The intern 

The Observer has an honest-to-God intern this summer, a bright young stargazer we've known since she wasn't bigger than a minute, wrapped in swaddling clothes, but who has now grown into a young woman of good sense and purpose right before our very eyes. Yours Truly has haunted these halls that long, Dear Reader.

As someone who has avoided the burden of command our entire life, The Observer is trying not to let the power of this intern thing go to our head, keeping to a minimum our orders that she fetch our no-whip soy lattes and egg white omelets, and resisting the urge to bounce a cell phone off her head in a rage just because our lovey hangs up on us, like some spoiled Hollywood B-lister.

One nice thing about having an intern is that while it's hotter than a griddle outside, we can send our minty fresh go-getter out with her notebook and pencil to do a little Observing. It's good to be king. Last week, the shreds of tropical storm Cindy swirling up from the Gulf of Mexico like terlet paper in a stopped-up bowl, we grandiosely ordered her across the street to the American Taekwondo Association convention, which had filled the canyons around the Fortress of Employment with martial artists for days. Here's what she came back with:

Competitors traveled all the way from South America, South Korea, India, Europe and New Jersey. It's estimated representatives of over 30 countries came. People spoke to each other and seemed civil enough. I saw one security guard the whole time. That's eight fewer than I see at school. How does an Asian fighting style bring so many different people together, and yet Arkansas can barely desegregate?

To be perfectly honest, I imagined the competitors would be intense fighting machines without much else going on, but I was wrong. The first group I ran into was all instructors: a chemical engineer, a special-education teacher, a former SWAT Team member and a lawyer. The lawyer runs a nonprofit called Team Pride. It raises money to get at-risk kids into taekwondo. I never saw learning to fight as a way to help out kids from violent situations, but they seem to be on to something.

I found two boys who had issues with social anxiety and depression as teenagers. They said taekwondo gave them confidence and the ability to overcome. I heard the same story from many other kids and parents. A group of parents whose kids all went to the same ATA school sat in a corner while their kids got ready for competition. I couldn't believe they came all the way down from Maryland to spend a week eating to-go pizza and sitting on the floor just to let their elementary school-age children compete. Turns out they spend five to six nights a week together while the kids practice, so it's not a stretch.

The ATA convention was also fertile eavesdropping ground for our young deputy, who also sent along several of her favorite overheards, which will probably tell you much more about why people take up taekwondo than any Observational musing would:

"I popped her knee out 39 years ago, and we still talk."

"I had social anxiety as a kid, but once I kicked a person in the head, I really felt good."

"I started when I was 15 and now I'm 65. I didn't want to die without trying martial arts. I was a world champion in 2004."

"I'm always sticking my house key in the school door and school key in my house door."

"I stepped off the curb to cross the street and bowed before I walked out."

"You can find a stick almost anywhere."

"This is the only sport where you beat the mess out of someone, then hug it out."

Reading that, The Observer thinks: Wouldn't it be nice if we could all do that? Occasionally just whup the butter out of someone and then shake hands and go for a beer? Violence is never the answer, but sometimes ... wouldn't some very controlled violence be nice?

Like our young deputy said: Maybe they're on to something there.


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