Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Junior black belt trouble

We arrive at the dojang to see a bit of a crowd at our class. Brian is there with his son Matthew. Savaun and Patrick are there, Alec and Jacob, too. Johanna is there, and my boys groan. "I don't like Johanna; she's bossy," says Eli. But they get dressed and come out into the dojang. They play around with the pads before class while I greet Mr. Houtz.

"Guess what happened to me on the way to class last Thursday?" he asks. "I got in a car accident."

He shows me the huge bruise on his leg, but he was otherwise unhurt. His car, however, was totalled. And it seems the other driver is out to get as much as he can from the accident.

"Well, that's what insurance is for," I say, remembering my few small and embarassing accidents. "You can just forget about it and let them deal with it."

Class begins, and we move the familiar moves: punches, stretches, kicks, basic movements. Mr. Houtz works us hard, reminding us that there's a test soon and we need to be ready. It's a warm and humid day; I'm soon sweating. Robbie and Eli are having trouble staying focused because of the heat. They would never admit it, but they've lost a bit after a week off class.

One definite downside to the class is the presence of Johanna, a junior blackbelt (age 12). None of the children likes her, and I see why. She is constantly lording her blackbelt status over the younger children, correcting them and tattling on them. Alec, normally even-tempered, gets more and more riled by her comments. "That's not a front stance! Move your foot out," she says in a whiny voice. She pushes on his back. "Leave me alone!" he mutters.

We practice forms, and I'm a bit concerned with my sons' sloppiness. Mr. Houtz seems not to notice. I wish he would; it would be good for Johanna to see how a good, mature teacher corrects students.

When we divide up for combination kicking--basically controlled sparring practice--I am paired with Johanna. I greet her and chat before we begin--maybe if I make friends she'll chill out. But no. She continues her whiny fault-finding with me. "You call that a ki-hap? No one would be scared of that!" she says. Then she lets out her ki-hap, a long yell from the throat. I point out to her that I prefer to ki-hap from my gut. As we spar, she continues the monologue. "You don't need to block me! I'm not going to hurt you! You're reaching!" And then, when she does land a blow: "Why aren't you moving back? Don't you know how to move back? I wouldn't have hit you but you are just moving in tiny steps!"

I finally stop and face her. "Johanna, people might be more willing to listen to your advice if you used a kinder tone of voice," I say. "Well, Master Hughes says I can correct people," she counters. "Yes," I say. "But remember what Master Hughes says: PCP, Praise, Correct, Praise"

She then goes on to complain about how Alec won't listen to her corrections, and how rude and bad-mannered he is. I can't take it.

"Johanna, Alec is one of the best-behaved students here. I think you might do better to speak respectfully to him. I think it's hard to teach people of your own age. It's best to teach by example rather than to correct people. Leave that to the teacher."

I hope that a friendly talk like this might help her.

What should one do in this situation? I wish our laid-back teacher would see what is going on at times, but I really don't think he is aware of the tension. He's too kind! Someone needs to step in, see the situation, and talk about it. Maybe there needs to be more explanation to people like Johanna about what being a black belt really means. Of course, I rarely see her at the dojang; she just may be out of the loop.

Before TKD tag begins, the children complain quietly about Johanna. "I don't like that girl," says good-natured Savaun. As the children begin their game of tag, I quietly speak to Alec and Jacob's dad about Johanna. He is shaking his head with annoyance. "She was goading Alec, and I told him to just ignore her," he sighs. "She just can't seem to keep her mouth shut."

Suddenly there's a rukus in front of us. Alec is stomping along, angry, and Johanna is yelling at him. "OK! Fifteen pushups, now!" she yells.

Alec's dad jumps up. "HEY!" he yells. Johanna turns. "You do NOT order someone to do pushups. Mr. Houtz does that in here. You're just getting on everyone's nerves with your mouth constantly going. You need to leave those kids alone!"

Johanna stares, open-mouthed. Everyone stands, frozen. It is completely silent.

Finally, Mr. Houtz yells out, "Let's get back to the game now. Who's still in the game?"

It's silent a while longer while the tension hangs in the air. Then a few of the boys begin to move. The game resumes.

I'm not sure what's going to happen after class. I think Johanna, Alec, Alec's dad, Mr. Houtz, and Master Hughes all need to talk.

More happened that day, but I think I'll post this and tell you about flying side kicks later.

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