We put on the sparring gear—all of it: brightly colored bulky coats covered up and down in little spongy blocks, black utility fasteners in the back, the clunky helmet contraptions, and slippery, smelly arm guards strapped to our forearms.
We look like Lego samurai, we look like pixelated, primary-color, video game characters from the 90s, we look like thug crayons that escaped from the crayon box and got jacked up on crayon steroids.
The arm guards are just two chunky slabs of stinky sweaty padding, Velcro-ed to each arm, covering and confining them from above the elbow down to my fingers, padding the vulnerable back of my hand, but leaving the sides lamentably exposed, and rendering my fist dull and slow to move. And the Darth Vader headgear…. Oi… that thing is a menace. None of us like to spar with that thing pressing down on the tops of our skulls and down on either shoulder, all but refusing to move with the head, obscuring not only our peripheral vision, but basically all our vision, its thick metal bars running across our eyes. And for me, the helmet is also just too big. It is so ill-fitting, I have to choose between putting my chin on the chin-rest, but pressing and folding my ears into spaces where ears were not designed to go; or putting my ears rightfully into the ear protectors earholes, but have the chin-rest… rest on my throat. In the end, I compromise—somehow—with my chin on the rest—good—, one ear tightly managed up against the ear pad, not in the earhole—not bad—, and finally, with my right ear folded forward onto itself—not good. I get two out of three into place, but the helmet keeps turning sideways to look to the left.
Still, I have to look ahead, and I have to look sharp. My opponent is surprisingly fast and extremely strong. Twice my size, and with many years of training over me, he is, at first, unwilling to hit such an easy target… but the guro is threatening him, inciting him, yelling at him, NOT to go easy on the girl. “You’re being a jerk! You go easy on her—how will she ever prepare to fight?!”
I have no room nor time to be timid. I have to swing first.
And I have to swing hard.
* * *
At the end of two long bouts of beating, of panting, of thrashing… he starts to grab at my sparring stick. The first time he snatches it, I’m so oblivious, I barely even register why my arm has stuck fast mid-swing. I flounder and flail about frantically, cluelessly, up against him, a pitiful fish flopping and flapping feverishly, uselessly, up against a wall of glass. He has my weapon pinned so perfectly down with his elbow so that I cannot move my arm nor get out of his range. He starts hacking away at my bare hands. I guess I shouldn’t have shucked off the sweaty, cumbersome arm guards after all….
The guro separates us, and starts us up yet again. “Handa… LABAN!”
I still have no clue what to do. I just smash away, a blind hurricane motivated by fear and motivated by courage, until—again!—my weapon arm freezes suddenly in place! I cannot budge. Stuck. He whacks away again, beating at on my open flank again, striking at my bare knuckles… OWWW!! I ignore the sharp pain. I ignore the stick, its unrelenting assault. I focus on wrenching my arm out, trying to pull free from his iron grip… almost..!! ..harder…
But then, as I finally pry myself away, he grabs my Lego armor and yanks it hard. I roll to the floor.
AH HAH! NOW I KNOW WHAT TO DO—NOW I HAVE IT! I must tackle and attack! My brain shows me what I must do! I must run into that punishing stick, I must dive upon my attacker, and not away! I must forget about the point system, I must grab his armor, I must kick, I must scramble! I will claw, I will wrestle, I will berserk! I must seize back my weapon and continue the fight, no matter how!! No matter the technique, I must attack! I know what to do! I am SO READY!!!!!
I sink back into my fight stance, cranking my fist tight around my weapon, fear and courage both gone. This time I am only eager, I am only IMPATIENT!
But… Guro does not start the match. It is game over.
“NO!!!!!!!!!! NO! I am SO NOT DONE!!!!”
Guro laughs. “You’re done!”
“Yes! You fell! It’s Game over.”
…………………………………next time . . .
* * *
- guro : teacher
- handa : ready
- laban : fight
le dimanche 31 juillet 2016 / Gongju, South Korea