Getting His Kicks

by Anne Thomas Soffee

June 1, 2012

 Illustration by James Callahan

Illustration by James Callahan

The Boy's first-grade year has been one of new experiences. In the interest of raising him to be well-rounded, we've added a lot of different lessons and classes to his repertoire. On Fridays, he has music lessons. On Thursdays, he did acting, though that's over for the year, as is his Saturday animation class. And on Mondays and Wednesdays, he does tae kwon do.

This is actually our second attempt at martial-arts training. When he was 4, he took a shot at mixed martial arts that didn't turn out too well. It wasn't the fault of the class or the instructor; he just wasn't ready for that much structure. But now he is 6, and believe me when I tell you that whether or not The Boy is ready for structure, Tad and I are ready for him to have some. More than ready, in fact.

After scouting out the local options online, we decided to check out Master Lorenzo Gibson's classes at Yoga Source in Carytown. He has been teaching for 30 years, and Tad liked what he saw on the training videos posted on the website. I followed a link to a separate site for Master Gibson's wildlife paintings, and that sealed the deal, because who wouldn't want their kid to learn from a seventh-degree black belt who can also paint a beautiful picture of a butterfly on a flower? This is what we're after! Well-rounded! We signed up immediately.

The Boy's whole demeanor changed the second he walked into the room. Maybe it was Master Gibson's even tone and calming aura, or maybe it was seeing a row of children his size wearing actual uniforms and colored belts. Whatever it was, it was serious business, and The Boy left all of his 6-year-old goofiness at the door. He took his place at the end of the row, in a Transformers T-Shirt and last year's too-short sweatpants. Master Gibson went down the row, and each child bowed. When he got to the end of the line, The Boy folded in half like a TV tray, then stayed there, with his forehead touching his knees, for a full five seconds. "How does he even do that?" Tad whispered to me in the doorway. Master Gibson patiently waited for The Boy to unfold, then he began the class.

The hour flew by. My kid was more focused than I had ever seen him. He did his best to follow along, even though a few of his classmates had been taking tae kwon do for some time, and for the most part, he kept up. I was relieved. Tad was beaming. The Boy could not wait to come back for more.

The second week, The Boy got a uniform of his own. Yes, he has to roll the pant legs three times, and the jacket fits like a hairdresser's smock, but proud doesn't begin to touch how he feels about it. As soon as he puts it on, he starts in with the kicks and the stances. Because he's a ninja. Or something. It's a thing.

I won't lie, one of my favorite tae kwon do moments is the way all of the kids come flying down the stairs when they're dismissed and race down the Cary Court sidewalk to For the Love of Chocolate. There's something so Beaver Cleaver about a swarm of children hitting the candy store after class that it makes me feel like maybe the world isn't such a terrible place after all.

Tad's favorite part, aside from his firm conviction that his son is no doubt on the path to tae kwon do stardom (if there even is such a thing), is teasing The Boy about the fact that he steadfastly refuses to strike at a pretty 7-year-old classmate when he has to spar with her. "He just smiles and bats his eyelashes at her while he politely blocks her kicks," Tad told me after one class I didn't attend. Then he asked The Boy, "Buddy, why won't you fight her?"

"I don't know, I just don't feel very confident doing that," he answered, the tops of his ears getting redder than the cherry sucker he'd chosen at the candy store.

I think he meant comfortable. And I am totally fine with that, too. If he decides that he wants to be a lover, not a fighter, that's his choice.

At least he already has some practice shopping for chocolates.