Wednesday, January 30, 2013

NaNoWriMo Novel Attempt: Arashi

 I wanted to do something a bit different today as I attempt to make a return to updating this blog, so instead of a colorful rant on a videogame or anything, today I'll be sharing the first 7 chapters of an original work of fiction I had been working on last year before dropping it to return to work on my novel (Save the Gem City).

First though, a little about this piece. As stated, these are the first seven chapters (about 15,000 words) of my attempted National Novel Writing Month project. It was going to be the story of a Judoka (guy who practices Judo) who decides one day to take up "Walking the Earth" and living like Ryu from Street Fighter, albeit in the "real world". I still really like this idea at that basic concept, and I enjoyed my main character (who still doesn't really have a name) but I found I really disliked writing something based so much in the real world, and that I missed being able to randomly insert stupid or cheesy attempts at humor. The dialogue I feel tends to be pretty boring, while in other things I've written dialogue is one of my favorite things. In addition, I'm not particularly fond of any of the characters other than the protagonist and his mentor, Mr. Hayashida...who may have wound up channeling a touch too much Mr. Miyagi in this early draft.

Anyway, I hope you'll read a little bit (I don't expect anyone to read all 30+ pages, honestly) and let me know what you think. Note also that this is a 100% raw first draft which I've not even looked at since initially be gentle please.

Oh yeah, this should be obvious but everything below is copyright, so no thievery please.


Chapter 1
It wasn’t until I was somewhere around 5/8 to the top of Mt. Daisetsu that I remembered why nobody trains in the wilderness anymore. The first why on my mind was how overwhelmingly, unbearably, insufferably hot a forest can be in the middle of July. So hot and humid, in fact, even if you’re wearing a weather-beaten blue judo gi littered with holes and tears for extra ventilation, you feel as if you’re swimming in a strange green ocean made up of a mixture of trees, dirt, and your own sweat.
Neglecting to wear socks or shoes (as was now my custom) at least prevented my feet from suffering the same degree of sweltering torture as the rest of my body, but at the moment I found it to be of little comfort. Seeing as I had already stopped to ponder my present misery, I decided to take a proper break from my climb to catch my breath.
With a quick twist of the hips and a brief exertion of my right shoulder, I flung the 100 lb. sandbag I was hauling on my back into the air. A sort of lazy, armless shoulder throw (or Seoi-Nage for the purists). Taking a seat upon the bag, my right hand soon raced to my jaw when it was stricken with a sharp, jolting pain. Throwing me with that move of all things. I would have never even considered it was so practical. The world really was a huge place.
Something popped inside my mouth as I massaged my jawbone, and suddenly a small trickle of blood was creeping down onto my chin. Startled, I reached inside my mouth and produced a whole tooth. I couldn’t tell you what kind it was, I’m no dentist. Still, losing any real teeth is never very fun, and I was fortunate enough that this was only the fourth I’d lost in this manner.
Sweat was pouring down my face now, the kind of dirty sweat you might have after a day spent outside doing yard work, or playing football or soccer. Of course, I didn’t really partake in either of those activities anymore, and I had been outside for much longer than a single day at this point. My hair was beginning to become soaked with perspiration as well, and black-brown strands fell haphazardly over my eyes. The second reason not to train in the wilderness: your hygiene goes to hell.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think I look or smell that bad. Yes, my hair is a bit of a greasy and sweaty mane, and I’m sure it has split ends. However, you can do a lot with dirty hair through creative use of bandanas and braids and ties of various sorts, and I’ve employed them all throughout the years. Alternatively, you can go the Buddhist route and shave your hair off. I tried that once, and my head got cold. There’s also of course the expected dirt and grime that begins to coat your body, and the inevitable stench, but I learned early you can really help yourself by bringing a few modern conveniences, be it floss and a toothbrush or soap and shampoo. Whatever hygiene area gives you the most pain. I’ve personally always been a stickler regarding my pearly whites, so being able to brush once in a while helps. You can also take a decent bath in any body of running water. I swear to you I’ve met plenty of people in the “civilized” world who look, smell, and even sound far filthier than me.
Just as I was reminding myself to find a place to freshen up as soon as I established camp, a gentle summer wind made its way up onto and over the mountain, cooling my damp face and blowing my hair right back over my eyes. Somehow I was never able to look as cool in the wind as characters in videogames did when I was younger. Gazing out from behind the drapes of hair, I watched the winds sweep over the forests of the surrounding countryside and create a comforting wave of billowing treetops. As far as I could see, nothing but emerald waves. Nearby, several indistinct birds chirped and sang, and I felt a strange mixture of loneliness and a zenlike peace. There couldn’t be another human around for miles. Probably not, anyway.
“That’s pretty cool!!!!” I shouted off the mountainside, hoping my words might echo and reflect back at me over and over. They didn’t.
I doubled over and reached towards dirty toes with equally dirty hands, stretching my back this way and that as I did so. Something cracked and popped, abrupt pain and then gradual relief. More side effects of yesterday’s match, no doubt. Chuckling, I slowly pushed off the sandbag and stood tall once more. Break time was over, and I still couldn’t quite see the end of my journey. Crouching low, I scooped the sandbag up in a fireman’s carry before throwing it back into the air in a modified version of kata guruma. The bag sailed and spun through the forest top over bottom over top again, its rotation spurred on by the instantaneous downward pull of my left hand and the upward thrust of my right. The bag crashed into a clump of brush, sending stray birds fleeing into the sky. Kata guruma was such an awesome throw.
Picking the bag up yet again, I began again my march towards the peak of Mt. Daisetsu. Between the heat and filth and hunger, I knew why nobody trained in the wilderness anymore. Then the shooting pain from my back to my jaw and the taste of warm blood under my tongue reminded me that I also knew exactly why I still did.

