Wednesday, May 11, 2011

By Popular Demand - Stupid Part IV

For those of you jumping in without reading the articles in chronological order and wondering what the hell this has to do with the Alaskapade, the next paragraph is a repeat from a previous entry.  Everyone else just skip down.

I was sitting in a client's conference room in the midst of pre-meeting smalltalk when a co-worker brought up the Alaskapade and asked when I was leaving.  One of my clients asked what he was talking about and my co-worker pulled up the page on the conference room's projection screen.  We had but moments before the meeting kicked off, so there wasn't much time for me to explain.  There was time, however for my client to express his opinion that "this has to be the stupidist thing [I've] ever done".  My first instinct was to argue the purpose for my trip, but this is my customer and IBM probably wouldn't appreciate that.  So, I just grinned, nodded, and bit my lip as the meeting started.

It did get me thinking though.  I know I'm firmly resolved in my purpose for the trip and I also know that I've done many things more stupid than this.  There are too many to list without starting another blog, so I thought I would describe my top three in no particular order.

Those three came and went and they prompted many readers to write in and comment.  Most of those comments were something like "Anyone who does that kind of crap must have more than three stupid stories to tell."  I'm not sure how to take that except to wonder how they knew. 

Nevertheless, here's Stupid Part IV - Kickboxing

["Oh yeah! You're winning! No get back out there and finish kicking his ass!"]

After my encounter with Larry, Darryl, and Darryl, I decided to never knowingly put myself in a position to be an unwitting victim again.  I began training in Song Moo Kwan Tae Kwon Do at a local school near my home.  This class had been in place over 25 years with the same two instructors. Their system had a foundation which far exceeded the school's owner and some anonymous photo of a Korean "Master" hanging on the wall.  They also held classes in which my sons and I could train together.  This was nice because my boys were far enough apart in ages to always be on different teams and leagues in any given sport or other activity. As such, I relished the opportunity for the three of us to do something together.

Where the adults were concerned, ours was a full contact class.  We always wore protective gear and no one was out to truly hurt anyone else, but it was understood that shit happens and I was always sporting a cracked rib, a black eye, or a fat lip. As I worked my way through the ranks, various martial arts tournaments would come and go, but I was never really interested in them.  Tournaments were for the most part a game of tag where anything more than slight contact was penalized and usually grounds for disqualification.  The fight scenes in the Karate Kid movies were crap.

We were trained with the mantra "you prepare hoping you never have to use it" and we all nodded in agreement, but the reality was that everyone in the class secretly fantasized about an altercation wherein we would kick the ass of someone who deserves it, using the techniques we practiced daily.  Before class one night, word was spreading about an upcoming kickboxing tournament and everyone was buzzing about it.  These events usually had a few low-level professional bouts preceded by several amateur matches with fighters at various levels of capabilities.  I had always shunned traditional martial arts tournaments because they seemed lame, but these would be full contact, multi-round events where a guy could learn first hand how his skills stacked up against others.  I asked my instructor what he thought of my training for and entering the event.  The techniques used in kickboxing were quite different than those we were learning, but he and his instructor agreed to train me if I was willing to do so outside of class.  For weeks before the event, I would go to my instructors house and get my ass kicked by whatever guest bully he had show up to beat on me that night. I came home one night with my jaw so swollen I couldn't talk, much less eat.  I had been knocked cold from a heel rake delivered by one of my instructor's fellow teachers.  We were working out in the grass between the houses and I never saw it coming.  One second I was throwing a punch and the next, it was lights out. I came to looking up as a fuzzy rendition of my instructor was digging in my throat trying to prevent me from swallowing my mouthpiece.  I tried to avoid talking when I got home because I knew how much crap I'd take for doing something so stupid being the sole bread winner in the house.  Truth was, nobody at home knew what I was doing or what I planned to do. I never even told my family about the match or its outcome.

