Today: Fred Pineridge enters a Tae Kwon Do tourney and gets fed to the wolves.

Cast of characters

Master Jay Lee – 40-something Korean Tae Kwon Do master instructor.

Fred Pineridge – 30-something university grad; chronically under-employed.

*

*Low Blow*

Where: Master Lee’s Tae Kwon Do Gym, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.

The dead of winter.

Fred Pineridge could see his breath and feel the icy hardwood floor beneath his bare feet.

Korean-style Tae Kwon Do gyms are like that.

You don’t wear shoes.

If you’re not sparring, you have to keep moving, stretching, warming up, or you don’t have a chance.

Fred had been doing this gig for about six months and this was his first tournament.

Fresh out of university with a liberal arts degree, he was a late-starter to martial arts but committed to it.

He found it gave him tremendous spiritual strength.

It grounded him.

Really, it was the only thing in his life right now he looked forward to.

He had no relationship and no time for one anyway – his low paying job required up to 60 hours a week just to pay bills.

This tournament featured about 100 competitors – mostly youth, some adults.

Most of their names had been magic-markered onto a giant whiteboard, which showed all the matches and who’d be fighting whom.

Fred’s name was at the bottom but there was a blank spot beside it.

He still didn’t have anyone to fight.

Master Lee, the seventh-dan black belt who was running the show, approached Fred and spoke in broken English.

“Meesta Fled – you heighta – 180 centimeeta – you weighta – 80 kilo. Nobody to fight you! Too tall!” Fred nodded but didn’t know what to say to the highly respected Master, who raised his hand and instructive forefinger.

“So I have idea. Follow me please.”

The 40-something Lee was a well-groomed, clean-cut man of average Korean height (about five foot four); a physique of steel; his dress – immaculate: A pure white Tae Kwon Do uniform and white slippers.

“This will be good experience for you,” he told Fred as they walked across the busy gym with multiple matches happening and other participants and onlookers milling about.

* Does Master Lee have something up his sleeve? *

Fred didn’t know what Lee was up to but a chill came over him.

It wasn’t fear but a sense of being thrown into a void where he had no idea what would happen.

Maybe that was Lee’s plan.

And maybe that’s why Fred liked Tae Kwon Do.

You didn’t know what to expect and to survive a match you had to draw on everything you had.

Everything.

Sure you had to be in shape but mentally you had to be there too.

Tae Kwon Do was all about split-second timing.

If you had your mind on other things – a cheating girlfriend; a problem at work – you were beat from the start.

As Master Lee led the way through the throng of competitors and fans, everything in Fred’s peripheral vision blurred.

He passed some youths from his own club and they patted him on the back.

“Go Fred Go! Good luck. You can do it buddy.”

He said nothing and still didn’t know where he was going.

He just followed Master Lee across the crowded, noisy gym.

“What your job?” Lee shouted over the din.

“Security guard in downtown parking lots. I work at night.”

“How long you do that?”

“Just started. Got the job after university graduation six months ago.”

“You degree – what?”

“Philosophy.”

“You like your job?”

Fred paused and then chuckled. “It gives me a lot of time to think and philosophize. I’ve spent many hours pondering why am I doing this job?

Lee didn’t get the humour. “You have girlfriend?”

Even from Fred’s limited dealings with Koreans he knew they often asked a flurry of personal questions right off the bat.

He didn’t mind though.

It took his mind off wherever Lee was leading him. “Girlfriend? Not even close. Don’t have much money right now and girlfriends are expensive.”

This time Lee chuckled and stopped asking questions.

As they neared the far corner of the gym, many competitors were neatly lined up along both walls taking turns kicking soft paddles held by adult volunteers.

Foot after foot contacted paddle after paddle.

Kiyop!”

* Who will Fred fight in the final? *

You could hear these warrior yells all over the gym, followed by the thuds and slaps of feet tops hitting the pads.

Master Lee and Fred arrived at the corner, which was covered in several navy-blue exercise mats.

A dozen members from a rival club were standing at the edge of the mats watching someone practice.

Fred discretely approached, not wanting to distract them.

Lee lowered his voice. “You can fight him.”

He was tall (over six feet), sleek, and Korean; probably a college student.

He was furiously yet gracefully practicing an assortment of kicks on a big coloured sandbag.

Thump! Thud! Thump, thump.

THUD.

“He is champion – 19 years old,” Lee said.

Fred felt a chill of horror shoot through him.

He answered without thinking. “But Master Lee, I’m 24! Maybe it’s … not fair.”

“No plo-brem. Good experience for him too.”

Lee didn’t have a chance to formally make introductions since Champ was right in the thick of warming up.

The Master just patted Fred on the shoulder and walked away.

Must be a Korean thing, Fred thought.

Lee was feeding him to the lions.

*

Think about…

1. What is your first impression of Fred? Of Master Lee? Back up your answer with excerpts from the text.

2. Master Lee doesn’t seem to ‘get’ Fred’s jokes. Any idea why that might be?

3. Master Lee pits Fred against the Korean champ. Fred thinks that must be “a Korean thing.” What could he mean by that?

Sample Answers

2. Master Lee is from a different culture than Fred, and hasn’t been overly Canadianized. Often jokes from one culture don’t ‘translate’ to another.

3. Fred might mean that Master Lee is arranging the match so that the Korean wins.  So, why might that be?

*

Tomorrow: Will the Korean Tae Kwon Do champ make fresh kimchi out of Fred?

See you tomorrow!