Sunday, March 28, 2021

Captain's Log, Day 189: Revenge of the 5-Year-Old Ninja

           I love teaching kids. 

           Specifically, I love teaching them Taekwondo. I've been teaching for several years, and I have a great time working with them. Our school doesn't just teach them how to defend themselves, but also other concepts like respect, self-control, focus...good stuff like that. One of my favorite groups to work with is the five- and six-year-olds. They're usually incredibly enthusiastic, willing to try anything, and can be easily motivated by comparing them to ninjas.

           (In fairness, that works on me too.)

           This particular day, the class I was assisting with was focusing on "teamwork" as our skill of the day. We had kicking relay races, group exercises, and other team-building activities to help them learn to work with each other and still get stronger, faster, and better at Taekwondo. My master instructor decided, on this fateful day, to do team blocking drills as well.

           I loved team blocking drills. I took one line of students, and my master instructor took the other, We quickly paired off everyone in our rows. The first two students in my line, "Chuck" and "Carson" (names changed, of course), were pulled forward by me to demonstrate for my line. 

           "Alright everyone, listen up," I announced to the group. "Chuck and Carson are going to show you how to do this." I pointed my twin pool noodles at the boys. "Right-foot-back guarding stance!"

           Both boys immediately assumed the requested position. I nodded. "Nice. Okay, now grab hands."

           They looked at each other, unsure. I sighed. "Oh, come on. Pretend like you like each other."

           They giggled and grabbed hands--Chuck's left and Carson's right. I gave them a thumb's-up. "Thank you, just like that. Now, here's how this works. Carson, you have to block everything on this side--" I waved to him, "and Chuck gets everything on this side. What happens if you miss my pool noodle?"

           "I get hit," Chuck said enthusiastically, whacking himself in the face to demonstrate. 

           I swallowed a giggle. "Um, yes, but so does your partner," I explained. "Remember, you're a team, so whatever happens to one of you happens to the other. If you miss a block..." I tapped him on the head lightly with a pool noodle, "that means I gotta bonk Carson too." I tapped his partner the same way. "Got it?"

           "Yes sir!" the entire line chorused, looking eager. They liked blocking the pool noodles almost as much as I loved trying to whack them.

           "Awesome!" I readied my noodles. "Ready and...block one!"

           Carson blocked the noodle sweeping towards his leg. Chuck got block two, down by his leg. Carson missed block three (in the middle of the body) and got poked in the stomach, so I had to quickly poke Chuck too. Both boys fell down, giggling. I narrowed my eyes, mock-severely. "Get up! Can't lie down on the job, you gotta protect your partner!"

           They sprang back up. Chuck made block four, a mirror of block three. Blocks five and six protected against a sweeping strike to the outside of the shoulder/side of the head and was one of the easiest blocks to do, so I swung the noodle a little faster. Both boys got their respective blocks. Seven and eight protected the top of the head--another easy set, and one that they both got. Then, I made them duck and jump; Chuck wiped out on the duck, but Carson quickly helped him to his feet in time to jump over the noodle. I praised them for their excellent teamwork, had them high-five each other, and dismissed them to the back of the line. 

           The next two groups went fairly well, with only a few missed blocks. (There was a reason we used pool noodles--no damage from missing.) Then, it was "Ellie" and "Nick" who were up. I got them set up and began swinging. Nick was a little slower than Ellie, so I adjusted my swing speed accordingly and went through the blocks. "Block one! Block two! Block three! Block four!" Nick was already starting to raise his arm for block five, so I went a little faster with the foam noodle. "Block five!"

           Nick had a moment of mild confusion for some reason and ducked. I was going too fast to stop, and I whipped the noodle over him and bonked Ellie in the side of her head. She yelped in surprise. "HEY!"

           "Dude!" I chuckled lightly and thonked the top of Nick's head. "What happened to protecting your partner?"

           "Oops," Nick said sheepishly. 

