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     Master Bryce seemed angry, but Master Bryce always seemed angry. It wasn’t just anger that defined Master Bryce, bitterness was also a key element. Bitter like a pot of coffee that’s simmered on a burner for hours on end. Hot. Angry. Bitter. Hardly the Holy Trinity of pleasant personality traits.

     Maybe it was because Bryce was a Master without a dojo, maybe it was because he was overseeing a rag-tag bunch of misfits in taekwondo class. Maybe it was because taekwondo, TKD, wasn’t Master Bryce’s favorite martial art. TKD is open handed. We spar and drill without weapons. Master Bryce liked weapons.

     I wasn’t sure why Master Bryce was bitter but I had an inkling. I was teaching in the elementary school where his mother was secretary and occasionally our paths, as well as our wills, crossed. If anger and bitterness are hereditary he came by them naturally. Likewise, if they’re learned traits. Either way, mother and son were emotional bookends. Symmetrical in their me first, do as I say not as I do, condescending, over bearing attitudes. I was unlikely to ask Master Bryce and his new girlfriend out for drinks after class. Not only because I attended TKD much more for my wife’s and children’s sake than my own but also because sixty minutes of exposure to Master and mistress was plenty for me. I’d go to class, do my drills, learn my routines, maybe spar and get out fast. Wham, bam, adios, crazy man.

     Taekwondo’s attraction for me was winter exercise, spending time with my family and encouraging our two boys to perceive healthful activities as part of life’s essential fabric. I wasn’t there to punch, kick and strike the world into submission and, as with literally everything I do, I approached TKD with a light-hearted, irreverent outlook. I didn’t mind having to seek out and bow to all the black belts before class started but the stern countenances that prevailed in our make-shift, Indian Creek Elementary dojo always seemed unnecessary to the easy going, everything is funny, go have fun me that attended Master Bryce’s classes.

      We’ve all heard the expression, “Opposites attract,” and when it comes to subatomic particles and electromagnetism this is true, but when it comes to people it is by no means a hard and fast rule. Sometimes, frequently, like attracts like and many of Master Bryce’s instructors seemed to share his bitter, angry outlook on life. In the back of my head I kept expecting Cobra Kai sensei John Kreese to demand that I, “Sweep the leg,” of my disabled opponent. I like exercise but my killer instinct is geared more towards munching kale than it is towards assail. Still, I persisted.

    TKD class had routines and one of the routines was for students to line up and one by one “attack” an instructor. “Attack” is in quotes because we were not to make contact in our assaults but rather to come close without touching. Imagine the, “I’m not touching you!” game you may have played as a young child performed at high speed and with potentially damaging hand and foot strikes and you’ll have a fair idea of how the exercise proceeded. I enjoyed the drill. At least I did until my barefoot made contact with my instructor in a between the legs, right up the crotch kick that was not supposed to make contact.

     “Not supposed to,” is not the same as didn’t.

     The drill was simple. Students formed multiple lines and faced instructors. There was a gap of  roughly ten feet separating the student at the head of the line from the instructor and on the instructors’ signal we were to run/leap/dash forward and then use kicks and blows to simulate an attack on the instructor. Even though we students were playing the role of attacker the drill was designed to practice practical self-defense maneuvers as opposed to choreographed routines or sparring. Sparring, which came in two categories, involved landing punches gently at the entry level and more vigorous harder strikes at the advanced. Both levels of sparring required participants to wear pads to protect chest, head, teeth, feet, shins, etcetera. This drill, which was supposed to be contact free, did not require students suiting up with pads.

    Male TKD students were required to wear athletic supporters and “cups” in class. Smashed testicles are reputed to be both painful and messy and I doubt that any dojo catering to middle class, middle of the country Americans would gain a greater following were incidents of students receiving life altering damage while attending class to become well known. I wore a cup, my boys wore cups, but, as become painfully obvious to me, MS Kicksum did not.

    We had run through the drill so that each of us had attacked an instructor at least once. When it was my turn to proceed with round number two MS Kicksum said, “Come on, Kleen. Show me what you’ve got.”

     I’m positive she wasn’t suggesting a quid pro quo of, “I’ll show you mine if you’ll show me yours,” but it was at the end of this drill that the big toe of  my right foot gained carnal knowledge of MS Kicksum’s love canal. In the movie Thunderdome two men enter, one man leaves, but in this exercise my toe entered and, after a split microsecond of eye popping, full eye contact realization, my toe again retreated. At that moment the word mortified took on whole new meaning for me.

     I rushed forward, arms outstretched and asked if she was alright. She inhaled, nodded once, held up her index finger and then after a short pause nodded again. I cycled to the back of the line and the drill continued.

     Tina Turner sang, “We don’t need another hero, we don’t need to know the way home, all we want is life beyond the Thunderdome.” I don’t know about life beyond the Thunderdome but I’m confident that I’ll always remember my big toe’s time in MS Kicksum’s camel toe.