds more than I needed. A tall woman hides it better, but I was definitely overweight. And so I started on a "ketogenic" diet that is based on high fat, moderate protein, and very low (virtually no) carbohydrates. There are lots of different ways to do a ketogenic diet: I emphasized olive oil, flax seed oil, salmon and trout, avocados, and nuts. It certainly was an expensive diet, but over the months I shed pound after pound. In the first four weeks I lost over 20 pounds.

A significant part of my preparation also involved strength improvement. So in the strength training phase of my training schedule, I went to the weight gym after each tae kwon do class .

Later in the evening, my workout(s) finished, I would come home to the Greenville apartment, unpack the used uniform and wet black t-shirt. These were tossed onto the laundry pile. After verifying that the gym bag was ready for Saturday, I would start. "carbing." Five and a half days a week I ate only high fat, high protein, "ketogenic". But on Thursday nights I would switch to high carbohydrate, low fat, foods---mostly fruits and breads---to increase insulin and assist me in the heavy endurance workout that would come Saturday.

During the eight month training period, I would come to a full stop on Thursday nights. Traveling would recede a little bit to allow me a sense of permanence and being "home." I would watch MYSTERY on PBS, enjoy two or three bananas, and a quarter of a watermelon. After five days of ketogenic foods, fruit was heavenly. During my bicycling craze, I had given up being a tee-totaler. On Thursdays I would drink two huge glasses of water after my workout and then have a Bass Ale.

To get weight training to mesh with tae kwon do training, I had to gradually introduce weight lifting sessions into my schedule. In January, I started with only a single weight workout per week, gradually built to two per week and actually had a few weeks when there were three weight workouts supplementing the skills training. I finally cut back to one weight session per week, and in the last two months, I eliminated weight training entirely.

What I learned for myself about weight training was that it was best for me to stay relaxed with it, stress good form, and not rest for more than a minute and a half between sets; the less the better. But even when I stayed relaxed and calm and used lower weights, I also learned that a good weight workout takes longer than 24 hours to recover from. Weight training is fatiguing. And it tightens everything. On the advice of other martial artists, I learned to stretch between each set, and to stretch correctly, with slow, deliberate tension rather than bouncing.

Weight lifting was one sport in which I did fairly well, for my size. I made consistent gains and really enjoyed the mental and emotional effects of it. Many people stress out over lifting weights because they are looking for a perfect body, or they are intimidated by the problem of other people being stronger. But if you clear your head of this nonsense and pursue weight lifting for health, well being, and increased strength, it's a very relaxing form of exercise. And it yields excellent returns very quickly. The mistake is to equate strength with self worth or a good body with personal value. People who go overboard with weight lifting abuse steroids, or they over tan, and really end up hurting their bodies. The bodybuilding magazines have just about destroyed something that in and of itself promotes good health and long life.

On Saturdays after the workout(s), I sorted all dirty clothes into the white plastic bag. All clean workout clothes went into the gym bag, all clean daily clothes into the duffel bag. All books, make-up, software into the duffel bag. Saturday afternoon I visited friends and then wrote fiction. Saturday nights I made new story and adventure tapes to listen to on the long trip back to Raleigh. What did the neighbors think when they heard me yelling, "No! Stay back! It's filled with explosives!"

I would pack as much as possible into the car Saturday night. Sunday morning I'd get up very early to get back to Raleigh in time for church.

