Chapter Thirty Three I
Student: What is necessary?
Student: What does attention mean?
Master: Attention means attention.
Years earlier, when Susan showed up to join, Master Kim said his policy was that children had to be six to participate, I was eight months shy of six. It was fine with him for me to wait in the lobby, I could watch class through the long window that separated the dojang from the lobby.
Two weeks later, Chris leading class, Kim was occupied in his office. He saw a motion outside his door, he watched me silently. Ten minutes later, Master Kim brought me into the class, dressed in my first dobok, white belt tied around my waist. The class stopped when Kim entered; as is dojang etiquette, they bowed to acknowledge the entrance of the Master.
Kim returned the bow, then announced, “Miss Daphne, only age five, has learned her first form perfectly, with no instruction, by watching through the window. I am honored to have her as my youngest student.”
Chris was, if not astounded, highly impressed. Kim was old school Korean. He had rules. He followed his rules, you followed his rules. She had seen very few exceptions, and those minor. She respected him deeply though; he had seen something. He would not allow me to participate on a whim. In the years that followed, I worked hard to never let him down, I worked to exceed every expectation. Every year, he set the bar higher for me than for other students. So far, I haven’t failed to clear it.
Janah delights in going to the dojang to watch practice. She says I am the perfection of the art. Can’t say it hurts my feelings any. Master Kim does not encourage visitors. He isn’t trying to be a pain, it’s a matter of space and the focus of the student. Janah became an immediate exception. She met Master Kim halfway into the summer, I had been going to Chris’ dojang; Master Kim was traveling when Janah first appeared on the scene. When he returned he called Chris to let her know he was back and to inquire about his favorite student. That didn’t hurt my feelings any either. Actually, I don’t think my feelings have ever been hurt. Seems rather stupid to let someone else decide how you feel.
We let Kim settle back into the routine for a few days, then go to his dojang an hour before the class began.
After I introduce Janah, I explain that Janah’s parents bought the condo upstairs stairs from ours, and that Janah is a student at Chapmans.
A girl sees me in Kim’s office, “Daphne, if you have time, I need to go over my form, I’m missing something, I can’t figure out where I’m going wrong.”
I excuse myself, “Duty calls, Janah can wait in the lobby if you’re busy.”
Master Kim, “I would like to visit with your friend if I may.”
“Then I’ll see you in class.”
I bow to Kim and go to instruct, Janah remains in the office.
Kim, “I have a student that attends Chapmans. Very intelligent. She tells me all the girls there are like her.”
Janah, “Ms. Chapman has created a unique environment for a certain type of student. They tend to have different interests than they can pursue at regular schools.”
Kim, “You are being kind. The girls at your school would be restrained by a normal school. It would be too slow for them, they would be bored.”
Janah nods, this man is observant and direct. She likes that.
“Chapmans is designed to let a girl proceed at the pace that suits her. Ms. Chapman takes the student into account first, not the convenience of the school or the instructors. At your school, Daphne can be a black belt, while another student her age, or even older is a beginner. You base your promotions on the student’s skill, not their age, yes?”
Kim almost smiles, “It is so.”
Kim questions Janah further about her interests, more detail about her parents and Chapmans. She looks him in the eye, answers succinctly, is soft spoken and articulate. He saw none of the ‘Uh huh’ or ‘I don’t know,’ glazed-over disinterest of so many adolescents. There is no adolescence in her manner or tone. It is clear that she is a very different child. It occurs to him that she isn’t really a child at all. He has not seen this depth of calm intelligence, certainly not in a 12 year old, for many years, last in Korea. That boy eventually became the Abbot in a renowned Buddhist monastery. This girl has the same depth and serenity.
Master Kim says abruptly, “You have meditated deeply. Unusual for one so young.”
Janah gives a barely perceptible bow and replies quietly, “You honor me with your observation. I am only a beginner.”
Master Kim thought to himself, ‘No, not a beginner,’ then says, “You come to class to be with your friend.”
