Archive for the ‘Martial Arts’ Category

 Is it possible to have feelings for someone you barely understand?

Last week I told The Instructor I would not leave my job after all.

“Sabunim,” I said, as his younger students made kissing noises behind his back. “Me, Pia, no go Ca-li-porn-nia.

Pointing at the ground: “Here–yogi–yes.”

I hooked my thumbs together, made flapping motions with my hands, then unhooked them and made an X with my forearms. “Ca-li-porn-nia, aniyo.”

His eyes flickered with recognition and his jaw dropped. “Pia, yogi?” he exclaimed, pointing at the ground.

“Ne!” I exclaimed, clapping. “Korea, yes.” I gave him a thumbs up.

“Pusan?” he asked, mimicking my bird hand motion.

“Pusan, no,” I said, making another X sign. “Yogi, yes.”


“Wonderland, yes.” I made puppets with my hands. “C Teacher and Pia Teacher, talk-talk. Wonderland good! Pia . . .” I gave another thumbs up. “Happy.”

He spun around and told the boys in rapid-fire Korean. I got teary-eyed as their faces lit up. I hadn’t realized they cared so much.

He pointed to my belt. “Pia, red belt.” He raised one hand, and lifting fingers, counted: “July, August, September, October, November–black belt!” The boys recited the months to themselves and nodded. Yes, yes, five months would give me enough time to train for my black belt.

I wrung my wrists. “Black, no.” I bit my lip, wondering how to convey this. “Chun-bee, aniyo.” I’m not ready.

The Instructor and students squinted in confusion for a moment, before a young boy said, “Chun-bee. Ready.” After all these months, my pronunciation of basic words was still awful.

“See?” I said. “My Hangeul, not so good.” More puppet motions with my hands, then a descending thumbs-down.

I locked eyes with my teacher. “I don’t understand you,” I said weakly, and he nodded, his mouth firm.


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Click to see more martial arts photos from Pia.

I tampered with the image to make it fit the page. I like it better in its original size.

I know it’s been a while since I’ve actually written-written anything, but I have been working on more chapters (think “Full Moon”). I expect they’ll be on the blog by late August.

They’re based on my previous travels abroad, and in order to finish I have to look at my college journals, which are stranded in California.

Anyway, taking pictures is easier. Criticism is always appreciated.

Just don’t harp on my ass. I worked hard for it back then, and really miss it.

Edited to add that I will remove most of the pictures of my kids next Friday! I might keep a few, but only under private viewing for family and friends. So enjoy the cuteness while it lasts.

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Spring Is Here

After the onslaught of snow, ice and rain, I wouldn't believe it was spring until a Korean told me.

Yesterday, during Taekwondo class, we were melting. Panting and stumbling around like drugged dogs, the sweat slipping from our fingertips and forming puddles on the mats. I thrust my upper torso out of the window, and the air was thick and still.

JY placed her hand on my elbow, as if to pull me back in. "Spring is here," she said with a small smile.

I nodded and turned back to the night, into that maternal heat. I wanted to take a long walk into nowhere. I wanted another run in the mountains, another meditation in the morning. I wanted to strip, lie under the covers and watch the sunrise.

Once again Korea was quiet and lovely and limitless.

The Instructor came up behind me and took both of my shoulders, rubbing their briefly. I rested my cheek against the warm metal of the window frame and gazed out at one tiny, visible star in the distance.

"You must have been a cheerleader in a past life . . ."

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April 5th is Arbor Day, so I have the day off. Today I decided to go to the World Taekwondo Federation headquarters in Gangnam, Seoul and watch the 33rd National Collegiate Championships.

After I left my apartment, I saw flowers. They’d bloomed overnight.

From my apartment building.

I passed by another tree of blossoms on my way to the bus station.

White blossoms, finally!

I arrived an hour after the tournament ended. I was disappointed, but I was able to take a good deal of photos.

I’ll admit I felt extremely proud when I saw this:

Pinoy Pride!

Also, I was able to buy two pairs of nunchuckus, which you might remember as Michelangelo’s weapon of choice (the turtle, not the artist). These are my favorite part of my martial arts class, and I’m proud to say I know more forms than any other person in my group.

So I bought a practice pair, a pretty demonstration pair (because I like my weapons as tacky as my clothes) and a key-chain.


I was able to buy all three items for less than fifteen dollars.

A good day.