Chapter 2- August 7th, 1993
Nearly twenty years ago, my mother brought me to Mr. Hayashida’s dojo for the first time. I remember the date so well for a couple different reasons. For starters, it was only a few days after my fifth birthday, and the trip was to be part of my complete birthday extravaganza gift package. Secondly, I remember because I had just received the third Ninja Turtle movie as a birthday gift in the mail from a faraway relative. A great aunt, though I had very little real knowledge or recollection of that at the time.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III (not subtitled Turtles in Time, as countless people may in fact try to tell you) may be remembered in history as the weakest of the TMNT films, but when you’re freshly five and get to watch gigantic turtles beating samurai to the point of delirium with ninja weapons all day long, you hardly care.
In those days, when I wasn’t playing with my Ninja Turtle action figures I was watching the movies or cartoons over and over again, clumsily acting out the battle sequences with any person, inanimate object, or imaginary robotic Foot ninja foolish enough to cross my path. Leaping about the family living room twirling a makeshift “Donatello Stick” as I so creatively called it; I would spin and kick and howl with all the expertise one might expect from a child whose only real training in the martial arts was watching a cartoon from the ‘80s. In retrospect, it may have been the most normal time of my life.
Fittingly, I was (I suppose) a very typical, average little boy. I was small and wiry, but tough enough to weather a tumble off the swing set or a couple of scraped up knees and continue playing without serious interruption. I had a bowl cut, which isn’t really so bad when you’re five and the year is 1993. After all, several kids in my kindergarten class had rat tails. Someday I’ll have to be sure to thank my mother for not forcing anything like that on me.
At any rate, it was on this Saturday in the last month of summer that my greatest wish was going to be granted. My mother, a bespectacled woman in her twenties of average size and shape with a shoulder-length head of dark hair, was finally going to take me to a special school where I would become a ninja. I had been so overwhelmed with excitement the night before that sleep was (almost) impossible. This was Christmas, Easter, Halloween, and my birthday all rolled into one.
Mom got me up at around 9 AM with a gentle shake. “Wake up, bud, it’s Saturday.” She said in that caring, affectionate way only a mother can. She didn’t have to ask twice. My kid brain quickly processed and recalled all the data and urged my little body into action. I leapt from my bed, threw my pajamas to the winds, and assembled a forgettable ensemble of shorts and t-shirt perfectly suitable to a summer’s morning.
“How much longer until we’re there?” I excitedly whined up at my mother from the back seat of our maroon Oldsmobil sedan. Like most travelling children, I had little concept of time spent in the car, and any trip longer than five minutes was something not unlike torture.
“It’s just ahead, sweetie. A couple more blocks.” She replied, and sure enough after a handful more turns we coasted into the parking lot of a smallish strip mall located in what passed as our town’s business district.
The strip was made up of four storefronts, one of which was currently vacant with a large sign reading “FOR SALE OR LEASE” posted in the display window. Next to this was a pizza parlor, one of about half a dozen in our town, all of which served the same kind of pizza cut into square slices with an incredibly crunchy crust. Each had a different Italian sounding name and slight differences regarding what made their pizza better than the other: some would have better crusts or sauces while others had delicious pepperoni. It was a generally accepted rule of thumb by locals that the dirtier the parlor, the better their pizza.
Disgusting, but true.
There was also a clothing store of some kind, but since clothes are the most boring thing in the world to five-year-olds I have no recollection what they specialized in. In the coming years this property would change hands multiple times and always transform into a new shop that would struggle for half a year or so before changing yet again. I think there’s a Goodwill there, now.
These places are really not of that much importance, other than for establishing just how indistinct and forgettable a place it was. I’m sure there are countless other shopping strips just like this all over the country, but I know that my town’s was the one and only to feature Hayashida Judo instead of something like USA TAE KWON DO or ROGER POWERS KUNG FU SYSTEMS. Little did I know what a blessing that was at the time.
It wasn’t until we were right at the door that I noticed something was a bit fishy. I had been told we were going to a place where I could at long last become a ninja. Why, then, weren’t there any nunchaku (nunchucks, as we called them at the time) or bo staffs strewn about the training grounds? Where were the sais and ninja swords my greatest heroes used to defeat robots and ninjas and all kinds of scary mutants every single week?
Looking in through the window, I felt like my heart was going to rise up into my throat and choke me to death. Inside, there were indeed several children around my age smiling and waiting around for class to start, and there were a few older kids (teenagers, I suspected) milling about in the back stretching, but none of them were dressed like any ninjas I had ever seen on TV or in the movies. Instead of black hoods or colorful masks with black pajamas, there were all wearing baggy white or blue Judo uniforms, the kind you would see in the Olympics. This is, of course, the official Judogi, a traditional uniform of the style that has been adopted throughout the years by other styles ranging from Karate to Brazilian Jiujitsu.
To a five year old who wants to be a ninja, that would have been little comfort.
The glass door of the dojo opened with the chime of a small bell, and my mother led the way inside. We were greeted by a slightly chubby teenage girl wearing a blue uniform. Her dark hair was tied back in a loose ponytail, and her face was peppered with freckles. A perfectly black belt was tied around her waist, and something was written on it in golden Japanese characters. She smiled warmly at me before turning to speak to my mother. I only felt a tiny bit better.
“Good morning, are you new students?” she asked. My mom laughed, I guess at the thought of herself as a martial artist, and quickly explained that I was the only one who would be trying to classes out. They set about doing something I didn’t pay much attention to, perhaps paperwork or negotiation of class fees or something. In the meantime I wandered off a few feet to really take a look at the dojo.
It was a large, single room, and mostly empty. Right by the entrance, to the left of the door, was a sitting area with neatly arranged rows of brown folding chairs. Several parents (or other legal guardians) were seated here, visiting with one another. Adjacent to this was a large wooden counter that was carved in such a way that it appeared to be made of bamboo. As I grew older I always thought it looked more at home in a jungle-themed nightclub than a dojo. Behind the counter, a shelving unit was built into the wall which housed a plethora of uniforms and bags of varying sizes and colors. Two little cubby holes in this unit housed the ranking belts: one for black and one for white. There were no other colors visible.
The walls of the room were painted white, though light brown faux-wood paneling rose up about halfway to the ceiling. A few pictures hung on the wall to my left, mostly of elderly Asian men or trees. Opposite this wall was a gigantic mirror that stretched from ceiling to floor and wall to wall. It certainly looked interesting, though I had little idea what a mirror could do for ninja training.
Farthest from me, across the dojo, was a door. An incredibly ordinary door, the same shade of brown as the room’s paneling, with a flimsy looking brass knob. It wasn’t labeled or decorated in any fashion, much less in such a way that would indicate it was the office of one of the greatest men I’ve ever met.
Like I already mentioned, there were several children scattered around the room talking or playing or warming up. Occasionally in the midst of their playful wrestling one child would manage to trip or shove the other and somehow send them tumbling to the padded blue floor. I couldn’t help but wonder how these kids were so clumsy that they fell over that much. They all seemed to be very familiar with each other, which meant they’d all been there quite a while. All save for one, a little Indian boy standing to my left, whose black hair was cut in the same dorky bowl style as my own.
He wore oversized wire-frame glasses with circular lenses, and the same baggy white uniform as the other students. A white belt was tied around his waist, though it looked quite a bit sloppier than everyone else’s. The boy was clutching his father’s (a very important-looking man in a sweater…in August, for whatever reason) hand in a vice grip, and looked utterly terrified.
“Hi!” I said to him, being anything but shy at that age, “are you gonna be a ninja too?” I asked. With those glasses, I just knew he could be the Donatello of my ninja posse. You know, the smart one who built all of our gadgets. What good would the group be without that guy?
The boy just stared at me in abject horror, his mouth opening only the smallest bit. He didn’t say anything. I stared back, smiling.
His father, taking note of his nervous son’s reaction (or lack thereof) tugged at the boy’s hand to get his attention and shot him a stern, yet understanding glance. “Raman? This little boy is talking to you. He asked you a question, won’t you answer him?” His voice was thick and commanding, much like his beard, and it gave his words the same air of importance his appearance did. The boy, Raman, slowly looked up towards his father with eyes that were huge and glassy like marbles. This was only amplified by his enormous glasses.
“Wha…eh…huuuuh?” he mumbled up at him.
“That boy,” his father repeated, “asked you a question. He was wondering if you were going to be a ninja, like him.”
I just kept proudly smiling at them, perhaps somewhat stupidly.
Raman’s petrified face turned back towards me and he gulped before managing to utter “Well…um..n-no.” This, of course, terribly confused me.
Just then, there was a loud thumping smack from out on the dojo floor, which made me and Raman both almost leap out of our skin. Two of the older kids were wrestling at each other now, and one had been fiercely thrown to the floor.
“Hey! Settle down! You know the rules!” the girl who had greeted us shouted at them from behind the counter. “Sorry about that,” she continued, speaking to my mother, “anyways, that should just about do it. Now we just need to put him in a uniform and get him a belt and he’ll be ready for his first class!”
“Great, thank you so much.” My mom replied to her before calling me back over to them. The freckle-faced girl quickly sized me up and asked me what color uniform I would like. Blue or white. It wasn’t much of a choice, but Raman was wearing white, so I decided I would go with blue. She pulled a tiny uniform down from the shelf and handed it to my mother, along with a fresh white belt.
We were led around the counter and to the corner of the room, where there was another door. This one looked nearly identical to the door on the far wall, and led to a corridor with several changing rooms. The girl told me I could put my uniform on in there, and that she would help me with my belt when I came back out.
So, into the hallway I went. It was quiet here, save for the buzzing hum of fluorescent lights overhead. The floor was an off-white (from age) speckled tiling, and to my immediate left was a row of black doors, all of them ajar. I walked into the first room and changed into my gi.