Janah gives away nothing, but Kim is more than a common martial arts instructor. He sensed a change in me as soon as I walked in with Janah. A true martial arts Master knows his students; not just name, history and skill level. He knows their attitude, how they feel that moment. He can instantly decipher their mood and whether he needs to encourage, frustrate or shock the student in that session. It’s not mystical; it’s the ability to empathetically yet objectively focus. Indifferent affection. Most Masters who learn it do so over many years, a very few, like Janah, just have it. The interesting thing is, Masters always recognize one another.
For those not familiar with martial arts, Master is a term like Sir, or Honored Teacher. It is not anything like master-slave. A Master needs neither supplicants nor acolytes. He turns from them and sends them away.
Master Kim, “You do not wish to become a student. That’s for the active, like Daphne. You are not a warrior.”
“I want to learn about what she enjoys. She credits much of her skill to your instruction.”
Master Kim is impressed that she complimented him so subtly. She had not pandered by saying ‘all her skill.’ His intuition had not deceived him. This is no mere child.
“Sabum Daphne is in every way exceptional.”
Janah, “What is Sabum?”
Master Kim, “Sabum is our term for instructor, which is used starting with the first degree black belt. Master Chris would be called Subumnim, Head Instructor. Some schools use other terms for instructors, I like my way. Please, come with me. We can observe class in the dojang.”
Janah, “Thank you.”
Chris, Susan, two other black belts and I are at the front leading the class through the warm-up routines. Everything stops when Master Kim enters. The students turn to him and bow. He bows in return. Unlike a normal class, which would immediately return to training, the room stays silent, perfectly still. Master Kim felt a change in the atmosphere, a physical sensation. Every student in the class, forty-five in all, has their eyes riveted on the white haired girl.
“Please welcome Sabum Daphne’s friend, Janah.”
The class bows silently, Janah bowing gracefully in return. It seems to each student that she smiled directly at them. Master Kim notes this as well.
He invites Janah to sit next to him on the floor in the front corner, he watches all the classes from this spot. Janah floats down effortlessly. She does not balance herself with her hands, nor sit first, then cross her legs: she stood next to Master Kim, then she is cross legged on the floor. Her posture erect, comfortable, hands softly folded.
Chris leads us through the remaining warm-ups, then calls the familiar ‘charyot’, which means ‘attention.’ Following a series of forms, the advanced students sit on one side of the room, the lower ranks on the other. Blue belt is the dividing line. Two blue belts, are called out to the center of the floor to demonstrate this week’s sparring combinations for the lower ranks. Then two black belts to demonstrate the combinations for the higher ranks.
The rest of class is given over to practice of the individual forms students will be required to demonstrate at their next rank test. These are called kata in karate, simply forms, sometimes poomse, in taekwondo. There are many advanced forms. In some schools there are thirty forms to advance to fifth degree. Performed properly they are both powerful and beautiful, as are the many varied forms of karate, gung fu and tai chi.
After class, students clean up, push the dust mop across the floor and put away pads or weapons used for demonstration. Taking care of the dojang is a part of a student’s obligation. It teaches respect, fairness and a sense of responsibility. I had pushed the dust mop around the floor hundreds of times, swept, cleaned the mats, put up and pulled down heavy bags, as had all the others.
I join Janah and Kim, still seated in the corner, ignoring the flurry of clean-up activity. Kim asks Janah how long she had been meditating.
Janah replied, “As long as I can remember, ten years.”
“Her Dad remembers her watching a show on Buddhism when she was two or three. For some reason, she took to it like she took to yoga. She can do the most amazing things. Sometimes you would think she’s going to break but she never does.”
Kim recalled her floating to the floor when they sat together to watch class, “Yes, she is very fluid, graceful. You’ve put in many hours.” It wasn’t a question.
Janah, “It is a pleasure, not a task.”
Susan and Chris come over, Chris, “Thank you for letting Janah visit.”
Kim, “Miss Janah is welcome to sit in on classes with her friend. After all, she inspires my best student. They are one with each other.”
