Saturday, June 2, 2012
Adventures in Cambodia: Episode #1
Adventures in Cambodia—Episode #1: Don’t Teach Them to Punch
*Quick contextual note - I spent a good deal of time at an orphanage while in Cambodia. These experiences relate to my experiences with those incredible children.*
I like mixed martial arts. In my opinion, no other sport quite grasps the contest of skill, careful technique, and willpower like two guys trying to make sure they aren't the one that ends up a broken, bloody mess on the ground at the end of the contest.
So, naturally, when I saw the orphan kids in Cambodia drop into a Muay Thai stance and begin throwing air punches and kicks, I had to join in.
My first order of business was to carefully correct their stances, showing them how to shift their hips to get the most power from a punch—literally. It was like my own little martial arts school. Thirty-some-odd children crouched in position on burning hot pavement in ninety-percent humidity, throwing, slowly at first, then at full speed, punches with practiced technique.
Memo to self: When surrounded by roughly thirty orphan kids, don't let even one show you how hard they can hit.
I made that mistake my first day in Cambodia. It started with one punch. Then the pack mentality kicked in. After all, nobody likes to feel left out! Kids from four to eighteen decided they needed to show me how strong they were, how well they’d internalized my lesson. Sweet and innocent little girls pounced like pumas, viciously pummeling my abs while the older boys did their best to make my arms go numb.
I smiled. I took it. I mean, I’d volunteered for this. I couldn't complain. Of course, that was when I thought it was a one-time occurrence. I hadn't realized all the kids would take to the behavior as some special novelty and decide it would make an excellent greeting and a funny action to do in passing for the duration of my stay.
Well, the cat was out of the bag, as the saying goes. Might as well embrace it! I smiled and flexed and let them wail away at me, never admitting just how hard some of the older boys could hit. After all, these kids don’t live a sedentary life, stuck inside playing X-Box all day or staring at computer screen. They work to help support the orphanage. Every muscle in their bodies gets regular use. The muscles I dedicate to working out they use with practical application. For them, it’s not one hour in a gym. It’s a life-style. And even though they are by no means big, they’re definitely in shape.
So the kids obviously had some knowledge of Muay Thai, our little session proved as much. Well, they also had an enthusiasm for WWE style wrestling which became apparent in their mock fights, announcer, ref and all. But much to my dismay they had absolutely no knowledge of Jiu Jitsu, my favorite discipline. That just wouldn't do.
Step in teacher Brandon.
Memo to self #2: Don't teach kids how to do a proper choke hold... Let alone three or four styles of chokes along with arm bars and other bone breaking, ligament tearing moves.
Given new bodily harm knowledge, I'd suddenly created several dozen young assassins anxious to test their new-found abilities at every turn.
Oh no... What have I done?
What doesn't kill you makes you stronger, or so I’ve heard. I guess I'll be impervious to pain now. I can’t complain about that!
But it wasn’t my pain that caused me to worry. Naturally the kids had to test their skills on one another. Suddenly I found myself running around, stopping ten year olds from breaking arms and making each other pass out.
Congratulations Brandon, you volunteered for a full time job of saving little kids from serious bodily harm. What happens when you leave? Probably should have thought that through…
I say all this as if I might go back and change what I'd done. Like I’d go back and approached the situation differently. But truthfully, I probably wouldn't. As painful and tiring as I made things for myself (and ignoring the potential dangers of my lessons), these experiences are MY special connection with a bunch of incredible kids. With such a special group of individuals, there is nothing I'd rather have than my own trademark interaction to be remembered by. Even if it ends with a few bruises.
Memo to self #3: In the future, when in the company of a bunch of kids—be they orphans or local youth—bring a ball or teach a musical instrument or something. :-)