When we were growing up my mom enrolled us in karate. It was after Wendell was the victim of an unfortunate school yard Kumete and was on the losing end. Since that time she decided to enroll Wendell in the local do jang up the street. Our martial art form was Tang Soo Do. Basically, it is a Korean martial art used by the South Korean military. After Wendell had reached orange belt I was enrolled and then my sister followed. Usually my brother was an exemplary student. My sister tried but she was so young she always fell on her butt or fell asleep. I on the other hand was just plain reluctant. There was too much yelling involved and we always had to clean the do jang for discipline. Plus our Anglo Tiger Mom gave our master, Master Bosco, permission to treat us as his own children.
It was a typical Saturday at the do jang. Cars pulled in signaling the dismiss of the adult class and now for the children’s class. A lot of the youngsters bounded in and were happy. I on the other hand wasn’t so much. This was my second class of the day and I just wanted to go home. The only thing to make it worse was the arrival of Billy Santos. Yes, Billy Santos the swarthy looking Greek boy who’s family owned a bakery and flower shop. Despite being ten he was on the tall side. His favorite activity was bullying the littler belts. The last week a white belt had been matched up with Billy the Bully Goat. Despite being several belts his senior and this being only a beginner, instead of teaching he took a cheap shot to the kids stomach. The white belt went down and clutched his stomach in pain. Needless to say the kid was not back this week. Then again, this was normal for Billy Santos.
“Oh here he comes.” Skipper said fearfully. Billy always targeted Skipper first.
Billy the Bully Santos marched over and said, “Well if it isn’t Skipper. Are you going to fall asleep after forms today.”
“Drop dead.” I answered.
Just then Joey Rath arrived. He was a skinny kid with greasy hair and went to the emotional support classroom during school. This was Billy’s partner in crime. “Did April tell you to drop dead? Why don’t you just eat a ding dong fatty?” Joey asked.
“Well at least I am not in special ed.” I snapped.
Just then Wendell walked over. Billy and Joey straightened up because they were fearful of Wendell. Locking eyes with them he asked, “Are you guys bothering my sister’s again?”
The two shook their heads and retreated. Heading to their next victim Jessie Sherwood and her girly clique they left us. Jessie Sherwood was the most girly girl in the do jang. She was infamous for her girly screaming during free sparring and complaining about her hair getting messed up. A diva with a tude, she was ten going on thirty. With her was Bobbi Collins, her much quieter and much prettier bestie. Bobbi was okay on her own, but with the help of Jessie she was just too hard to take.
“Just ignore him. He’s an asshole.” Wendell cautioned.
“What if he hits me during free spar?” Skipper asked.
“He knows Billy is a bully and never matches him up with girls.” Wendell said.
Just then Master Bosco clapped his hands. “Line up kids.” He said.
We started the class with the usual jumping jacks and push ups. During the stretching, Master Bosco had to take a phone call. Stepping in was Master Gerard. Yes, Master Gerard. Half Korean and half white, he was the step son of Master Bosco. A skilled fighter and someone who looked elegant during demonstrations, Master Bosco was the softer half of the dojang. Plus the kids loved him. He was fun to have in class and was always cracking jokes. He and Master Bosco had a tumultuous relationship. While Gerard was a good martial artist he was not the hardest worker in the world. As a matter of fact he was downright lazy. In addition he always had a tendency to use his martial arts training to get into things like street fights and bar fights and always over a sleazy girl. That’s when he spent the night in jail and they called my dad. He didn’t have it together, and that’s why we all probably loved him.
“Okay, stretching time.” Master Gerard said pulling his hair in a pony tail. It was long and black. During his last stint out of the Master’s house he had lived downtown with some hood types and grew his hair long. Then he saw a red head with a low cut blouse tap on the glass. She wore bright pink lipstick, so bright she should have been walking the streets of Amsterdam.
Master Gerard waved. The red head waved back. “Is that your girlfriend.” Chris Smith asked. He was another emotionally disturbed boy who frequented our dojang. A special project of Master Bosco, Chris periodically wigged out at school staff and had a burst of tourettes. His parents hoped martial arts would calm the boys spirit.
