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. 

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