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Do chang

“There are more pleasant things to do than beat up people.”
    ~ Muhammad Ali

You need directed anger
To master the power of the dark side
To get through life in this backwater
Where they’d all take me down the moment
I show pain or frustration
And though I’ve mastered masking it
They’ve tried tried tried but that was
All before
All those Greensboro trips
Where I went on to master
Gicho ilbu
Gicho ebu
Gicho sambu
Pyongan chodan
Pyongan edon the beautiful blue belt dance
Pyongan samdan
Pyongan sadan
Ba sai
Ni han chi chodan
Some call each sequence of techniques
By the moniker kata or hyung
In this mu duk kwan school we just call it a form

I may be a miserable four-eyed dweeb
Graceless of gait
Strange of behavior
Ungainly of aspect
The only kid
She considers uncoordinated gullable annoying sad-sack
Yet here in this do chang
Almost as in dreams
If only for a few moments at a time
I can float

With those forms under my belt
I come most weekday mornings one summer
Spar with Mr. Bull
That’s who he is to me anyway
Since he’s been here almost forever
Unbeatable unreachable inscrutable strong aware and wise
Throw a kick and he already knows just how it’s coming
A fist is a joke to him
Every day he makes me sweat
Trying to find a way past his defenses
Every day he breaks past mine
To show me what I’ve missed
What I don’t miss
Toward the end of that summer with a creative jump and swing
To tap his breast with a toe
Is enough
Not trying
Just floating
Though I can’t say his given name
He’s Mr. Bull forever

Afternoon free sparring finds the little Korean guys my age
Outraged
At this bleached gangling skinflint matched against them
They come at me right through the air
I’ve already taken to the air too
Taking a heel softly in the shoulder
Already floating back with its energy
To land way across the do chang
Letting their every thrust pass through
Not resisting
And as they continue with me and also land
How simple to tap their breasts just like Mr. Bull’s
He’s taught me my own way
Every good school deserves that kind of training

Now that summer’s over
The master instructor calls me into his office
At the do chang
Poses an unexpected question
“Can you defense
  Against five opponents?”
I think about it
What if I rose to the air to flow with an assault
But behind me instead of the long empty space of the do chang
There were four other assailants
Could I direct myself around them
Or give their chests more than a passing tap
Just floating
Why not?
“Yes
  I can”
His next act is to hand me a coil of material
For my waist
When I take it home she embroiders my do bok in matching trim
She’s proud
Seeing dark sides meet in the middle
At the center
Along the front

There is no conflict
When I walk toward my chair-desk at the back of the science classroom
That almost could’ve felt like home
If Kelly wasn’t coming
Swinging at me
A couple years before a Bullish summer
Right down the aisle with puckered face and flowing hair
Like an attractive bride
No way to do clever jumps
No need
Just a simple clean front kick to the middle of his breast
Sends him wheeling backward
Then he comes swinging just the same
Then I kick him in the breast just the same
Again the swinging
Again the kick
Again
Again
And it’s over as he stomps off
Spitting
If there’d been five of him
There wouldn’t have been enough directions of attack
Amidst the interstices of the chair-desks
For more than four to come on at once
All easily knocked back
With the simplest moves
Just floating
A front kick to the front
A side kick to the side
A back kick to the back
A side kick to the other side
A merry-go-round of Kellys falling back
Until that too would be over
I’ve no need to lie
Yet needn’t ever try
Living up to my do chang promise
One of him has been enough to teach a whole school
Where they’re all practically just like him
Or at best holding back in complicit silence
Never saying a word
Only the women are dangerous

Thanks always returns

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