           "What do we say when we mess up?" I prompted.

           He thought about it for a moment. "Oh, sorry."

           "Let's try that again," I suggested, glancing at Ellie. She grinned at me, uncharacteristically quiet. She was usually the first to yell if someone messed up--especially if it affected her in any way--but I figured she enjoyed the experience of getting whacked. (She was a little like me in that regard. There was a reason my favorite sport was sparring. Still is, actually.)

           I started over. "Block one! Block two! Block three!"

           "Faster!" Ellie suggested.

           "Sure," I said generously. "Block four! Block five--nice job, Nick!" 

           Ellie held up her arm in preparation for block six, giving me her patented let me have it look. Cooperative type that I was, I didn't want to disappoint her (and she was ready anyway), so I whipped the pool noodle at her block. "Block six!"

           The little stinker ducked so fast, I swear she left an afterimage. Nick took noodle to the noggin, tripped over his own feet in surprise, and wiped out. I tried not to crack up and looked down at Ellie. "DUDE! Did you do that on purpose?"

           She shot me a wide, mischievous grin as Nick cracked up on the ground. I shook my head at both of them. "All right, back of the line, both of you, and work...on...your...teamwork..." I had to force the last words out while biting back laughter--if they thought that I thought it was funny, this whole exercise would devolve into group sabotage, and my master instructor would not be pleased (as funny as that would be!). 

           As they headed to the back of the line, I quickly turned away to suppress my laughter and wipe the tears out of my eyes. Deep breath, deep breath...I turned to the next two students. "Okay guys, ready to work as a team and--" I couldn't help but laugh a little, "--protect each other?"

           "Yes sir!" they chorused. 

           Ellie and Nick acted like proper little ninjas the second time around, no mistakes. 

Friday, March 19, 2021

Captain's Log, Day 188: Flipping Out

           It had been a few years since we'd first met in college. Now, we were both done, and we had jobs in different cities--I lived in South Dakota, and she lived in Minnesota. However, she was passing through, so Rach decided to swing by and visit. 

           Rach and I were not doing much of anything. Mostly just shooting the breeze, catching up (we hadn't talked in a while), and discussing the various attractions of our new locales. Mine was boring as hell, honestly. Small town South Dakota really didn't have anything interesting going for it. Rach lived in the Twin Cities in Minnesota, so there were a lot more attractions. Bowling alleys, laser tag, restaurants, dancing--

           "Ooh, bet you go dancing a lot," I interrupted her. "Have you ever been to the Caves?"

           Rach looked confused. "The Caves?"

           I realized that sounded a bit too much like a non sequitur (also known as an average day in the life of an ADHD nutjob like me) and clarified. "I'm still on dancing. Yeah, the Caves are an underground dancing place. I fifth-wheeled with the twins when we went there. It's super cool--I think it used to be an old mining system?"

           "That does sound cool," Rach admitted, "but no, haven't been there. I don't actually do much dancing."

           "Shame. You'd be good at it."

           "I know, right?" 

           I laughed and itched at my knee brace. (I'd tweaked my knee pretty bad earlier in the week, but it was mostly healed. The brace was more a reminder to not get too crazy during Taekwondo practice, as opposed to actually being useful.) "I tried to teach the twins a few moves, but they wussed out."

           "Wussed out on what?"

           "Oh, a couple of the more complicated flips." I shrugged. "I told them I'm a great spotter, but they didn't believe me. Or their dates didn't, anyway."

           She cracked up. "Oh, that's totally understandable. I've always wanted to try flips but I haven't yet."

           "I supp--wait, what?" I demanded.

           "What what?"

           "You haven't ever flipped before?"

           Rach suddenly remembered that admissions like that were practically a guaranteed way of inciting me to introduce new experiences. ""

           "You gotta try it," I declared. "I'll get the camera."


           "Yeah, we need to document this for posterity," I declaimed dramatically, unaware that I would unfortunately lose said video in a few years to unfortunate circumstances. (Oops.) 

