Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Total Knock Out (TKO)

“Aunty Tari, look what I got!!” my little niece who just turned 5 shouted excitedly as soon as I walked into the house for lunch. Without a care if I was in the mood to see anything, or even be excited, she pulled my hand to come and look at her new rave of the moment.

Spread out on the floor in the living room, was her new toy. I had opened my mouth to say a falsely excited ‘Cooooll’, when I looked closer and realized what the new toy was.

My heart sank and my legs weakened as I stared in disbelief at the set of tiny and really shiny pots and pans that were scattered all over the floor.

It was a kitchen set!!

I quickly regained consciousness and forced myself to ‘Ooh’ and ‘Aah’ as I noticed she was waiting for my reaction to her gift.

As I walked away, I looked back one more time at the Kitchen set. I saw she was now excitedly placing groundnuts inside some of the pots, to make something I definitely didn’t want to be around to see.

Why did I have such an adverse reaction to something as harmless as a child’s Kitchen set?

Great question. Let me tell you a story…

When I was less than 10 years old, somewhere in the region of 6-10, not sure exactly how old I was, my Dad insisted that my sister and I attend Taekwando lessons. We did, and it was fun.

Every Saturday, and I think Sundays, we wore our white uniforms and joined the rest of our Taekwando class in making the grunting noises and ridiculous shouts that often accompany most forms of Martial Arts.

Like any proper class, there were tests at the end of a specified period that determines your advancement. These tests were obviously in the form of fights between the students, as you would imagine in a Taekwando Class.

The color of the belt a student wore was the indication of the skill level of the student. These tests/ exams were conducted, and if you won the bout, you moved on to the next level; wore a higher belt.

The Belt progression and what they represent goes thus:

White: The color white indicates that a person is "innocent", and has no knowledge of Taekwondo. The white-belt is automatically gained by taking Taekwondo classes.

Yellow Belt: The color yellow indicates that the person is getting to know the basic techniques and is compared to a plant growing its roots.

Green Belt: The color green indicates that a student is growing as a Taekwondo student. The color of the belt is compared to a plant growing its leaves.

Blue Belt: The color blue indicates that a student is reaching higher, like a plant that is growing towards the sky.

Red Belt: The color red indicates danger. The student is warned to practice the control of his/her movements. The color red also warns an opponent.

Black Belt: Black is the opposite of white and means the maturity of the student in the art. It also is an indication of being impenetrable to fear and darkness. (A student below 16 that reaches this level is given a ‘Poom’ which he/she would wear until reaching the age)

Alright, so now you know a little about the Taekwando Hierarchy. So it wasn’t really a place where you could go and form Bad Guy, all anyone needed to do was look at your belt to know your level of badness.

As typical in the Taekwando culture, every new student receives a white belt and is expected to prove himself and move higher up the chain. As a result, the Tournaments in which you actually fought an opponent were not a small affair at all.

Kids practiced endlessly for weeks and months up till the Tournament to sharpen their skills so they would emerge the winner of their fight and get to wear a higher belt.

My sister was one of those kids. She practiced tirelessly in her usual determined approach to everything, before class, after class, at home; she never stopped practicing.

Being the rebel that I am, I hated practice and spent my time making fun of my sister as she sweated and made those hilarious noises during her intense sessions with herself.

The time for tournaments came and the heat was on. Fights started and the auditorium of the Country Club where the Tournament was to hold carried the tension of any epic battlefield.

It was soon time for my sister’s fight. She faced her opponent with not a trace of fear in her eyes, and less than 2minutes later, the fight was over.


All the other kids rushed into the fighting area and carried my sister up as she lifted her hands in a winning gesture, while they all screamed wildly.

The excitement soon passed and the atmosphere was once again somber as the next sets of students did their bouts. They all took much longer than two minutes of course.

While I waited in the sidelines for my turn, my body was hot with tension and fear as I watched some of my fellow students being beaten up and ridiculed as they lost.

“Why didn’t I join my sister when she was practicing now?” I asked myself. Even though the Auditorium was nicely air-conditioned, I was sweating profusely.

My sister, calm after the euphoria of her victory, noticed my discomfort and came over to encourage me a little.

Then they called my name. I walked into that ‘ring’ counting my steps as though I was facing the gallows. I looked my opponent, a girl about my age, in the eye, but quickly looked away as I saw the fierceness with which she returned my gaze.

What I ever did to her, I’ll never know.

The Instructor called the fight, and it was on. It was all a blur… can’t remember anything after the Instructor’s command.

Less than two minutes later, the fight was over.

TKO. I was on the floor.

The monster of a girl was even still rushing at me to finish me off but was pulled away by the Instructor. The man saved my life; God bless him.
Imagine losing your life in a fight at about 6 years old, and never having a crush on Jay-Z or even knowing about the Internet.

I stayed on that floor for the next few minutes pretending to be unconscious while they called my name, so I could get off for the next round to begin.

Na lie o, I didn’t get up oh! Couldn’t face the ridicule of my class.

The Instructor came to the rescue and carried me off the arena, where I ‘regained’ consciousness.

After all the fights, came the belt-awarding ceremony. My sister was of course awarded her yellow belt which she accepted and wore with pride amidst wild cheers from the crowd.

After the winners were given their honors, there was a smaller and less grand ceremony in which those in my league (I dare you to say losers!!) were awarded Consolation Prizes.

I got a Kitchen Set.

Life went on after the Tournament; my sister went on to Taekwando glory by going just beyond Blue Belt, like a plant reaching toward the skies.

I was given a Yellow Belt probably because the Instructor didn’t want to make himself look incompetent. I stayed at Yellow, like a plant with retarded roots.

Now you understand my reaction when this same sister’s daughter, shows me her Kitchen Set.

Hmmmn... maybe that explains why I never learned to cook.


  1. Wow! Tari, "I stayed yellow like a plant with retarded roots". Chinua..Who???
    And the reaction to Lande's kitchen set might be a by-product of the little feminist seed being inadvertently planted in you by Thelma. she'll get you...slowly but surely.
    P.S: The reason you never learned to cook was because by the time you got half way through cooking the meal..the whole thing would be gone.xxxx

  2. LOOOLLLL!! Thelma the Feminist Warlord!! You're not even it becos of the coded Home Econs classes you took??! Tttccchhheeewwww!! (thats a hiss by the way)

  3. Lovely story! Was wondering what the connection between the pots and taekwando lay! Lovely ending!