Maya is a 10 year old, first level, first degree bad-ass black belt in Tae Kwon Do. Initially we had put her in TKD as a five year old because she chose it over ballet and because we wanted something that would help us guide her towards some discipline and self control. And don't get me started on the self defense reasons. Even after she earned her black belt, Husband said. "I want her to take TKD until she can legitimately kick a man's ass."
By nature, Maya is sweet and social, an entertainer who strives to be the Funny Guy of her peers. During the first few years of classes, TKD was a party where she could hardly stay still or pay attention. The sensei of the her studio, Master Park (who my husband calls Master P out of his ear shot), is a fifth-degree, stoic teacher in his late to mid 30's who looks twelve, albeit a very serious twelve. During the six years I've known him, I've NEVER seen him cut loose; not a hair has strayed from his perfectly gelled and slicked back coif. I would often hear him yell, "Maya!" just as she was finishing a cartwheel instead of practicing her forms.
When the subject of getting her black belt came up, I honestly didn't think she was ready. I believed she was too young, too goofily unfocused. For the test, she would have to write a four page essay and perform a grueling two-hour physical test that included forty-five standard push ups without rest or stopping. But she said she wanted it -- badly -- and would work hard for it. The day of the test, I told her I was proud of her no matter what. I told her to focus as best she could and make this worth her while; have all the hard work pay off in this exact moment. She deserved that for herself. And the second the test started, a seriousness fell on her that I had never seen in her and she did not break this concentration for the entire two hours. Everything she did was intense and perfect. She could've done seventy-five push ups if she was instructed to do so. To say I was choked up the entire test is a severe understatement. To see her achieve that state of determination and focus that I don't see in most adults was astounding. I learned something new about my own child that day; that even though I tell her she can do whatever she wants with hard work and commitment, she already Gets That. Not only did she earn her black belt, she was named Number One Tester of the fifteen kids who tested with her that day.
Today we spent all day at a Tae Kwon Do tournament. This is the second that Maya has competed in. She displayed that exact, impressive wave of focus during the first tournament when again, I wasn't sure she was ready to spar other kids outside her own studio, but she won two gold metals, one in forms and one in sparring. So, we went today, and of course I wasn't sure she was ready because she never seems serious enough during training. Tournaments themselves are an amazing spectacle where thirty things go on at once. There are six mats where forms and weapons forms and sparring are going on at the same time. There is a stage with the craziest board-breaking demo's where kids are back flipping and breaking things with their feet simultaneously and Grand Masters are breaking six boards with fingertips. FINGERTIPS!
The MC of the event was a sharply dressed Korean man, and we realized that most Korean Masters in TKD wear the snazziest of suits with designer ties and highly polished shoes. We always try to guess what Master P will show up in. Today I guessed dark grey. Husband guessed navy blue. Maya guessed a tuxedo. He showed up in a black pinstripe number, straight pimpin. As the MC with his outstanding charcoal suit and a gorgeous voice started to kick things off in the morning he said things like, "We'd like to thank the volunteers . . .and speaking of which if anyone would be so kind as to bring me some coffee I will do anything they want, all day long. Seriously." This was coming over the sound system at the LA Sports Arena mind you, not a small venue. He continued, "Yes, coffee. I'll take it black. I'll take it with cream and sugar. I'll take what is left at the bottom of your cup right now. I'll take it wrung out of napkin. Please, for the love of god. Someone bring me coffee; the hot, filtered brew of happiness; the sweet life elixir." I was enamored at this point and I would've jumped over the rows of seats to bring him the rest of my own coffee, but that might've raised Husband's eyebrow.
Maya's forms were sharp and strong. She, fairly easily, won a gold in that event. When it was time to spar, she faced an opponent that towered over her by six inches and outweighed her by fifty pounds. Typically, I am in love with hyperbole, but the six inches and fifty pounds is a conservative and fair assumption. During the few seconds before the umpire yelled, "Let's Get It On," or whatever they yell in Korean, I tried to assess if this girl was slow and lethargic, but we all quickly found out that she was an agressive charger and it threw Maya completely off guard. Maya was on her heels from the gate and you could literally see her confidence bottom out. At the end of the first round the girl hooked Maya in with her left hand and punched her hard in the back, an illegal move. (Do you remember getting punched in the back in elementary school; it's like coughing when you don't want to.) Maya was down five points to one. The rest of the fight, Maya pushed the girl back as best she could and she figured out how to score points, climbing back, but when time ran out The Other Girl had six points and Maya had four. She lost for the first time which, you know, is not a bad thing and can teach you a lot, but when you see your baby spent and utterly disappointed as she leaves the ring it's hard not to wish otherwise. Husband said he almost bawled when he saw her face. Gulp.
When I tucked Maya into bed tonight, I asked her if she had fun today. She said yes. I said, "Did you learn something about yourself?" She said, "Yea, I gotta get more serious when I'm training." I said, "How 'bout work on a push kick? Y'know, to push a big opponent back?" She laughed and said, "Right?"