Chris is surprised, and then not. How he knew we are so close she had no idea. She understood that he had seen something he wanted to know more about. She also knew he wouldn’t press, answers would come when it was time.
The dojang empty, Master Kim sits in his office reflecting. Years of teaching have made him highly attentive to the nuances of each class. Some went smoothly, some less so. Tonight, when he entered with the young girl, there was a palpable change in the atmosphere. Not just that a visitor was being allowed to observe, that was unusual, but it wasn’t that. Students were calmed, yet remained focused. The normal jabber didn’t occur, nor had he had to call on someone he felt wasn’t paying attention, an old trick of his. When students got distracted, they whispered to others, not attending to the activity at hand. This happened in virtually every class; people came in with their various problems and concerns, it was difficult to leave them completely behind. Tonight, there had been none of it. It was as if the presence of the quiet, composed girl permeated the room. Kim didn’t think it a coincidence.
Walking home, Susan said, “I’ve never seen Master Kim take to someone so quickly. It was like they connected in some way.”
“Janah says it’s the meditation. He relates to her because she has a more oriental attitude.”
Chris, “I’m almost getting used to you guys doing that. Janah is talking to you and you know exactly what she is saying. You let Daphne do the explanations.”
Janah, “Her voice is my music. I prefer to be quiet and listen to the Daphne channel.”
Chris glances at me, “She’s going to so spoil the bejesus out of you.”
“And I promise to let her.”
“What does Janah think of Master Kim?”
“She says he really knows what he’s doing. He speaks only when he has something to add and only to the point he’s trying to make. He doesn’t interfere with your running of the class, his points are more for the instructors than the students. She says she learned a lot from watching him.”
“Good Lord! Janah sure picks up on people…,” said Chris, trailing off, a bit perplexed.
Janah, “A teacher with his long experience sees instantly the abilities of his students. He intuits their strengths and weaknesses. He immediately grasped that Daphne and I are not just neighborhood friends who like hanging out with each other. He sensed that I spent time in meditation, which is something he might do naturally because of his background.”
Susan, “Chris, that’s what you’ve always said about him, not interfering with you.”
“Yes, and I knew how he felt about some of the other advanced belts, because of their casual attitude towards helping the others. She’s exactly right, his points are for the instructors, not the students. Funny how people can be in class seven or eight years and not get it. Janah gets in one class.”
“Janah’s not self absorbed, very little gets past her. It’s what I like best about her. She doesn’t think about herself all the time which means she has lots of time to think about me.”
Susan, “Well, God knows that’s the important thing.”
Janah holds my arm as we stroll in the rest of the way home.
Chapter Thirty Four I
At every moment, what comes to you unasked comes from the Absolute
and will surely help you, if you make the fullest use of it.
It is only what you strive for, out of your own imagination and desire,
that gives you trouble.
Nisargadatta, I Am That
With the end of summer comes the start of school. Janah attends Chapmans, very high end, very limited enrollment. Lacy Chapman accepts only the creatively gifted or extremely intelligent. Eccentricities expected and welcome.
James went to see Lacy when she returned from her summer trip. He wanted to discuss me transferring to Chapmans. They meet in Lacy's office.
James, “Janah may have told you she has become very close to a girl her age who lives in the condo downstairs from us. Her name is Daphne Sylk, with a ‘y.’ Her mom, Susan, is a computer consultant. Susan’s partner, the only other parent Daphne has known, is a woman named Chris Fischer.”
Ms. Chapman, “One of our students takes a karate class, or actually it’s taekwondo, taught by a woman of that name, very capable I’m told. She’s mentioned a girl there of extraordinary ability named Daphne. Is this the same young lady?”
“Small world even in New York. Yes, it is.”
Lacy, “It’s already the beginning of the semester. She’s Janah’s age?”
James, “Three months older.’
James didn’t expand on Daphne’s skills, he didn’t want this to sound like a sales pitch.
Lacy doesn’t need one, “Would it be helpful if Daphne were to attend school here?”
