The smell of blood, sweat, tears and general disappointment clung to the walls of the building. As I reentered, I blinked in an attempt to fight the sensual overload caused by hundreds of snow white gis. They were like snowflakes, dancing around each other, occasionally colliding or falling to the ground. I walked the perimeter, letting their cries of pain or exaltation flow over me and found my ring. I had just finished my previous fight and was waiting for the only opponent I had not yet fought. An official, marked as such with a navy blue blazer, stepped into the ring. Three medals hung from his wrist.
“Brianna.” He said, gesturing at me.
“What are you talking- wait, me?” I stuttered. He nodded. Baffled, I took uneasy steps forward; my legs had gone numb. He placed the bronze medal around my neck letting the cold metal rest against the crisp fabric of my gi..
I sat there in shock as the other medals were awarded; I was not a bronze medalist, I was undefeated. As soon as the medals were presented, I ran up to the girl who had gotten the gold medal, the only girl I hadn’t fought.
“You won all of your matches, right?” I asked her.
Yeah,” she said, looking bemused. “But you did too, and we didn’t spar each other.”
“Exactly.” I said. “And I beat the girl who won silver.”
“That’s so weird,” she said. “Try asking the officials if you did something wrong.” What if that was the case? What if I had such terrible technique that they had to give me bronze? But that didn’t make sense; I still won the matches and they wouldn’t have allowed me any points if my technique was terrible. Confused, I walked over to the table when the officials appeared unoccupied.
“Excuse me,” I said. “Do you mind if I take a look at the kumite bracket? I think there’s been a mistake.” The official looked up at me, frowning.
“What do you mean?” He asked.
“I won all of my matches but I only got bronze. The only girl I didn’t spar was also undefeated and won gold. I’m just curious as to why that is.” My pulse flew out of control as the official pulled out the bracket. I scanned names scrawled across thin lines and noticed the error.
“You said I lost my first match. There.” I pointed out the mistake, relief flooding my body. “You confused the names, that’s all.” The official sighed and nodded.
“Ugh, you’re right, I’m sorry. You’ll need to fight her,” He said, pointing to the name of the girl I hadn’t faced. “ For silver or gold.” I nodded and slipped my mouthguard back in as the official stood and called to the girl I needed to fight. I was still nodding when he directed us to our places in the ring. I was nodding when the head official gave a shout in Japanese.
I was nodding until I got punched in the jaw. My new opponent was at least 6 inches taller with a much larger wingspan but where she had size, I had agility which allowed for some competition. She hit me in the nose as I struck her in the stomach. One official put up a red flag, the other put up a white flag. They offset and we kept going. I could feel my legs tiring as I bounced around her, disrupting her balance. I slid in, hooked her ankle with my own and stepped back, punching her in the chin as she lost her balance, but she jabbed her fist into my gut so the points offset. We were evenly matched but in the end, her height overcame my own as she got a few good punches in. As we bowed to each other, panting, the head official held a hand over her side of the ring. I kept my head hung long after the bow, long after the silver medal was draped around my neck.
I could hear the sound of my own anger in the blood roaring through my ears past the lump in my throat to my balled up fists. I was furious, not only at the officials for being lazy with the bracket but with myself for not being able to win gold. I was better than this. I was better than silver.
It took a couple hours for me to calm down and loosen up about not winning the gold and by the time I let myself breathe, I realized that I’d actually done something to be proud of. I had medaled silver in kumite but also in the other two categories, kata and team kata. Nobody else medaled in all three events. As a blue belt, I had beaten a green belt and a black belt in kumite. I allowed myself to be proud of my accomplishments. At the end of the day, I saw that as long as I was proud of what I had done, I had won in my own eyes.