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Swoon! My first movie star crush, and the first reason I wanted to learn the martial arts. 

After dodging testings, my Taekwondo instructor finally managed to trick me into testing for my blue belt.

Now, considering I have done the martial arts since I was fourteen, he found it absurd that I chose to keep my status as a white belt. Two weeks into my training he insisted I test to become an intermediate.

"You are the best in your group," The Instructor said through our interpreter, JY. "You work so hard . . . you need to go up at least one level."

However, I wasn't comfortable moving up because of my difficulties with the language. Even though I'd made flashcards and bought books, my only opportunities to study take place on the bus or subway.

This isn't like high school, when I curled up in my sofa with bottled water and a box of cereal and proceeded to mumble the same twelve Korean words until I fell asleep.

Now I'm responsible for a massive amount of vocabulary, and I do think I've memorized a lot. However, I didn't want to move up a level and learn a new batch of words when I hadn't absorbed my beginner words.

Last Friday I entered the dojang to find my Kwanjangnim (master and the school owner) seated behind a long table draped in a dark blue cloth. Everyone seemed to be running on an abundance of nervous energy. I found JY and pulled her aside.

"Yo-dong-saeng. Na ihe mote," I said, waving a hand over the room. Little sister. I don't understand.

"Ah," she said, squinting over my broken pronunciation. "Testing today."

JY was my first real Korean friend–that is, the first outside of work who wasn't interested in hanging out with me just to practice her English. Slender, lovely and good-humored, she also took Hapkido lessons and was training to become a police officer.

She was just a year younger than me, and we silently bonded over being twenty-somethings pursuing what most women in our community didn't understand. Our conversations were somewhat limited ("English is difficult." "Korean is difficult." "How is school?" "Things are busy.") and we preferred to interact by practicing wrist-locks and weaponry.

So she was the only one who could tell The Instructor I wasn't ready to test. "I did not know there was testing today," I said.

"You didn't get my text message?" she asked.

(Yes, I had. My student had translated it like this: "Last carrot at eight o'clock.")

"I'm not ready to test."

She told The Instructor, who smiled patiently at me. "He says you will not test."

"No test?"

"No test. Now, he wants you to practice your [one steps, or short defense techniques]."

"Waaaaait. I'm not testing, right."

"No test. Now, he wants you to practice number two and three."

So I tested. And even though I did the wrong one steps, I did the wrong ones right. As I knotted my new blue belt around my waist, I was happy I'd done it.

It's always nice to move forward, even when I'm not ready.

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We were tumbling in Taekwondo class when my instructor turned to me and said, "Cartwheel, one hand."

And without another thought, I turned to my side, placed my right hand on the knot of my belt, leaned over and executed the perfect one-arm cartwheel. Followed by another.

The room burst into applause, and I raised my arms high, puffed out my chest and bowed.

Keep in mind I haven't done anything riskier than a roundoff since I was a seven-year-old gymnast in Texas. Seventeen years later, and it's like brushing a fly off my shoulder.

Ahssa! ("Awesome," and currently my favorite Korean word.)

P.S. I'm currently working on the last chapter of "Full Moon," plus a characters page you can access through the sidebar. The work I put in for you guys, really . . .

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Dear Pia,

You have looked tired and upset for many weeks . . . I feel bad for you.

I wish I could take care of you.

But I don't know English. I'm sorry.

I will study and learn English.

Remember to practice your Korean. I would like you to know more Taekwondo words.

You work very hard in Taekwondo class. Exercise is good for you. I don't want you to be the best in class–just do the best you can do.

When you are free I will take you out for dinner. I know you like rice!

Don't work too hard, and cheer up. Fighting!

Your Taekwondo Teacher

P.S. I am sorry my English is bad.

After the translation, my Korean co-teacher gave me a wry grin. "Does he have feelings for you?"

"Nooooo . . ." I said, suppressing a grin.

"You should get a boyfriend. I lived in Australia for a year, and after the first six months I was ready to go home. But I had a boyfriend there, and he made me feel better."

Everyone's telling me to get a boyfriend–my supervisor, my coworkers, my roommate, my friends, my parents, my pharmacist and the owner of the local Dunkin Donuts. (I suspect everyone just wants me to get laid.)

What I need is a new job.

But it was nice to get that letter. Because there are nights when I do want someone to take care of me. You'll just never hear me say that in person.

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