Kickboxing rules are different than regular martial arts competitions in many ways, most notably of which was full contact was not just allowed, it was expected.  I felt like I had an advantage, or was at least at par with my competition because our class trained the same way.  Part of our training included visiting other classes, one of which on one particular night was to a class where absolutely no contact was allowed.  From the youngest kids to the adults, the students were terrified of us.  I remember thinking what an injustice this school was doing to its students, wrapping them in belts having never really been hit.  Our organization was old school and our founder, now in his mid 60's, didn't believe anyone who hadn't been knocked out cold in training deserved to wear a black belt.  I still had a few years to go before my first black belt test, but I knew I already had that square filled.

The most difficult part of kickboxing for me was learning how to actually box.  The rules dictated that each competitor had to throw a minimum of six kicks in each of three three-minute rounds.  You could pummel your opponent, but if you failed to get your six kicks in, you lost the round.  Kicks were my specialty.  I had developed a wicked hook kick roundhouse combination with my forward leg that always caught my opponents off guard.  I just needed to work on that boxing thing. I went with my instructor to watch a kickboxing match and was shocked at what I saw.  These guys weren't martial artists.  They were all boxers who learned how to throw six kicks.  The irony was that you didn't even have to land the kicks.  The usual tactic seemed to be to just toss 'em out there in the general vicinity of your opponent and then slug it out for the remainder of the round.  I decided to take a different approach.

The night of my tournament arrived and I drove out with my instructor and his instructor, Mr. DeLuna.  I observed a few matches before mine and was pleased to see that my expectations had been met.  These guys also appeared to just be boxers who threw six kicks per round.  They even wore boxing trunks.  When my first match was called, I entered the ring in a full training pants with  my gi top wrapped by my blue belt.  The crowd was mostly silent except for the few friends I had there. Their cheers were drowned out by the snickering and outright laughter from others, but I paid them no mind.

As the bell rang out calling the fighters to center ring, my instructor looked me straight in the eye and told me to stick to our plan.  I had trained with he and his fellow instructors for a few months, but suddenly I had no intention whatsoever of applying what they taught me.  My opponent looked to be about my age, 31, but he had long jet black hair, was cut like a boxer, tattooed, and totally ripped.  I had short gray hair, was cut like a pancake, had no tattoos, and was slightly torn at best.  We touched gloves after the first round bell tolled and he started with the typical boxer dancing, bobbing, and weaving. I assumed a defensive stance with my weight on my rear foot and my arms positioned to protect my chest and face.  As he danced and moved around me, I just pivoted on my back foot, staying sideways relative to his chest.  This made me a slimmer profile and therefore a smaller target.  All he really had in his fighting arsenal was a straight jab.  My stance made me more elusive than the typical fighter he faced who stood face to face with him.  I figured out quickly that for all his muscles, he had no flexibility.  He had a hard jab, but that was it.  When he punched, I moved ever so slightly causing him to miss and stammer forward.  Throwing a full force punch and missing is much more exhausting than when the punch connects.  I heard someone in his corner yell out "kick".  He threw a half-assed forward kick in my general direction that was barely waist high.  I could throw side kicks that were head high.  Part of my instructor's training regimen was to have us stand sideways right next to a folding chair and side kick over it.  If I kicked too low, I kicked the chair and it hurt as bad as any punch or kick from an opponent.  That training technique was instrumental in my discipline development and my high side kicks were a reward.  About a minute into the first round, I figured out his pattern.  He would fake a jab twice with his left hand and then throw a right hand.  About every third set of these was followed up by a half-assed kick.  I maintained my stance, staying completely passive.  The crowd started booing at me and my instructor was pulling his hair out.  This was years before the Ultimate Fighting Championship and mixed martial arts became popular.  The crowd wanted a fight and I was taught not to fight.  I was taught to respond and eliminate the threat with minimal effort. About the time my instructor yelled out "sixty seconds", my opponent repeated his staple move.  I flinched slightly to the right and I could hear his fist whoosh past my left ear as he stumbled forward.  I pivoted to the left and launched a head-high side kick with my right leg that caught him square in the under left side of his jaw.  I remember seeing what looked like a slow motion view of his head slamming sideways on to his right shoulder.  The sweat from his long hair splashed off his shoulder and he dropped to the mat.  The crowd was silent.  It even took my friends a few seconds to realize what happened and respond.  The ref pushed me to my corner and gave my opponent (who had stood up by this point) a standing eight count. This scenario repeated itself twice more before the round ended.  He basically walked into every kick I threw.  After the third knock down, the ref called the fight.  I won.  I won in a single round against a boxer and I never even threw a punch.  In fact, I only threw a total of three kicks the entire round.  Ironically, had the round not ended before the TKO, I would have lost it because I didn't have my six kicks in.  The ref raised my hand in victory and the only cheers in the place were from my instructors and my friends.  My opponent hugged me and I stepped through the ropes and hopped to the floor.  I had about thirty minutes before my next match which would pit me against another first round winner.

