The next morning found Dan not looking much better, though the swelling on his hand had gone down considerably from the night before. He could at least move all his fingers and nothing seemed to be broken. It didn’t even hurt to brush his teeth, much.
“Hurry up in there. I want to shower before we go,” said Ruthie through the closed bathroom door.
“Just a minute.” Dan looked at his razor and then thought better of it. “Besides, we’re going to go spar. Why shower before you go?”
“Just because you don’t mind smelling like dirty hobo feet in public doesn’t mean I need to,” said Ruthie. “Besides, without it I won’t feel woke up.”
Dan opened the door and stared at his daughter. “Won’t feel woke up?” he asked. “We can’t have that.” Dan slid out the door past Ruthie, allowing her to slip in. “Especially if that cutie, Roy, is going to be there.”
“Dad!” With that the door slammed and the shower was turned up on high to prevent anymore discussion on that topic. Dan smiled. Roy was a good kid, especially since he knew Dan would break both of his arms if he tried anything. Being a third level black belt did have its advantages.
After Ruthie’s ritualistic shower was complete, they both wolfed down a light breakfast before piling back into the car for the short drive to the dojang. Dan had gotten Ruthie interested in taekwondo when she was ten and she was progressing quickly, reaching brown belt just last month. Of course that progress had slowed down lately since teenage life had many more commitments. Now she practiced with Dan only on the weekends, but Dan knew she worked through her forms during the week since he saw progress during their short time together.
The dojang that Dan and Ruthie belonged to was aptly and simplistically named The Taekwondo Club. Its founder, Saseong Nam-Seon Park, believed in keeping things simple and straight forward. His teaching style had been the same. Saseong Park had recently handed the teaching duties at the dojang to his son, Jungsoon Park. Dan and Jungsoon went way back, so it was weird for Dan to call him Saseong, or grand master.
Jungsoon greeted Dan and Ruthie at the door. Dan and Ruthie bowed to show their respect which Jungsoon returned. Jungsoon was definitely of Korean descent, but he usually held his body like an American country boy, right down to the thumbs in the belt loops of his jeans. When he took those thumbs out and settled into a combat stance all the American in him flowed away leaving a pure Korean grand master in its place.
“Good morning cowboy. Looks like the bull beat you up mighty fierce,” Jungsoon said with a smile. “Or is that a new face first technique you’re developing?”
Dan smiled and made sure to squeeze Jungsoon’s hand a bit harder than normal during their handshake. “You should have seen the twelve other guys.”
“Yeah,” chimed in Ruthie giving Jungsoon a quick hug. “The one who got him was like what, ninety.”
Jungsoon smiled and lead the way into the dojang. “I hoped you would be here early. I wanted to get warmed up before I taught and I wasn’t in the mood to be running through the forms on my own.” Jungsoon stuck a thumb at Dan. “Besides, I know he needs a bit of tuning up if he’s going to test for the next level soon.”
“Your old man won’t let me test yet,” said Dan. “It’s only been about six months. It’s against his religion to…”
Saseong Park the senior came around the corner. Even at seventy he moved like he feared no one even if he looked more like the ideal honorable grandfather giving advice from on mountain top. A group of robbers thought they could hit the off track betting office that Saseong Park went to, his one vice though he claimed to never lose any money. Unfortunately for them he was there to pick up his winnings and by the time the police had shown up Saseong Park had disarmed them all and tied them up without a single person getting hurt, except for the thugs of course. Dan loved that and never let the others at the precinct forget that case.
“It’s against my religion to do many things Dan-child, but sometimes it is more fun to poke the gods and see if they get mad. Is that not so?” asked Saesong Park.
Dan bowed as low as he could. “Yes Saseong Park, though I believe the gods are less caring about the stick than grandfather bear could be.”
Ruthie waved at Seasong Park. “I’m going to change while dad tries to fit in his other foot.” With that she was off to the woman’s locker room.
Saseong Park smiled and barked a short laugh. “You are in trouble Dan-child. You’re daughter is wiser and smarter than you.”
Dan stood up and nodded. “Smarter, yes, but I’m not sure about the wiser part, at least not lately.”
Saseong Park replied, “This coming form a man who just poked a stick at the bear hoping to get honey.” Saseong Park pointed at where Ruthie had gone. “At that age wisdom is a flickering candle. As she gets older the flame will get stronger and steadier. Yours on the other hand might get blown out any minute now by that angry bear.”
“I am truly sorry Seasong. It won’t happen again,” Dan said.
Saseong addressed his son. “Work this child hard enough he doesn’t have enough energy to pick up the stick, much less poke me with it.”
