The Way of Hands and Feet

The martial arts, specifically the Korean martial art of taekwondo, play an important role in the McCall – Malone Mystery series. Clint McCall himself is a fourth-degree black belt and he has a whole set of fellow black belts who occasionally provide backup for him.

Fortunately, this is a case of writing what I know.

In the summer of 1983, I was 38 years old. I knew nothing then about the martial arts. I don’t believe I had ever seen a martial arts movie. (Remember: 1983. Bruce Lee had been dead for ten years, but his movies had yet to enter the American mainstream. Chuck Norris had made a few movies but his stardom was in the future.)

One weekend afternoon in June of that year, I parked downtown and noticed some unusual activity in the nearby bank parking lot. There were around thirty people, mostly young, wearing white pajama-like outfits and neatly lined up in three rows, being yelled at by a very large and rather mean-looking fellow who stood before them in a similar outfit.

Then they commenced to…exercise. Really, I didn’t know what the hell they were doing. It appeared to be some weird combination of workout, dance, and boot camp. I learned a little later that I was watching taekwondo and that the word meant “the way of hands and feet.” There were indeed a lot of hands and feet flying in that parking lot.

Now, you have to understand: I was at that time NOT athletically inclined. I’d never gone out for any sports in high school and my idea of a hike was to walk from my car to a store entrance. Nevertheless, for reasons I cannot define to this day, I stood and watched the entire class (for that’s what it was) and then signed up with the large and mean-looking fellow on the spot.

I had not the slightest clue what I was getting into. But, again for undefinable reasons, I stuck with it. On my first day of training I weighed 144 pounds. After six months, I weighed 175 pounds—and was still wearing exactly the same clothes.

I earned my first degree black belt three years later and my second degree three years after that. I continued training off and on, somewhat hobbled by the injuries that seem inevitable if you’re still kicking and punching in your forties, until I was in my early fifties. I even taught for a while. Unlike Clint, I never tested for third or fourth degree.

But taekwondo is definitely something I know.

A note about style—writing style, that is, not martial arts style: Taekwondo is often capitalized. It’s often broken up into individual Korean words, “tae kwon do.” Sometimes those are capitalized; sometimes not. Another common spelling is “taekwon-do,” both capitalized and lower case. My choice is one word, lower case. So sue me.

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