Don't let anyone tell you all Washington parties are the same.
Take last night's celebration of tae kwon do master Jhoon Rhee's new "World Martial Arts Congress for Education."
First the woman next door yelled that she was going to call the police if they didn't turn off the microphone. Then the tape player broke down while Miss Michigan performed her "martial arts ballet." And then the U.S. congressmen started breaking wooden boards with their feet.
"I really enjoy the discipline of it, both physical and mental," said yellow belt Rep. Bob Wise (D-W.Va.) after splitting his board successfully. "Karate requires three things -- speed, power and technique. I see what I learn in karate can be transferred to other things like politics. You have to move fast, with strength and power and with technique."
Of course, on the floor of the House they don't get to wear those red foam face masks and gloves that made the sparring representatives look like white pajamaed lobsters, but then speed, power and technique do not depend on such accessories.
While about 250 people watched in the courtyard behind the restaurant Il Giardino, Wise, Reps. James Jeffords (R-Vt.), Toby Roth (R-Wis.) and several other lawmakers who attend Rhee's Capitol Hill classes, Miss Michigan Alicia Masalkoski and a gaggle of kids with stern expressions on their faces jumped, kicked, slashed and chopped.
When the cries began -- "People up here are trying to live in apartments! Turn off the microphone!" -- the assembled crowd handled it with disciplined restraint, only a few of them commenting "She's crazy!" or suggesting she shut up.
The anonymous apartment dweller soon fell quiet and the congressmen got to put on their show, jabbing their lobster claws at assorted karate champions, bowing to Rhee on cue, listening to him recite a poem on the battle between good and evil (described as "righteous right and sinister left" by Rhee, who insisted there were no political implications to his imagery) and joining him in a series of thrusts and stretches to the sounds of Kate Smith singing "God Bless America."
The Congress for Education is a nonprofit organization Rhee founded that uses the martial arts to encourage scholarship. Rhee insists that his school-age students have straight-A report cards in order to make black belt.
"This is in my blood," Rhee said. "Now . . . peer-pressure leaders are bullies and their only weapon is they can beat people up. With black belt abilities, we're going to deter that. The discipline of bowing to parents and teachers, handing objects rather than throwing -- that's not an American or Korean custom, it's a universal custom."
Rhee was not seen handing or throwing many objects, but he did introduce his mother to the crowd and bow down on bended knees, touching his face to the cement surface before her feet.
"These are old values, this is an old lesson and a good lesson," said Education Secretary William Bennett. "He's talking about self-discipline being the most important thing."
Mass-mail king Richard Viguerie, a former Jhoon Rhee student, saw political significance in his old teacher's values. As he put it, "Self-discipline, pride in yourself, taking responsibility for yourself -- it kind of flows naturally with the conservative philosophy."
And the exercise that goes along with all that can be useful too.
"It helps you get rid of your frustrations," said Jeffords, a blue belt. "You go there tired and sometimes depressed, as we get in Congress, but just a hour of working with Jhoon and you feel ready to take on the world."