James nods, “Janah would be delighted.”
Lacy smiled, “You could have said that in the first place. That’s all I need to know.”
James, “Janah insisted we not presume.”
Lacy, “Sounds like her. But she just as easily could have. She knows I wouldn’t refuse such a request from her, and you wouldn’t bring it up if you weren’t doing the school a favor.”
James, “Daphne will fit perfectly with your cast of characters.”
Lacy, “Daphne’s parents understand the somewhat, ah, unique nature of our school?”
James smiles, “You might say Daphne personifies the unique nature of the school.”
Lacy, “Dr. Svensson, if you say that, she must be quite a personality. I am all anticipation.”
James, “Thank you.”
Lacy, “I will have to meet with the parents of course. Can they come in this week?”
James, “When would be convenient?”
James called Susan, arranging for she and Chris to go to the school the following day. I am ecstatic. Janah’s description of the school sounds perfect.
Susan and Chris show up with us at the agreed upon time. Janah introduces everyone. Lacy Chapman gives an abbreviated version of her standard meeting the parents speech. Tuition is discussed, and it's pricey, forty five thousand a year, easily the highest in Manhattan. There is no boarding, but food is included, it is well within Susan’s growing means.
Lacy Chapman had been assistant headmistress at a private school in Philadelphia. Unlike Chapmans, it had been coeducational and there was more foolishness tolerated than Lacy thought necessary. The main goal of the Philadelphia school was to give parents with way too much money and not much sense a place to park their spoiled little darlings. Lacy had once been one of the spoiled little darlings, and her subsequent bad experience gave her a heightened sensitivity to the Machiavellian machinations of adolescent girls.
Lacy had substantial financial backing from her father, a wealthy real estate developer. Her reticence arose from the adolescent shock she’d received when a girl killed herself. Revealing her closely held pain to Janah had helped release her emotionally. Until then, she had remained very much to herself. She ran an excellent school, in part because she knew the torment some of the sensitive girls she enrolled might find at other schools. That personal wound and her subsequent dedication to her students also kept her from social entanglements. She was living her life, owning and running a highly specialized school. She provided a place for girls whose very talent and intelligence made other school environments difficult and stifling. Chapmans girls could survive anywhere, they would never thrive in the mass production atmosphere of most schools, particularly the egomaniacal cacophony of many Manhattan private schools.
Lacy decided six years earlier to give herself a new start in New York. She watched how her dad thrived in the rough and tumble of the commercial real estate business. She wasn’t a glad hander, nor did she smile mindlessly. Behind that was a more feminine sensitivity. The combination served her well when she began the complex process of opening an exclusive private school in competitive Manhattan. The first two years there were a dozen students she taught personally along with three other instructors. Then the concept caught on, now there were over a hundred, and Lacy found herself rejecting more than she took.
Explaining her intention for the school, Lacy says, “Chapmans is a school for girls with certain qualities. They are gifted with high intelligence. That intelligence may take the form of brainpower, physical skills or artistic creativity. We offer yoga, which Janah teaches. We have archery, fencing, dance and, strangely, strength and power training, something some of the girls started and it caught on. We haven’t introduced martial arts. Part of the problem is finding a suitable female instructor.”
Lacy paused and shifted her focus to Chris, “My niece, one of my students, has been after me to speak with Ms. Fischer for some time. She is Andrea Chapman, my brother’s child.”
Chris, “She’s a good student. Very determined.”
Ms. Chapman, “Andrea lets very little get in her way when her mind is made up. Exactly why I was delighted to find out you are one of Daphne’s parents. Could you consider finding time to introduce my girls to martial arts, or recommend someone? You will find more than a few who are excellent athletes, and they have a solid work ethic. You would be doing us a great service. I can assure you the compensation will be acceptable.”
Chris, “Sounds like fun. Unfortunately, my time is filled. Frankly, you don’t need me at all. Daphne is a more than qualified instructor. If a few girls have an interest, and Daphne is willing, you might test the idea this semester and see how it’s received. I’m sure Susan or I can come over once or twice a month to check progress, perhaps have a class with the girls.”