My first thought was that it was much heavier than I had expected, and stiff to boot. The fabric of the uniform was rough and uncomfortable on my skin, and I found it slightly difficult to move my arms and legs, since the material seemed so reluctant to fold like normal clothing. The uniform smelled funny, too, like it had been treated with some kind of chemical before being sealed for shipping.
A mirror in the dressing room allowed me to see how I looked. Awkward, to put it lightly. Definitely not like an imposing warrior of the shadows. The uniform was large and baggy and my fingers and toes barely reached out of the sleeves and pants. I frowned, that swollen heart feeling coming back. Maybe the belt would help, I thought, so I shuffled a discouraging shuffle back out of the dressing area into the dojo.
My mom and the freckled girl greeted me just outside the door, and freckles quickly set about wrapping the white belt around my waist. She attempted to explain the steps to properly tying the belt to me as she went, but they were completely lost on me. There were so many different loops and knows going on, and I just couldn’t follow. Hell, I could barely tie a shoe at the time. It would be a few years before I finally got the hang of tying my Judo belt properly.
“Got it?” she asked with a friendly smile once the belt was secure.
“Yeah.” I managed to lie. Mom seemed to pick up on the fib and patted me on the shoulder.
“We’ll just practice it at home to be sure.” She said.
“Ok, great!” Freckles said to me, “You can go ahead and line up now, class will begin in a couple minutes.” She turned to my mother. “Mrs. Calumet, you can wait in the seating area if you want, or feel free to come back in an hour or so. Youth classes don’t last much longer than that, usually.”
I looked out onto the training floor and saw that the disorganized bunch of kids from before had all lined up against the wall opposite the mirror. Even nervous Raman had joined them, though his belt was still poorly tied and his eyes seemed to have grown even larger. Quickly taking off my sandals, I scampered out onto the mat to join them, slipping into formation next to Raman on the end of the line closest to the door.
Feeling at the cold rubber with my big toes, my disappointed feeling was replaced with nervousness; my stomach tying itself into new and creative knots every moment. My own reflection stared back at me from the gigantic mirror, and I could see that I looked nearly as scared as Raman did. We were both easily the smallest in the class, and of course the newest. This got worse by the minute.
Quickly looking to my right, I hoped above all else that my mother had not left. Thankfully she was a mind-reader, and I found her sitting in a folding chair talking to Raman’s important-looking father and his imposing beard. She must have noticed my distraught, imploring expression, because she smiled and waved happily at me. I felt a bit better and turned my head back towards the mirror. I could do it! I knew I could! Still, I hoped our teacher wouldn’t be too scary (although I expected him to be at least a little intimidating).
The nondescript door to our collective left opened with little notice or fanfare, and out shuffled a small, gray-haired Japanese man. My immediate thoughts at the time were that he was as old as time itself, or at least as old as my grandpa (who himself only in his mid fifties, not all that old really).  To say he was small was actually quite an understatement, he was downright diminutive, in reality measuring only an inch or two over five feet tall. He smiled gently at the class, without showing his teeth, and had eyes so relaxed it almost appeared that he was sleepwalking.
The tiny man had a full head of rapidly graying hair, actually a bit long for someone of such advanced age, but it was combed back and neatly styled. His uniform was blue, like mine, but so worn that the color had faded to more of a gray shade, not unlike the sky on a gloomy day. His black belt was similar, frayed around the edges and faded with age. Like the freckle-faced girl, he had something written on his belt in Japanese. As he shuffled out in front of the class he produced a thick-rimmed pair of glasses from within his gi and perched them upon the bridge of his nose. His eyes seemed only the tiniest bit more alert afterwards. He nodded this way and that at students before coming to a stop in the center of the room.
Studying his humble, quiet appearance, I tried my hardest to figure out who this guy was supposed to be. Maybe he was the Ninja Master’s butler, or something. I didn’t see why a Ninja Master couldn’t have a butler. I was sure he would call his employer out before long.
“Good morning, everybody. Awfully warm today, isn’t it?” he said. His voice was as gentle as his appearance, and I’ve always thought he sounded like he could narrate commercials for Werther’s candies or some kind of coffee.
“Good morning, Hayashida-sensei!” the entire class, save for Raman and myself, shouted back. It was that typical sing-song tone groups of children always use when addressing teachers or officials or whatever.
Wait. Did they call him sensei? Something was wrong here. At 5 I had no idea what ‘sensei’ meant, but I knew for sure that I had heard a Ninja Turtle call Splinter that at one point. So if Splinter was their father figure and Ninja master, then that must mean...oh. Oh, no. It couldn’t be.
“I see that we have some new students in class today,” Mr. Hayashida said, “my name is Ryoma Hayashida, but you may call me Mr. Hayashida or Hayashida-sensei. Or Sensei. Or teacher. Just don’t call me bald!”
At that small crack he gave himself quite a chuckle, though nobody else seemed to quite get the joke. Perhaps embarrassed, he ran a hand through his hair and shook off the laughter to refocus on me, Raman, and our parents: the newcomers.
“Welcome to the Hayashida School of Judo! I’m looking forward to getting to know all of you, but for now I’ll start with my two new students’ names.” He said and looked directly at me and Raman, his sleepy eyes studying us from behind those large glasses.
“I-I-I-I’m R-Raman.” Raman stammered, quivering.
Mr. Hayashida bowed his head to Raman. “It is a pleasure to meet you, Raman-chan.” He said with a smile. The rest of the class smiled and bowed towards Raman as well, and he finally seemed to relax just a little bit. Mr. Hayashida then turned towards me, his eyebrows rising a little bit when he did. Probably in reaction to the fierce and confused scowl on my face.
“And who might you be, little warrior?” he asked.
“What’s Judo?” I answered him. The class laughed. Even Raman giggled a little bit. After laughing a bit, perhaps at how forward I was, Mr. Hayashida looked a bit more puzzled before replying, “Well, Judo is the martial art I teach at my school. It is a gentle art which utilizes throws and holds instead of physical punches or kicks.” The last part being added for my benefit.
“Oh,” I mumbled, “I wanted to be a ninja. Not a… Judo… man.” I felt tricked, disappointed, and very sad. This really wasn’t a ninja school at all.
The sensei frowned at me, though it was not from disapproval. Perhaps he’d heard this before, because he knew just what to say next. “I see. Why were you hoping to become a ninja, my little friend?”
“Because being a ninja is so cool! You punch and kick bad guys and get to do flips and fight with cool weapons! It’s awesome! Judo sounds boring…” I replied. I didn’t look at her to verify, but I’m positive at this point my mother’s face must have been flushed crimson. The entire class was now focused on me and my little five year old’s bowl cut.
“So it does, so it does,” Ryoma Hayashida, Judo master, admitted, “but how can you be so sure that it truly is boring if you’ve never seen it? Or tried it? They say that seeing is believing, you know.”
“Well, I dunno,” I said, “I just think it is! Holding is like hugging, isn’t it? I don’t think I could beat many bad guys that way…”
Everyone laughed again, including Mr. Hayashida. “Well alright, little one, would you like to see a quick demonstration of Judo? If you see it and still think it boring, you will have both my permission and my blessing to seek training elsewhere. What do you say?”
I was beginning to feel a little bit silly and embarrassed, so I just nodded quickly while looking at the floor.
“Alright then,” he said and motioned for one of the older students (a teenage boy with a black belt) to stand up, “Josh here is going to attack me in any way he wishes. He can use Judo, Karate, wrestling, or even a dirty trick from the streets. I have no clue what he will try, but I will react and neutralize him using only Judo techniques. Fair enough?”
Again, I only nodded. Josh, however, was not quite as receptive.
“S-sensei, you want me to attack you?” he stammered, “Without any restrictions? I can’t do that…”
Mr. Hayashida only smiled. “Don’t be scared, Josh. I won’t hurt you.”
The other students laughed.
The teacher continued, “I insist, Josh. Be as serious and vicious as you can.”
At those words, Josh gulped slowly. His hands hesitantly closed into fists before clenching firmly. He resolved himself to attack, and I was focused on his every move. Forgetting any Judo training he had learned up to that moment, he pulled his right fist back behind his head and began to charge. The teenager leaned forward and sprinted at his teacher, yelling out with his best imitation of a karate kiai that he had probably seen on TV at some point. He flung his right fist straight forward towards Mr. Hayashida’s face. It was a sloppy, untrained punch, but it still seemed more than sufficient to defeat the miniscule man who I was convinced hugged people into defeat.
That punch never reached Ryoma Hayashida’s face, however. Just as the attack was being thrown out, the Judo master lunged towards his attacker and ducked low, shoving his shoulder into Josh’s stomach. He moved like lightning, such that I had no clue what he had done, and Josh seemed almost to trip over Mr. Hayashida and go tumbling into the air. He flipped a full rotation before landing with a shock on his feet on the opposite side of his teacher. His face was ghastly white and his eyes wide.
Had I been able to follow Mr. Hayashida’s actions that day, what I would have seen was that in the instant he ducked and forced his right shoulder into Josh’s stomach, he had reached up with his left hand and grabbed hold of Josh’s punching hand’s wrist. His right arm, meanwhile, had stretched underneath Josh’s body and scooped him up onto his shoulders. The smallest fraction of a moment later, he had pulled violently downwards with his left arm while thrusting upwards with his right. This was a throw known as kata guruma, or the shoulder wheel.
Normally, the throw would have ended like this with Josh being thrown brutally to the floor. However, Mr. Hayashida had promised not to hurt Josh, and he was a man of his word. Instead of pulling his victim into a savage slam, he instead flung him into the air, which resulted in the spectacular midair flip. Then, in order to prevent gravity from doing the damage on its own, he swiftly caught the boy by the gi and eased him into a safe landing. Olympic judges would have given him a 9.95 for sticking it.
The class applauded wildly at this display, and my mother (along with several other parents) looked just as shocked as Josh. Next to me, Raman seemed very excited, unable to hide his smile. Mr. Hayashida, Sensei Hayashida, turned again towards me.
“So, little friend, did I pass your test? Is Judo cool, after all?” he asked, already knowing my answer. The admiring spark behind my eyes had to give it all away.
“That. Was. AWESOME!” I exclaimed. Judo was so cool. He knew it. Everyone there knew it. Now I knew it.
And just like that, I was hooked for life.

