Largely the Truth

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Meatman, Beef, & the National Sport of South Korea

27 Feb 2010  ·  by Brennan Storr  ·  Be the first to comment!

Tagged under Events Festivals, events, and conferences Victoria Taekwondo

Last spring was a difficult time to find work. My first year living in Victoria I'd earned my daily bread working for the provincial government but an ailing economy meant government work opportunities had shrank faster than a fifteen year old in ice water. Eventually my wife got sick of me staring out the window and making armpit noises so she suggested I take up volunteering again. We had both been volunteers while living here in 2007 and I had also volunteered while abroad in 2008, so I suppose it was the next logical step to take if no work was forthcoming. A few e-mails later I was accepted as door security for the “Island Open Championship”, which I incorrectly interpreted from the website as being a Mixed-Martial Arts competition. When I arrived, not entirely prepared to deal with pot-bellied failures hollering while steroid beasts tenderized one another, I was relieved to learn that the event was actually an all-ages Taekwon-Do competition. That meant the testosterone factor would be a fraction of what I’d expected and I would probably not be vomited upon.

After checking in with the volunteer table I was introduced to the two guys already working security, Meatman & Beef (names altered to protect the uninteresting). They looked like jerky with stubble; Beef’s skin was so tight it appeared as though his neck was holding his Adam’s apple hostage. Meatman decided to take advantage of my appearance and go eat some lunch, probably a whole tunafish or herd of buffalo, and I was left to try and make small talk with the human bicep. My first and last question was whether he was a competitor as well as a volunteer. Beef graced me with a single disdainful glance and said “Uh….no.” My guess is that the niceties of organized martial-arts were a bit beyond him. It was more likely he preferred hammering some poor bastard’s head into a bar-room floor in order to impress women named Amber. Mercifully Meatman's quest for fire didn't last long and I was free to roam the floor until my shift began.

The merchandise table was fascinating; I’d never before attended a function where I could buy both donuts and implements that can break a man’s arm. Certain that at least one of the offered items wasn't actually legal I brought the issue to the vendor, a man who looked like he’d taken up selling martial-arts paraphernalia after his career as a back-alley abortionist hadn’t panned out. He assured me that all was above board and as it is wise not to press a man who has curved blades within arm’s reach I decided not to ask if, even though it was “completely legal” to sell these things to children, was it a very good idea? Subsequent research has yet to yield a satisfactory answer as to the legality of the items in question but I feel justified in saying that if you were to wave them at a passing squad car your night would end poorly.

When the time for my shift came around, instead of a man-shaped protein bar I ended up working with Steve, who had a particular type of alertness about him, constantly scanning the crowd while affecting a posture that said, “Try something. I dare you. Why? Because once you do, me & two of my colleagues will hold you down and cornhole you with our collective authority.” To absolutely no one's surprise Steve turned out to be an officer of the law but easygoing enough and we got on fine. Our main function was to look threatening and check to make sure everyone who entered had wristbands. That someone would try and sneak into a martial arts match where tickets cost five dollars seems pitiful beyond compare but nevertheless it happened and we would pretend it had all been an accident, then direct them to a ticket vendor. These people had no idea how lucky they were that they tried this in the afternoon; who knows what the Tricep Twins had been doing to gatecrashers. I imagine Meatman snapping the interloper’s spine across one steely knee followed by Beef dropping the elbow down from the rafters, blowing their victim's solar plexus out their back.

Once the competitive matches started I was interested to see that losing seemed to most affect the youngest and oldest participants. The middle group took it all in stride; presumably they’ve lost before and though not happy about it, understood that it was part of the game. For the youngest though, some of whom were competing for the first time, a loss was devastating. I suppose they’re just entering the stage of life where you learn that you can still lose no matter how special mom says you are; the age where you either realize that participation ribbons are as useless as the people handing them out or you start collecting them. Older competitors seemed to take it just as hard and I have to wonder if their reasons aren't that dissimilar from those of the kids - sometimes all that hard work and bravado aren’t enough and you have a moment of lucidity when you realize you're not Superman, or even Jean-Claude Van Damme, you’re a middle-manager whose hobby is wearing pyjamas and rolling around a high school gymnasium trying to dominate other men.

Towards the end of the day Stephen directed my attention towards a coach, entirely bald with a silver handlebar mustache, who’d been sitting nearly the entire afternoon. He had an aura of great power at rest, one I normally associate with dormant volcanoes with the exception that if a dormant volcano suddenly exploded down the road you might have time to save yourself. If this man pulled a similar trick your front door would simply explode into splinters and the last sound you’d hear would be the breaking of your own neck. At length he rose to his full, Cyclopean height and for a moment I thought that the students were meant to spar with him next. That was plainly lunacy as the man could simply swallow the children whole like mighty Zeus and then go about using his fists to compose a symphony of pain on the xylophone of a man's ribcage. It turned out he was just presenting medals which was probably better for all involved even if it did seem beneath someone of his presence, like having mighty Thor use Mjolnir to bang out dents in a Pontiac.

By 3:00 the flow of new faces had slowed to a trickle and the volunteer manager said we could leave although we may want to stay to see the black belts fight. We did just that and I have to say that for all the florid lip service given to the grace & fluidity of black belt combat the fight looked like two men in housecoats having a bar brawl. They would approach each other, fling their fists about and then the referee would, presumably out of boredom, say “break”. The combatants would then retire to separate corners, revise their strategy and the flailing would begin anew, as though they’d both seen the same wasp that, because of a shared impairment in depth perception, they couldn’t quite hit. Waking briefly the referee again said “break” and the two fighters would allow the now terrified insect to escape. Boredom and sore feet had overcome me by this point and so I decided to head for my car but I imagine that they continued in this fashion, two epileptics having simultaneous fits, until one of their heads popped off in true Rock ‘Em, Sock ‘Em Robots style.

On the way home I asked myself if I’d learned anything of real value from my afternoon of Taekwan-Do, maybe even developed a taste for the martial art myself. I’m about as unfit as a person can be, surely this kind of thing would provide me with the desire & means to make more of myself, to push myself to the edge and challenge my own perceptions of what is possible. I could improve my diet, train daily, climb higher and higher on the ladder of personal success until one day I too could be shedding tears of joy as I push it to the limit under the gaze of seventy-five spectators. That great philosopher Beef put it best: “Uh….no.”

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