The little red Saturn with the bike rack on the back soon became my headquarters. It housed my perfectly organized boxed collection of about fifty tapes (Thirty five were story-related), which sat on the front passenger seat, belted into place so that a sudden stop wouldn't hurl the tapes into flight. The floor of the passenger seat was an absolute litter of McDonald's coffee cups. The back seat was worse. My business cards were back there, neatly boxed. Several well meaning people had given me huge plastic cups designed to be used while training in the gym. Not wanting to clutter my kitchen with them, I threw them into the back seat. Several other well meaning people had also given me blank books, under the impression that as a writer I must prefer writing my stories long hand rather than doing them on the computer. Again, the back seat seemed the best place for these. There always was a chance I would have a blinding flash of inspiration while on the road and could pull over and write it down. The portable CB radio was back there, tied into a Rubbermaid container. A spare jump rope lay buried under a couple of clean t-shirts. I can never find a jump rope long enough at the training hall. The little kids tie the long ones into knots to shorten them so that they will be more manageable. So I pack my own. The clean t-shirts were obvious. You just never know when you might need a clean t-shirt. Especially when you travel. Pens, pencils, old mail, and more McDonald's coffee cups completed the assortment of back seat decor. I wasn't sure what else was back there, because it had been a while since I'd looked under the top layer.

As you can judge from my car, my life is an odd mix of being highly organized and highly disorganized. In my approach to my training, I was highly organized: After the first four months of getting re-acclimated to tae kwon do and hard training, I mapped out an eight month schedule to prepare for third degree black belt. My own goals for third black were these:

* Perform a round kick with enough focus to break two boards.
* Do jump back kicks with power and focus. Be able to hit the target with the kicking leg BEFORE the landing leg touches down.
* Lose weight.
* Perform jump side kicks without the shuffle and with better focus and power and height.
* Perform all hand techniques with better power and focus.
* Flying side kick over five people on hands and knees.

While living in Raleigh, I never did find a tae kwon do school that met with my approval. To me, they all seemed to be of the franchise variety of schools, often called belt factories. I did meet one so-called "Master," and when I mentioned that I had known Billy Hong, the little man was unwise enough to sneer at the name. I knew then that I was dealing with a childish person of inner fears, a man whose inner demons had been nurtured rather than fought. Predictably, as I watched his class, he berated some students and showed favoritism to others. I was polite and courteous to him, but I left and never returned.

I did find an excellent Shotokan school, though. The instructor warned me that I would have to wear a white belt in his school, but I readily agreed. I laid out for him my schedule of training, and I asked him to help me regain my skill in hand strikes so that I would do well on the test. He very willingly agreed.

This instructor, I observed, did what was necessary to keep his school running. He passed along students who did not work hard, so long as they showed him proper respect. But he devoted himself to his hard working students. The business practice of allowing mediocrity in order to nurture genuine dedication is not unknown in martial arts schools. And it's better than just having a belt factory and reducing martial arts to a mere business or after-school activity.

While I trained at this Shotokan school, I was treated well, and the instructor was thorough and demanding with me as we worked on my skills. Indeed, he kindled in me a desire to go back into Shotokan some day and take up the study again. In my years of developing kicks, I had neglected my hand skills. Under his direction, I spent many hours practicing the basic punch and the palm heel strike. As before, I was starting all over again. And once again, it re-charged me, even though I felt some dismay at first.

As the months passed, I went to the Shotokan dojo once a week, lifted weights once a week, attended a tae kwon do class once a week, and devoted two or three days to private practice sessions, which I called "skill sessions."

For private skills training sessions, I scheduled jump days, kata/forms days, and technique/heavy bag days. In between, I used the leg stretcher at home and spent many hours watching videos of Sang H. Kim going slowly through forms. I imitated him and thus learned the 8 WTF colored belt forms that would be required (for the first time) on this test. Learning and continually doing those forms actually took up most of my time. Our school, in following the tradition of Billy Hong, had ignored the official WTF forms that were created for Olympic competition. Instead, we continued to do the old Chung Do Kwan forms that Mr. Hong had taught. But orders had now come from the WTF that if we did not do the official forms, our belts would not be recognized.

I knew I had eight new forms to learn, plus 14 Chung Do Kwan forms to review, and two more black belt level WTF forms to practice. (I already had done Koryo and Kum Gang but not very well.) And I knew there were one-steps to do as well as self defense and free fighting, but my own list of goals was important to me. They formed the core of how I would define a successful test.