           "Oh boy," Rach muttered under her breath, opting to stand up and move to the open section of floor anyway. Guess she really did want to try it.

           Admittedly, she was in the middle of psyching herself out when I returned with the camera. I plopped it on my TV stand, hit record, and turned to see her pacing in a circle. "Uh--"

           "I'm gonna die," she said dramatically.

           I snickered. "No you're not."

           She gestured to my leg. "Are you sure your knee is okay?"

           I rolled my eyes. "I'm fine."

           Rach put her hands on her hips and gave me the stink eye, probably recalling all the injuries I'd powered through in the pursuit of entertainment in the past. In my defense, I had a high pain tolerance and a low threshold for boredom, but in this case my leg actually WAS 99% recovered. I figured if I could squat 400 pounds, I could flip someone who was a fraction of that weight. Before I could say that, though, she cut me off. "Is your knee sturdy enough for this?"

           "My leg is fine. I've flipped people with sprains before, come on," I grumbled. "Honestly, I'm in better shape than I usually am."

           Rach made a humming noise that sounded vaguely whaleish. I opted to ignore that in favor of instruction. "Don't worry, it's easy. You just keep your legs together and tucked in, and jump. I'll do the rest."

           She sighed, then smiled a little. "I'm gonna die."

           "You are not gonna die," I protested. "You know how long I've been doing this?"

           "How long--"

           "Seven years."

           "Well, I haven't," she pointed out.

           "You know how many people I've dropped?" I demanded.

           Rach looked a little concerned. "How many--"

           I held up both hands in the shape of a donut. "Zero. I'm good at this."

           "Good for you. Well, I'll be your first then," she reasoned.

           "HEY!" I got in position anyway. "Ready?"

           She paused. "No."

           "Quick psyching yourself out." I left my position and stripped off my flannel shirt, reasoning that it was a little slick. The t-shirt I had on underneath would be better for this. 

           "You know, I've been purposefully avoiding doing aerials," she admitted.

           I raised an eyebrow. "Why? Aerials are fun! They're like the best part of swing-dancing!"

           "Because...I've always felt like I'm too tall to do this," she admitted.

           I shrugged. "For some partners, maybe, but I'm way taller than you. If anything, you're like the perfect height in this instance--you're not even close to too tall. Besides, the tallest person I've flipped was six-five--taller than me--so if I can flip her, I can definitely flip you."

           "Well, the guys I was with were completely incompatible," she explained. 

           I grinned mischievously. "You mean they're wimps."

           She grinned and conceded the point. "Yeah, they're wimps."

           "See, that's why you should come out to the barn dances and do country swing," I reminded her, as part of my ongoing effort to get her to go to barn dances. "Everyone out there is a farmer. They throw tractors around for a living."

           Rach giggled at my wild exaggeration. "Well..."

           I got back in my position as she put her arms on my shoulder. "Are you ready?"


           "WOW, your hands are really freaking cold!" I noted. 

           "Yeah," she admitted and went for the back of my neck. I ducked. "Don't you DARE!"

           She laughed. "Couldn't resist."

           I shook my head. "I should have remembered before I said anything. Ready?"


           I let out an exasperated huff.

           "...okay, yes."

           "Awesome." I got my arm behind her legs. "Ready,"

           She jumped. I guided her up and over. Textbook perfect. I mean, if you disregarded the eep! that was emitted shortly before landing. (Not from me, though.) I didn't tease her about it--at that precise moment, anyway--instead choosing to throw my arms out in a bit of a flourish. "And there you go!"

           Rach started laughing. "Okay!"

           "See, that wasn't so hard," I said (a tad smugly) as I turned the camera off. "You want to see it?"

           "Sure!" she said eagerly, joining me on the couch. 

           I fast-forwarded to the flip. "Bam! Look at that, you nailed it--but what was with that noise?"

           She clobbered me with a pillow.