Mixed Match This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

October 30, 2009
My heart thumped in excitement as I rode in my family’s red van. Although I was 13, I bounced in my seat as if I was six. Today was the day I had been training for all year – the taekwondo district tournament. After two years of qualifying in the top three, I was sure I could win the division this year.

Through the combined teachings of my sensei and my father, I had developed a strong strategy. With visions of victory in my head, I eagerly punched the seat. My parents were relieved when we finally reached the tournament. As we opened the doors to the massive gym, I was amazed by the variety of fighters filling it – every style, size, and rank.

I fidgeted with excitement as I picked up my bracket. But when I read the list of names, I realized that some of the fighters were female. At 13, I had a closed-minded opinion about girls fighting. I had limited experience with two female classmates, and I dreaded even drilling with them. Every kick was too hard, and after each ten-minute drill, they were exhausted. I couldn’t imagine fighting in a match against either of them. An image of the girls covered in bandages popped into my head.

I could only hope that any girl in my bracket would be eliminated before I faced her. Shaken by this new development, I watched the martial art forms to calm my nerves. I had always admired their beauty, and enjoyed observing these techniques performed. Little did I know that this would only make matters worse.

When I sat beside my teammates, the weapon forms for the bow staff had begun. They called a small Asian girl to the center mat for finals, and immediately she caught my attention. I sat entranced as she started her form.

She stood, holding her staff at her side, and bowed. When her keen eyes opened, butterflies danced inside me. She broke into various strikes, and the space around her reflected with the staff’s silver shine. She matched those strikes with acrobatics, which added the golden highlights in her hair to the glow. I was hit by Cupid’s arrow regularly, but this time a torrent of affection went straight to my heart.

When the hypnotic dance ended, I was slammed back to earth when I heard her name announced.

Ami Chang sounds familiar, I thought, and looked at my sparring bracket. My throat swelled as I spotted her name. Crumbling the paper, I panicked at the possibility of fighting my newfound crush.

It wasn’t long before my teammate Tyler noticed my frantic pacing. When he asked what was wrong, I quickly explained my dilemma. At first he laughed, but when he saw the distress on my face he changed his tone.

“C’mon, Denzel. What are the odds of you fighting each other? You’re on opposite sides of the bracket. The only way she would fight you is if you both reached the finals.” He patted me on the back.

With new hope, I proceeded through the tournament, winning every round. Yet fate vexed me, and Ami made it to the finals too. When we reached the center of the mat, even her padded face left me lovestruck. I towered over her as I stared stupidly into her beautiful brown eyes. Then the referee blew his whistle and Ami hopped back and kicked me solidly in the head.

Luckily, her attacks were fast but weak. Usually a lightweight wouldn’t last more than one round with me, but I simply couldn’t attack. The entire first round involved me blocking and dodging while Ami pounded relentlessly.

By the end of that round, I was losing by 15 points and my teammates were angered by my lack of effort. Tyler instantly understood my problem and pulled me aside. “You need to stop standing there. Just imagine it was me fighting you.”

I looked at him, puzzled. “Tyler, you’re an 18-year-old hairy giant. How am I going to imagine Ami as you?”

Tyler knocked me on the head. “Just do it!” he said angrily, and pushed me to the center of the mat.

When the second round began, I tried to do what Tyler had said. I warped Ami’s image as she paced around me. But it wasn’t working; I simply didn’t have it in me to hit a girl. After a flurry of kicks, she clenched and whispered insults in my ear that would stun a sailor, then pushed off.

Now, blinded by rage, I no longer saw a beautiful angel dancing in front of me. I leaped into a sidekick, driving her to the ground. When the referee let her up, I brushed off her meager attacks and unleashed a torrent of kicks. Before long, I had scored enough points to end the match.

After the match, I approached her to shake hands and saw that she was smiling. It was then that I realized she only wanted for me to do my best, even if it meant she lost. I may not have gained a girlfriend that day, but Ami gave me a new respect for female fighters.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

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