In my training, I attained all of my personal goals except the last one: Jumping over a row of people. The one day in the gym that I cleared ten feet (what I figure was about three people side by side on hands and knees) I landed so hard I thought both ankles were going to break. It prompted me to start doing ankle presses in the gym, but I realized that even though I had trained enough to get the lift over that many people, landing would do me in, especially if I came down on one leg after breaking the boards. There was not enough time at that point to build up the ankle strength I would need, and that goal had to be postponed.

One of the skill sessions each week was always devoted to jump kicks. I practiced sets of jumping up and down. Then sets of jumping and tucking up my feet. These sets were followed by sets of jumping sideways. Then sets of jumping over chairs. Boing! Boing! Boing! All over the aerobics room. Then I would do the jump kicks and flying kicks.

At first, some of my jump kicks looked as bad as they had when I was a white belt. I was still throwing them completely the wrong way. The only difference was that I was throwing them wrong from higher in the air. A power lifter at the gym started to coach me, not in tae kwon do, but on the principles of training. My discouragement, he told me, would defeat me more surely than any physical limitation I had. He told me to sit down and watch the Special Olympics, to read up on the amazing feats of skill and strength that people with missing limbs or missing eyes had pulled off. I did. I began to realize that the real key to athletic success is mostly in the mind. If you lose self-limiting fears, you really can clear up your head to continue and to improve. "No workout is a bad workout," he told me. "If you think it's bad, that means you need to go home and think through what went wrong and why. Figure out what's wrong and find a way to fix it."

He was right. Later, when I was filling out my training journal, I wrote across the front page: "No workout is a bad workout." It became my reminder to think, analyze, and improve.

After fifteen weeks, I ended my Shotokan training and increased the number of weight sessions, decreased private skill sessions to once a week, and my two formal classes were both tae kwon do. After a few more weeks, I peaked out on weight training and started to decrease it. Once I did not have weight training to recover from, I did some skill work almost every day (though not always high intensity), and maintained the two formal classes because that was all I could do with my traveling schedule.

I started to feel really good again, to look good, and to genuinely enjoy my training. The self doubt dwindled steadily. Occasionally it re-ignited, but I knew that I was competing mostly against myself. As long as I could fulfill the objectives for the test, I would pass it. And even though I was not there yet, I was now making regular, steady progress.

Once again, I fell in love with the heavy bag. The Nautilus club had a massive 65-lb bag hung in one corner. When you start on a heavy bag, you jam everything: jam toes, jam instep, jam ankle, knee, hip, small of the back. Even when you hit it exactly right, the small of your back and your hip will feel it for several days.

So you have to accommodate to it. It does not accommodate to you. And the muscles, without conscious direction, do adapt to hitting it. You stay relaxed longer, all the way up to the point of impact. And somehow, your muscles direct the force down the most efficient pathways that you provide them. The bag will not change its nature, but it will change your nature to become the thing that you are trying to become. After four weeks on a heavy bag, my straight kicks in free practice shot out so hard that my trouser leg would snap.

The heavy bag discovered everything about me. Unafraid, it showed me the truth about my kicks. My round kicks looked great in class, but they had no power, and I never got my toes back far enough to hit squarely with the ball of the foot. The first time I round kicked the heavy bag, I found out that I was living a lie. It showed me the truth on impact, and as I hopped around the gym floor holding my throbbing toes, it offered no comment because the truth was there: I had terrible round kicks.

The heavy bag has shown me many other secrets that I have hidden from my other teachers: I didn't always turn my head fast enough on back kicks. So the kick would land most of the time, but in the wrong position, or it would hit with the wrong part of the foot. More jammed insteps and toes!

The heavy bag never lies. It showed me my errors, but it also showed me my successes. Hitting the bag hard enough to make it swing is no indication of a good kick. A good kick will make the bag "jump," and the telltale rattle of the suspending chains tells you when the strike has been focused and powerful enough to jerk the bag out of its resting plane. I was under the impression that my jump back kicks (also called 360 jump back kicks and 360 aero back kicks) were perfectly useless. Yet one day, one of my jump back kicks--much to my surprise--rang the chain and jerked the bag up. The bag could have deceived me but did not. It was a good kick, and the bag said so. By imitating the correct technique, I improved my jump back kick, and the bag told me every time when I am successful.

