My students especially enjoyed this story. Last month, I shared it with them after I'd finished teaching our Tai Chi class on Zoom. I physically demonstrated a part of it, much to their delight and laughter. Then, one of the students asked, "Sensei, how are you going to describe that with words in a blog post?" My reply was, "I don't know." I've been a writer for less than two years. Finding the right words for this story will be a challenge. So, here goes nothing. I hope you enjoy reading it.
Note: Although I've been writing the posts in the chronological order in which the events occurred in my life, this one is 12-15 years after the one in last week's post. Hence the title. It also describes the behavior of the two people I write about.
I wrote in a previous post that in the martial arts there is an unspoken level of trust when you are working with a partner. You both do your best, and you never intentionally do something to hurt your partner. It's about working together and learning.
We were doing Kumite (sparring) during a training session at our annual martial arts camp. To keep people organized, one half of the group forms a large circle. The other half forms a larger circle around that one. The inside circle faces outward, and the outside circle faces inward. You start by facing a person you will spar with. After a while, you hear "Yamae", which means stop. Then the outer ring moves to the left, and everyone has a new sparring partner. This continues until the training session is finished.
Sometimes you know your sparring partner, and sometimes you don't. I knew my next sparring partner, but not well. We'd never sparred before. Shortly into it, I executed a mae geri kekomi (front thrust kick) using my back leg, which was also my right leg.
Rather than blocking or evading my technique, my partner quickly lifted the palm of his left hand and grabbed my foot from underneath. When I tried to pull my foot back, he tightened his grip. He had a smirk on his face as he stared me in the eyes. He was challenging me. He was no longer my sparring partner. Now, he was my opponent.
I'm not one to pick a fight. And if at all possible, I will walk away from one. This time, however, he had made it impossible for me to do that, literally. Since he wouldn't let go of my foot, I did the first thing that entered my mind. I switched from Karate to Ju-jitsu.
Looking back, I'm surprised I remembered the technique. It had been years since I'd practiced it. It's called tomoe nage. The result is that you and your opponent are lying on your backs, with the crown of your heads pointing towards each other. You are intentionally in that position. Your opponent, however, got there by doing a somersault in the air over you and landing on his back. (We were in a gymnasium, without mats on the floor.)
I bent my right knee to close the gap between us. Then I grabbed him by the lapels of his gi (uniform) and jammed my foot into his abdomen. I pulled down as I bent the knee of my standing leg, dropped to the ground, and rolled backward. My right leg would catapult him above, and then behind me.
My concern was he was bigger and much heavier than me. I hoped that the element of surprise (few people knew I had trained in Ju-jitsu), combined with my momentum would be enough to execute the throw. No such luck. As a reflex, he had grabbed my gi as was I dropping to the ground. He was able to put up enough resistance that we stopped three-quarters of the way through my throw.
His arms were pinned to his sides, with his shoulders on the ground behind me, and his head tucked under him. My shoulders were on the ground, with my hips in the air, and my right foot was still jammed into his abdomen.
We were locked in battle. Neither one of us could move unless the other let go. He was tiring himself, struggling to get free. I, on the other hand, was in a better position. I stayed tucked in a tight ball, holding onto his gi. I was expending little energy. He was fading quickly. After each struggle, his breathing was more labored, and he had to rest for longer periods. I would wait him out.
Neither one of us said a word. Then I heard a voice. Within my tight space, I turned my head slightly to the left. All I could see, out of the corner of my eye, was a man's foot under the bottom pant leg of a gi. I recognized that voice. It was the most senior ranking student on the floor.
He commanded, "Debbie, let go of him right now." My response was, "No. I'm not letting go until he let's go first." He gave the command two more times. I gave the same reply to each command. In the martial arts, there are proper protocols and etiquette. It's important to show respect to those of a senior rank and to follow their orders, which I've always done. It was not my intention to be disrespectful to my senior.
It brings to mind a lesson that Sensei Kim taught. When you're in a fight, don't focus your attention on winning. Focus on not losing. If I had let go first, I would have lost. Fortunately, the other guy let go first. If he hadn't, we'd still be there, fossilized and collecting dust.
A few years later, another guy did pretty much the same thing. The difference was, he didn't grab my foot and refuse to let go. He just held his open palm under my heel, smiling and looking smug. I lifted my foot a few inches above his hand, moved it to the right, and set it down on the floor. He had a surprised look on his face. I bowed to him and walked away, leaving him standing alone for the rest of that sparring session.
I never sparred with either of them again. I saw what they did as a dirty fighting trick, that had no place in a traditional dojo. If either had done it to someone without the balance and flexibility I had, the person could have fallen and been injured, especially if they didn't know how to do a break fall.
Both men had one goal in mind. They waited for the kick, like a one-trick pony. That's all they had. They couldn't see beyond their goal. They thought they had won, that it was over. What they didn't realize was, for me, it was the beginning.
© Debra J. Bilton. All rights reserved.