My instructor was simultaneously happy and pissed at me.  He asked me if I had forgotten everything I learned the last few months.  I told him I learned from him, but what I learned most was how to exploit the weaknesses in the techniques they were teaching me.  He told me I was being cocky and that cockiness would cost me.  I outwardly feigned confidence, but I knew I was lucky.  My next match was the last of the first round winners.  When they called me for the next round, my opponent wasn't there.  They had to call in an alternate who hadn't fought all night because he arrived too late.  My corner was concerned because he was fresh.  Hell, I was fresh.  All I had done was throw three kicks and then rest for half an hour.  What I realized that my corner did not, was that this guy never saw my first match.

The clang of the bell sounded the start of the second round.  We touched gloves and I assumed the position.  My new opponent was a Hispanic guy who apparently spoke no English.  He started bobbing around and then just stopped, dropping his hands and looking at me as if to say "didn't you hear the bell?"  I seized the moment, launched a spinning back kick with my right leg and burying my heel into his breadbasket.  Down he went, but this guy bounced right back up.  I caught him off guard, but I didn't hurt him.  As the ref gave him a standing eight count, my instructor yelled out to me "You think lightning's gonna strike twice?"  I just shrugged, reinserted my mouthpiece and flashed a black toothed grin.  This match went longer and I actually got some hand strikes in.  The boxing gloves made it difficult to strike in the manner in which I was accustomed and had trained for over the last couple of years and by this point I had forgotten anything I had recently learned about boxing.  I figured out I could throw ridge hands and strike with the side of my hand and throw backfists.  I loaded up a backfist with a full 360 spin to the right, connected on my opponent's right ear, and knocked out his mouthpiece.  The rules dictated that if a fighter's mouthpiece was knocked out, it couldn't be replaced until after the round ended.  My opponent looked at me wide-eyed and motioned with his gloves towards his face as if trying to point.  His lips were wide open and his teeth were clinched.  He was saying something in Spanish, but I never got it.  Then I noticed that he had braces and was trying to show me.  I nodded, kept my strikes low, and finished what proved to be a pretty dull round.  The third round wasn't much more exciting, but I stayed close to him, marginalizing his legs, and we exchanged a lot of punches.  I took a few good shots to the head during that round.  I knew I won the first round, but I wasn't totally confident in the second and third.  To my recollection, they were close and I was gassed out.  The judges scored me the winner of the second round and in the end, although a moot point after the first two, I won the third round because my opponent failed to get six his kicks in.  Lightning had struck twice.

I had to wait about an hour for my third match.  The third guy was an Italian dude who was younger and leaner than my first two opponents. He wore full length gi pants wrapped by his black belt which was adorned with several gold stripes.  He wore no shirt and had a Ferrari symbol tattooed over his heart.  After seeing him, I was wishing I had braces to point at; or maybe a cane; perhaps a walker with tennis balls on the bottom.  He was a badass and I was in trouble.  We both knew it.