I could go on and on about this: the more you work with a heavy bag, the more it communicates to you. It humbles you; it outlasts you; it reflects your own strength and focus perfectly. It can swing back and hit you if you get careless. But what I like best about the heavy bag is that it does not care who you are or where you come from; all it cares about is the kick itself. If you have very little talent but have worked very hard at the martial marts all your life, the bag does not care. If you have a lot of talent and don't try hard enough, the bag does not care. It will tell it to you straight about your kicks, and that's what counts. You can be white, black, male, female, young, old, heavy, light. There are no extenuating circumstances in kicking, and if you come to the bag with an attitude, it will strip it from you and pare you down to pure concentration. There is no room in perfection for a sense of self: there can be only the kick.

People who can't handle that much honesty quit working on the heavy bag. I had a man tell me once that the heavy bag was no good because nobody stands still in a fight. "Shoot," I thought, "Then just swing the stupid thing; I mean, it's hanging from a chain." But out loud I said, "Well, if you can't consistently hit something that's standing still, what makes you think you'll ever hit a moving target?" I think the result of that was a long discourse on jammed toes and how they delay good training. Yet, jammed toes are truth. Jam your big toe on the bag, and you know something that you did not know before you kicked. And you'll remember it, too. Every time you take a step. That's true education.

I had started with a forty pound bag when I trained at Hong's, and later used a sixty-five, but really, it's the same bag. It treats me just the same, regardless of my rank and ability. It lets me hit it again and again. It continues to tell me the truth, to show me what I am, to reflect back to me exactly what I am doing. The process of its instruction is painful but never vindictive, humbling but never crushing, patient, consistent, yielding, but utterly inescapable in its revelations to me.

By the start of the seventh month I had dropped all weight training and added heavy aerobic work to build up some endurance for the test and to take off a few more pounds. I skipped rope all the time. I've never been able to skip rope for more than two minutes at a time, but I seem able to string together these two minute sets indefinitely, as long as I keep resting in between and keep working at doing more and more. And skipping rope really took off the pounds and built up my calves and ankles tremendously. I became much more able to jump and to keep jumping again and again.

Finally, in the last month before the test, I entered my final phase. I dropped all aerobics work and spent my time practicing my skills and training in as many tae kwon do classes as I could.

Emotionally, there were obstacles to overcome. I had spent all my savings in a publishing project and was seeing no returns on it. Reviews were good, but we could not seem to move the inventory. My artist and I re-mapped plans for Christmas sales, but it required more investment and a lot more time. It was a constant, nagging worry.

I was a contractor, not a permanent employee, and contract renewals came up a couple times during the eight month training schedule. The question of whether I would be employed at the end of the month could have been a real nagger, especially in view of the fact that all my savings were tied up in the publishing project. But I actually reached a point where I had so much to think about that I could not spare the time to worry. And I never needed to. My contract was renewed both times.

I lost a crown and had to have dental work done, which for me involves a high risk of heart infection. I suffered a strep infection in my heart back in 1992. The combined costs of getting the new crown and having the heart testing done exceeded a thousand dollars, but at least I got through without my heart being effected. However, I did find out that my liver was inflamed again. I suffered mild hepatitis back in 1993 or 94, and occasionally my liver gets inflamed again.

While driving to work one day, I got behind a Glaxo-Wellcome van, and it stopped on the street and then backed into me, mashing in the front of my beautiful little red Saturn. I told Glaxo-Wellcome that all I wanted was a decent rental car and to have my Saturn fixed. Somehow this seemed a very complicated task to them, and it still was not done eight weeks after the accident. The Saturn had not even been taken to a body shop. I postponed worrying about it. Initially, their insurance office wanted me to rent a car on my own credit card, but a senior level manager stepped in and put the rental car on a corporate card.