Chapter 3- Random Encounter
            The moon was full tonight. I didn’t really know what day it was, how late it was, or even what town I was in, but the moon was full. Just going off the temperature and my internal calendar, I knew it was late in spring, probably May. My mother’s birthday was in May, and unfortunately it didn’t look like I would be able to make it home to celebrate with her. I was so far away tonight, and the moon was full.
            It was my first night in the city in quite some time; perhaps months. I had set out for a training journey right as winter was ending, since I never really cared to sleep in the snow. I did try it once before, but thought I was going to end up losing both feet and one hand I was so cold. After that I attempted to avoid colder climates whenever possible, either by living a slightly more normal existence or by travelling south where the winter months didn’t quite matter as much.
            Spring had been very productive, and I thought I had made quite a bit of progress both physically and spiritually. I was even finally starting to really get the hang of living off the land; trapping and gathering were almost second nature now. Still, even I had limits on how long I was willing to stay out in the wilds. No matter how accustomed I grew, there were still moments when I longed for civilization. To eat hot food, sleep in a soft bed, catch a movie. To see another human. Sometimes even lone wolves like to catch a glimpse of the pack.
            Even though the night was warm, it was also incredibly humid and stifling. There had been a fierce storm that afternoon, and the moisture still hung thick in the air. The streets and sidewalks were still soaked through with rainwater, and they chilled my bare feet something awful. I really ought to stop and get the straw sandals out of my bag, but something told me it wouldn’t be wise to linger in this section of this particular town for very long. I subconsciously quickened my pace, hoping to find somewhere hospitable to take a breather. I’d been walking since long before sunset, which I knew had to have been several hours ago.
            Again, I had no real idea where exactly I was. When I departed for this excursion back in late February I knew I had been facing south, but I wasn’t sure how far I’d gone or if I’d veered east or west much, if at all. The town I now found myself in seemed small but well-populated and bustling. From a distance it had reminded me a lot of home, but now that I was actually here it gave off a much more menacing feeling. This street in particular.
            It was a large street, both in width and length, stretching from one end of town to the other. Maybe Main Street? Seemed awfully shady for that, though. Numerous cars were parked alongside the curbs that didn’t look like they’d moved in centuries, even though that was obviously impossible. They were mostly rusted and decayed, missing windows or hubcaps or both. Some were hybrids, but not of the fuel-efficient variety. The chimeric variety; comedic fusions of parts lifted from a plethora of drastically different vehicles. Black cars with a red door, trucks with mismatched beds, and so on.
            The road was lined with numerous street lights, but the vast majority were nonfunctioning, or at best rapidly flickering like unintentional strobe lights. It didn’t seem like the street needed them working for much, though. The majority of buildings were dilapidated storefronts; their windows boarded, caged, or altogether missing and their interiors long since gutted. What buildings were still operational seemed to have closed up shop for the night, and the steel gates concealing their entrances were littered with illegible graffiti.
            A small cyclone of trash rushed past my face through the air and off into another alley. What a dump. I had seen hardly anyone since coming into town, only a few perplexed faces in windows or uncaring glances from passing cars. I felt agitated, disappointed, lonely. Maybe I should have stayed in the mountains after all.
            Sighing, I glanced up to the marvelous full moon as I continued down the damp, depressed street. The lunar face shone back down on me with a yellowed, mystical light. All around it, the stars danced and shimmered. The sky was perfectly black and clear, which sounds awfully paradoxical, when you think about it. For a moment, I forgot my troubles and felt at peace again. The heavens were the same, at least.
            I was brought back to reality by a wild stabbing pain in my left foot. Instinctively clutching at it with both hands, I felt a warm stream of blood flowing out from my heel. It had already started to pool beneath me. Cursing loudly, I felt around the wound to find a massive shard of broken glass sticking out. Definitely should have stayed in the mountains.
            Taking a seat upon the curb of the sidewalk, I removed my backpack from my shoulders and set it in the street between my legs and opened it up. Though it was dark, my eyes had adjusted enough that I was able to find a roll of bandages and the simplistic first aid kit I always carried with me. Nearly out of supplies, particularly Neosporin. Making a mental note to visit the first pharmacy I found, I set about cleaning and wrapping my foot. A quick swab, a bit of the Neo, some gauze, and a wrap would make me good as new, or at least good enough to get out of this stupid town.
            “Hey man, you need some help there, man?” an unsteady voice called out from behind me. Oh, no.
            Glancing over my shoulder, hands still busying with my foot, I saw two largish men standing between me and a pitch-black alleyway. They were both tall and pale, with dark, shabby excuses for mustaches. As they crept forward out of the shadows, they smiled at me: sinister smiles without a hint of friendliness. Or healthy teeth.
            “Yeah, man, like, anything we can help you with, buddy?” the one on the left, taller and thinner, said. He glanced over towards his partner.
            Finishing the wrap on my foot by then, I kept my eyes fixed on them the entire time. “No, I’ve already taken care of it. Thanks.” I answered, cold but unthreatening. They kept creeping forward, their bodies twitching and writhing in unnatural ways. I had little doubt they were high. Painkillers or something, maybe? Their eyes had a glassy, yellowed look to them.
            “You sure, there, man? We’re pretty useful. Maybe somethin’ we can get you oughta that bag, huh?” the other man said. He was shorter, but only slightly so. He was wearing a greatly oversized black coat on top of a soiled white tank top. Little warm outside for something like that. He reached awkwardly towards my bag, but I quickly grabbed it up and threw it over my shoulders. I was standing now, squared off with the two of them.
            “Whoa, whoa, easy man, we’re just trying to help, you know?” tall and skinny said, “Don’t gotta be like that.”
            I tried not to scowl, but there was little helping it. They made me sick, watching them twitch and writhe through their drug-haze. Staring and lingering was a mistake on my part, no doubt. I should have left by now, but I was rooted by disgust. “Look, I’m tired, and I don’t need any help. I have to be going.” I said, and perhaps my aggravation shone through in my voice. It had been quite a while since I’d slept, and being stabbed in the foot by broken glass hardly helped my mood.
            “Yeah. Yeah, alright man, we get you. But hey, look, maybe you can do us a favor, yeah?” the one with the coat said. “We just lost our jobs man, you know how the economy is, you know? It’s like, depressed, right?”
            Why was every sentence of theirs a question? His friend joined him now.
            “There’s no work, you know, and we got wives and kids to feed, man. We’re just scrapin’ by, so can you help us out or something, man?” He put his hand on my shoulder, and I didn’t see anything that even remotely resembled a wedding ring. Not that I needed to be told they were lying.
            “Do your eyes work?” I snarled at them, “I’m not even wearing shoes. What makes you think I would have any money?”
            I thought it was a legitimate question. There I was walking the streets in a terribly worn judo gi, my hair long and unkempt, carrying nothing but a leather backpack. Sure, I knew I had a little bit of money, but my appearance would hardly give anyone that impression.
            “C’mon now, buddy, everybody’s got a little something. We just need a few bucks for some smokes, you know?” The hand on my shoulder gripped me tighter.
            “No, I don’t know. I don’t smoke.” I replied. Pretty clever, I thought. I don’t think they agreed.
            “Yeah, well maybe you’ll know…if…you know…what’s good for you, man, you know?” The tall one managed to stammer out in reply. His eyes had gone from glassy to crazed and intense…though they were still grossly yellow.
            I acted reflexively, and instantly. Grabbing his forearm with my left hand, I pulled him towards me while gripping his shirt with my right hand to increase the force. Moving slightly to my right, I extended my left foot to the side just as he was stumbling forward into the empty space. Savagely hauling him forward and over my foot, I tripped him into the street where he landed in an unceremonious heap. Perfect sasae-tsurikomi-ashi.
            “Yo man, what the fuck, man? You think you Kung Fu or some shit!?” his friend shouted at me, and reaching into his coat, withdrew a small black object. With a flick of his wrist, the black object sprouted a gleaming silver blade, six inches long. Minimum length for a mortal wound. Or at least that’s what a movie told me once. “I got news, man, you ain’t shit, man!”
            My eyes locked on the blade of the knife. Knives were always dangerous. Even a child could get lucky in the midst of frenzied stabbing. Forget someone with any degree of practice. I’d have to be perfect. Still, did he just call me kung fu?
            “Wait, did you say I thought I was Kung Fu?” I couldn’t help asking.
            “Yeah, you think you walkin’ tha earth like Kung Fu or whatever, you know? But you ain’t. You ain’t nothin’ to me, man!”
            “You’re saying I’m walking the earth…like a 1970’s TV show starring David Carradine? That doesn’t make any sense at all!” I yelled at him, frustrated.
            “You don’t make no sense, son! You pissin’ me off now!” he shouted, then charged like a wild boar. The knife gleamed in the moonlight as it came screaming towards me, flashing upwards right into my face. I sidestepped just in time, and the blade flashed alongside my right cheek, slicing through several stray hairs. I was due for a trim, anyway.
            At the same time, I latched onto his stabbing wrist with my right hand and turned slightly, stepping into his chest. Bringing up my left arm, I pressed my bicep beneath his arm and forced it upward while pulling his wrist down. I heard an aggravated crunch and yelp of pain from him as I did so, which I hoped meant his elbow had been hyper-extended. Turning further, I used this leverage on his arm to force him into the air and flipped him over my shoulder. These events all transpired in less than a second, and I knew there was no way he could react in time to perform a proper ukemi.
            With all the strength and speed I could muster, I slammed him face-first into the street next to his friend. Just to be safe, I grabbed hold of his remaining hand and held it up, quickly snapping his other elbow with a swift kick. He didn’t holler in pain like I had expected, and that’s when I noticed that blood was pouring from his face, rapidly flooding the street. Had he not been wielding a knife, or had I been less experienced, I might have thought I went a bit overboard. The scars striping my torso, arms, and legs reminded me that I had probably not been brutal enough. Still, it would be a bad idea to linger here much longer.
            “You meant to say I was like Kwai Chang Caine, dumbass. That was Carradine’s character IN Kung Fu. I always thought I was more of a modern day Sanshiro…but I guess I’ll try to take it as a compliment.” I told his unconscious form. When there was no response I decided to make good my escape, and continued walking down the street.
            Just before I was out of sight, I turned back to ensure neither of them had gotten up to follow me. Their prone forms still lay in the street, yet to be discovered by any passersby. Sometimes it still amazed me how devastating gravity could be with a little help.