“No, I met her last night.” Master Gerard replied and snapped his fingers. The boys in the class laugh.
“You had s-e-x.” Billy Santos said. “Was she good?”
The rest of the class ooohhhhed. “It’s none of your business. Especially since you probably couldn’t get a girl if you tried.” Wendell snapped.
The rest of the class chuckled. “Now that’s enough. Save the anger for free sparring. And about love, it’s not all it’s cracked up to be.” Master Gerard replied.
Just then Chris Smith leaned over to Skipper and I and asked, “Have you ever been so hungry you just ate paper?”
Skipper shot a look of disgust. I just shook my head no. Isaac Rubenstein, the unfortunate young man who had one hand that wasn’t formed and a flipper for the other as well as one big toe on his left foot, the last wave of Thalidomite children, looked over curious.
“Why Flipper Boy, you checking out the girls?” Billy Santos hissed. Joey, his compatriot chuckled. To make it even worse for the poor deformed child Billy Santos started making dolphin noises. In a way it was sort of funny but totally mean spirited. Of course we would never expect anything less. Of course our mother had explained why Isaac was so deformed to us and why we should be kind to him. Apparently, my mother and Mrs. Rubenstein spoke frequently and she had remarked at how karate was a saving grace for Isaac. Apparently, Isaac, who went to a therapeutic school for children with deformities, was being bullied by kids in the neighborhood. Karate gave him the confidence to fight back. Being a hard worker, Isaac became one of Master Bosco’s favorite’s quickly.
I turned around and shot them a dirty look. Sure, he may have had flippers as hands essentially but Isaac was a good dude. “Oh hi fatty.” Billy Santos hissed. I flicked him off and turned around. Santos would lay off me I had a feeling because Wendell shot him another dirty look.
Just then Master Bosco emerged from his office ready to take over class. It was form time. “Alright, color belts, I want you to do basic 1-3. We need work on that.” Master Bosco said clapping his hands.
We lined up and began. I usually hated form time. I know it was basics but they were boring. I liked the fighting better. Usually I was lousy at remembering patterns and had no shame in copying off of my neighbor. In this case however, my neighbor was Jessie Sherwood who didn’t know it either. And then her neighbor was Skipper who always copied off of me by default. Essentially it was the Three Stooges do karate. Master Bosco, upon seeing this, shook his head in distain. “Do any of you know the form?” The three of us stared at each other.
“April and Skipper, I expected better from the both of you. Give me twenty push ups.” My sister and I both got busy with our punishment.
“What about me?” Jessie Sherwood asked twirling her hair.
Master Bosco, at wits end with the would be Valley Girl shook his head and walked away. Jessie Sherwood stood there clueless. As my sister and I were knee deep in our penance we heard Jessie Sherwood scream, “NO!”
Skipper and I looked up to see Billy Santos and his crony hurling spit balls in Jessie’s direction. Master Bosco, upon seeing this, walked over to the two delinquents and asked, “Are you finished with your forms yet?”
“Yes sir.” Billy Santos said being the perfect student. Eddie Haskell in every way, he was able to turn it on when Master Bosco was there. We all often wondered if Master Bosco truly knew how evil Billy Santos was.
“This is exemplary. Billy has mastered all the forms.” Master Bosco announced to the class. “How did you do it Billy?”
“Hard work sir.” Billy replied.
“Hear that April.” The Master said.
“Yes sir.” I said sarcastically.
“Twenty more knuckle push ups.” Master Bosco snapped.
As soon as Master Bosco turned his back Billy shot me the “ha ha” glance.
“Fuck you.” I mumbled.
“Should I tell The Master you are swearing?” Billy said with an evil smile on his face. Blackmail.
“That’s my job.” Wendell said.
As Master Bosco came to the front of the class he then announced it was time for one step sparring. More basics. When would the fighting begin?
As Master Bosco came around he critiqued each of us. Of course for this he matched Isaac and myself up. “You got it?” I asked Isaac grabbing his stub of a hand.
