At the Jhoon Rhee Institute of Tae Kwon Do in Georgetown, Dima Dimentyev, son of a Soviet Embassy official, is having some of his most intimate encounters with America.
They come at the 12-year-old as fast as the flying kicks his classmates execute, in the commands his teacher barks in Korean and in the scratchy recording of "God Bless America" played for inspiration.
Dima is one of about a dozen children venturing forth lately from the nearby Soviet compound for the self-defense classes that throw together Hispanic teenagers, middle-aged white women and young black men.
Such are the smaller moments of glasnost in Washington.
That even cautious Soviet Embassy workers are feeling free enough after years of mutual distrust to send their children to places such as Jhoon Rhee -- not to mention some D.C. public schools -- is a gauge of glasnost's penetration.
"Now we are clearly overstepping the official lines of acceptable socializing and trying to establish man-to-man, human being-to-human being contacts," said Melor Sturua, a columnist for Izvestia for 40 years and now a senior associate of the Carnegie Endowment in Washington.
With the architect of glasnost and perestroika, Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, visiting Washington this week, Soviets reflected on the changes not only in themselves but in their American hosts.
Americans are realizing, Sturua said, that "we are not robots, we are not slaves, we are flesh and blood."
But amid the newly minted fellowship, there's a sense of unreality for these people, buffeted as they have been by years of on-again-off-again U.S.-Soviet relations. Setbacks such as the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan soured interaction not only on the world stage, but in Washington corridors and dining rooms.
"Those guys ignored me -- from the State Department and the Congress, my friends -- suddenly it was just like I never existed," said Vitaly Gan, bureau chief for Pravda.
Since then, Gorbachev's reforms have touched Washington's official Soviet community -- the journalists, academics, diplomats and embassy workers -- in many and varied places, from the Georgetown Safeway where they shop to the Soviet Embassy on 16th Street.
The cold war in their lives is thawing, these people report with some relief, albeit unevenly.
Soviet reporters, embassy workers and their relatives, for example, cannot venture more than 25 miles from the Washington Monument without permission from the U.S. State Department. Intentionally arbitrary rules prevent Soviets from using the airports of certain cities and ban them entirely from some states and counties.
A State Department official said the system is meant to mirror equally arbitrary rules the Soviets impose.
"They'll be restricted from going into a place like, say, Frederick County, even though there's nothing there," the official said, adding, "I'm not saying that to knock Frederick County."
Calling the rules "obsolete and foolish," Sturua called on both countries to dismantle their bureaucratic weapons systems.
If cold war paranoia lingers among the 254 inhabitants of the embassy compound, it's understandable. One Washington resident, who asked not to be identified, said that since he began socializing with some Soviet families he has been called periodically by the FBI and the Central Intelligence Agency.
Such actions by both governments reinforce the fear some Soviets exhibit that the glasnost good times might not last.
"Just because you become friendly, you don't exactly become friends. . . . We're not quite friends yet and we're no longer enemies," said Alexander Vershbow, director of Soviet Union Affairs for the State Department.
One center of grass-roots diplomacy is Benjamin Stoddert Elementary School. About a dozen children of embassy officials have enrolled this year. Some parents have even taken part in cleanup day and a potluck meal at the D.C. public school. In the past, embassy children were permitted to attend only the embassy compound's school.
Ruthanne Miller's daughter, Mikhaila, often plays at home with kindergarten classmate Dasha, the daughter of a Soviet official. Dasha's parents recently invited Mikhaila to their home in the compound, a reciprocation that has been difficult for embassy personnel in the past.
"My daughter tells me she's learned some Russian from Dasha," Miller said.
The parents of the 10 Soviet students who attend the school in Glover Park are equally enthusiastic about the experiment, by all accounts, despite its troubled past. Stoddert parents all tell the story of how the Soviets sent some children to the school six or eight years ago, but pulled them out after "a mommy of one little girl defected," said Sara Friendly, whose son attends Stoddert.
Soviet journalists and academics, who can live in their own apartments and homes, seem to have integrated more easily into Washington society. For many, the new atmosphere seems incredible.
Marjory Train, who lives near the embassy, points to her encounter with a young Russian researcher at the National Institutes of Health. She and her husband have taken him to Annapolis and shown him how to eat oysters on the half shell; they have plans to set him up on a date.
"It's neat to get to know this guy our own age, to be able to sit in your living room with him," Train said, marveling at her earlier fears. "The first time he came to our house unescorted we were looking out the window to see if there was KGB out there."