Chapter 4- Once More, August 7th, 1993

            “Now, our newcomers may not believe this,” Mr. Hayashida said, standing in front of the class, “but gravity can be truly devastating if you give it a little help.” He held a small red ball straight out at shoulder level and dropped it. It bounced gently off the ground and rolled away down the mat. “You see, by itself, not so much,” he continued, “but with help?”
            Here he produced a second ball and fiercely threw it into the floor. The ball ricocheted off the ground and back into the air before smacking into the ceiling and falling once more. “The result is quite a bit more sinister, no?”
            The entire class agreed.
            “With that in mind, the most important thing you can learn is how to prevent gravity from doing its worst to you. Hence, the very first thing you will learn,” and this was directed towards Raman and myself, “is how to fall and get back up.”
            Now, at this point we were actually almost half an hour into the class, so learning to fall wasn’t technically the first thing we learned. The first thing we learned was sitting. More specifically, sitting at attention in the traditional Japanese seiza style. Now, there is actually quite a bit of detail in the form of seiza, but to be blunt its basically kneeling down and resting your butt on the heels of your feet, which are flat on the floor. As you might imagine, this is incredibly uncomfortable for those unaccustomed to it, and so Mr. Hayashida only made the beginners maintain the form for a few minutes before allowing us to change over to the agura (cross-legged, or Indian-style) form of seating. I didn’t really get why we had to sit either way, but tradition was tradition, and I did as I was told. I figured I would have to if I wanted to learn to throw people the way Mr. Hayashida could.
            After learning how to sit, Mr. Hayashida stepped away from the front of the class and was replaced by the freckle-faced girl, who would apparently be leading us through our stretches and warm-up. This was my first exposure to organized exercise drills, and I found all of them to be surprisingly challenging despite having a very active outdoor playtime scheduled each day. Pushups, sit-ups, jumping-jacks, squats, running in place…and I was already exhausted! Thankfully, Raman was about the same, so at least I didn’t have to suffer alone. The majority of our classmates seemed very accustomed to the routine, though a few of the more portly children struggled almost as much as Raman and me.
            We also stretched our arms, legs, backs, shoulders, and necks with a variety of moves, and I found that I was surprisingly flexible. My long arms easily reached to my toes, and I could almost even touch my head to my knees like the freckle-faced girl! Even though it was difficult, I couldn’t help but smile as we warmed up and stretched. It was fun!
            Anyways, once that was all over and done with, and Mr. Hayashida had made his brief speech about gravity, we began to learn the mysterious (but surprisingly simple) art of the ukemi. Ukemi is, more or less, a fancy Japanese way of saying defensive roll. The primary form (which anyone can use to lessen the impact of a throw such as seoi-nage) involves rolling forward as you hit the ground in order to spread the impact over a greater surface area on your body. Years later, I was amused to learn that ukemi and similar techniques were also widely used in parkour, which you may remember seeing your little brother try in the backyard right before he broke his arm.
            To perform this basic ukemi, you start by placing your hands upon the ground to brace for the fall.  You then tuck your head down and a little to the side, allowing yourself to roll forward onto your shoulder of choice (probably your dominant hand’s side). Then, simply roll forwards on a diagonal line from that shoulder to your opposite hip. Keep rolling and you’ll be able to land on one knee ready to continue fighting. With some practice, you can even leap right back up into a run to escape, create space, or really do whatever else you want.
            There are naturally different ukemi for defending against different throws, but that’s the basic method for your knowledge banks. It might sound a bit complex, and at the start in can be, but rolling in such a way is actually very natural, and before long you’ll be amazed you weren’t just born understanding it.
            So, that was more or less what Mr. Hayashida and the freckle-faced girl explained to us for the next several minutes before allowing us to begin practicing the form.  We lined up facing the mirror-wall and began to roll about. It looked more like gymnastics class than Judo. Little kids clumsily rolling about this way and that with varying degrees of skill and success. Since Raman and I had obviously never even heard of an ukemi before that day, we received a little extra attention and instruction from Mr. Hayashida and the teenaged assistant instructors.
            Step by step they walked us through the technique. Hands on the ground, tuck head, point shoulder, roll to opposite hip, fighting stance. We were anything but naturals that day. Like most children, we wanted to do headstands before awkwardly somersaulting and smacking down hard on our backs. Sadly, this was at least 100% the opposite of we needed to do, and in a match could’ve resulted in snapped necks and/or seriously injured spines and tailbones. In this manner, the clock ticked away and before anyone knew it, class was at an end without my learning even one throw.
            Yet I wasn’t upset, not at all. In fact, I hardly took notice of the lack of badass attacks I had learned. Something had changed in my mentality since I walked through those doors; perhaps I had grown up just a little bit in that short time. I didn’t want to be a Ninja Turtle anymore. Sure, I would still watch their show, and I thought they were super cool, but I no longer aspired to be them. Instead, I was fascinated by a diminutive, elderly Japanese man who seemed to possess endless strength. If he could throw a teenager like Josh so effortlessly in a demonstration, how amazing was he in real combat? He was friendly and smart, too, and I wanted to be just as strong and wise as he was.
            Class ended much like it had begun. Everyone lined up again and bowed to Mr. Hayashida, who congratulated us on a productive class and urged us to practice our ukemi at home, preferably with adult supervision for the younger kids. He bowed to us, us to him, and we were dismissed for the day as he shuffled back into his office. The freckle-faced girl moved to the fore at this point and made a few announcements of her own. It was forgettable, mostly targeted towards the older kids and grown-ups, I figured. After she finished speaking, everyone got out of line and prepared to leave.
            Most of the students had gone to the changing rooms to remove their gis, but I was so excited about Judo that I wanted to keep mine on, even though it was still incredibly stiff and uncomfortable. Raman apparently felt the same way, as he followed me off the mats and towards our conversing parents. I learned later that he didn’t actually like wearing the gi at all, he was just too afraid to go into the changing hallway alone. He really was such a chicken back then. Both Raman’s father and my mom seemed surprised when we walked up to them.
            “Oh, you’re done already?” Mom asked us.
            “Yep!” I exclaimed, nothing but smiles.
            “Huh! And here I thought all that rolling around was just part of the warmup,” She said to Raman’s father, then turned back to us kids, “did you two have fun? Learn anything?”
            “Yep!” I said again, “We learned how to do an oo-oo…uhh…” I had forgotten the word already.
            “A-an ukemi!” Raman offered helpfully, raising his voice the loudest I had yet heard it. His father looked impressed with him; smiling behind that magnificent beard.
            “That’s wonderful, Raman,” he said, “you’ll have to show me once we return home!”
            “Well then, are you ready to go?” my mother asked me. When I nodded excitedly she turned back towards Raman’s father and shook his hand, exchanging pleasantries. Taking a cue from her, I turned towards Raman and extended my own open hand.
            “Good to meetcha, Raman! Let’s be friends and get strong!” I shouted. I faintly heard some of the older kids laughing. Raman hesitated at first, but after a prodding cough from his father he took my hand and we shook on it.
            “O-ok,” he replied, “strong friends.” He almost cracked a smile, but looked to be embarrassed at the last second and reconsider it.
            “Come on, little guy.” My mom said, and she led the way out of the dojo. I waved goodbye to Raman and his father and marched after her, feeling happier with every step I took in that damned uncomfortable gi.