“Yeah, now block me.” Isaac instructed.
I blocked Isaac who then threw a punch. For as much as one step annoyed me I always liked working with Isaac. He had an enthusiasm for the style of karate that no one else did. Plus he wasn’t as crazed as Master Bosco was about how everything had to be perfect. Then again, this was probably why Bosco was in charge.
Bosco had been a lot like Isaac back in the day aside from being deformed. Jeffrey Bosco had been a red head who played the tuba at a local high school. The prototypical band geek, he had been at the mercy of the bully boy jocks. However, after watching Bruce Lee he discovered martial arts were the secret. So Bosco started kicking ass, taking names, and fighting in tournaments in the Far East. He would have been like Steven Seagal, who was like a cult hero in our home, except he had red hair.
Bosco came over to us and asked, “How are we doing?”
“Good. She almost has it.” Isaac said. I quickly demonstrated for Master Bosco who nodded. Skipper on the other hand was matched up with Bobbi Collins, the quieter half of the Tweedle Dumb and Tweedle Dumber duo.
I heard Skipper say, “It makes no sense to be wide open when I throw the punch to you. Who do you think you are, a cheerleader?” I found myself trying not to laugh. I had already done twenty push ups that day. I didn’t feel like doing more.
“Oh, Skipper’s getting frisky.” Joey Rath seethed to Billy Santos. For some reason Bosco partnered the Goon Squad. Then again, they always worked best together and actually learned faster. But they still annoyed the rest of us.
“But her sister is really the little woman of the duo. Hi-ya!” Billy mocked a girly voice that was supposed to be me.
I turned around, mouthed “fuck you” and then flicked him off again. Isaac, being audience to all of this said, “You know, maybe I don’t have arms and legs like you but I know a few things.”
“Like what?” I asked as we continued practicing.
“Like you are better off to ignore that asshole than let him get to you. You see, he doesn’t fight fair. He takes cheap shots at everyone because he is a bully. Karate teaches us to use violence as a last resort.” Despite his physical condition Isaac always cleaned up at the tournaments and seemed like in his old age he would probably move to the foothills of the Far East to teach martial arts to would be students like ourselves.
“He is pushing me. I just want to murder him.” I snapped as I blocked Isaac again.
“Well here’s the thing, he thinks he is big and bad but he will meet someone badder and worse.” Issac pointed out.
“I know but I still want to beat his ass.” I said throwing a punch. Just then Isaac blocked it and he had a twinkle in his eye. A knowing twinkle reminiscent of the blind master in all those Kung Fu movies.
“You don’t think Bosco knows what he is about do you? Well Bosco has him figured out. Don’t worry, he will get his sooner than you think.” Isaac smiled.
“Hope so.” I mumbled.
Just then Bosco announced it was time for sparring. Billy Santos was first matched up with a white belt named Bobby. Bobby had white, blonde hair and was relatively new. Not more than seven, Bobby was terrified of this hulking bully of a color belt. Right away the fighting began and right away Santos advanced on this poor creature. The fight ended with Bobby, scared to death, sitting in the corner.
“You okay?” I asked him.
“It’s my third day and I am not sure I want to come back.” He whispered. “Kids pick on me in school. Kids like that.”
Of course I had been matched up with Jessie Sherwood who hit and punched like the girliest girl. Although we were no contract I really wanted to hit her in the head. It was like April Brucker, would be writer and Pittsburgh Steeler fan, fights Jessie Sherwood, would be Dallas Cowboy cheerleader. Just then I saw her mother wave. Yes her mother, wearing a ripped Grateful Dead t-shirt and jeans with her stomach exposed and not to mention plenty of makeup. My mother had spoken to Mrs. Sherwood once and she had told her she had Jessie when she was nineteen and didn’t know who the father was. Big surprise, and from the looks of it the apple didn’t fall far from the tree. Of course, not paying attention ran in the family too. Both mother and daughter waved. I got a little bit of a shot but not too much contact. I was in no mood for Bosco to punish me further.
