Get there first with the most. Nathan Bedford Forrest
The Logging Road Cyclist stood with his dojo-mates and seniors watching the kumite (sparring) rings on the far side of the large gymnasium. It was mayhem. Typically, Japanese Karate Association (JKA) events eschewed any serious contact; in fact it was against the rules. But if a competitor could stand being docked a point, a real blow could be landed. These guys were firing off full speed yoko kekomis (side thrust kicks, the karate equivalent of a 16-inch naval gun) at each other’s knees, and missing by fractions of inches, ditto rib-breaking gyaku-zukis (reverse punches). It was terrifying to watch because TLRC was entered, and for some reason at this particular tournament, the wise men had decreed that all ranks green belt and above were to be in the same kumite pool. TLRC had drawn a sandan (third degree black belt). He, TLRC, was a mid-level green belt.
The difference between a sandan and a green belt of any type is similar to that between a Nimitz-class carrier and a driftboat. The JKA is a conservative institution and has 3-levels each of white, green and brown belts, followed by a first degree black belt, or shodan. It was typical for students to take five or more years to reach shodan, after which, it was said, “one was ready to begin training”. Given the testing schedules, if one avoided failing any test at all, he or she might get there in a minumum of two years, but this was rare. From shodan to nidan (second degree) was usually another two to five years, and to reach sandan often took more than an additional five years, with luck. The JKA was very serious about ranking and it was expected that students would fail many tests, especially for higher degree black belts. One was expected to accept failure and work harder in the aftermath.
TLRC’s sandan was a middle-sized, middle-aged man. TLRC was a pretty big middle-aged man. The sandan ran a dojo in Washington near where the tournament was being held. TLRC didn’t really know the man, who had seemed nice in the past, but today was one of the worst agressors. Ignominy, at least, was off the table today, given the disparity in rank. Physical damage, on the other hand was definitely on the menu. TLRC was seriously afraid of getting hurt.
The more he watched his scheduled opponent, the more TLRC worried. He needed a plan. He could simply dance around and try to stay out of the way and not attempt to score any points at all; be a heavy bag with legs in other words. This felt unsafe given the level of testosterone being displayed. TLRC decided on another, hormone vs hormone approach. They had had it drilled into them never to display emotion while fighting, always to present a calm face to the opponent and keep the boiling inside, where it was of use. There are displays and displays however. TLRC vowed to project to the sandan the clear signal that if TLRC actually got hit, then the kumite was going to get very real, very quickly, and that TLRC would take at least a little piece of sandan down with him, even though on it’s face this was a preposterous notion. TLRC planned to enter the ring looking as crazed as possible, and strike recklessly at his opponent as fast as he could. In retrospect, he may have gotten this notion from his recent perusal of numerous texts detailing the big carrier battles of 1942, where the basic tactical doctrine of carrier operations, always strike first, was proven correct again and again. TLRC hoped his strike arrived before the sandan’s fighters launched and antiaircaft batteries unlimbered.
TLRC stood in the ring, hands at his sides, face drawn to project as much anger as possible withut actually snarling. He tilted his head forward and slightly raised his eyes so that the whites showed beneath the irises: senpaku. It is rare for normal people to display this way. The insane or battle crazy do. It can subconciously rattle an opponent.
The whistle blew and TLRC charged. He actually had very little hope of this working. The sandans in TLRC’s dojo would either have evaded this clumsly assault or simply stopped it dead without mussing their hair; indeed they had done it many times. Usually they just herded him around like a pathetic sheep or played with him like a cat with a mouse.
But this sandan, like the Japanese Navy at Midway, scorned his opponent and had expected timidity or at least hesitation. TLRC actually made it, and, arriving in a respectable fighting stance got a straight punch right into the sandan’s throat at the adam’s apple. Even though TLRC stopped the punch at the surface, this was completely illegal, and the judge rushed in to stop it and penalize TLRC. Just before the judge arrived, TLRC looked straight into the sandan’s eyes, leaned his fist into the sandan’s throat, bared his teeth, and growled. Involuntarily, the sandan’s eyes widened.
The sandan proceeded to beat TLRC in about thirty seconds, by the book, with nothing scary and no contact at all.