Chapter 5- Saplings

            Before anyone was the wiser, two years had passed. Yes, just like that. They were a pretty uneventful two years, really. I started kindergarten not long after that first judo class, and thanks to a happy coincidence I was in the same class as Raman, with whom I became fast friends. Like most five year old boys, we had plenty in common; mostly a love of similar cartoons, video games, and most recently, judo.
            Though he was near mute when we first met, Raman came out of his shell before long, becoming more open and confident with each visit to the dojo. However, he remained mostly introverted at our regular school. Particularly when it came to encounters with the other boys. Raman seemed to be picking up judo rather well, but he was hardly a natural at more conventional sports. This, of course, is unacceptable in the wilds of childhood life.
            As for judo itself, we had learned plenty of things since that first day back in ’93. After the ukemi came more advanced defensive rolls, and then the basic throws and rehearsed practice. After Mr. Hayashida had deemed our understanding advanced enough, we moved on to real practice matches and more advanced techniques and counter-techniques. The entire class’s knowledge seemed to grow at an alarming rate, and our masterful teacher made sure we understood the applications and practicalities of everything we were taught.
            Whenever a new throw or counter was introduced, Mr. Hayashida would explain its use. Seoi-nage is incredibly pragmatic and useful both in self-defense and sporting competition. Hane-makikomi is great if you’re fighting another judoka, particularly in an official match. Not so much if you’re up against some random hood. That was the sort of teach Ryoma Hayashida was. Practical and realistic. We were constantly reminded that judo was for discipline and protection as a last resort, and that there were limits to how effective even such a beautiful art was. We were also constantly reminded that we were only children, and until our bodies grew and strengthened, it would be difficult to get the most out of any of the moves we learned.
            It was during one such lecture that Mr. Hayashida decided to talk about the then newly-formed Ultimate Fighting Championship. At the time, the controversial, no-holds-barred fighting promotion had held over five tournaments, each more spectacular and damning of traditional arts like karate and kung fu than the last. Our sensei seemed to have been holding his thoughts on this in for quite some time, and we all listened in silence as he spoke.
            “What these tournaments have shown, to me at least, are the truths behind not only my personal beliefs regarding the martial arts, but even the guiding principles of judo as laid out by our founder, Jigoro Kano,” he said, shuffling about the front of the class, “         primarily, maximum efficiency with minimum effort.”
            I sat in agura position, scratching at my chin, trying my best to fully absorb what he was saying. I could tell Raman was doing the same, staring intensely from behind his monstrous glasses.
            “The simplest, most practical techniques are best,” he declared, “whether they are from judo, boxing, wrestling, or anything else. Even more primal strategies, so basic they don’t even seem to be true techniques; can be horribly effective if used against a weak or unprepared enemy.”
            Here I knew for sure what he meant. Not even a few months prior, Raman’s father had allowed us to watch a VHS (remember those?) recording of one of the UFC tournaments. He had started the tape intending for us to see Royce Gracie winning with Brazilian Jiujitsu, which he understood to have some roots in judo. What he didn’t mean for us to witness was an incredibly violent second round match where a large, muscular man nearly elbowed a self-proclaimed ninja’s face through the mat of the cage. It wasn’t a technique at all. The man tackled his opponent, climbed on top of his stomach, and just kept hitting him until he couldn’t fight back any more.
            The footage scared us both, but at the same time it stirred some kind of excitement deep within my small warrior’s soul. It was an excitement merely amplified when I saw that same giant, terrifying man defeated in the final round by the relatively puny Royce Gracie, wearing a gi and using techniques similar to what I learned and practiced every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. I saw that grappling was worthwhile, that it was effective. Mr. Hayashida continued speaking.
            “There has been a wild outcry against the traditional arts,” he said, “claims that karate, kung fu, boxing, and even judo are obsolete in the face of something like Brazilian Jiujitsu or western wrestling. I tell you all, this is not the case. There is a need today for us, as martial artists, to grow and evolve in our understandings of combat. We must intensify our training on all fronts, particularly the physical. Even with encyclopedic knowledge, there is little one can do without a body fit for combat, you know!”
            I nodded enthusiastically, and the rest of the class seemed to reciprocate. After all, how many times had any of us seen the 90 lb. karate master? The 300 pound man who claimed he could strike you down with one punch, even though he was incapable of running half a mile? Raman and I had classmates who took karate and taekwondo. We heard their tales, saw pictures of their “Grandmasters” of various mystical styles. Mr. Hayashida was trying to warn us about them, I guess.
            Now, I know what you might be thinking. Mr. Hayashida was small, and old. And small! What right did he have to talk about physical strength and fitness when he was so physically inferior to the massive wrestlers who were striking fear into the great masters of the world? He had plenty. Small as he was, Mr. Hayashida possessed a wholly incredible degree of strength in his little frame. He performed all of the same exercises the rest of us did, often doing twice as many pushups, sit-ups, or whatever other task was at hand. Point is, the sensei was strong. You couldn’t throw people twice your size by being weak, even if you understood things like leverage and joint manipulation.
            Trust me, there’s a point to this, just like there was a point to Mr. Hayashida telling us all this that day.
            Our teacher sighed to himself next, adjusting his little glasses as he did so. “Forgive me, children,” he almost whispered, “I’m afraid I’ve preached at you a little too much. Let’s change course, shall we? I’d like to tell you all a story. One of my favorites.”
            He shuffled closer to the class and took a seat on the floor. Seated, he was nearly as small as the children he taught. “Now, this is a true story, so keep that in mind if you start to think it sounds like something out of manga, alright?” he warned. Not knowing what manga was at the time, I was a little confused by the sentence. Thankfully I’m able to understand now.
            “This is the story of a man named Masahiko Kimura,” our teacher began his story, “and in the world of judo he borders on legendary…in my eyes, at least. Kimura-san was born in 1917, and began his judo training at the age of 11. Quite a bit later than some of you lucky kids! By the time he was 15 he had earned his  4th degree black belt, and by age 18 he was promoted to 5th degree; the youngest in history. Though it is difficult to verify, the stories say that he only lost four judo matches in his life. Now, this was out of hundreds, possibly thousands of matches!”
            My jaw dropped. What a record! The story continued.
            “Now, unlike me, Kimura-san was a physically imposing man gifted with a phenomenally strong body. Even so, he was not one to lapse in his physical training. In fact, I’d dare say he trained even harder than those he already had natural advantages over. The next time I have any of you do twenty push-ups and you think I’m terrible…just remember that Kimura was said to do one thousand every day!”
            Several students murmured in astonishment, and with good reason. Most of us were plenty strong for our age thanks to Mr. Hayashida’s training, but even the strongest among us would struggle with any more than 80 or so push-ups. I had managed one hundred on a dare from Raman once, and even that was something I didn’t want to try again anytime soon.
            “Oh, does that shock you, children?” our teacher asked, “The legends also say Kimura trained as many as nine hours every day! Judo was his life; from dawn to dusk it was practically all he did. Kimura-san also cross-trained in karate to strengthen himself even further, and fought numerous special matches outside of the official judo circles. The most famous was in 1951 against Helio Gracie, one of the founders of the Gracie Jiu Jitsu that is garnering such praise and attention today.”
            Mr. Hayashida went on to tell us the story of Kimura’s battle with Helio Gracie. How Kimura dominated the fight from the very start, withstanding each of Gracie’s attempted throws. How he threw Gracie almost at will with a variety of devastating moves. Eventually the fight moved to the ground where Kimura continued to press his advantage, applying multiple chokes and holds before finally securing a gyaku ude-garami, which is the Japanese term for what’s known in wrestling as a double wristlock. Basically an armlock that applies tremendous pressure to multiple joints. Though Kimura twisted and twisted the arm, Gracie’s fighting spirit refused to allow him to admit defeat, even after Kimura broke several of his bones. The fight was concluded when Gracie’s corner finally threw the towel, and the smaller man never conceded his defeat.
            I can’t speak for the others in class, but I was stunned. To think that men like that existed…I could barely contain my excitement, smiling stupidly from ear to ear. It was like something from a movie. I felt energized, ready to take on the world just like Kimura had with nothing but the power judo would provide.
            “Now, I have shared this story with you for several reasons, children,” our teacher said, “for one, to show you the benefits and necessities of serious physical training. Secondly, to illustrate the might and efficiency of judo as a martial art, and lastly, to show you that even in defeat, a fighter can maintain his pride and dignity, just as Gracie-san did that day.”
            I felt as if I should applaud.
            “But enough stories, shall we continue our training?” he asked, and was answered with our enthusiastic cheers in the affirmative. For the rest of the day, I watched as my classmates trained with a fire and intensity I had never seen before. Of course, I did everything I could to match their passions. The session flew by, and before I knew it, freckle-faced girl (whose name was Jamie, it turned out) had made her usual announcements and dismissed us. I began to make my way towards the changing rooms, when I noticed something a bit out of the ordinary.
            Typically, whenever class was ended, Mr. Hayashida would shuffle back into his office to take a short break before the intermediate and advanced students arrived. Today, however, he remained standing at the front of the room watching us disperse with a look of quiet approval. I stopped to watch him for a moment, then decided to go up and talk to him. Though I had been training at the dojo for over two years now, I scarcely spoke directly to Mr. Hayashida. Really, that first day in ’93 was probably the most we had ever talked to each other (not counting instruction). As I approached him then, I was overcome with a strange uneasiness, like the air grew heavier and oppressive closer to him. I wasn’t even sure why I was going up to him, but I felt that I had to.
            He noticed me coming before too long, and smiled down at me. Almost immediately, the atmosphere seemed to relax and I felt a bit more comfortable. “What is it, little one?” he asked. Though I had never really stood out in class until then, he always called me that in place of my name. Perhaps it was his way of remembering that first day when I refused to introduce myself.
            I stuttered a little, trying to figure out just what the hell I wanted to say to him. “Well,” I finally managed to spit out, “I just wanted to know if you had any more cool stories about, um, Kimura-san.”
            He seemed genuinely touched by my questions. The joy a teacher experiences when truly connecting with a student, perhaps. “Ah, you like Kimura-san, do you? Well, there are other stories, but they are perhaps best saved for when you’re a little bit older.”
            The stories he was referring to involve Kimura’s later years as a pro-wrestler, and featured some rather unsavory rumors regarding his matches with a wrestler named Rikidozan, and the latter’s violent death.
            I was a bit disappointed he had no other stories, but I said that yes, I thought Mr. Kimura sounded really cool and strong.
            “Well, there is one thing I forgot to tell the class.” He added.
            “Oh, what is it, what!?” I exclaimed.
            “A peculiar training ritual of his,” Mr. Hayashida said, “stories say that Kimura-san would practice his osoto-gari on trees. It’s pretty extreme if you ask me, but it would certainly be a challenge!”
            That was so cool, I thought. This man was something out of a comic book. Then I thought of another question. “Did you ever try osoto-gari on a tree, Mr. Hayashida?”
            This was a question that seemed to catch him slightly off guard, and he gave a wry laugh. “Oh, little one, that’s something only a crazy person would want to do.” He winked at me and grinned, and I thought that he probably did similar things when he was younger. Maybe he still did. My sensei was awfully cool, himself.
            “Um, is Mr. Kimura still alive, sensei?” I asked.
            “Oh…no, no,” he replied, “Kimura-san died a few years ago. He was of rather advanced age, and had become sick. Even the strongest warriors cannot defeat time, little one. Now, why don’t you go get changed?”
            He patted my head and sent me on my way. I bowed and thanked him for the stories before rushing off to the dressing room.
            A few days later while walking home from school, Raman and I were passing by a local park when a freshly planted tree caught my eye. Instantly, I was reminded of Kimura and the story of his osoto-gari practice. I grabbed Raman by the shirt sleeve and stopped him. He jumped in surprise.
            “Wha!? Don’t scare me like that!” he all but screamed.
            “Did I tell you what I heard from Mr. Hayashida the other day!?” I asked, even though I knew the answer was no.
            “I’m sure you would tell me again even if you had…but what?” Raman replied.
            “He said that Kimura guy used to practice his throws on trees! How cool is that!?”
            Raman didn’t seem quite as impressed as I had been. “You can’t throw a tree. They’re too big! It sounds like a good way to get hurt.” He said.
            I frowned for a moment, but then pointed to the young sapling that had reminded me. “Maybe, but what about a little tree!? I bet even we could budge that one over there a little!”
            “No way!” he said, “You’re not that strong, you’ll never move that tree!”
            We argued like kids do for another couple minutes before I had finally had enough, and declared that I would throw the tree right then and there. I marched right up to the tree and threw my book bag aside in the grass. Rolling up my sleeves like I had seen a tough guy in a movie do, I looked the tree up and down. It was small still, but not quite as much so as I had initially thought. Thinking back, I would say it was nearly 6 inches in diameter and a few feet taller than me, which would put it at over five feet. Raman sat down in the grass near my bag and goaded me on.
            “Alright tough guy, let’s see it!” he said, waiting for me to fail.
            Telling him to shut up, I took a deep breath and tried to focus on the method behind a perfect osoto-gari. You step behind your target with your inner leg and use it to sweep their legs out from under them while simultaneously pushing their upper body forwards, combining two opposing forces to facilitate a threw that is half trip, half shove. Really, it’s about the only throw I knew of that could even be practiced on a tree.
            With the form firmly in mind, I exploded into action. My hands latched onto the trunk and I shoved as hard as I could while sweeping the tree’s base with my right foot. I put all of my might into it, and I couldn’t wait to hear the trunk splinter before my judo prowess. The look on Raman’s face would be priceless. If only I had a camera…
            Except there was a problem. The tree didn’t splinter and crash to the ground. Far from it, the plant barely even shook at my attack. A few leaves might have rustled or fallen, but nothing more. Perhaps more importantly, a terribly painful vibrating sensation was shooting all through my right leg now.
            I yelped in pain and leapt away from the tree then, clutching at my lower leg as tears welled up in my eyes.
            “See, dummy?” Raman taunted me, adjusting his glasses, “It’s pointless! You’ll never be able to do it. Not in a million years! Kids aren’t that strong.” And so on.
            Curling into a ball, I wrapped my arms around my legs and sighed into my knees. He was right. My osoto-gari wasn’t near strong enough. We sat in silence for a moment as I thought it over. I scowled and grimaced, trying my best to come to some kind of understanding about things. About judo, about the stories of Kimura, about my own childish lack of strength. Raman whistled nervously.
            Suddenly it hit me. I sprung to my feet and walked back to the tree. My right leg was still throbbing, so I may have limped slightly. I gently placed my right hand on its trunk and stared up at its fledgling branches. A warm breeze played on the leaves.
            “Oh geez, you’re not gonna try again, are you? I already toooold you, it’s no good!” Raman hollered over to me.
            I turned around to face him, my hand still on the tree trunk. “I know,” I said, “it’s no good today. But, I’m still small. And so is the tree here.”
            He didn’t seem to get what I was saying, gawking awkwardly at me.
            “I’m gonna get strong, Raman,” I went on, “really strong. So will this tree. We’re just kids now, but one day we’re both gonna be real big and real strong. Maybe then it won’t be pointless any more, and I can win. Until then, I’ll practice hard to beat an unbeatable opponent!”
            I smiled awkwardly. I sort of felt like a dork saying something so dramatic.

