Back in Berlin, our lives are whirling. Poor Aaron has stapled himself to his desk to crank out Chapter One: Pleasure. (Don’t worry, he already wrote Chapter Three: The Sublime.) Now you’re intrigued, right? Maybe we can publish Aaron’s dissertation serially right here.
I, on the other hand, have embarked on an eclectic collection of new adventures. Most weeknights, I attend classes at the Traditional TaeKwon-Do Studio of Berlin. I chose this studio because we strolled past it one evening while out on a walk around the neighborhood with Aaron’s cousins. Through the window, I saw a lone woman, wearing her black belt suit, practicing her craft with a peach fan. She moved with sharpness, intention, and grace. That fan whipped open and shut, and jabbing with precision. So, I decided to sign up for this lethal yet elegant art.
Before enrolling, I had to take two individual lessons to get up to speed. This hoop was made more intimidating because of course, the instructors are German speakers, and they teach TaeKwon-Do in German. How was I going to follow along in an individual lesson? Would they reject me for insufficient language skills? I brought my dictionary with me to the first lesson. Luckily, it turned out I don’t need to understand much. My teacher, Tumas, would point to my knee, say something about a knee, and then bend and straighten his own leg. Aha! He wants me to bend my knee more! After my second individual lesson, I signed up for a six-month contract, and received my own little outfit, complete with a fresh white belt.
Now I’ve been at this a couple weeks, and I’m getting quicker at following the movements. There’s a test coming up in mid-February, and if I’m ready, I could earn my white belt with stripe. Unfortunately, I have to be white-and-a-half before I can move up to yellow belt. I don’t think I’ll ever graduate to Fan-Belt.
I’ve picked up a bunch of useful vocabulary, like “fighting stance,” “hand edge,” “punch,” and “look out!”
I’ve also thrown myself in with regular Germans who signed up for TaeKwon-Do never suspecting they’d have to deal with a language-limited American in their midst. Turns out I can do okay conversing one-on-one with any of them, even those with no English. But, when we stand around before class and they gossip and joke and banter, I’m 70 percent lost. It’s too fast! I remember when my foreign exchange sister Özge lived with us my junior year of high school. She said the hardest part of social life was the lunch table, and it took much longer for her to fully participate in the conversation there. I know much better now how that feels. But, I am heartened that I can walk home with Nadia and chat about her university studies, her upcoming vacation, the shops we both frequent in our neighborhood, and she’s never the wiser that I don’t actually speak German!
Actually, there’s one part of TaeKwon-Do even harder than the language barrier. I cannot for the life of me figure out how to tie that white belt!