Cam, Yael, and I were sitting outside his house, working on the marketing strategy of the project. We’ve been re-writing the newsletter that gets sent out to prospective volunteers as well as revamping the expedition guide. It needed a bit of a makeover. We were working together to make it a little more sexy and a little less ‘discover alternative revenue streams for locals’ which, let’s be honest, doesn’t really put the fire in your belly. We were so focused on typing that at first we didn’t even notice when Bavel, our TaeKwanDo teacher, walked in.
“Hello,” he called out from the doorway. Bavel is the son of Katana, the lovely man who took us on a tour of the local villages, but Bavel is not at all like his jokey father. Bavel is very serious and I don’t think I’ve seen him crack so much as a smile before, during or after any of our sessions. He is a few inches shorter than I am with closely cropped dark hair and you can see that he’s muscular even through his loose-fitting vest. It’s not in a way that’s desperately obvious, but more of a quiet and stealthy strength.
“Oh hi Bavel,” Cam said, “We’ll be up in just a second,” We took off our swimming things and put on some sports clothes and went upstairs where there was a large space we could use for the lesson. Bavel’s method of teaching was well-wishing but definitely different to the exercise classes I was used to. He used no timers so you could be squatting or jumping for about four minutes or just over one, at a random point in the session he would declare a four minute break that would last about ninety seconds and he completely believed that if there was something that you couldn’t do it was simply because you weren’t trying hard enough. So if my arms crumbled during a round of press-ups I wasn’t allowed to go down onto my knees because if I just used more ‘power’ I would be able to do it. Or when we couldn’t jump so high that our knees touched our armpits (like his did) we just needed a bit more energy. Don’t get me wrong he’s a lovely bloke, but I just think he holds us to standards which are a tad unrealistic. Especially when he can jump into handstands and walk along upside down while we get on with something else.
Anyway, we started the session as we often do – with a lot of jumping. Cameron and I jumped up and down the little flight of stairs that led up to space we were using, first on two legs and then on one while Yael did some running up and down the space. This is quite typical of Bavel’s classes. A little bit random, with us doing things that aren’t necessarily difficult in terms of strength but just difficult logistically, such as launching yourself down stone steps on one leg. But luckily we all made it with our teeth and limbs in tact.
Next we had some abdominal work and I always have to stifle a laugh in this one. We lay on the floor on our backs with our shoulders off the ground and our legs raised a few inches. It hurts like hell, but what is so funny is that Bavel will then come and karate chop your stomach so your entire torso vibrates for about twenty seconds. I’ve never had anything like it. It’s like a weird fitness massage, but surprisingly good fun.
After our muscle work (there’s always some more jumping around and planking and the like) we start doing the actual TaeKwanDo. There’s a lot of shouting, because whenever he counts for us we have to respond. It took me a very long time to figure out what it is we actually say, and to be honest I’m still not sure, but it sounds something like ‘Kyai’. Someone staying with Des had originally thought we were shouting ‘Kill! Kill’ but thankfully it’s definitely not that. So he’ll say,
“One,” and we kick or punch or block and with each one we shout “Kyai!” back. It’s good fun once you get into it, especially with the kicks, and you feel quite powerful. Sometimes Bavel will come and put his hands out to guide you where to put your feet and you can just whack him as hard as you can. It’s very satisfying. Although after a couple the tops of your feet begin to burn with each smack, despite him saying,
“Come on – it’s only hands,” We do front kicks, round kicks, falling kicks and push kicks. It’s easy to tell when he’s not happy with out work because we’ll never move past the number one.
“One,” he’ll shout and we’ll kick out with all our might.
“One,” he’ll shout again and we try once more.
“One,” and exasperation begins to tickle my mind. This can go on for a while.
“Madam,” he said, turning to Yael. “Your kick it is good, but it needs more power,” She tried not to roll her eyes. He said this to her every session at least ten or fifteen times so it had become something of a running joke for us. Yael might struggle to lift a heavy water container and we’d shout,
“Come on Yael, POWER!” And she’d glare back at our laughing faces.
Bavel himself definitely has enough power. He is a force to be reckoned with. When he demonstrated the kicks to us you could see the strength behind them and he can launch kicks that land above Cameron’s head. To put that in perspective Bavel is about five foot six and Cam is at least six foot one. And he can get his foot above his head. It’s insane.