Chapter 6- New Strength

            I woke up the next morning before the sun came up. The night before I had come home and asked my mom to get me out of bed extra early because there was a new cartoon on I really wanted to watch. That wasn’t the truth, really, but I felt silly telling her I wanted to wake up early and practice before school. She might not like the idea, for whatever one of those weird reasons moms dislike things.
            My room was still pitch black without the sunlight, and my eyes were nearly sealed shut with sleep crust. So tired. I just wanted to go back to sleep…just for…five more…minutes…
            “I thought you had a show you wanted to watch!?” I heard my mother’s confused voice shouting in from the hallway. Snapping back awake, I shifted my bewildered eyes towards a red digital clock perched on the dresser across from my bed. 6:50. I had fallen back asleep for nearly twenty minutes! I would have to start getting ready for school before too long. Had to think fast. How could I get stronger? How!?
            The only exercises that came to mind were those we did for warm-ups in class. Push-ups! I shouted inside of my mind, and slid out of bed onto the carpet. I felt a sudden pang in my right leg; still sore from smacking against that tree, no doubt. Squinting at my calf there in the dark, I could make out the dark outline of a mammoth bruise. Oh, gross.
            Groaning with a mixture of pain and sleepiness, I slumped to the floor for a moment before adjusting into a plank position to do push-ups. My bones and joints and muscles all creaked and strained as I got started, slowly descending until my nose was pressing into an errant sock carelessly discarded on the floor. Gross. I quickly brushed this aside before pushing myself back up into starting position. One. Back down, back up, and I still felt like my body was falling apart. Two. Maybe I should have stretched first.
            I tried to speed up a little, ignoring my cold muscles. It helped, and before I knew it I was at ten. That many was nothing at practice, so I kept going. Suddenly twenty came and went, and thirty was on the horizon. I realized then that I hadn’t set a goal for myself, and so I just kept going and going. My pace increased with time, but around the late fifties I began to slow again, my entire body shaking with the effort. Pushing against my limits now, I managed to reach somewhere in the mid-sixties before my arms gave out and I fell to the floor.  Awake for barely five minutes and I was already exhausted. Maybe this wasn’t the best idea I had ever thought up.
            When my mom came back a few minutes later to check up on me this was how she found me: face down on the floor with arms like wet noodles.
            “What are you doing?” she asked, obviously perplexed.
            “I have no idea.” I grumbled into the floor.
            “Well, you had better start getting ready. It’s already past seven!”
            I managed to lift my head from the floor for just a moment to check the clock. It read 6:58. “No it isn’t!” I pouted at her. She always tried to trick me into thinking it was later than it really was in the mornings. I had no idea why.
            “Close enough! Get up and get ready, mister!”
            I exhaled heavily into the floor and tried to push myself back into a seated position. My arms had no strength at all, and my leg still hurt, so I continued to lie like a slug on the floor. Minutes later my mother returned to reenact our previous exchange. Thankfully, I was able to climb to my feet this time, and proceeded to get ready for school.
            The day was a blur, probably consisting of learning multiplication tables or phonics or some sort of basic elementary school subject. I never paid too much attention, and most things in school came easy enough.
            On the way home, Raman and I once again stopped at the young tree so that I could attempt another osoto-gari. Still favoring my right leg, I opted to sweep with my left this time. It made no difference, and the tree remained as solid as ever. I returned home defeated, discouraged, and despondent.
            Night led into morning, and again I trained in secret before school, doing as many push-ups as I could until my body gave out. It was harder this time, as my whole body was sore from my efforts the day before, and I didn’t even reach fifty before collapsing. There was still time before I had to get cleaned up and ready, though, so I began to do sit-ups because they were all that came to mind. Again I pushed myself to my limits before crumbling onto my back and clutching at my abdominal muscles. I was so used to doing a mere twenty five sit-ups at judo class that going beyond that boundary taught me a whole new definition of muscular misery.
            Outside my room, I could hear my mother coming up the stairs to prod me along into my morning routine. Out of time. Still nursing my aching stomach muscles I crawled first to my knees and then my feet and shuffled out into the hallway to begin the day. Again it was routine and dull, my disinterest in school amplified further by these new aches and pains from the secret training regimen. That night at judo I felt horribly drained and sore, though I did my best to pay attention and keep up with our exercises.
            Mr. Hayashida, being observant as he was, took note of my weariness and pulled me aside after the warm-up while the other students were practicing ukemi. “Little one,” he began, “is anything the matter? You seem to not be altogether with us tonight.”
            Trying my best to look “normal” (which never works, mind you) and healthy, I assured him that everything was just fine. The look he gave me showed that he didn’t quite believe me, so in order to assuage his suspicions I admitted that I had been doing some extra training on my own after hearing those awesome stories about Kimura. I felt nervous that he wouldn’t approve, for some reason.
            The old master shut his eyes and smiled warmly at me. “Do not look so ashamed of it, my boy. It’s good to be so motivated. Just be careful, and do not push yourself so hard that the rest of your life suffers, alright?”
            “Y-yes sir!” I exclaimed. With that, he sent me away to practice my ukemi with the others. Quickly scampering away, I turned mid-run to bow in respect and gratitude before joining Raman in practice.
            “What was that all about? Are you in trouble?” he asked me, looking suspicious.
            “Oh, nothing really,” I replied, figuring that Raman would only make fun of me for my extra training.
            Thus, with my teacher’s blessing and advice, I continued my independent every morning, adding new and varied exercises every so often if I started to feel too accustomed to the workload. Still, no matter how many pushups or pull-ups I did, no matter how strong I thought I was becoming, my invincible natural adversary grew ever larger and stronger; always sturdy and motionless against my osoto-gari. For nearly a year this went on with no visible benefits. I could do more of certain exercises, and I wasn’t as tired at school or judo class, sure. And yeah, maybe it would’ve made for a pretty interesting and humorous montage in an action movie. Of course! That was all, though.
            Then, one day when I was in third grade that all changed.