Each of these events was a setback or a distraction or a definite fear. But I found out that worrying about something really wouldn't change it. Perhaps I should have learned that years ago. I had little time to spend on worrying or fussing, so I learned to do everything I could about a situation and then just forget about it.

As far as physical technique, I learned a lot about throwing a kick correctly. My journey from first black to second black had been spent learning to align shoulders, knees, and eyes with the hips. I had started my heavy bag work at that time, and the heavy bag was an excellent reinforcement and teacher of the need to aim with elbow, shoulder, and knee to get the kick out on target.

In the same way, the journey from second black to third was a lesson on the hip. I used to energize/throw my kicks with the knee, quads, and glutes. Lifting the leg to kick was done with the larger muscles of the leg. Now--even though I'm sure that these muscles are being used--it's the hip that picks up and throws the kick, throwing it in a straighter line, with a quicker extension and more power. In fact, my entire view of the hip has changed. Hips used to be things that vaguely embarrassed women when they got too big. They inadequately supported the belts on men whose pants were always slipping too low. I don't look at hips that way any more. The hip is a plane that intersects the body and offers steering capability for the legs and the shoulders. It's a machine that turns quickly and generates power. It maintains balance. Now when I throw kicks, I throw the hip, and all the muscles of the leg follow.

Staying relaxed was something that Barry had taught me when he instructed the morning classes at Hong's tae kwon do school. This was something that a person continues to learn. I think that the capabilities of the muscles to relax completely and then instantly tighten at the very end of the technique are infinite, and no matter how good a person gets at it, he or she can always get better. Staying relaxed until the last split second is really just another term for developing focus. As I concentrated on the hips, I instinctively employed Berry's directives to stay relaxed, mostly because I did not want to tire myself out. But as I worked on conserving strength, I saw my focus improve.

I have never been fast in the martial arts except for one remarkable match when I was fighting a woman who was a bully. The match started, and I somehow found myself behind her. Before I could get over the shock and hit her, she jumped away, backed right down, and went into "instructor mode," and I had to let her because she outranked me. And there was the time when I floored a guy named Jeff with a side kick that neither he nor I ever saw until after it hit him. But two blindingly fast techniques in 14 years of tae kwon do was really not a good record. Developing hip skills and staying relaxed has helped my speed. I'm still slower than I should be, but faster than I was.

Another aspect of martial arts skills was what I would call mental control, although that's not really a good term for it. I'm not talking about anything mystical or spiritual, but the simple day-by-day or lesson-by-lesson way that a person has to think in order to achieve a goal.

Patience has been what I would rate as the second greatest lesson in training for third degree. The ability to not be rattled in a fight is a tremendous ability, and one that has spillover benefits to real life. Here's the best way for a woman to spar with a man, especially a young man. Keep the eye contact intense, like you're about to kill him, but just wait. He'll attack first and commit himself, so you should block and escape. Then settle back down again with your eyes very quiet. Don't commit yourself to a counter attack. Just block and get out of the way and wait. He'll attack again. It's incredible. He won't size you up; he won't use patience. He's got his ego and his identity riding on the match. The more calm you are, the more rattled he's going to get as the match progresses. Keep up this pattern of blocking and escaping and then throw in an easy counter or two as you go. Finally, when he's very anxious and comes in, he'll make a mistake. He'll come in wide open. Then, you should commit to a hard, clean, counter: a single explosive technique. Always remember this: no matter how powerful a person's body, an undisciplined mind is self conscious and cannot wait. A disciplined mind can wait. Maybe this was the greatest lesson I learned. I'm a nervous, excitable person, so maybe others would not profit so much by this skill. But I have.

I'm a person beset by fears--not fear of others, but fears of my own limitations and shortcomings. I actually cried one Saturday morning because I could not get a kick right. I have never cried over tae kwon do before. I realized then that it wasn't failing at the moment that bothered me, but the fear that I would never get it right, that I would never get to be a third degree black belt. So I learned to divorce my self esteem from my performance in tae kwon do. I know from the Bible that God does not value people because they are black belts or because they can kick well. All He cares about is mercy and justice. Tae kwon do, and all martial arts, will be forgotten from the face of the earth one day. As will I, and my school, and my instructor. It's a wonderful gift to be able to practice martial arts, and I thank God for it often, but it's a gift that ends when life on this earth ends.

