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Thank You for Teaching

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Arms and legs burning, I force myself to keep going. A little higher and I’ll be there. This isn’t the time to quit. This has been long, this has been tiring, and I can’t wait for this to end, but it’s only the beginning. Five more feet…four…three…two…one, and I’m there.
I let one hand go of the rope, turning to grab the highest wooden plank nailed to the six-by-six inch pole. I swing my legs down, landing them on a wooden plank farther down. Relief flooding my system, I climb down the planks that form a rough ladder.
Of course, then it’s time to move. A tire waits for me. I flip it once, twice, three times and get into a rhythm. Punch, flip, punch, flip, punch, and flip.
Sun beating onto my back, it’s time to move again. Sit-ups, push-ups, dips, leg lifts and pull-ups await. I go through them in a daze glad I had kicks first. That way, I went from kicks to log to the track to rope to tires and finish here. That way, I don’t have to end by running four laps.
Things run through my mind with the daze, a replay of earlier. The twenty-minute wait and stretching time, the joking and laughter, the excitement and the nerves spin around my head. After that we went to the pagoda. We knelt only on our right knee and placed our right fist against the ground, repeating familiar words.
“Please teach.”
We received an explanation of our first task, of the physical training and started with a run up and down a steep hill. That part runs through my head last and just as I’m about to get to the top in my mind’s eye, it’s over and time to move onto the next event.
I grab my fighting gear and a drink and strip my shoes, heading into the barn. Ropes cut across it. On the other side, fence lines most of the walls. I pull my gear on and eat some chocolate for the much-needed sugar. I drink some water to refuel.
I’m not first. Actually, I’m last. Somehow, this doesn’t surprise me. We tend not to listen to “ladies first.” First up is the highest rank. Four minutes go by, and he fights one person, then two, then three and then four all for a minute each. Next up is the tallest, the only adult. The rest of us are teens. He fights for three minutes, so he’s fighting three people at the end. Next is the one I’m closest to since we’ve been testing and training together for about a year. He fights three minutes, as well, and also ends with three people. It’s the same thing I’m going to do.
Three minutes. Three people. One goal.
Survive.
Suddenly, I’m there in headgear and something to protect my chest, stomach and sides. I start with one-on-one, which isn’t too bad. The boy I’m fighting is about my size. A minute passes and next thing I know, it’s two-on-one. My second enemy is bigger, making it more difficult. It’s time for the third minute and the third fighter, a girl this time, making it more difficult still.
The call to stop comes and I’m stripped of my gear. I find myself convinced I did horrible, much worse than I usually do. However, I’m reassured that I fought great, just a little too aggressive. I need to learn to balance out my aggression and evasion.
I learn something, at least. It’s almost impossible to win if you’re outnumbered.
We get a quick break, and I’m one of the first into the sand pit. I follow the instructions given to me, going through twelve series of motions and answering questions as they’re asked. For two of them, I need to move on a balance beam, back and forth, back and forth, but thankfully, I never fall.
Finally, we follow “ladies first.” I examine the challenge ahead of me with resolve to do it as fast as possible, as best as I can. The order of events list in my mind: run two laps, climb the vertical rope, flip tires there and back, twenty sit-ups, twenty dips, ten push-ups, monkey-bars and sprint back to the start.
I don’t think as I work, preferring instead to listen to the voices cheering me on, counting out the numbers to my sit-ups and dips and push-ups. Time flies and when I’m done, I find out that it was longer than I thought it was…yet also shorter than I thought it was, as well.
Two minutes and fifty-five seconds.
Next up is my friend. He clocks in at two minutes and fifty-six seconds, earning a combined groan and laugh. The adult goes next and he finishes at three minutes and thirty-three seconds. I feel pretty good about myself, even though it doesn’t really matter in the end. Last is the highest belt. He’s not encouraged to beat my time; he’s told he has to beat my time.
And he does with a time of two minutes and forty-two seconds.
We’re herded over towards the barn, where mats are set up against the side. The other three testers and I face our partners. Categories are called and we go through each one with four or more attacks and defenses. There are front attacks, back attacks, pushdowns, weapons and ground with boxing, a series of punches, in between. I throw my partner, take her to the ground, make her tap out and pretend to punch and kick. There’s no need to actually hurt her and it helps me practice our three top rules.
Control. Control. Control.
We’re almost done. I’m ready to go for hours still, but there’s probably less than an hour left. Two fight sets is all that remains between me and my victory, but I wish there is more.
I fight in the sand pit first, everything allowed except actually hurting each other. Once done with that, I jump into the pit, straight into a puddle about two inches deep. There, punching and kicking isn’t allowed, only grappling and ground. I fight my best against the big guy I’m facing until time’s up.
I stand. He pours water over my face to clear mud from my eyes and then cleans my hands. There’s nothing to do for my clothes or hair or my partner’s shoes, which I wear.
A few minutes later, over ten people jump from foot to foot in the pit. A hose sprays into each of the testers’ faces, demanding to know one of ten rules and one of six selfs. After that’s over, we climb out and are hosed off just a little one-by-one.
We gather back where we started, in the pagoda and pull on our belts, colors including green, brown, red, blue and black. The highest rank goes first. Three people remove his red belt and replace it with a blue one that signals their next step is black.
The adult goes next, his green belt being replaced by a brown one. He smiles glad to have these memories to cherish.
My friend is next. His green belt is replaced with a brown one, as well. He says what every tester thinks, that this wouldn’t be possible without the support of everyone else in our extended and mostly un-biological family.
I’m up. My twin brother removes my green belt and is helped to tie it in the ceremonial knot. My older brother ties on my brown belt with some difficulty. As usual, my family is cause for laughs from basically everyone there.
A few small speeches are made praising the testers. My friend and I are signaled out for already being leaders in class and therefore are expected to keep leading when we must.
Finally, we all get down on our right knee, placing our right fist against the ground. Thoughts swirl in my mind about the day. I learned so much and so little. I was so tired and yet I’m ready to do it all again. I did so well yet made plenty of mistakes.
I learned that no matter how much I learn or how strong I get, I would always make mistakes because no one is perfect. I learned that friends and family are extremely important and should be cherished through the good and the bad. I learned that mud gets everywhere when you’re wrestling in it. I learned that sand and uneven ground make it difficult to throw nice kicks.
But most importantly, I learned that I could succeed in anything I put my mind to as long as I keep pushing through the mess-ups and the pain.
I smile to myself, repeating the words with everyone around me, with everyone that shares my passion.
“Thank you for teaching.”



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