The International District's Seattle Martial Arts Supplies (658 S King St, 624-3838) is a shrinking maze, stuffed to the ceiling with so many racks and shelves of garments tucked into plastic bags, piled snugly together. Nothing overly fancy outfits the space, just peg-boards, fluorescent lights, worn tiles, and beige plaster walls. There are brocades and gewgaws and VHS tapes and herbs in bottles, and uniforms everywhere of every variety: judo, aikido, tae kwon do, karate. Master John Leong founded the business nearly 50 years ago—the anniversary occurs in June—and he also runs the tai chi and kung fu classes upstairs. (Marc Singer trained here before hitting his big-time role as Dar, the feathery-haired hunkorama and ferret-whispering warrior from 1982's sci-fi odyssey The Beastmaster.)
Touring the store, you'll encounter a vast and alarmingly inexpensive collection of instruments to promote bodily injury: throwing stars ($2.99), throwing knives ($9.95). A poster ($7.99) charts popular tai chi moves: Mopping the Mirror, Parting Wild Horse's Mane, Step Back and Repulse Monkey. And there's loads of apparel, but not every selection translates into our modern fashion landscape: padded boob guards ($24.95); karate belts ($9.95); hakama fighting pants ($39) with their thick pleats and gobs of excess fabric to obscure legs and feet, all the better to mislead an opponent with; and traditional ninja suits ($51.95–$79.95) that come with a two-piece head wrap. "It gets really hot," Paula the clerk says.
Yet many other things are rad, and sometimes even brazenly rad: T-shirts with images of monks sparring before the Shaolin Temple ($12.95); padded raw-silk jackets with a giant tiger's head embroidered on the back ($29.95); Weekend at Bernie's palm-print slippers ($1), though a few are discolored and there's not a ton of larger sizes, so be ready to dig; classic men's floor-length robes embellished with dragons, caked in majesty ($49.95); and Wushu martial arts shoes ($21.95) that resemble Converse but have a retro-y logo and flat rubber soles for a smoother grip. "They're good for parkour or just tooling around," says Paula.
Paula has been working here since 1974. That's the same year she set up the window display, with the man-lady mannequin in a black gi, who is staring into the middle distance (and, perhaps as a time-passing technique, envisioning a parade of bloody conclusions, with full-body leaps and perpetrators and asses kicked in). "It does look like a girl with a mustache," Paula says. "But we wanted a male dummy, and we could only find a female dummy. So I just painted hair on."
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