Lacy thought about it, then, “Janah certainly does a wonderful job with the yoga classes. Teaching martial arts could be a challenge for a young lady. You are convinced she is up to it?”
Chris is Chris, direct, “Daphne is the finest martial artist in New York, far beyond anyone I know, at any age, at any rank. She and Susan are our two best instructors. If you would like a less biased opinion, you might check with Master Kim, our instructor. He is quite well known in the martial arts arena.”
Lacy, “I should do that I think. As far as Daphne becoming a student, all I needed to know is that Janah wanted her to be here. I set up this meeting so you could look the school and me over. I hope we made the cut.”
Susan looks in Lacy’s eyes, held them for a bit and smiled, “We could have done this by phone based on Janah’s recommendations. I’m glad we didn’t though. It was great to see the school…..and to meet you.”
Lacy smiled softly in return, “Welcome to Chapmans. Two black belt moms and a black belt daughter. I couldn’t be more pleased.”
They stand, Lacy, “Now that you’re school family, do not hesitate to call me about anything,” she turns to Susan, their eyes meet, “anything at all.”
We are coming down the hall as the parents and Lacy are leaving the office.
Lacy, “Well Daphne, what do you think of the facility?”
I enthuse, “It’s beautiful, wooden floors, how you kept the atmosphere of the building, the rooms seem huge because of the high ceilings. The best part is no little school desks.”
Sis, “Where do you sit?’
“There are tables with computers and open space with office style chairs and couches. Apparently Ms. Chapman has discovered that if you treat people like responsible human beings, they will act like responsible human beings. There’s nothing in the school that has the aura of child, everything is open, materials are in reach, not locked away like all the students are criminals. It’s refreshing.”
Lacy, “They respond well to the freedom. I think any girls who take advantage are spoken to by the others. I seldom have to take strict action,” she turns to me, “I understand you are quite an accomplished martial artist.”
“I’m working on it. Master Kim has high standards, and C-mom is his lead instructor. I can’t let them down.”
Lacy shakes hands with Susan and Chris, gives Janah a hug, and walks us to the front entrance. Returning to her office, Lacy has just the hint of a smile on her face. She gained a wonderful new student for her school and, if things checked out with Master Kim, would be adding a fresh new class in the process. C-mom’s reputation of working with women is better known to Lacy than she let on. She also knew that there must be something extraordinary or Janah would never have been so close to me.
She thinks, ‘I wish everything was this easy, that girl is a gift. Thank you Janah….again’
She will, however, ask about Master Kim, partly doing her homework, mostly to satisfy her curiosity. Even more intriguing, she had seen glimpses into the possibility of opening herself a bit. Janah had helped her peel back the defenses. She was realizing that while being self enclosed felt protective, the same wall that kept pain out keeps it in as well. It was becoming a different world.
Then she thinks, 'No, it’s the same world, I’m learning to see it differently.'
Chapter Thirty Five I
I’m running an exclusive school for extraordinary girls.
While they are here, I have responsibilities.
I have to do a certain amount of personal homework.
If I have to suffer a mistake in judgment, fine.
At least it won’t be from somebody else’s mistake in judgment.
Lacy called a few of her more well connected parents, one of whom was a former FBI agent, now a high level security director with a Fortune 500. He had not only heard of Kim, he had consulted with him on training for his personnel.
He told her, “Kim is Korean old school. He isn’t chatty and he doesn’t mince words. Whatever he tells you, you can bank on unequivocally.”
Lacy arranged to meet him at his school; she could have asked her few questions on the phone, which would have been her style until now. The evolving Lacy wanted to meet him personally. This man, she correctly reasoned, had known the family for a long time and was an integral part of their lives. It would be good for her to meet him, to help her understand the two moms and their talented daughter.
