Remix- Tae Kwon Do

Posted on July 2, 2010


I wish someone had told me tae kwon do was for children before I started doing it.

The first thing I noticed when I showed up on the first day of class were all the kids everywhere.  It looked like ‘Jon and Kate + Albuquerque’.  I thought a Bakugon truck jackknifed on the highway next door.  Technically, I know that tae kwon do is for people of all ages.  I have no doubt that an actual master can generate some serious self-defense if necessary (“Your elbow joint will regain normal function in several weeks.  From now on, do not reach for the same DiGiorno’s pizza as I”).  But the fact remains, when I look around, I can only draw one conclusion:  I’m learning martial arts at the Wonka Factory.

It’s not just a few kids either.  Tae kwon do is now as dominant a part of suburban childhood as Sesame Street, or stealing candy from Walgreens.  The parking lots of most dojos look like Land Rover dealerships.  If one caught fire, we would lose half of all the existing copies of ‘Eat, Pray, Love.’  What will the next generation look like?  They will all have flawless axe kick techniques, lacrosse jerseys and no idea how to say the Pledge of Allegiance.

From the Korean, the literal translation of ‘tae kwon do’ is  “martial arts for those who fear pain”, which makes it perfect for me.  When you spar someone in tae kwon do, they pad you up until you look like Joy Behar- the headgear alone looks like the bouncy castle from a princess-themed birthday party.  When you add in the white cloak that doubles as the uniform , the total effect says, “I’m here for the costume party.  If there’s a fight, don’t panic, I’m a level 51 cleric with +14 fetal position bonus.”  Threatening, you are not.

And the whole time you’re fighting (“Did you put all the pads on?  Safety first!.” “No kicking in the arm!”), the guys who do muay thai are 8 feet away, aiming roundhouse kicks at each other’s jaw and  laughing about the blood in their stool from the night before.  It’s like an accounting group doing a team-building exercise with the Oakland Raiders.

So it turns out I accidentally decided to learn a toddler’s martial art.  I’m not losing sleep over it- I look young anyway.  If I buy a bottle of scotch at a liquor store, the cashier tells me I’m adorable and ask what science fair project I’m working on.  When I send in my taxes, the IRS mails them back with a note that says ‘You can keep your allowance.  For now.’  So if tae kwon do is for 11 year olds, I can roll with that.  Plus, adult participation in something that’s meant for children is not unusual for me anyway.  I’m a Christian.

Consider this story from the Gospel of Mark, chapter 10.

People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them.  When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”

When we say something is ‘childish’, it’s not a compliment.  It means we think something is simple, unsophisticated, or beneath the station of an adult, as in: “Why does Barry always brag about his SAT scores while he’s playing Call of Duty: Cultural Annihilation on Xbox Live?  It’s so childish”   Sophistication means complication, and adulthood is all about complicating things.  We don’t save money, we invest it.  We don’t relax; we do yogalates with the optional chakra alignment.  We don’t just hang out , we have a cocktail party with hors d’ouevres and a piano man playing “Welcome To the Jungle”.  We don’t just hunt deer, we smear doe urine on our legs and use rifles that make Civil War muskets look like Nerf blasters.  Nothing simple there.  It’s all very complicated.  Very grown-up.

I think we read this story and gloss over it sometimes.  “Yes, of course, bring the children to Jesus.  Why not?  He loves kids, they’re adorable- or mine is,  at least.  Let him kiss some heads and maybe play some patty-cake.  How serious a passage of Scripture could this be, anyway?  We use it to dismiss our kids for their ‘special time of worship’ before the sermon, when theadults really get down to business and study the Word.”

We’re like the disciples.  We don’t really think Jesus values child-like faith.  We think His time is more valuable than that.  God wants us doing more important things, more mature things.  So we do our grown up faith instead, with all its eschatology, and soteriology, and other serious theological considerations.  We put so many moving parts on our faith that it’s like a Rube Goldberg machine.  It takes gears and sprockets and wrenches and blueprints to build a faith that flies, we say.  It can’t be as easy as pixie dust.

Why?  Because we’re adults.  We don’t do childish things.  And a faith that just sits and receives love from God, that trusts that Jesus died for every single one of our sins and then lives from that place, is just that.  Christianity should be sophisticated.  Complicated.  Hard.  Grown-up.

Following Jesus is like my tae kwon do class.  It’s adult participation in something that’s meant for children.  Jesus says plainly that the heart of faith in him is childish. “Anyone who will not receive the Kingdom of God like a little child will not enter it.”  The psalmist echoes that in Psalm 131, saying “I have stilled and quieted my soul.  Like a weaned child is my soul within me.”

I’ll keep going to tae kwon do.  I like it, and it doesn’t matter that it sometimes looks like they’re training an orphan army, and I’ll get over the awkwardness that comes when they ask me to spar an 11 year old girl.  Plus, it reminds me that the door to the Kingdom is two and a half feet tall, plastic and sticky and caked with mud.  Am I coming in?

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