How come no one talks about Bruce Lee’s karate instructor? We think he was born with these mythical powers, but at some point, Bruce was getting his ass kicked by the older kids: Frank, that tall kid named Ken Yoo, and John Wong (the one with bad acne). They all beat the crap out of seven-year-old Bruce Lee after school in Hong Kong…and some twisted part of me takes comfort in knowing that.
My mom had us take karate lessons when were younger. Gil and I never made it past orange belt, but we still had fun dicking around in our shin guards and foot pads, breaking boards with our elbows and sending kids to the mat with a swift kick to the chest. We were likewise destroyed by older kids with mustaches during weekly sparring matches who should’ve never been let into class.
Nicky, one of the older kids – and by older, I mean 12 – would warm us up. Stretching and leaning and punching the air, i.e. wasting time. Pops was the owner and main instructor of Sherman Oaks Karate. He’s short, more heavy than set, and has maniacal Einstein hair. Frizzy and comes out from the sides. He probably has a lot of ear and nose hair too. My dad, the litigator, often runs into him waiting in line at the Encino Washington Mutual. Fuck you Chase. My bank will always be WAMU dammit.
ANYWAYS. My older brother Edahn, actually did make it far. He competed in a Kumite. Yeah, just like in Bloodsport. I was seven, and watching the jujitsu weapons competition was much more interesting. Kids my own age playing with Sais and Daggers and Spears! How fucking cool! Awestruck, I had to be pulled away to watch Edahn fight.
Edahn, under Pops’ tutelage, had quickly advanced up the ladder. Squaring off against kids from other LA studios, my heart filled with pride and acid reflux from all the soda. Meanwhile, Edahn was executing dragon sweeps and axe kicks on kids from Inglewood. The Small boys are famous for their long legs, and kids from all across the city learned their lesson that day. Edahn was up 3-0 and moved forward. This big Asian kid came up next. No. Not Asian. MONGOL. A descendant of the Khan himself! Eight foot five, 280 lbs. at least. Danny Larusso versus Johnny from the Kobra Kai.
The fight started with points on either end. Minutes later it’s 2-2, first one to 3 wins. Sherman Oaks Karate was lighting the place up. My dad was taking pictures. My mom was putting Iraqi curses on the other team. Edahn was out for blood, cool and convincing. Gil and I were eating popcorn and confused as to what was going on, but excited when our brother dealt or received violence.
The ref started the action, and they went at it. The Mongol heaved forward for a punch. Edahn sidestepped him, then clocked the guy in the back of the neck with a ritch hand. The ref blew the whistle. My brother was disqualified for an illegal move. Turns out Edahn was Johnny, making US the Kobra Kai. He went home with a big trophy that came up to his knees. But I swear – when we brought that piece of fake gold and machined marble home, it towered over all of our heads.