Jungsoon smiled. “Consider it done.” He slapped Dan on the back. “You heard the bear. Go change and I’ll meet you on the floor.”
By the time Dan got out to the floor Ruthie and Jungsoon were already warming up by stretching. Dan joined them and as soon as Jungsoon felt they were ready he began to lead them through the first form. The flowing of it from one position to another, the precise control of one’s body, the forms seemed, at times, to have an almost dance like quality to them. He could lose himself in the movement if he wasn’t careful. He wondered if ballet dancers felt the same way. Of course probably most ballet dancers couldn’t break through ten boards, but he couldn’t pirouette so they were even.
The first form complete they moved through second and into the third. The balance of control and grace mixed with power and explosiveness, which usually Dan was a master of, seemed to elude him today. Numerous times he could catch Jungsoon glancing at him trying to figure out what’s wrong. For some reason this annoyed Dan throwing him even farther off. Then he was getting annoyed at getting annoyed. The cycle kept feeding itself until the third form was done and Jungsoon stopped.
“Is there something bothering you Dan?” Jungsoon asked as he wiped away the sweat from his forhead.
“I’m fine,” Dan grunted. He was trying hard to keep his anger in check. Jungsoon picked up on this and held his tongue, but Ruthie didn’t.
“That’s the worst I’ve ever seen you do that,” Ruthie chimed in. “You looked like total crap.”
“And are you the Saseong?” Dan asked, his voice going hard. “Last time I checked you’re just a kid who thinks they know their head from their ass and get it wrong fifty percent of the time.”
The look on Ruthie’s face gave Dan the double take he needed to break the anger cycle. “I’m sorry Ruthie. I don’t understand what got into me. I couldn’t seem to stop getting more and more pissed.”
“But what did I do?” Ruthie asked.
“Absolutely nothing. It was all me.” Turning to Jungsoon he bowed deeply. “Forgive me to Jungsoon. I can’t seem to find my center.”
“Maybe you’re the one who needs to find out which is your head and your ass.” Jungsoon broke out in a big grin. “Then maybe you could land more on your ass and not on your head.”
Dan smiled and nodded. “You have a point. So do we have time for one more form?”
Jungsoon shook his head. “Nope, I need to get to class.”
“What about you, Ruthie?” asked Dan.
“And have you take my head off?” Ruthie asked back with full female teenager swagger turned up to eleven. “No way. I’m not going there.”
“Then how about a bit of sparing. This way you can try to knock my block off for being a dumb dad.” Dan gave her his best car salesman grin.
Ruthie ignored it. “I don’t think you’re a dumb dad.”
That stunned Dan a bit. They weren’t going to give him the gold medal of parenting, especially after the last twenty four hours,
Ruthie finished, “I think you’re a dumb ass.”
Dan smiled. That’s what he had been expecting. Ruthie returned the smile. “Okay, I deserve that,” Dan said, “but you didn’t answer my question.”
“I’ll take a chance to kick your ass any day of the week,” Ruthie said.
“Young lady, watch that language.” Dan said as he pulled on his head protection. “Do you kiss your mother with that mouth?”
Ruthie didn’t justify that question with a reply. She pulled on her head protection, slipped in her mouth piece, and waved at Dan to come and get her.
Dan popped in his mouth piece. “Nope, reap your vengeance young lady.”
No sooner than Dan had said those words then Ruthie was upon him, kicks and punches mixed together, keeping Dan on his toes. He matched every attack she made with a defense, but it was getting harder. She really was a natural and would be testing for her next belt soon.
Suddenly instead of striking with her punch she looped her arm around his and tried to throw him over her shoulder. The move surprised him so much it almost succeeded. He just managed to get out with a short hop, and then he took out her legs with a quick leg sweep.
Dan reached out to help Ruthie back up. “Where did you learn that?”
Ruthie waved off Dan’s hand and flipped up from her back to her feet in one smooth motion. “John Chamberlin. He takes jujitsu. We were talking one day about stuff, and after a while we were showing each other some moves.”
“I hope that was all you two were showing,” said Dan crossing his arms in his solemn fatherly duty.
Ruthie blushed. “Dad! It’s not like we were doing it naked.”
“Trust me, he wanted to. I know boys,” Dan said emphatically.
“Is that what happened to you and Mom?” asked Ruthie.
Dan knew he just walked into that one. Here was a minefield he never got to walk out of. One of these days he was going to misstep and kaboom, there would go the legs of his relationship with his daughter, and that was if he was lucky. He feared worse. “No. Your mom and I had something special. It just didn’t work out the way we had planned.”
