In what could turn out to be a North American record for boneheaded parental blunders, we have decided to let our son, who is 6, take lessons in tae kwan-do. This is a martial art, something like karate, only it comes from Korea. I think tae kwan-do is Korean for "I shall kick you in the head," because this is largely what you try to do. First you bow to your opponent with deep respect, and then you try to insert your instep far into his or her nasal passages. This builds character and discipline.
At least that's the theory we're working under. It sure looked as though there was a lot of character being built when we took Robert to the tae kwan-do studio to check it out. There were maybe 30 kids there, barefoot and wearing those white pajamas, and the teacher, Master Choi,had them completely under control. He never even had to raise his voice. Me, I can't control one child without constantly escalating to ludicrous shouted threats.
"Robert!" I am always shouting. "If I have to tell you ONE MORE TIME to clean this gerbil poop off the coffee table, I am going to take that yo-yo away from you and you will never see it again for the rest of your life."
Master Choi, on the other hand, merely had to issue a quiet command in Korean, and instantly all 30 students would leap to attention, or bow, or attack the person on their immediate right or whatever. Part of the reason they have so much respect for Master Choi, of course, is they know he can kick them barefooted clean through a Kuwaiti oil tanker. But part of it also seemed to be discipline and character, and since Robert was hot to try it, we signed him up.
I now realize this could be a major error. I mean, right now our household is analogous to the international situation right after World War II, with America (represented by my wife and me) being the only country with the atomic bomb (represented by being big), which means that the Soviet Union (Robert) is ultimately forced to yield in international disputes, such as what time is bedtime.
But with the tae kwan-do lessons, we are handing the Soviet Union advanced laser technology that could upset the entire balance of power. Master Choi has assured us that it's only for self-defense, and I'm sure he is sincere, but I have my doubts. If I knew tae kwan-do, I would go around claiming it was for self-defense, but actually I would look for every opportunity to use it in daily life.
For example, you know how sometimes you're in an airplane and you get stuck sitting next to a person, always a male, who just has to have control of the armrest? It's an aggressive territorial lust that many males have, dating back millions of years, when territory was important and males were stupid. The male sitting next to you may look like a modern businessman, but deep in his cerebral cortex he is a Neanderthal named Oog who is convinced that if he lets you share the armrest, you will kill him and take his woman. Guys think stuff like this all the time, which is why we have all those boats over there in the Persian Gulf.
So anyway, if I knew tae kwan-do, and I was sitting next to a territorial male, I would politely attempt to share the armrest, and when he shoved my arm off, I would draw back my foot and, with awesome power, shatter his briefcase into thousands of tiny Samsonite pieces. And then I would TAKE HIS WOMAN. HAHAHAHAHA.
See what I mean? Even I don't feel responsible enough to handle this kind of power, and I am a grown-up with major credit cards. Lord knows what my son will do. I can just picture our household with Robert completely beyond our control, going to bed at 4:30 a.m. and eating meals consisting entirely of chocolate Easter bunny parts.
Of course he has a long way to go. To get a black belt, you have to go through a series of lower-level belts, each signifying that you have mastered a number of difficult techniques. Right now Robert is a white belt, which signifies only that his father has written a check to the tae kwan-do studio.
But he's learning fast. When he came out from his first lesson he was so fired up that, right in the parking lot, he gave me an impressive demonstration of his prowess, launching a leaping kick that I am sure would have had devastating power if his legs hadn't gone out from under him in animated-cartoon fashion such that he wound up in a crumpled little martial-arts pile, crying partly from pain but mostly from the humiliation of being defeated in hand-to-hand combat by a parking lot. I picked him up -- I have a black belt in picking him up -- and carried him to the car, and by the time we got home he was a Mean Fighting Machine again. He wore his white belt to supper. He wanted to wear the whole uniform, but we didn't want him to spill Kool-Aid on it.