That perspective helped, as did a new understanding of the difference that training makes. I have a very average body in terms of being able to play sports. But even my body responds with incredible adaptation and changes to training. The human body is just an incredible device. With proper training, the weakest, most overweight, clumsy person can progress in a few years to fitness and athletic trim. That's true for the entire healthy population. And the Special Olympics have demonstrated that people who have had limbs amputated or suffered other physical limitations can also outperform most people if they train enough.

I learned to be patient with myself, but I was tyrannical with my time. I insisted on a certain number of sessions per week spent on training, and if I missed a session I made myself write down in my journal why I missed the session. But in the training sessions (the private sessions), I was relaxed and rested often. To my surprise, even with frequent rests I would get into the "over-65%-of-VO2MAX" range within 20 minutes, and staying laid back helped the sessions go longer. Even the sessions that did not turn out as I had hoped--when my feet felt like lead or I actually missed the heavy bag--were important because they forced me to think and re-evaluate and find a better way to learn the skill.

The best thing about martial arts is that it never matters what anybody says. All that matters is what is done. You land the kick, or you don't. You break the board, or you don't. You get the belt, or you don't. If you don't land the kick, break the board, get the belt, then you don't need anybody to tell you about it. And if you do: if the kick lands and the bag springs back with the supports shaking; or the boards suddenly splinter and the men jump back; or the teacher is smiling when he bows you out, then you've done it. Tae kwon do is one of the most truthful things around. When it's good tae kwon do. And I have learned very good tae kwon do.

Chapter Twenty

I tested for my third degree black belt on August 16, 1997. I was 36 years old---3 weeks shy of my 37th birthday.

Because of my intense training schedule, my days ran from about 4:30 in the morning until 9:00 at night. I didn't break the routine that day, even though I would not be testing until 10:00 a.m. I rose at 4:30, had coffee and a high fiber supplement, and then spent an hour on the computer, answering e-mail and posting items to the newsgroups.

I had written up a single-page program for my non-martial arts friends who would be watching the test. It briefly explained tae kwon do, what to watch for on the test, and what each form meant. I proofread it one more time, made a few corrections, and printed out 20 copies.

In my morning devotions I read again Psalm 116, the warrior's psalm:
I love the Lord, because he hath heard my voice and my supplications
Because he hath inclined his ear unto me; therefore will I call upon him
For as long as I live . . . .

I prayed my prayers, and as it was nearly seven, I ate my breakfast. I would not let myself practice forms.

I ironed my uniform, spraying on a lot of starch to give it snap, and methodically packed up my things. Sometimes the church gym that we used would be open at 9:00 on a Saturday, and I was hoping that it would be. At 8:45 I left, but things went against me. The gym was still locked when I arrived.

Nevertheless, the courtyard before the glass doors was sheltered from the street. Wearing my white uniform trousers and black t-shirt, I went through all 24 forms. As I worked, two other cars pulled up, teen-age boys who had come from Cal Hannon's school in Elberton Georgia. They would all be testing for their first degree black belts. I invited them to practice forms with me, but they declined, letting the precious minutes slip away in idleness as they sat in the cars with their parents. I thought they were being very foolish, but I went back to my practice.

The sun was merciless, even so early in the morning. It would be a day of torrid heat, and the brightness of the sun radiated out with a power all its own. My shadow stood out stark black on the shining white sidewalk.

Finally, just a few minutes before ten, Danny Kidd came and let us in. I went straight up to our workout area, pulled on my tunic and tied it, tied on my belt, and went back to work. Again, I offered to do forms with the three young men who had come, but they declined.

Other black belts trickled in. They had come to offer support and to serve as opponents in sparring. My friends outside of the martial arts came. I passed out the programs and found chairs for everybody.

