Good Guys Wear Black

Wowing the mulleted: I give a karate demonstration in downtown Richmond.
Good Guys Wear Black

(and they do the “bunny hop”)

I studied a lot of Tae Kwon Do in college, and ended up taking a year off to run a local karate school: the “Oriental World Martial Arts Studio” in Richmond, Indiana (“Richmond’s oldest and largest martial arts studio!”) The school was on the first floor of an old dressmaking factory with oak floors and pressed tin ceilings. The deal was that I got to live on the second floor, in a loft fifty feet wide by maybe three hundred feet long. The loft had seen a lot of use as an indoor paintball arena, and my friend Todd Pugsley and I renovated it. We pulled up the carpet, stripped the floor, bought roller skates, and lived the high life. Todd had colossal parties, with stages for bands and boxing rings taped on the floor. I built a bed eight feet wide and twelve feet long, painted red with gilded molding. I parked my Land Cruiser in the alley in such a position that I could jump out the mezzanine window and directly into the driver’s seat. Meanwhile, I planned karate demonstrations at the local mall in which we smashed stacks of cinder blocks. (Also, a ninja would come out and wave his sword at a banana. Then I’d peel it to reveal the fruit sliced into neat pieces. We signed up a lot of kids that way.)

Anyhow, the think I liked about the school was that people took the karate seriously, but they didn’t tend to take themselves seriously. Unlike the “Cobra Kai”-style school down the street, when people walked through the door they stayed people; they didn’t metamorphose into glowering Bushido warriors with secret fantasies about pulling your heart out and showing it to you as it stopped beating. It was a nice, family-style school with good training. In the seven years since I’ve taken karate, I’ve been looking for a school like that. Unfortunately, everything I’ve found in New York has been big on attitude. Plus I wanted to take a Chinese style, because tae kwon do was starting to mess up my knees.

So I was really psyched to discover a Hsing Yi class on Church street in Tribeca, where my friend Steve Farrell teaches. It’s on the second floor of a nondescript building with an unmarked buzzer (add points for secret Kung Fu coolness), above a warehouse where Sabrett hot-dog vendor carts are kept overnight (add additional points for true New York grit.) The people are friendly, and the kung fu is absent of silly macho-ness. Last night, we spent two hours doing “frog jumps”, “duck walks”, and “bunny hops”: exercises I could never see Ralph Macchio’s opponents doing. Of course, they were grueling, and I’m as weak as a kitten today.

Which is a good thing; in the seven years since I was into martial arts, I’ve, er… changed. My black belt no longer wraps twice around my waist, I can’t put my palms on the floor, and frog jumps make me see spots. My ballet days are definitely behind me. However, I’ll confess a secret ambition: I’ve always wanted to be like William Sadler (“Death” in Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey), doing kung fu in his hotel room in the beginning of Die Hard II.

I’ll let you know how it works out.

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