While other kids played basketball after school, I was saving the galaxy from the Dark Side. Every day, I counted the hours until school let out so I could rush home, pop in a worn-out Star Wars tape, and explore space with my friends Luke Skywalker and Han Solo. By day I learned about history and math, but Yoda taught me the mysteries of the Force at night. My classmates wanted to be policemen, doctors, and basketball players when they grew up. I wanted to be a Jedi Knight.
My mom signed me up for countless clubs and activities throughout elementary school: 4-H, Junior Rangers, and an annual “summer enrichment program” that was basically summer school with field trips. None of this could make me forget my true calling as a Jedi Knight. How could mom not know about the eminent threat of Darth Vader? Plus in space no one calls you homophobic slurs.
At 13, a guidance counselor suggested I become involved with physical activities. She must not have heard that in PE class the coach had to explain I was supposed to hit the volleyball, not run from it. I tried to convince the guidance counselor that practicing my lightsaber skills counted as a sport, but she wouldn’t believe it. Mom considered my lack of athletic abilities and narrowed my options down to two choices: martial arts or tumbling.
Tumbling’s a joke, so that left martial arts. I was skeptical at first, since my idea of fighting was swinging arms around and squealing like a little girl. But then I thought, “This could help with my Jedi training.” I signed up for judo lessons at the local community center that fall.
There were four of us taking judo lessons that fall, including our sensei’s two sons. The eldest, around my age, had a brown belt while his brother had a green belt. The other rookie, Anthony, and I both prayed for mercy at the beginning of each class. But when the sensei, an Indian named Raheem who served in the Marines for 15 years, told us one day in class, “There is no try; either you do it or you don’t,” I knew we’d be okay. Anyone familiar with the wisdom of Yoda is trustworthy to me.
Judo lessons were held every Saturday afternoon from one to four. The first hour was devoted to warm-up exercises, like push-ups and stretches. The second hour was when the sensei taught us moves, and then it was fighting time. I usually found myself flat on my back within 30 seconds. Executing moves, no one knew whether I was trying to tackle my opponent or hump him. Attempting to use Jedi mind tricks didn’t help, either. However, there was this one time when I did throw my opponent down on the mat. I wish it was on tape so I can show my friends and family my one masculine moment.
That December, on the last day of the fall sessions, after months of perfecting my falling skills, I received my yellow belt. I was one step closer to becoming a Jedi warrior, and couldn’t wait to tell everyone. In my seventh grade English class, we were assigned to create collages describing ourselves. I included a picture of me with my yellow belt and judo uniform on, posing like a Bruce Lee wannabe, the look on my face saying, “C’mon, I dare you.” The homophobic slurs stopped for a while.
Any hopes of an orange belt, however, were dashed by the end of the spring sessions. There were no more masculine moments on the mat, and one time I was thrown to the ground in five seconds. I wasn’t practicing enough at home. Luke Skywalker couldn’t come out of the TV to help me, and if I tried judo on Mom I would’ve gone to prison for matricide. I tried to practice on a boy at school, but that left me with a black eye. It looked like Luke would have to blow up the Death Star without me.
We had a new sensei that fall named Matthew. A white man with a shaved head, he reminded me too much like Darth Vader without his helmet. Many more adults were taking judo with me. Matthew had high expectations since I was the only yellow belt in a room of first-timers. His opinion changed when 50-year-olds started throwing me to the ground.
On the last day of the fall sessions, common sense finally prevailed. Matthew spoke to the class about developing our skills and looked at me, saying, “You’re doing the very opposite. What you’re doing is just, ‘Oh let me move my foot here. Let me move my hand there.’” I knew he was really saying, “Get out of my face, you weakling!” That night I hung my pathetic, faded yellow belt in the closet and never took it out again.
Twenty years later, I’ll never be a Jedi. On certain summer nights, however, when the stars are bright and the moon is shining down, I quietly practice my Ewok language skills.