Just then I saw Master Bosco pull Wendell over and whisper something to him. “Wendell, Billy.” He called to the two as they partnered up.
“I can take him.” I heard Billy Santos whisper to Joey Rath.
Skipper and I were sitting the round out. “You okay?” I asked Skipper.
“Yeah but I really don’t like Billy Santos.” She said. “He threw a spitball at me. I told Wendell.”
Just then Skipper and I exchanged a glance. “Begin.” The Master announced. Just then Billy Santos threw a cheap shot at my brother. Wendell, being faster, blocked it. Billy threw a kick and Wendell blocked it. Billy then, frustrated, left himself wide open and did a kick similar to that of the Rockettes on Broadway. That’s when Wendell, fed up with this bully, landed a punch right to his gut. Suddenly, Billy, unable to take the hit, doubled over in pain crying. Suddenly the whole sparring exhibition stopped as the Master ran over to Billy.
“Are you okay?” He asked.
Billy, crying, asked, “Can I have some ice?”
“Sure, sit down. Wendell, you sit out for the rest of class. And I want to see you in my office after we are done today.” Master Bosco snapped.
We all exchanged a look. Joey Rath, usually a follower of this guru of bullies looked downward. Jessie Sherwood, usually on a planet of her own, looked at the fallen Billy Santos with amazed eyes as did Bobbi Collins at her side. The little white belt in the corner named Bobby began to smile. “I think I will come back.” He said.
Isaac gave me a knowing smile as if he had been right. Of course Chris Smith, emotionally disturbed as ever said to Skipper and I, “Did you see your brother? That was fucking awesome.”
As class ended the parents came to scoop their children up. Some had seen the gut punch demonstration of violence. Joey Rath’s mother, a crazed Mary Kay lady said as she scooped him up, “I always thought this martial arts was way too violent. See Wendell is proof.”
My sister and I rolled our eyes at Mrs. Rath. Looking back no wonder Joey was so messed up. He never had a chance. Then of course some of the other parents shook their heads in silent distain. Bobby’s mother, a little lady with mousy brown hair said to Master Gerard, “Is class usually this violent.”
“No, they were upper level belts of the same strength.” Master Gerard explained as he began his sneak around the back of the school with the red head who came come to watch class. Who knows what they were doing back there and if we asked we would have gotten an answer.
“Man that Wendell kid is fierce. He seems so nice.” The red head said to Master Gerard as they disappeared.
Just then my mom pulled in the parking lot with her mini-van. Very much Saturday in suburbia, she had come straight from doing yard work with my dad. “Where is Wendell?” She asked curious.
“Oh the Master wanted to see him. He punched Billy Santos.” I explained. Skipper shook her head backing me up.
“Good. If he’s in any trouble I just want to talk about what a bully that child is. I don’t believe there is usually a bad kid but he’s defective.” My mom said.
Just as my mom was about to march into Master Bosco’s office Wendell emerged. “You in trouble?” I asked.
“Nah. Master Bosco pulled me aside before I fought with Santos and told me to go as hard as I could.” Wendell explained smiling.
“So you aren’t going to get kicked out?” Skipper asked.
Wendell chuckled. “Far from it. But I want to explain something to you two. Although I might make fun of you for being idiots, it’s not alright when anyone else does. Sure, you two might be idiots but you are my idiots.” Wendell explained. “And by the way, I call shot gun on the way home.”
A minute later our mom emerged giving us the okay to go home. She and Master Bosco had talked briefly and Master Bosco agreed, Billy Santos was a bully and the only way to shut him down was to match him up with someone bigger and stronger. In order to celebrate the end of a grueling day we got Wendy’s.
As for the events afterward Bobby returned to karate, not only becoming one of Master Bosco’s best students but eventually to become a professional kickboxer.
And Billy Santos did return, his ego knocked down several pegs. From that day onward the poor deformed boy was no longer Flipper Boy but Isaac.
My siblings were still idiots indeed, but Wendell and Skipper were my idiots. Some things change but that never has.