Ruthie had a skeptical look on her face, waiting for something more. Dan decided to sidestep the issue. “So I think I know what move John was trying to show you.” Ruthie was beginning to look less pleased. “No, I mean the jujitsu move.”
“What do you know about jujitsu?” Ruthie asked.
“I learned a bunch of it while in the military,” Dan said. “Terry Templeton and I would play around with creating a new style by combining the two disciplines.”
“And Terry was a?” Ruthie fished.
“Guy. Don’t worry. Anyhow, neither one of us were far enough along in our particular art to really do anymore than goof around.”
“That’s what John and I were doing.” Ruthie restated.
Dan sighed. “Let’s not go back there. When you spun to begin your throw you straitened too quickly. You never pulled me completely off my feet and onto your back. You need to get me off balanced completely before you twist and try to send me to the floor. Otherwise I hop out like I did and you’re in a bad position to counter. Try it again.”
Ruthie threw her punch again and looped his block. This time she used her momentum to lift Dan off his feet slightly before twisting and sending him to the ground.
Dan smiled from the mat. “That was much better. See what I mean?”
“Yeah, though I’m still bummed I didn’t flip you the first time,” Ruthie said.
Dan got up and shook his arms. Time to go from zero to hero in dad points. “I can show you a throw that you can surprise John with next time you two spar.”
Ruthie’s eyes lit up and she did a little clap with her hands. “Really?”
“Just this once,” Dan said. “You have to be careful though. You don’t want to mix styles while you’re still training. They might mingle too much and when you’re under the strain of testing or competition you might resort to things you shouldn’t. Understood?”
Ruthie nodded vigorously. “Yeah. Now show me.”
“Okay. First the scenario.” Dan moved behind Ruthie and placed an arm around her throat in a mock choke hold. “Your opponent thinks he has the upper hand on you. Use their superiority against them. What you want to do is grab my arm with your hands and pull away my hold slightly to give you a bit of breathing room.”
Ruthie did as Dan instructed. Dan continued. “Now the next few steps you do quickly. First you drop to your right knee and place your right foot on the outside of your attacker’s right foot. Go ahead.”
Ruthie dropped to her right knee, but lost her hold on Dan’s arm, which caused her to choke herself instead of getting ready to throw Dan. Dan let her down to the floor and then helped her back up. “It’s hard not seeing what you want,” Ruthie said.
“Perhaps the young lady would like to see a demonstration.” Dan turned to see Saseong Park watching their sparring intently.
“Saseong, I appreciate the offer,” Dan began, “but what I was showing her.”
Saseong Park interrupted him. “Is appropriate for a young woman to learn no matter what style she chooses to fight with.” He could see that Dan was still trying to politely decline. “I too have learned more than what you think. Please grab me from behind.”
Dan moved into position, but his hold was loose around the teacher’s neck. “Hold me tight or I will make you regret it.” Dan responded by tightening the hold to a proper choke. Immediately Saseong Park dug in his hands into Dan’s arm, pulling him down. He then dropped to his right knee, making sure his foot was outside Dan’s right foot. While keeping his right hand pulling on Dan’s choke hold his left hand darted to the front of Dan’s shin. With a quick tuck, Saseong Park took his head towards his left knee a the same time he pushed with his left hand forcing Dan to roll over his back and onto the floor, breaking the choke hold in the process.
Dan looked at Saseong as he lied on the floor with a goofy hurt smile on his face. “I thought you said I would regret it,” Dan said.
“Maybe I should have said you would regret it more.” The Saseong’s face showed he had enjoyed teaching them both a lesson. “Now young lady, you should practice this until it feels natural. Your father will volunteer to assist you. I’m sure he won’t want to stop until you have mastered this particular technique.”
Ruthie smiled an evil grin. “I think it will take a while.”
Saseong Park smiled the same way back. “That is what I assumed.”
Dan dragged himself back to his feet. “Don’t I get a say in this?”
“You were the one who started this lesson Dan-child,” Saseong Park said. “You must learn the role of a teacher is along the path of sacrifice.” With that Saseong Park left leaving Dan to his torture.
“You’ve got to love father daughter bonding time,” Ruthie said.
Dan shook his body loose and walked behind her. “I just wish it didn’t include father floor bonding time.”
After an hour of repeated falls Ruthie finally admitted she had the throw down pat. Dan thought she had mastered it a half an hour earlier, but had been overruled. What Dan thought had ended his torture was the fact that Roy had shown up and Ruthie wanted to go into a practice group with him.
Dan stood and watched her without letting her catch him. These are the moments where he could see how grown up she was, and how soon he would be the secondary man in her life. It made him both proud and sad to see it happen, but he accepted it with what little grace he could summon from his jaded soul.