A Single Kick

This past weekend I had the honor of participating in the Alabama State Games‘ Taekwondo competition. This is the third year for my son to participate in this particular tournament. It was my second. I started TKD in November of 2011 and have advanced at a moderate pace to a blue belt with a red stripe.

Originally, I started TKD as part of my effort to lose 120 lbs. and get my health back. It has assisted in the loss of 80 of those lbs. (and I’ve been stuck there for quite a while, unfortunately, but that’s another story). Now the love of TKD has taken me over and I thoroughly enjoy it for many other reasons. I especially enjoy the sparring competition. I’m not very good at it, but I still enjoy it.

I signed up to the competition as a green belt. I downgraded myself just so I could feel better about it, yeah. What of it? My son entered as a blue belt (he is a red belt in class). I had a pretty good inkling that I would fight one of my classmates who is also a green belt. That worried me a little bit. He’s taller than I am and when I fight, taller people are the bane of my existence. They’re hard for shorter people to fight. You have to be able to move/dodge and out-fake them quite a bit and that’s just not something I’m good at.

This classmate had acquired an annoying new skill that drives me crazy when fighting taller people. The defensive side kick posture plagues me. I spent all week trying to figure out what to do about it. When we got there… he didn’t use it. Not at all.

Now that I’ve set the stage, here’s what I remember of the fight.

My coach was one of our black belt classmates who actually taught him the defensive side kick posture (and yeah, he uses it on me in class, damn him). My opponent’s coach was, shockingly enough, my best friend… who is also a black belt in our class. I actually didn’t realize it was her until after round 1 was over.

Anyway, round 1 begins and I launch into this guy with a fast kick. He immediately charges me with a front push kick and brawls me out of bounds. I wasn’t expecting this. I was expecting the defensive side kick. I did not expect him to go with a gate crash style of offense. That shock played all through the first round and I think I may have scored 1 point. I went out of bounds twice. If I went out of bounds again, I would start losing points. That’s no good at all. Inbetween the rounds, my coach asked me what was wrong. He mentioned that he’s doing the same thing every time – a front push kick and leaving himself open.

It was about this time that I realized my best friend was coaching my opponent. I was a little flabbergasted at this. She knew all of my tricks (what few tricks I had) because she worked with me a lot in class and we’ve spent a lot of time discussing tactics in matches. She knows what I’m thinking. This can’t be good. It’ll either make or break me. At first I was a little ticked, then I realized… wait… she’s probably in a worse position because she’s conflicted about what to give away to my opponent about what I’m doing.

The second round begins and he gate crashes me again. This time he brawls me out to the side of the mat and one of the few things that I remember from this fight is that I felt my foot hit the very edge of the mat. I could tell that if I didn’t lock my leg and strengthen up, I was going out for that third time. I refused to let it happen. I puffed up and pushed myself off to the side to get away from him. On the way out I did a switch roundhouse or something… I think… and started to make up the point deficit.

By the end of the second round I wasn’t as behind as I thought. I could do this. I sat down and expected them to call the fight. I was sure I had lost. However I was quite surprised to discover we were going for a third round. This shocked my friend/opponent as well. He told me later that he used all of his energy in the first and second rounds and had no gas left for a third. I was the opposite. I decided to capitalize on this chance to take the fight back to him.

Again my coach warns me about the front push kick and the gate crashing tactics. I’m getting wise to it. I’m not dealing with it perfectly, but I was getting him off me more effectively. The third round starts and I managed… somehow… to launch into him enough to completely tie the score at 22-22.

That means an overtime round.

In Olympic WTF sparring rules, an overtime round means whoever lands the first scoring kick wins. I went to the side of the ring. My coach stands in front of me and smiles. I didn’t sit down.

“Aren’t you going to sit down?” he asked.

“Nope.”

I was pacing side to side to keep my heart rate up. I wanted to get in there and finish this so bad I could taste it.

“Alright,” he said. “Here’s what’s going to happen. The ref is going to say begin and he’s going to charge you with a front push kick. Get out of his way and get him back. Either get out of his way or front push kick him first.”

“Done.”

The ref called us back to the ring. I waited patiently. The ref said begin. Sure enough, my coach had called the shot. He drives forward with a front push kick. I did the same thing. I went forward into his kick with my own front push kick. Apparently we made contact at the same time – or enough of the same time to confuse the judges on who landed the kick. I remember my right leg going down to the mat and my brain asked… “Is this match over? No one is calling it.” Quickly, I did a switch roundhouse and tagged him with my left leg.

Bingo. That was the kick they scored.

In the end, I won the match. Somehow.

It was exciting. It was stressful. It was rewarding. I bowed to my friend, shook his hand and hugged him tight. He’s a great guy and he fought hard. He told me later he wanted to give the kids a good fight to watch. He knew that if he had done the defensive side kick it wouldn’t have been exciting at all. I was going to try to make it exciting – I had spent all week preparing for it. In the end it was the wrong thing. I finally starting to develop enough instincts to bend the match in my favor when I need to.

It was a great, great experience.

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