It all started with flying headgear. My right hook flung the old, ill-fitting, vinyl-covered foam across the room, where it struck the mirror before laying limp over the air conditioning grate. I stepped back with hands up, giving the 15-year-old powerhouse the room to retrieve it, but she declined. I insisted she return the protective covering to her head; she insisted I continue the fight.
I looked at her face, hidden behind long, disheveled hair, and for just a moment I could see it. She wasn’t simply exhausted after the ninth fighting rotation of the class; she was irritated – more than was warranted by losing her headgear to the second or third punch of our match.
I looked to my left and quickly caught a glimpse of a grin on her older brother’s face. Less than a minute earlier, she’d been fighting her greatest and longest-standing rival, an 18-year-old bulky brawler with good footwork (long-haired blonde in the picture below), who was good at keeping his hands in motion before punching. My opponent was annoyed at her brother, and she wanted to take it out on me. She wanted to be the one doing the beating for a while.
Against my better judgment, I got back in fighting stance and threw a jab to the top of her stomach. Immediately after it hit, she was wrapped around my midsection and driving hard, trying to use her uncovered head to push me to the floor. It was reminiscent of a fight earlier in the summer discussed here; only, my most logical and effective weapon of throwing upper cuts to a face in perfect position to receive them couldn’t be used. I had to remember that she wasn’t wearing headgear. Just as I was swinging my hips to fling her off of me, I caught sight of the wall she was rapidly approaching and knew her head would hit first.
“Wait a minute!” I said as I pulled my hips back the other direction to slow her collide with the wall. “I’m at a disadvantage because I can’t hit you in the head.”
“Hit her in the head!” her brother said while punching someone else. She agreed.
I looked around for our instructor, thinking he’d put a stop to the MMA-style thinking these kids were famous for. He was too wrapped up in his own match to say a word. He was also used to granting their family permission to bloody each other. So, with no one telling me I couldn’t hit her in the head unless she was wearing headgear, we proceeded.
It was among the more surreal experiences of my martial arts life. For the remaining ninety seconds or so it felt like I was fending off a mugger – an upper class, suburban mugger with a few pounds on me, despite the three decades I have on her. Fending her off required that I pummel the unprotected head (and body) of a doctor’s daughter – with the doctor in the room, saying nothing! Go figure!
“That was not at all ‘light and fast,’” I said, quoting Siheng Mark’s directive on how to fight. Moving on to the last opponent, still winded from fighting the kid and the eight opponents before her, I thought: What is with these teenagers? Do they always fight like they have to take out the world, even with each other? Or do they just need to prove that a middle-aged woman with really bad knees is not going beat them?
I don’t know the answers to my questions, and I don’t care. I just know that the two teens who literally tried to knock me down this summer couldn’t.