At the Baldwin Community Methodist Church, a woman behind the table turns slowly toward me. Noticing my apprehension, she says, "There's no turning back now." She didn't have to say a word. I'm already sobered by the potential dangers of doing what I'm about to do and having to waive my rights to sue should I be injured or killed.
Serious as cancer, I go off to compete in my first ever "kick ass" contest: The Rising Sun Martial Arts Kumite (Point Sparring) Challenge.
I was 47 at the time with a Drew Carey body burdened by asthma and arthritis. A martial arts novice with 18 months of once-a-week lessons under my (orange) belt, I thought this old tired dog ought to test his new tricks in a competitive martial arts tournament. Why, I'm still not sure.
As a teenager, I boasted an athlete's heart (pulse 57 beats per minute) and possessed bona fide physical prowess. That was then. This is now.
I feel a rush of adrenaline before my first match. My mouth's dry and gritty. My feet shift with the alacrity and grace of the monster in 'Young Frankenstein," dancing to "Puttin' on the Ritz." My mindset is that I just want to live to tell about this madcap mêlée.
The first match ends, and I NEED a drink of water. "Hurry!" I mime to my son who's holding my water bottle. I'm too winded to actually utter the request.
I "earn" points quickly in match two, going against an undisciplined, intimidating street fighter. But I'm racking up points on "The Terminator" by being buckled over from a kick to the stomach and then dazed by a back-fist jab to the side of the head. You read it right. I'm scoring points. Let me explain.
The challenge in point sparring is to execute potentially lethal attacks and stop them an eighth of an inch short of the target ... although hitting your target lightly (and sometimes not so lightly) is permitted. If your opponent does not display some measure of control, however, you win the point ... even if you lose consciousness.
In the midst of exchanging fierce blows, precision succumbs to unbridled aggression. Uncontrolled attacks penetrate imprecise defenses, and someone inevitably gets punched or kicked hard. In this match, I'm that someone. I'm earning (consolation) points, however, as my opponent fails to demonstrate the requisite control. Which means that I am getting the snot beaten out of me. And, this, dear readers, is how I took a commanding lead and went on to win my second match.
Fast forward to later in the evening. The winner of this next match will earn third place in the tournament and receive a plaque. The loser gets nothing. I enter the ring. Who's entering the ring from the other corner? My nemesis: The Terminator. He starts fast and builds a substantial lead. Then, it happens.
I hear the loud screech of a tropical bird. The sound is produced by the center judge's attempt to repress laughter when The Terminator lands a killer kick to my chest causing me to use the Lord's name in vain ... in front of children ... and in a church, no less.
The judges ultimately determined that The Terminator's kick landed without requisite control. And, since he had violated the rules before, they disqualify him from the match and the tournament.
Thus, I take third-place in my first-ever martial arts tournament. Leaving the venue, I pass the woman at the registration table and yell to her, "I'll be back," doing my best Arnold Schwarzenegger impression. I'm feeling some bravado and a lot of relief. It's exciting and daunting to be a beginner, as my tale tells. I'm in fine fettle though as I walk out the door and leave the building.
It's time for this old dog to howl.
By Duke Kavinsky