By Robin Pierson, Special to the Independent
Known for their soulful, open-hearted, feel-good music, Laguna Beach musicians Beth and Steve Wood have a lethal side few of their fans have seen.
For nearly two decades the musical duo has studied Tae Kwon Do, a Korean martial art. They credit the discipline with having a profound impact on their lives: for keeping them in top notch shape, both physically and mentally, and for keeping their marriage lively and their family bonded.
Three times a week, to either practice or teach a class, the couple dons their white ghis, topping them with third degree black belts, exhibiting the same focus and precision on the gym floor that they employ on stage. They do not, however, smile. The point of the discipline, first taught to the Korean Army, is to decimate an opponent on the first strike. Each punch and kick is delivered as if their lives depend upon it.
Leading a group of little boys and a young woman, Steve, taut and intense, exhales like a steam engine then guides them through a series of “basics” – blocks, punches, kicks. The accomplished composer for Greg MacGillivray’s Imax films and the founding member of the beloved band, Honk, likens the exercise to creating music. “It’s like a song,” he tells them. “We learned all the notes and now we’re going to put them together.” The little boys, enraptured with their own images in the mirror, snap to attention as Steve commands, “Men, watch this!” as he begins a dynamic dance of swift punches and fiery kicks.
Beth, straight from performing on stage at the Sawdust Festival, changes into her ghi to teach a class of black belt students. Her upper body quivers with the exertion of her chops and punches, her curly hair swirling as she spins, thwarting the kicks of an opponent less than half her age with precision blocks.
But it is Jimmy Wood, Steve and Beth’s 28-year-old son, who makes the mothers watching the class gasp in awe. Like a tightly strung loaded weapon, Jimmy simply explodes in a concentrated, controlled series of cuts, punches and kicks. It was Jimmy, at age 9, a scrawny kid who loved jumping and making things that flew high and fast, who got the family involved in the marshal art.
“Just like my brother Nate was born a drummer, I was born a martial artist,” he said.
Growing up in the Wood family, Jimmy was often the odd one out. He was more interested in projectiles than he was in playing or creating music. In high school, he himself was flying high, winning every jumping contest in every high school track meet he entered. He was also excelling at Tae Kwon Do and at the urging of his teacher, convinced his parents to join him.
“The instructor thought, as we do, that it is a good idea to get the family involved,” said Beth. The family has never looked back.
With his mother’s intense sky blue eyes and his own unique loping gait and slow, genial way of speaking, Jimmy transforms into a flying weapon as he executes a flying side kick. Imbued with a fierce grace, Jimmy looks anything but family friendly. But while he retains his no-nonsense demeanor as he spars with a loose limbed teenager, Jimmy is completely present, never losing eye contact with his student, meeting him a little above the novice’s level.
After just an hour, his class, a middle aged gardener and his son who just graduated from college, the teenager and a slight, but focused 14 year old, all leave pumped up, empowered and very sweaty.
When the Wood family started studying Tae Kwon Do, their relationship to each other began to transform.
“It was an opportunity for us to be peers and for Jimmy to get to know us as people, not just parents,” Beth said. “We could connect with him on a deeper level and that expanded our respect for him and his respect of us.”
And there were benefits that bloomed in her relationship with her husband. Since the point of the discipline is to be able to deliver a single lethal blow, ending a fight before it really begins, practitioners must transform into fighters, acutely focused on their opponent. Sparring with one’s spouse, Beth said, can be electrifying. “You see your sparring partner in a whole different light and that change of perspective is especially fun with a mate.” The workouts are exhausting and physically demanding and “sharing that experience with family is hugely bonding. Our Tae Kwon Do friends are some of the closest couple we know.” When the couple fights on the gym floor, “We get it all out,” said Steve.
The Woods, especially Beth, are adamant that anyone, at any age, can benefit from practicing Tae Kwan Do. With arthritic hips, Beth, 61, has learned to compensate with laser focused blocks and forceful punches. “I don’t go into any situation as a toughie, but Tae Kwon Do might give me the confidence to see what’s going on and react effectively.”
On Monday, July 11, at 3:30 p.m, the Woods trio will offer a free class and exhibition, open to the public at the Susi Q Community Center. Regular class for all levels will follow at 4:30.
Enrollment is open for families, kids over 10 and adults, with classes held on Monday and Fridays from 4:30-5:30 p.m. Enroll online at www.lagunabeachcity.net, or by mailing or dropping off a check for $54 to Laguna Beach Community Services, 515 Forest Ave.
Those enrolled can also participate in a 7 a.m. fitness class on Saturdays at Laguna Beach High School. For more information log into the club’s website at www.bluewavemartialarts.org.