I remember the best sparing match I’ve ever had with vivid clarity. It was a cold winter’s night inside of our dojo. Rain leaked from the rafters, steadily dripping into a paint bucket on the floor.
The weather didn’t affect my friend, Anthony, and me. We were insulated inside of our red and white sparing gear, from shin protectors to our padded headgear and mouthpieces. Both of us were ready, to prove to our Master that we were good enough to join the traveling sparing team.
After warming up, Anthony and I sat traditionally onto the hard flooring, waiting for our Master to announce the start of our testing. My body was sticky with a cold sweat, and I grew impatient as I felt the eyes of the team’s members boring into me with critical expressions.
At last, Master Young entered the dojo with a grace of experience. I, being eleven years old at the time, thought he was an idol, and I practically worshipped him. He was a tall man gifted with the lean and swift muscles necessary for the sport. He had a shock of black hair that tumbled past his ears, and he possessed eyes known to see right through you. He was loved, feared, and respected by all.
He spoke then, snapping me out of my reverie. “Taekwondo is a sport of speed.” He motioned for us to stand, and I hastily scrambled to my feet. “It is not for the weak at heart.” He circled us like a wolf waiting to pounce. “You two have been chosen by the school to represent them as the younger of our advanced team. We all think you will prove yourselves to our standards. Unfortunately, we only have room for one more pupil. One of you will not be joining the team.”
“Now, traditionally we have you spar with an initiated member, but I think it will be all the more interesting if you face one another. Turn to face your partner.”
I shifted wide-eyed to see my best friend. We have fought together before, but never to seek reward or personal gain. I gulped as he looked at me with an expression of poorly hidden horror, which was probably the one I was wearing.
Master Young pretended not to notice, and smiled. “Remember, my students. There are no friends in sparing. Before and after, perhaps, but when you enter the fray, you see someone only as an opponent.”
I acquired a look of seriousness, and Anthony followed after a moment of confusion. We got into our starting positions, our feet dancing on the floor in anticipation.
“Ready, Fight!” Master Young lifted the hand previously resting between us, and we clashed.
I threw a left roundhouse as Anthony threw a right. Both of us blocked each other’s first blows, lowering our arms in unison over our chest targets. My mind sifted through the heavily practiced tactics acquired in my brain as shots of adrenaline coursed through my veins. I tried to think of something as Anthony threw a combination of teasing whip kicks, to which I easily shoved away.
I realized as he blocked my sidekick that we knew each other too well. We developed our strategies together, based off of each other. Anthony was the only one who knew my techniques as well as his own. I discovered that was the reason why Master Young paired us together as we brawled.
We danced back and forth as one, two minutes rolled by, neither of us having scored a single point. If three minutes came too quickly, neither of us would join the team.
Something brilliant unraveled when I flung I double roundhouse, soaring into the air as I kicked once at Anthony’s chest and once toward his exposed head. He was so tall I almost never went for his head, but I propelled myself high enough to make a powerful kick to his face.
Easily blocking the kick to his chest but leaving his head completely unprotected, my foot connected with full force. He face and shaggy blond curls protruding from his helmet whipped to the side as he registered the blow. Liquid flew from him in tiny droplets.
He turned to me in surprise and I stared at him through hazy vision as sweat entered my eyes. I blinked rapidly as salt blurred my sight.
Anthony’s expression turned from confusion to pure embarrassment. He channeled his emotion into a turning sidekick, something he would never do under normal circumstances. I was protecting my front, a target he always went for. This time, however, he centered on my side, and I didn’t have time to block when he hit.
A wave of shudders passed through me and I buckled toward the ground, turning to fall unceremoniously onto my backside. The round bell rang, signaling the end of our round.
“Well,” said Master Young, grinning from ear to ear. “I believe we can make room for two.”