After some pleasantries, she gets to the point, “I am considering starting a martial arts class at Chapmans and a young lady you instruct, Daphne Sylk, has been recommended to teach the class. She is young. I felt I should do as much homework as possible before saddling her with a bunch of teenage girls. Ms. Fischer gives her high marks. She suggested I speak with you. Do you think Daphne is qualified?”
Master Kim looks at her blankly. “Overqualified. You are fortunate to have her.”
“And running a class with twenty or so girls, some of which are four or five years older, won’t be a problem for her?”
“Walk in the park. She runs classes here with forty students of all ages.”
“You’ve met her friend, Janah Svensson? Janah has been a student for the last three years. She has been an enormous help to me.”
Master Kim visibly brightens, “Miss Janah is your best student, Daphne is mine.”
Lacy laughs, “I confess, I learn more from my best student than I teach her.”
Kim nods, “I am rapidly approaching that point with Sabum Daphne.”
Lacy, “So Daphne, in her way, is as remarkable a child as Janah?”
Master Kim replies bluntly, “They are not children.”
Lacy looks at him a long time. It turns quiet in the office as Kim allows her to digest the insight. Her biases had blinded her; Kim opened her eyes with four words. She wondered what else her preconceptions kept her from seeing?
“You have been kind to share this with me.”
Kim says nothing.
She thanks him for his time, compliments him on his facility, and leaves thinking, ‘Janah has done it again. She is a magnet for extraordinary people.’
Lacy sips a glass of wine in her apartment, her thoughts on the two girls. What was it about them? They were not yet teenagers, how did they skip all the kiddie stuff? How did they find each other? How can they be so….? Then she decided to quit ruminating, it is useless speculation. She concludes it will be far more interesting to watch what happens, how they unfold.
Chapter Thirty Six I
Cooperation is great,
up to the point it becomes conformity.
School started and Janah is interviewing girls for the possibility of joining the martial arts program. She has a method. First, she knew if people had to be talked into something, they immediately became suspicious of its value. Second, she thought it would be better to discourage girls who wanted to “dabble,” to see if it appealed to them, or, worse, to see if they were “comfortable” with it.
Janah doesn’t think much worthwhile is comfortable. The fun of life, she decided, is to stay dissatisfied, curious and challenged. Life is challenge. The dead are comfortable; the comfortable may as well be.
Janah let it be known that I was going to take no more than 12 girls from the upper school for a taekwondo class. Everyone wants in when space is limited, nobody cares if it’s wide open. Since I’m barely a freshman, there is some initial reluctance on the part of the older ones. What could this young girl know worth learning? Janah’s response is simple, don’t apply. Janah also has the advantage of Andrea, a Chapmans senior and a student in Chris’ school. She’s seen me in action. Andrea spread the word. Between Andrea and Janah, regard and not wanting to be left out overcame skepticism. Fifteen girls applied from the high school, another ten from the lower school.
The first afternoon, Janah issues basic coarse cotton uniforms we got from Chris prior to the first class and we show the girls how to tie their white belts. Andrea is a second red, an advanced student a couple of tests away from black. She volunteers to help and I welcome her assistance. Twenty five students, not the fifteen or so Janah originally sought, plus Andrea and me. For a school with a hundred and twenty students, response is excellent. Technically, I have the biggest single class at Chapmans. My new students sit on the gym floor in two half circles, younger girls in front.
I gave them a brief history of taekwondo and its popularity, “Taekwondo has far and away the greatest number of participants internationally and schools are available almost anyplace you might wind up if you want to continue when you graduate. Besides taekwondo, we’ll practice less elegant but more street oriented self defense techniques. Taekwondo will help you develop flexibility, speed, power and confidence. We use the speed and gracefulness of the fencers, the power of the weightlifters, the flexibility of yoga and the endurance of the cross country runners. Any of you in those sports brings some great skills to this class. The class will help you in your other sports. If you’re not athletic, it doesn’t matter, it’s a good way to learn self defense skills, but more importantly, balance and coordination, and to keep in great shape.”
The older girls began to see that I am knowledgeable and confident. The younger ones are simply all anticipation and excitement. Once I have their attention, I continue with the training methodology.
