My son got in a fight the other night. No, it’s okay, he was supposed to; he’s a fighter. He wanted to play football, but my wife and I thought that was too dangerous, so we pointed him in the direction of getting punched and kicked in the face.
Anyway, he has done karate tournaments for a couple years, but this was way different. He was kickboxing. There was an actual ring with ropes and a bell and rounds and someone in his corner coaching him and holding a spit bucket. It was so cool! He even got to choose entrance music to come out to (he got pumped up to some Fall Out Boy)!
Being that he’s a minor, I had to fill out the forms for him and I saw that there was a space for his name and then a separate space for his “ring name.” And that’s when temptation struck…
You can’t give me opportunities like that! I have an undying struggle between my inner child and my outer adult – do I be a good father or do I giggle as the ring announcer introduces “The Flying Buttress” or “The Rabid Gerbil” or “Ginger McSugarbritches” to the crowd?!! Eventually, I came to my senses and remembered my wife was with me and I’m afraid of her. I left his “ring name” blank.
My son has been training for about three years and he has been sparring for the majority of that time as part of his routine. In the school he attends, the sparring classes include people from all different levels and ages – it is not uncommon to see a 4-year-old training with someone in their 30s. The adults enjoy teaching the younger ones almost as much as the kids like squaring off against the “old folks.” My son has learned so much from the teens and adults and they have given him a lot of positive role models to look up to and, in turn, he has started to be that kind of role model for the little ones. And, through it all, I’ve watched him grow up in this amazing environment with the other proud parents in the waiting room. But, as was the case with his “ring name,” I have that undying little voice in the back of my head telling me to make bad decisions. Most people have that little voice and it’s their conscience…mine’s defective. Most of the parents that I sat with watch their children with pride and some concern about them being safe. I sat there and kept thinking, I can do that.
My son and his sensei (who has been a friend of mine for many years) and a few other adults from his group who I had befriended over the years, kept trying to talk me into starting classes and I finally broke down and joined them about a year ago. I haven’t done much sparring. But, the night before my son’s fight, the ring was set up, I had a bunch of training hours under my belt, so I thought, What the hell? Let’s do this!
The way these sparring classes work is everyone spars with everyone a few times throughout the 90-minute class. So I looked around the room- it was a small class that night. Remember the little kids I talked about? Yeah, they weren’t there. Remember all those adults I talked about? Yeah, they weren’t there either. The entire class was made up of six people ranging in age from 11-19…and me. It was still an all-levels class which was made up of a couple orange belts, a couple getting ready to move up to orange belts, a purple belt, a black belt…and me.
Now, not to toot my own horn, but in the regular classes, I can do some good work on the pads and the heavy bags. Those stationary targets beg for mercy! But this sparring thing is totally unfair – did you know that your target is allowed to move AND hit back?!! How the hell do I compete with that?!!
But at least I didn’t have to worry about the three 2-minute rounds my son had to endure during his fight. Each sparring bout lasts about a minute. A minute! 60 little seconds! How bad could that be? I can definitely handle a minute.
No. No I can’t.
I was pretty awesome for a solid ten to fifteen seconds. Or until I threw my first punch or kick, whichever came first. After that I was just rotating in the middle of the ring sucking air and trying not to throw up. The older ones moved lightning fast and I just kept swinging at open air where they were standing a second before. The young ones just pounced on me like rabid little woodland creatures. I’ve never laid a hand on a child in anger – but this was survival. I was flailing at them like one of those funky dancing windsock guys outside a car wash!
And then came the black belt. I stepped in the ring with him and for the first time in my life, that little voice in the back of my head – the one who thought it would be funny to ask my newly pregnant wife if the baby was mine, the one who thought it was a good idea to demolish the living room, the one that thought Kleenex and fire were friends, the one who said I can do this in the first place – whispered, Screw it! This was a bad idea! But that little guy was a wee bit too late because we had already bowed and touched gloves and now it was time to survive. I tried my hardest (for ten to fifteen seconds) to take the offensive approach – didn’t work. So I held back a bit (hoping to catch my breath and suppress the strong urge to cry for help) and waited for him to attack. Then came the epiphany – I remembered all my training: step back, block, counter punch. That little voice was wrong – this was NOT a bad idea, this is exactly what I’ve been training for, I just needed to trust my instincts.
He quickly slid toward me (step back). He sent a kick toward my chest (block). I saw a space on his torso where he wasn’t protecting (counter…) – FWAM!
For the life of me, I still have no idea how the same leg I had just blocked from my chest circled around and clocked me in the back of the head! I was just about to ask him (yes, the thought crossed my mind, during the match, to ask him how he did that) when his fists started drumming on my forehead.
So I was definitely not an inspirational story like Karate Kid (more like the first half of Kung Fu Panda) but my opponent did manage to knock that little voice out cold for a while.
“If they can make penicillin out of moldy bread, they can sure make something out of you.” ~ Muhammad Ali