The bell rang out to start the fight and we touched gloves.  I assumed my defensive stance and hoped for the best.  He displayed no caution and ran in on me fast.  I threw a block with my left hand and tried to side step him.  Right about then, I heard what sounded like a really loud buzzing sound.  I remember thinking "I wonder what that is..."  Simultaneously, I felt what seemed like a jackhammer "buzzing" the sides of my head.  I'm pretty sure I knew what that was.  My ears seemed to clog up as if I had a severe cold and everything sounded muffled.  This guy was hitting me so hard and so fast that I never saw the punches coming.  He could kick too and his kicks weren't half assed.  They landed and they landed hard.  At one point I remember we were almost toe to toe and I was looking him square in the eye when suddenly, I'm staring at his feet going up sideways from the mat.  In fact the whole ring is sideways and nobody was falling over.  This was because I had fallen over immediately after he cold cocked me in the side of the head with his left foot.  The next thing I knew, the ref was giving me a standing eight count and I didn't remember standing back up.  The first round ended and I staggered first to the wrong corner, then to mine.  My instructor and friends were laughing their asses off.  I practically barfed out my mouthpiece and asked "How am I doin'? Am I winning?"  Mr DeLuna stifled his laughter and said "Oh yeah! You're winning! Now get back out there and finish kicking his ass!"

The second round began and I decided I needed a new strategy.  Duh!  The reality was it didn't matter what I did.  This guy had my number and there was nothing I could do except try to maintain some dignity and survive three rounds.  I began to notice an odd smell.  It smelled like something was burning.  I rubbed the sweat my face with my sleeve and it was smeared with blood.  I remember wondering "how'd that get there?"  I must have landed something.  Maybe I am winning.  I was so punch drunk I didn't even recognize the smell or taste of my own blood.  By this time, It seemed like someone had turned out some of the lights around the ring.  It definitely seemed darker.  I threw a few kicks and eventually heard my instructor yell out "six!", indicating I met the minimum.  Oh good!  Now I can run around and try not to get hit.  Suddenly, I had tremendous respect for those boxers who just hours before I had thought of as lightweights.

The second round ended and it occurred  to me that I may have been lied to by my corner after the first round.  They were all still laughing their asses off and urging me on as I sat in my corner.  I wanted to quit and I told my instructor I was done.  Then, Mr. DeLuna (who was a short, fat little Mexican in his late fifties and a total badass) spoke up and told me if I quit, he'd kick my ass worse than he (pointing to the ring) ever could.  Mr. DeLuna commanded respect.  He came up through the ranks the hard way, a direct protege of our organization's founder with all the old school rules.  It was his influence that drove our class and he did not tolerate anything less than 100% effort.  I knew he would do exactly as he said he would and I figured I looked better getting pummeled by the guy in the ring than by a guy eight inches shorter than me with a Santa Claus belly.  When the bell rang, I jumped up as if I thought I had a chance and we touched gloves.  The rest is pretty much a blur.  I know I got six kicks in, although they could have landed on my own head as far as I could tell.  I never imagined a human could move as fast and hit as hard as he was hitting me.  To this day, I suspect he was just toying with me because he could have easily knocked me out; probably in the first round.  The bell mercifully rang and it was finally over.  Lightning struck again.  Only this time, it struck me square in my ass.  We hugged it out and as the ref lifted his hand, I could barely lift my head.  I made it three rounds with this guy and tried to feel proud about it, but a part of me knew that he let me finish standing.

After the match and after I regained lucidity, the Italian bought me a coke at the concession stand.  He had just got his ass kicked in his next match. I was shocked.  If he got his ass handed to him after beating me like he did, how big a pussy must I have been?  He told me that he saw my first two matches and admired the fact that I tried to represent the art; the martial art.  I wasn't so sure I did a good job of representing anything except for Tampax.  See, it was common in the fighting world to use cut off tampons to stop nose bleeding and my instructor had stuffed on up my nose after the third fight.  I had a string hanging out of my nostril the whole time I was talking to him and others after my fight.  I remember looking in the rear view mirror on my way home, seeing the string, and thinking "Jeezus Christ! I AM a pussy!"