As usual, we were late getting started. At close to ten thirty, Tom Worthington, a fourth degree black belt, clapped his hands and everybody lined up. He ran us through a thirty minute workout to warm us up. I was so nervous that I got the hiccups. I tried to smother them and succeeded pretty well, but they wouldn't stop. My biggest concern for the first 20 minutes of that session was that I would be hiccuping all through the test. But they finally slowed down and then disappeared.

Finally, the black belts who were not testing were sent to sit with the audience, and the four of us who were testing were sent to sit by the windows. The senior black belts: Danny Kidd, Phil Roberts, and Cal Hannon, took their places at the judges table. I was called first.

I had prepared 24 forms for the test, and I was asked to six of them. I did each one as though it were my last, and the one clear memory I have is the front kick, front jump kick in the eighth Tae Guk form. As I did it, my eyes focused on one of my friends from church, who sat watching. Her mouth was open, her eyes perfectly round.

Power and weariness fought for me, but power won every time. I hammered myself through the forms. As usual, everything I did on the test was a little higher, a little harder, a little straighter than at any other time. But best of all, I never faltered in the forms. I did each one with sincerity and integrity, and I did each one correctly. The three boys who also sat under the windows waiting to test also stared. I already knew why. Like most teen age boys, they cared only for fighting and had not considered that forms can be powerful and daunting.

At the end, I bowed out and sat down. The boys went up to do their forms, and they all got confused. Two of them failed to get through even their required forms, and the one who did finally manage to get them right simply walked through the forms. It was a bit of a let down for the audience, but I knew they would make it up in free sparring.

The brilliant, torrid sunlight poured through the windows, heating up the room. I was called back. I did my one steps, demonstrated self defense, and demonstrated defense and counters to knife attacks. My partner was Bruce, my old friend from "Barry's Buddies" days, now a black belt himself. I also demonstrated all of the flying kicks and jump kicks. After I finished and had thanked Bruce, the boys were then called up. They did their one steps ably and quickly.

I sparred a fairly inauspicious fight with Bruce. And then I fought one of the boys who was testing. But when the boys fought each other, they showed all of the power and the grace of which they were capable. It was somewhat anti-climactic, though, because two of them had already failed the test from not knowing their forms.

I have always asked myself that question: young men know they must do their forms to pass the test, and they almost always mess up on forms. There is something in the adolescent male that will not settle down to learn the forms. But he'll get up on a test and fail in public and then be surprised at himself and grievously disappointed.

I had to fight two-on-one, and I spent most of the time running. The most amazing thing I did was grab one of my opponents (which is okay in two-on-one), push him into the other, and then pull his tunic all the way down his arms so he couldn't hit me. I thought it was a clever thing to do, but Danny Kidd told me later that I really needed to improve my two-on-one. Cal Hannon thought it was the funniest thing he'd ever seen.

I was given two sets of two boards each for board breaking. I could pick any combination, but it had to be bang! bang! in rapid sequence.

I had to take a moment to think about this, and Danny Kidd allowed me a moment. One of my goals had been to break two boards with a roundhouse kick. I had practiced that roundhouse kick for eight months. It now looked perfect.

But suddenly my right leg felt weak and ineffective. At the gym in Raleigh, one of the weight lifters had held single boards for me, and I had broken one board with a round kick several times, but never two.

I very nearly backed out and chose a sidekick, but then I faced that desire for inner excellence: the true thing that tae kwon do had instilled into me. I would never know unless I tried, and the truth was better than living a lie. I had to know. A test is not about putting on a good show. It's about testing out what you have practiced.

I positioned the men with the boards so that I could do round kick, forearm strike. But everybody from my school knew that the round kick was the kick in question. It had been my worst kick, and I had worked diligently on it.

I set up, and for a moment my right leg felt like water. And then I gave one brief yell: "Aiya!" Lightning ran down my leg. With a precise jerk that pulled the knee and heel up and a sharp twist of the hip, I rammed the ball of my foot into the target, but I knew the boards would break. The minute I felt that lightning streak through me, I knew.

