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Martial arts learning experience continues

By John Michael Earnest

Oct. 24, 2006 9:00 p.m.

Surprisingly, my Korean vocabulary now stands at five words.
Horrifically mispronounced words, sure ““ including one that I
have absolutely no idea how to go about ““ but the fact still

I am, against my best efforts, becoming trilingual. My tae kwon
do ignorance is becoming more precious as it dwindles into nothing.
Or at least, I hope that’s the case.


That was definitely not the first word out of fifth-year senior
and UCLA’s Tae kwon do Club founder Sean Yee’s mouth a
few Mondays ago (It means “Attention.”). In fact, he
doesn’t start any class that way. Tae kwon do at UCLA is
relaxed and easygoing despite the brutal subject matter.

Even though I had previously exposed myself to the sport,
however briefly, and even knew the instructor, there were still a
few butterflies in my stomach as I waited for the first class to

This happened a few weeks ago, just so you know. Second week, to
be more or less precise.

I was semi-properly attired for the occasion; I had no uniform,
but no one else really did, either. We were but a mishmash of young
college kids hoping to be transformed into warriors.

Our feet would be deadly, as would our hands. Or at least, that
was my chief sentiment.


The first class was much too slow for my liking.

It definitely had something to do with the complete lack of
instruction in matters of punching and kicking. Also, there was a
tedious amount of stretching and warming up.

Still, class was fun, and Sean said we’d do more in the
learning-to-fight department next time, so I wasn’t worried.
Maybe I should have been, because my hamstrings and back were sore
for a week.

Wednesday was a completely different experience (for those of
you keeping score or a time line at home, this is two weeks ago

Class started fast. We only warmed up for half the time, and got
to the good stuff quickly. Sean had promised this, and I enjoyed

“Cha-ryot. Kumg-nae.”

He snapped off the commands for “attention” and
“bow” like a drill instructor and put us into ready


I now know somewhat how a racehorse might feel. Sean had us
alternate between attention, ready, and fighting stances. And then,
with barely a word of warning to cull my growing boredom, the
pent-up aggression of years received a conduit.

“We’re going to start with a punch to the chest.
Ready. Begin.”

We started counting, kiai-ing (yelling) and punching to a
rhythm. It was extremely therapeutic. Then, after we finished the
first set, Sean explained the idea behind the punch to the solar
plexus, and that ruined 95 percent of my expectations for the

“If you hit them in the solar plexus, you can collapse the
ribs. We don’t want you to do that,” he said with a
nervous laugh.

Come on, I thought. You’ve already given us the university
police spiel.

“We’re trying to teach you how to hit someone as a
last resort. You hit them, and then you get away.”

I was very disappointed.

One of the greatest draws to tae kwon do was the defensive
philosophy that I heard from the many laymen I had encountered. Tae
kwon do was supposed to be about kicking the snot out of the other
guy so he stopped hurting you. Not this nancy crap about running

But those people also told me tae kwon do was only about
kicking, which was obviously incorrect. We did do some kicking, but
that was after we had rehearsed inserting our elbows into the
temples of imagined attackers.

Still, despite the complete destruction of those precious
preconceived notions, I managed to make it through that class.
Surprisingly enough.

Know more Korean? Alleviate ignorance by e-mailing Earnest

[email protected].

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John Michael Earnest
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