“As the class is only an hour, we’ll warm up by doing forms, or ‘poomse’ as they are called in Korean. We’ll practice forms for ten minutes, then more advanced calisthenics and learning how to fall so you don't get hurt. For the first few classes, basic kicking, punching and proper stances for ten or fifteen minutes, then sparring combinations.”
I continue, “In a month or two we’ll start some light contact sparring.” I stuck out my hand and wiggled my fingers, “Those of us with lovely nails and pedicures will appreciate that we spar with padding so we don’t have to sacrifice beauty for sport.”
The girls giggle a bit, “So what do you want out of the class, any expectations?”
Masha, one of the seventh graders, asks, “Will I be able to beat up my brother?”
There is a chorus of, “Yeah! Can you teach us that?”
I laugh, “The first thing you is to learn is how to avoid confrontation. If you work hard in class, when you can’t avoid a problem, you’ll know what to do. What else?”
Shelly, “How long have you been taking taekwondo?”
“Since I was five. I started just after I’d made five, so that’s the first year, then,” I started counting on my fingers, “almost eight years. I’m math challenged.”
Desiree blurted, “You’re too pretty to do math.”
“Thank you, Desiree. I tried that on my mom, no dice.”
Shannon, “Make Janah do your math for you.”
“You know Janah better than that.”
The girls chorus their resignation, “We know.”
Janah had helped many of them with various subjects. They got what they needed, help in thinking it through, not always what they wanted, a quickie answer.
“Janah says you’re all too smart for gimmie answers. She knows you don’t really need that anyway, so playing dumb doesn’t help. She’s on to us.”
The girls smile, just a little. They aren’t quite sure how I had gotten into Chapmans so quickly. They assumed I had some gift that made me a shoo in. They also didn’t know how I got so close to Janah so easily. Janah didn’t hang, at least never had with them; it gave me a slight aura of mystery.
Zipper Zuckerman, a ninth grader, isn’t into subtlety, “How’d you guys meet?”
“Her folks bought a condo in the same building I’m in. It’s great, she’s right there all the time. We hung all summer, then I wanted to go to school here because Janah says you guys are the best.”
I add, “I want you to understand, I don’t believe women are in any way weak. Studies show women can take more pain than men and do it much more gracefully. We will work hard and, sometimes, you’ll be exhausted. I don’t want you to get hurt. The basic premise of martial arts, the way I was taught, is to avoid confrontation, hurting or getting hurt. I’ll require certain standards of effort. You are all expected to give your best, you’re not all expected to perform equally in every area. Aubrey is also a weightlifter, I will never be as strong as she is; Janine is an artist with a fencing foil. I see several women here that Janah tells me are in dance or in her yoga class, the rest of us likely won’t be as graceful or flexible as you guys. Taekwondo has aspects in which each of you can find your specialty. Some of you will be great at sparring, some at forms, some will have high beautiful kicks, others strong powerful ones. We’ll learn how to make the most of our individual skills. You will learn Korean terminology, how to referee a match and how to judge a match. I think you’ll enjoy it, I hope so.”
Zipper, “I think it would be cool to have a name for us. Not just taekwondo class. Something fun, strange.”
Janah, “Daphne is fond of action movies, and she’s weird, the less sensible they are, the better she likes them. The other night she was watching something totally brainless called Reform School Girls. It wasn’t exactly Chapmans. The DVD cover said, “Some Get Tough. Some Go Insane. Some Will Die...” the girls start laughing.
Janah continues, “The movie opening song was, “So Young… So Bad… So What?” she starts giggling.
The girls are laughing harder, “Every time I was about to fall asleep, Daphne would say, ‘so young, so bad, so what!’, and I would start giggling again.”
Zipper, “That’s it then. We’re Reform School Girls.”
There are high fives all around. They stand, and in a group, gather around me and shout, “So Young!!... So Bad!!…So What?!!”
The girls leave with their uniforms, chattering about their new class, and their new identity as Reform School Girls.