Kung Fu Coma

Stèphanie Lemieux

"I don't teach no wimpy dance moves. I'm gonna teach you how to take a man down! Make him hurt!"

I winced and held the phone away from my ear. The man on the line spoke in a raspy, manic half-shout. He sounded like a cross between the Crocodile Hunter and a WWF wrestler.

Scratch that one off the list.

I had decided on a whim that I would enroll in a martial arts class. And so, on a particularly slow day at work, I opened the yellow pages to "self-defense" and started dialing. At the first number, a woman answered in a mellow, singsong voice. She droned on for a few minutes about the value of the individual. I almost expected her to start preaching the importance of "getting in touch with my inner essence" and "channeling energy." The second number yielded a startlingly angry fellow who thought that I needed to learn how to kill people. On my third attempt, I was greeted by a friendly male voice tinged with a French accent. Nick assured me that classes involved group work, but were also tailored to the individual. He told me that he didn't believe in organized competition, and that any sparring we did would be for learning purposes only. And he offered me a free class. Sold!

The following Wednesday, I scrambled madly around the house, trying to get ready for my class. I wondered what to wear, what to eat, how early to show up. It turned out that the last question was completely irrelevant; by the time I rushed out of the house, dressed in sweat pants and a T-shirt, and scarfing down a granola bar, I was definitely late. I pulled into the parking lot, looked at my watch, and sighed in frustration. Walking up the stairs, I felt really nervous, a panicky heart-in-the-throat feeling that reminded me of my first day of grade nine (and trust me, it has been a while since my first day of grade nine.) As I headed towards the class, I could hear someone giving directives, and I cringed as my footsteps thumped and echoed in the hall. I was about to walk into a roomful of strangers - who were all on time, of course.

I smoothed out the wrinkles in my shirt, tugged off my shoes, and poked my head inside the door. I blinked and gaped at the four figures standing there. Not one of them was over four feet tall. I contemplated the humiliation of it all: me, a grown woman, so out of shape and uncoordinated that I had to be placed in a children's class. I sighed, and told myself that it would all be worth it when I was able to flip my first eight-year-old over my back. Besides, there was no backing out now. I had been bragging for days about my upcoming Kung Fu classes, and I even had my very own at-work soundtrack. Co-workers burst into song at the very sight of me: "Everybody was kung fu fighting....those cats were fast as lightning...."

Eyeing the children who kicked and punched the air with strong, certain movements, I drew a deep breath and stepped into the classroom.

"Stop!" the instructor called out urgently.

I froze, one foot in the air, and stared at him. He bowed at the children and trotted over to me.

"The adult class starts in half a hour," he whispered with a smile. "Have a seat and I'll come talk to you after we finish." He nodded at a chair and trotted back to his class.

Blushing madly, I sank into the chair and surveyed the scene. The wooden-floored gym was large and bright, with punching bags, bars, and paraphernalia hanging from the ceiling. The walls dangled with boxing gloves, shields, skipping ropes, wooden bars, and other implements of potential violence. A man, whom I later found out was the discipline's founder, glowered menacingly from posters scattered around the room. When I squinted a little and peered sideways through my lashes, the whole place looked like a torture chamber. I chewed on my fingernails and waited, watching the breathless rosy-cheeked children file out of the gym to greet their mothers and fathers.

Slowly, one at a time, students in the adult class started trickling in until there were five of us. Besides myself, they were all men. And they were large. Very large. The children's class was starting to look better and better.

They all smiled and nodded at me as they skipped past me and lined up in the gym, surprisingly light on their feet considering just how large those feet were. Frowning a little bit, I walked over to the group, and stood in what I felt was an inconspicuous spot.

To start the class, the students saluted the instructor with an intricate series of movements executed with fluid grace that ended with a carefully controlled bow. I watched my classmates blankly, holding my hands out in front of me, and jumped into an awkward bow when I saw that they were all bending at the waist. I stumbled and slammed my foot on the floor to keep from losing my balance. I was definitely NOT a paragon of grace and poise.

During the next couple of hours, I stumbled, I stretched, I punched, I ran in place. I stared incredulously at my graceful classmates. I blocked. I kicked the punching bag and hurt my toe. I gasped. I sweated. I stumbled again.

And I loved every minute of it!

I watched a massive tree of a man whale on the punching bag. The enormous bag swung back and forth, gaining momentum with every blow. When it was my turn, he handed me the gloves with a smile. I pulled them on, trying to ignore how damp they were with sweat, and whacked my gloved fists together, feeling rather like Rocky. I walked right up to the bag, reared, exploded my fist onto the canvas surface...and scowled in disbelief as the bag barely vibrated from the impact. The force of the blow reverberated through my body. "Ouch!" I grumbled, and punched the bag a second time, with renewed strength and vigor. Again, my bones rattled, and I almost bit my tongue. If that punching bag had had a face, I'm sure that it would have been smirking.

After the punching bag had finished beating me up, I lined up with my classmates for the final few minutes of class. Nick clapped his hands together and looked at us with a grin.

"This is everyone's favorite part," my neighbor whispered.

"Arms up! Ready...one!"

"One!" echoed the class, and we started punching, right-left-right-left until we'd thrown twenty punches. My punches were strong and solid, and my voice was sure.

"Two! Two!" And again, twenty punches.

By four, my arm movements looked more like I was jogging in place than punching. By five ("Half-way there!" Nick shouted encouragingly), I was gasping the numbers. By eight, I wasn't punching at all. It took all my strength to push my loose fists just a few inches from my body. My wrists were limp. My lips mouthed the numbers, but no sound came out.

"Nine! I can't hear you!"

I snorted and glared as balefully as I could under the circumstances. Shout out numbers?!? Hah! I could barely breathe.

"Ten!" Right-left-right-left, twenty times, and we were done.

I let my arms fall to my sides, exhausted but triumphant. The blood pounded in my ears, my heart raced, and my face was slick with sweat. The adrenaline was pumping, and I grinned proudly as I panted and waited for instructions.

"Good work! Second round... Arms up! Ready...one!"


That night, my arms ached, my legs ached, my butt ached. My legs trembled as I walked up the stairs. Pulling a box of books from the top shelf of my closet ended in disaster; my arms couldn't support the weight, and the box tumbled to the floor, spilling its contents. Even taking a shower left me exhausted.

But I felt so good!

I was hurting and tired, but it was pain I had earned. I had pushed my body, my mind and my willpower, much farther than I thought that I could. I felt strong, and powerful, and alive. So what if I couldn't walk without a whimper?

As I lay in bed that night, I felt as bold as Xena Warrior Princess. I dreaded the certain pain and discomfort that would greet me the next morning, but for now I reveled in pride, a warm fuzzy feeling that stayed with me as I slipped gracefully into a kung fu coma.

© Stèphanie Lemieux

Submit your comments on this story to our MoxieTalk discussion group by clicking here!   You can also send your comments directly to the author using the form below.

You can do both by typing your response below, submitting it and then copying it, going to MoxieTalk, and pasting it into the form there for posting a message.

Email: (required)


Copyright 2002 Moxie Magazine All Rights Reserved