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The Fighting Mantis

Now and then, like that Beatles song, we wander past places we’ve known, remembering happier times there. For Rent signs now appear in the windows of the building which housed my former kung fu school. I looked online to see if that guy was still in business. Yep, he finally moved further West into the suburbs, to a larger location he was thinking about back when I went to the school. Good for him. I can let old grudges go under certain circumstances, like divorce.

I did check the Better Business Bureau online to see if his acumen has improved. He was a good guy in many respects, but he had some issues, and not just with me. Honesty is a big issue when you’re in martial arts. Are you honest with yourself? Respect for others is another important quality, understanding and compassion. While learning to see opportunities to exploit another’s weakness in a fight, not taking unfair advantage of someone weaker than you is also an element of sportsmanship. We studied mantis form, which is a lot about finding, and keeping your center. If you’re into Chinese astrology, he was born in the year of the Tiger. I was born in the year of the Monkey.

I was an active member of the Mormon church, and there was a saying I had heard: “an unmarried man over 30 is a menace to society.” I can’t remember whether one of their former prophets said that, or who it was exactly. But it applied here. This guy loved to play games. At the time I studied with him, I was single in every way, and he was overly solicitous. I could tell he liked me. He also liked my daughter Mandy, who had his same birthday. And though, physically, he really wasn’t my type, I found myself falling for him pretty hard.

The flirting got pretty intense in late June heading into July. It was all physical, as you might well imagine. He would stand next to me, turn his shoulders, flex, and then move to another part of the room. If I wasn’t paying attention, he would move closer until I was. My daughter and I went almost every evening, and we enjoyed classes. We even advanced to our yellow belts. We went to his birthday party, which Mandy thought was HER birthday party. She really stole the show, but he was also full of quite a bit of bluster, which I found mildly unpleasant. I brought an UNO deck and we all had a blast. No one really seemed to know if he was seeing anyone outside school. I approached him at one point weeks later to ask what his policy was about dating his students. He said never. I respected that, but the flirting and posturing continued. Since my daughter and I were both attending classes on the Family Membership, the schedule changed inexplicably two or three times, making a lot of things more confusing and difficult for everyone at school. There was also grumbling among one or two of the single parents about fees appearing where they hadn’t been before. Two of the single mothers had several children in the program.

The summer wore on. I selected a Christian day camp for Mandy for about a week. It was 2010, and Mandy was ordered to visit her dad for the last 3 weeks of August. I wound up having to go to court in late September. They had planned a surprise birthday party for me at the kung fu school, but I was too sick to go and participate in more pointless flirting. I went the next night instead just so I could see everyone before I made the drive out West. When I got back, my health was starting to decline, plus I was back at college. I went into his office to speak with him one night about getting out of my contract, or at least taking a break from the payments. He told me to take a break, but keep paying, so I did.

I ended up withdrawing from classes at my college, but I still didn’t have the guts to try to get out of my contract. Until it hit home that Mandy’s therapist was going to set me back about $400 per month and I was going to need to cut my other expenses. The last straw came when the schedule changed yet again, and I was told to take Mandy out of the kids’ class and that I should stop going to the adults’ class, and that we should now go to the family class which was in between the two, even though our contract entitled us to unlimited classes. The instructor didn’t make this clear to me, he had his sister do it.

I was angry, but like the fighting mantis we were learning about, I found and kept my center. One of the single mothers sitting next to me the next evening while our kids were in class together was starting to hit her boiling point. It was just everything that had happened over the previous two or three months weighing down on her. She leaned over and told me something that was really ticking her off. “Oh, yeah: he just did that to me, too,” I told her. And that was it. She detonated. Told him off right there and then in the middle of the room. He wasn’t sure how to handle that. After dismissing class, he turned to me and asked if I knew what it was that set her off. I answered, “yes, and actually there’s something I really need to talk to you about.” That was his second shock of the night.

We sat in his office from that moment until two or three hours later. He didn’t even teach the adult class that evening. He spent that much time in his office trying to shame me and intimidate me into staying in my contract. He had two members of the adult class come in alternating as witnesses in case I tried to claim he had been sexually harassing me. He got his sister on speakerphone to try and make me feel like there was something wrong with me. But I just sat in the chair, relaxed, one hand hanging down to the floor, my left ankle crossed over my right knee. He got all heated, and I asked him if he’d like to punch me in the face. I told him about my issues with the changing schedules, the recent breach of contract and the flirting, and said I didn’t think our continued business relationship was appropriate. He again suggested I keep paying but not attend. I told him that if I had to keep paying my bill he could count on me to keep showing up every day as I had been, and he grew increasingly uncomfortable with that idea. I maintained my relaxed posture even when the police showed up. While I was still in the room, he called his company authorizing them over the phone to cancel my contract. My daughter and I left calmly.

I wasn’t too surprised to see that a few days before my birthday that year, an actual complaint had been filed, which was later resolved. Another complaint was filed last year and remains open. As I read through it I recognized the name of one of the children, and suddenly I knew what happened to my daughter’s friend who went to the school. She had been living with her mother. The following year, she must have gone to live with her dad, and we lost touch while remaining marginally able to pay our bills.

So this is how it works with children of single parents: if they are a staple of your business, you must remain respectful and flexible. Keep your center, and don’t make enemies by demanding what someone can’t pay. Remember the fighting mantis.

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