Thursday, May 17, 2007

Clark Kent? No, Superman!

I was just thinking about someone who once taught for me at my main school (we had three). Let's call him Mr. Eric, as our students did. I wasn't too impressed by what I saw on the surface. Mr. Eric was tall, somewhat thin and gangly, and awkward-looking. He later told me the story of how he became an instructor and black belt: he had a friend who was a black belt, and went to an open karate tournament with him. As he left the tournament, he told his friend he wasn't too impressed by what he saw, and thought he could take 'em. If you saw Mr. Eric, you'd probably think accountant, but he had the heart of a lion, and kicked like the proverbial mule! He rose to the challenge of his friend, and, with a few weeks training, entered an open tournament with a borrowed black belt, and placed! He trained for a while with his friend, and less than a year thereafter, applied as an instructor with a chain of schools that some would call "McDojos", but I knew had a pretty good TKD system, 'cause I taught for them. He got the job.

Mr. Eric had a lot of catching up to do - he had little knowledge of forms, or of why techniques worked. What he lacked in experience, he made up for in discipline: he could repeat, and teach everything you showed him in the same manner, including explanations and examples. He was uncanny in how he stuck to the curriculum and lesson plans. I would often feign death as I heard him drone through the same example and sermon to his students on how and why you do a technique, and... his students were awesome! I'd say that, due to his lack of background, he was the finest instructor I saw at bringing beginners up to brown belt, then handed them off. His standards were so high that he rarely let anyone take even a pre-test without drilling them on the test multiple times. His superb preparation for his students was so ironic because, himself, had never formally tested for a single belt, other than black!

What may also stand out to many of his students was his abilities to spar. Mr. Eric had little control (never learned it), and if he didn't see the value in a particular technique immediately, he had no time for it. I helped him develop pretty good hands, and a better side kick than black belts with decades more experience, but the timing he had in the ring was all his own. He had a habit of leading off with his feet, getting close, pressing with his hands, then when his unfortunate opponents retreated straight back, he'd nail them in the side of the head with a perfectly timed back-leg roundhouse kick. Devastating.

Even more than his natural ability and discipline, what strikes me still today was Mr. Eric's wonder, warmth, and innocence. He had a strangely childlike excitement at the everyday things, and the ability to cheer up a discouraged youngster. He'd chew out a grown man, fifteen years his senior, then turn the criticism on himself in a way that made the student understand what he meant. He was a loving husband and father, talking excitedly about his new wife, then his young son. I miss him.

After we parted ways (he needed to earn more than I could afford to raise his young family), I heard that he fell off a ladder and struck his head on a windowsill while doing some minor home repairs. I am ashamed to admit I couldn't handle it. It still chokes me up today. I have no idea where he is, or what he's doing today. At the time, I heard that there was major brain damage, and he may have been paralyzed.

One of the other instructors always called him "Clark Kent!" To me, Mr. Eric will always be Superman...

Love one another. Thanks for reading TDA Training.

1 comment:

Daniel said...

According to your blog I think he is a good teacher, is not he? I have a good teacher whom i met on too and she is also my good friends.