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  • Writer's pictureKarian Markos

"Karate Adult" Doesn't Have the Same Ring

Updated: Feb 27, 2023

Submission Sunday rolled around again and my groggy, pre-coffee eyes nearly bugged out when I saw Clinch magazine's listing on Duotrope. Clinch is a martial arts literary magazine that publishes, you guessed it, visual arts and writing inspired by martial arts. I immediately decided that this would be this week's poetry/story inspiration.

A funny fact most people don't know about me is that I have loved martial arts since I was a little kid. I don't know if it was my crush on the Karate Kid, Ralph Macchio, or my burgeoning belief in the wise principles taught by masters Miyagi and Splinter (of Ninja Turtles fame) that drew me to it. I begged my mom to take me to classes, but the most I got was a single free trial class at the local park district when I was nine. I didn't even get to wear the super-cool uniform.

So, like lots of children of the 80's, instead of karate lessons, I spent a huge amount of time pretending to fight with my brothers. We played Bruce Lee (off-kilter English dubbing included). We practiced Karate Kid moves and acted out Ninja Turtles scenes with swords slung into the backs of our t-shirts (I never actually had one of my own, but my brothers let me borrow theirs sometimes). We read comics and made superhero alter-egos. Spent hours playing video games like Street-fighter. Then Jean-Claude Van Damme came onto the scene and we all wanted to learn how to do the splits.

Then I grew up a little more and the pop-culture iterations of martial arts that I liked changed. The Bride in Tarantino's Kill Bill movies, the multitudes of 90's "femme fatale" t.v. characters, the balletic beauty and drama in films like Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. It wasn't only that I liked those characters. I wanted to be like them.

They resonated with me not only for their enigmatic qualities and power, but because I wanted to break out of a world where women needed to be pretty and delicate and weak. I wanted to be mysterious, sleek, and dangerous. I wore a lot of black, eyeliner included. By this point, I had already been writing poetry for a few years. I wrote about scary stuff: calypso-dancing skeletons, nightmares, death, unrequited loves, violence, and decay. All very dramatic. But all very necessary at the time. I look back at those times and chuckle, but I am at peace with the weird teenager that grew me into the adult I am now.

Fourteen years after my first karate lesson, my youngest brother, with whom I did all things fun and reckless, asked me to join him at a Tang Soo Do class. I was twenty-three. Tae Kwon Do followed some years later, and now Tai Chi has taken over as my preferred practice. I still love martial arts movies, the Ip Man series being my favorite. Books like The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang have replaced the karate kid and ninja turtles (but Master Splinter will always have a special place in my heart).

Sidebar--you may ask, did I watch the Netflix series, Cobra Kai, that resurrected the All-Valley battle of the dojos? At the risk of losing any high brow literary street-cred I may have built in some circles--hell yes I watched it, in all its hokey glory. Don't get me wrong. This is a ridiculous show and a colossal waste of time for serious people. But I am by no means a serious person. And as Hollywood well knows, lots of people my age love us some good, campy nostalgia.

Image created with OpenAI's Dall-E

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