Monday, January 25, 2010

Tiger Mouth

Yi and Xin'an

The other evening Xin'an spilled into the classroom talking a mile a minute, all smiles, but totally incomprehensible. Finally he managed to tell us he'd been robbed earlier that day. Two large men had surrounded him in broad daylight outside the Bank of America in Chinatown. At gunpoint, they pulled him close and took everything he had (the hundred dollars he'd just withdrawn, his i.d. cards, and backpack with his cellphone and English grammar homework).

When Yi heard what had happened, he jumped to his feet, firing up some karate chops, kicks and punches. Yi is a master of Tae Kwon Moo (a form of Korean Martial Arts). Yi and Xin'an sit next to each other in class and, although a bit like the blind leading the blind, they're always helping each other with grammar. They amuse each other, but Yi didn't seem amused now; he was concerned about Xin'an's ability to defend himself. I asked Yi if he wouldn't mind demonstrating a few practical moves to the class, so, last Thurs., English grammar flew out the window.

Yi showed us the "tiger mouth," a move designed to kill instantly, by positioning the thumb and forefinger just so, to poke a hole in your opponent's windpipe. Yi taught other moves as well: the poking out the eyeballs move; the knee in the balls move; the elbow breaking backwards move. After 45 minutes, I'm not sure any of us could replicate what he'd shown us, but the whole class participated with enthusiasm.

The sad truth is that as a white American, I'm safer than my students. I asked the class: how many had been mugged in LA? A number of students raised their hands. For these immigrants, seeking refuge from hard lives, they're moving, vulnerable targets. I'm beginning to think that the best thing I could teach them is to keep their eyes wide open at all times.


  1. Charlotte, you convey beautifully, and with such respect, the struggles of your brave students, strangers in this strange land.

  2. I agree with Melissa... such vivid moving portraits of your students and their struggles. But what an empowering moment for your student to be able to demonstrate his prowess to the class.

  3. Thank you Melissa and Lu; as to Yi's empowering moment, he had another last week when he wrestled an alligator (Xin'an) to the floor, to demonstrate alligator wrestling! the whole class cracked up....