They smashed apart, and I turned and rammed my forearm through the next two. It was over in less than two seconds.

My friends in the audience had never seen anybody break boards with a roundhouse kick. Like most people unfamiliar with the technique, they could not believe that I had not broken my toes.

The boys who were testing for first black got up to break boards and they enjoyed mixed results. Again, as teen age boys, they had cared only about fighting. After several tries, two of them broke their boards, and one of them was not able to. Later, the one who was not able to break the boards made the comment that I was pretty good after all, for a girl. It annoyed me, and I muttered back, "Yeah, I can break boards!" He didn't say anything after that.

We all lined up and faced the audience this time. Mr. Kidd disappeared. Caroline Roberts, in the audience, was smiling at me. Joseph Troutbridge, a first degree black belt who was a judge for the state of South Carolina, was also smiling, and Bruce was smiling. Mr. Kidd came back with a bouquet of roses, and my new belt. The belt was much thicker than my current belt, and it had my name embroidered in gold on one side, and the schools name on the other. And on the very ends, it had three gold bars-my new standing.

I took off my old belt, and Mr. Kidd tied on my new belt. I couldn't speak for a moment.

Hong's was past its glory days: we now trained in the small gym attached to a church. Classes were much smaller these days. Danny Kidd himself was now married with three children. And Phil and Caroline Roberts had gray in their hair. Tom Worthington, lightning fast all through his career, occasionally had to deal with knee pain and slight arthritis in one foot. Linwood Cisco and Will Thorson were gone, as were a host of others I had known.

But these were the people who had defined so much of my life. If God had offered me the bravest and the best of companions to be my examples and my teachers and my friends, these people would have been the choices. Early in my life, I had prayed to be changed from the person that I was: violent and heedless and angry. And God showed me that Christ could take my sin away. And then He replaced my old life with this life, the very best life I could ever have, the very best teachers, the very truest of true people.

"There!" Mr. Kidd said as he tied the knot. He stepped back. I bowed to my peers and to the audience. We then bowed out of class, and then it was time for warm congratulations, hugs and handshakes, and--of course--Ryans's. Some things never change.

There's a lot that I haven't told: fight stories left out, and students I didn't mention, and acts of courage still untold. A few weeks after I earned my third degree black belt, I learned to break concrete with a palm heel strike. That's a story in itself.. And last year I went to a science fiction convention in Chicago and did a successful stand up comedy routine that included a board breaking demonstration. That's also another story. Even as I write, two years have passed since my last test, and I am a year and a half away from fourth degree black belt. I am already preparing for it. But that's another story, too. Another story, another story. Some time, I must tell you another story.

In the end, true tae kwon do training is a training in excellence. And so it never ends, and it never ceases to be rewarding. And no matter what else I say, that's the entire, true story of tae kwon do.

Thank you for reading! Although several literary agents (all women) have expressed personal interest in seeing this novel get to publication, I keep getting the standard "It is not the type of book we handle." So I am posting it to the internet and attending to my school work and training. I sure do appreciate comments from readers!

Click here for Letters to a Great Lady: Strategies for Courage In 1999, I write three short letters to a great woman who was undergoing continual harassment from her estranged husband. She gave me permission to send her a longer series of essays on adopting a martial mindset against an aggressive attacker. The essays started as a series on Miyamoto Musashi's Book of Five Rings, but came to include principles of aikido and tae kwon do. This is a book on the mental aspect of fighting bullies, especially designed for women, but suitable for anybody.

The following are graphic intensive pages:
I have video still pictures of my tae kwon do school in an online scrapbook.
You can also view more recent photos of Training for Fourth Degree
And I have stills from my Test for Fourth Degree Black Belt

If you enjoyed this book, you may want to try an adventure story I wrote that uses the martial arts. It's a Dr. Who story, but you can follow it easily, even if you have never seen Dr. Who. It is called The Fighting Dead .

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