Chapter 7- Fruits

            Like I said, I was eight years old and in third grade the first time I beheld the results of my training for the first time. It was a Thursday in October, though I can’t actually remember the date anymore. Yes, I could probably look at a calendar and have a one-in-four shot of getting it right, but it isn’t important. I was, of course, at Judo class, and that day we were doing our monthly kumite, or practice matches. While we often sparred with one another during class, it was typically less official and easy-going. During daily sparring you were supposed to be practicing and learning, not competing. However, once a month we would have kumite day, where after stretching and a few other drills, the entire class would engage in matches under official sporting rules. Students would compete two at a time while Mr. Hayashida and the rest of the class watched and studied.
            Now, Raman and I both loved judo, make no mistake. We enjoyed almost every aspect of it: the physical, the mental, and the spiritual; even if we didn’t quite understand those more abstract facets just yet. The one thing that neither of us enjoyed, however, was kumite day. While Raman enjoyed learning special techniques and theory fighting, he very much disliked direct competition, and rarely did well at it. In normal practice sparring, he was able to forget that it was a match and treat the session like what it was: practice, not fighting. However, during kumite, with all eyes on him and confronted by a real, tangible opponent, he would fall apart.
            Unlike my nervous friend, I relished competition. Every time I tangled with an adversary I got a wonderful adrenaline rush that would only intensify as we wrestled for holds and positioning. No, what I hated was losing. More specifically, losing by points. See, official judo matches are decided entirely on the basis of points; there is little actual fighting that occurs. The first judoka to reach one point wins. The full point is awarded for a clean, powerful throw such as seioi-nage, while half-points and less can be awarded for lesser attacks and actions. It’s a bizarre system. Karate sometimes uses a similar point system.
            Boxing (and later mixed martial arts, but not back in 1996) also use point systems to decide a winner if there is no other stoppage within the allotted time, but these sports still allow for a natural combat flow and the existence of power and damage. I didn’t know how to articulate it at the time, but this was the issue I had with the point system. I had lost countless matches on kumite days when my opponent managed to land a sloppy trip or throw that never hurt, but scored them the winning point. It was horribly frustrating for me.
            At any rate, I now sat in seiza (as did everyone else) against the rear wall of the dojo watching Raman fight his match with another boy about our age. My. Hayashida was seated in seiza at the front of the class, judging the bout. Raman was doing much better than he normally did, especially considering this boy was a good bit larger and stronger, and his father was watching intensely from his seat near the door. They had both managed to score half a point, and the match was definitely nearing its conclusion.
            Tommy, Raman’s opponent, was at an obvious advantage with a much better grip on Raman’s gi. He continually tried to throw Raman with the more basic, powerful techniques, shooting for ippon and the win. Thankfully, Raman’s brain was functioning at alarming speeds and he was able to stay mobile and slippery, escaping every throw attempt, though never taking an advantage for himself.
            Continuing to mount a bulldog offense, Tommy pushed and pulled Raman around the mat like a toy, constantly looking for the easy overpowering victory. Likewise, Raman continued to play passively, narrowly avoiding each and every throw attempt. It was looking like this might go on for a while, when Raman abruptly shifted gears and took firm hold of the lapel of Tommy’s gi and pulled. The shock was painted all over Tommy’s face as he began to fall forwards, he seemed truly flabbergasted that his physically inferior adversary had dared to take the initiative. Unfortunately, that surprise lasted only a moment before he remembered he was far stronger and pulled back to resist. The match would go on, it seemed. Damn!
            However, no sooner had Tommy pulled back when Raman lunged towards him, pushing now. Startled, Tommy stepped back with his right foot to brace himself and halt Raman’s advance. That’s when I saw Raman’s scheme! Wasting no time, he stepped between Tommy’s feet and swept the left (front) leg while forcing their entire combined weight back onto Tommy’s right foot, which was unable to sustain and balance the force. Tommy crumbled to the mat with Raman on top of him. It was a textbook o-uchi-gari!
            I clenched my little fist in vicarious triumph for my friend, using all my willpower to contain an overly obnoxious cheer. Raman’s father seemed to have less control of himself, and emitted a loud whoop momentarily before getting himself back in check. Raman and Tommy both returned to their feet and bowed in respect to one another, then to Mr. Hayashida, who commended them both on an excellent match before having them return to their seats.
            Raman kneeled down in his spot next to me smiling like a lunatic with pride. I patted him on the back and congratulated him on thinking to use such a tricky technique. He only smiled brighter in response, lost for words in the joys of victory.
            Mr. Hayashida stood then, clasping his hands behind his back and surveying the dojo. He appeared to be debating something to himself: his eyes squinted and darted about, and his jaw tensed and relaxed as his brain seemed to wrestle with itself over something. He turned his gaze towards me, looking serious.
            “Tell me, little friend, have you continued to train diligently over the past year?” he asked.  Of course he was inquiring about my extracurricular tree-throwing activities, though nobody else there save for Raman knew this. I gave a solemn nod.
            “Yes, sensei, I have.” I said, sounding far more serious than I think I ever had before. I felt a bit embarrassed when I realized.
            The master brought a hand to his chin and nodded slowly, continuing to ponder something over. His eyes strayed to the right, towards where some of the older students sat. What was taking so much consideration?
            “Alright then,” he finally said after another minute or so of silence, “let’s see if all your hard work has paid off, shall we? Come up to the mat.”
            I did as I was told, springing to my feet and marching to center mat.
            “As for the opponent,” he said, “Clark, if you would please join us.”
            My very soul seemed to freeze at those words. Clark? Was he serious here? Clark!? The hushed murmurs from the class seemed to echo the terror I felt inside. In the far corner of the classroom, an impressively large 12-year-old boy got to his feet and slowly walked out to join us.
            Though he was “only” twelve, Clark was much taller and heavier than I was, to say nothing of the four year age difference. He wasn’t so much physically fit as he was just naturally large, but until that point in life it had been all he needed to dominate most matches in our young class. With our limited technical skill and physical strength, the majority of us were simply unable to resist his throws for very long at all. I had practiced with him on a few occasions before, but it was rarely constructive; he merely tossed my small body around at will. What was Mr. Hayashida thinking, matching me up with this giant? My milk saucer eyes stared up at my teacher, begging for an explanation.
            He rested a hand on my shoulder, and instantly I felt at ease. “Just do your best, that’s all anyone can ask,” he said, “and it should be enough. Think on your goal, little one.” Perhaps not wanting to look like he was picking favorites, he turned to Clark and said something similar.
            I said that I understood, and turned towards Clark, who seemed to be just as confused as I was. Probably afraid he might break my arm and get in trouble. At Mr. Hayashida’s signal we bowed to each other before assuming ready position. He shouted hajime and the match began.
            Before I could even think to make a move, Clark had shot towards me and grabbed hold of the sleeves of my gi. He had actually been at the dojo one year less than me, but he was in no way inexperienced. Plus, he had remarkable speed for a big kid who might look like a bit of a butterball to a stranger. As his grip tightened on my jacket, I could see him smiling in triumph, and I could feel my face flashing red with a mixture of negative emotions. Exerting his will, Clark pulled at my lead right arm and jerked me up into the air for a simple shoulder throw and ippon. Flawless victory.
            Except for one thing. I was still standing in my ready position. He had pulled me, but I resisted with all I had. He was strong, no question, but not as strong as I had remembered. Feeling my confidence rise up, I stepped back and to the side, attempting to shift the momentum in my favor. Stunned, Clark fell forwards at my pull, but only for a moment. Recovering quickly, he stepped to his right in an attempt to circle around me and reestablish control by redirecting the force in his favor.
            Moving right along with the centrifugal force, I was able to balance myself and square up with him again, though he still held an iron grip on my uniform. I narrowed my eyes and glared at him, trying to pierce right through him with my gaze. Where we now stood he was blocking one of the fluorescent lights on the ceiling, casting a dark shadow over my entire body. It was just like the tree I visited every afternoon blocking the sun.
            Lifting my right foot, I took one long stride forward as I reached up to grab hold of his shoulders. Just as I had done every day for more than a year, I planted my foot behind his right ankle and swept. And, just as I had done for the past year, I forced the upper body down with all the strength I had worked so hard to build.
            Clark was tall, but he was not as great as the tree. Clark was strong, but he was not as solid as wood. Clark cast a shadow over me, but it wasn’t near as dark as what I had stood in every day, and the light he blocked wasn’t a fraction as majestic as the sun. With my osoto-gari of 400 days I threw him, and with every push-up and sit-up and pull-up I had suffered through I pressed him into the floor in one explosive moment.
            His confident smile was gone, replaced with a vacant, unbelieving stare.

Chapter 8- Dojo-yaburi

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