“Falling kick,” Bavel said, wandering between the three of us in our formation (Cam and I at the front with Yael in between us just behind). This involved getting your straight leg up as high as possible and then plunging it downwards, so you’re aiming it to land on someone’s head. Bavel could get his leg up so high that it pretty much touches his shoulder (like he’s doing the splits standing up) and then he slammed it down with amazing force. I once misjudged the distance to the floor and just smashed the bottom of my foot straight into the ground. Owch.
“Your leg needs to be higher Cameroon,” Bavel said. Cameron was struggling to get his leg above waist height.
“I can’t really get it any higher,” Cam said, smiling through the exertion as he tried harder. Again, Bavel was sure that if Cam just tried a bit more he’d get there. It took a little while but eventually he seemed to understand that the falling kick was going to have to be something we worked up to.
At the end of this session Bavel turned to me and Cameron.
“You two,” he said, “Will fight,” Cameron and I exchanged a glance.
“Okay,” I said and we got into our fighting stances.
“First I will guide you,” Bavel said, his face deadly serious, “Next session you will fight alone. Madam will start with two round kicks and Cameroon will dodge.” He demonstrated the kicks, so perfectly aimed that they stopped maybe a centimetre from Cam’s stomach. “Then you will change and madam will be dodging,” He calls both me and Yael ‘Madam’. I can’t tell if it’s because he doesn’t remember our names or if first-name basis is too casual for such important lessons.
I wanted Cam to look up at me and laugh at the situation but he dutifully kept his focus. I kicked twice and Cam moved back. I didn’t really want to hit him and he knew what was coming so I didn’t get very close. He kicked back at me, again leaving a pretty wide berth. We did this a couple more times before Bavel intervened.
“No madam, you have to want to hit him.” He said, “And you need to stand much closer.” Bavel pushed us together.
“Kyai! Kyai!” I shouted, launching my legs towards Cameron. This time one of them caught him on the side of his stomach and the other glanced off his elbow. Now he looked up at me with a grin in his eyes.
“Kyai! Kyai!” He responded, getting me on my arms as well. This was fun. Neither of us were hitting hard enough to actually hurt and it was much more enjoyable with a real person in front of you instead of kicking empty air like we had been doing in our sessions before. We kept going for another five or ten minutes, occasionally catching an arm or the waist of the other person. When this happened we would lock eyes, and a friendly ‘Oh I’m gonna get you back for that’ would pass from one to the other. Eventually Bavel stopped us, panting and a little bit sweaty, and we bowed to end the session.
“That was good,” he said, “But you need to make sure you practice. You two,” he pointed at me and Yael, “Watch this man. Get him to teach you,” Behind Bavel’s back a smile settled in on Cameron’s face and he nodded in self satisfaction. “Do this every day. Before breakfast. And run down to the beach and along.” We all nodded, knowing very well that that was not going to happen. “All the way along.” We nodded again. “Twice,”
“Yeah we’ll make sure to do that thank you Bavel,” Cam said and shook Bavel’s hand.
“Okay – it is good. Next week, you two fight” Bavel replied, pointing at me and Cam. “Cameroon can I talk?” Bavel took Cameron over to one side and Yael and I wasted no time in getting into the pool at Des’s house. When Cameron did come down, about ten minutes later, we asked him what Bavel had said.
“He was telling me about our technique and what we need to work on,” Cam said with a chuckle, “Yael you have the energy inside you but you need more power so you need to practice. Flora you’re doing well just practice. And I need to guide you with my strength,” Yael and I burst out laughing.
“I think I’m good on the strength-guiding front, thank you.” I said, “I’ll just wait for the next session to take you down,”
Here is a little excerpt from one of our TaeKwanDo lessons with Des as well. We were doing jabs and yes I am very aware that it looks like we’re a part of a cult.
- Marketing strategy
- Newsletter writing
- Expedition guide editing
- TaeKwanDo session
- Newsletter writing
- Newsletter wipes and has to be started again (twice)
- Walk along the beach
- Dinner and drinks with Des and Tilda (Des’s wife)
- Planting watermelon seeds on the farm
- Finishing the newsletter (finally!)
- TaeKwanDo session
- Walk along the beach
- Dinner and drinks with Des and friends
- Watching Bee Movie until 2am while putting conditioner in Cameron’s hair