When we arrived at the gym, he took off his shoes, placed them inside a shoe box on the wall and dashed straight upstairs to a particular room. “Hurry, Mark! We’re already late.”
I did everything he did as quick as I could and dashed after him. “How come we’re late? Did we take too long tying my belt?”
“It’s not that! If you hadn’t dashed around the entire athletic center for two full circles, we would’ve been on time.”
“If you hadn’t come after me with such a scary face, I would’ve remembered where the entrance of the building was.”
“And who was it that ruined my very first chance of seeing a beautiful woman up close!” Mateo speed was difficult to keep up with, especially while thinking and talking at the same time.
“I told you, you’ll have plenty more opportunities.”
“Says who!” He disappeared behind a wall.
“I see that kind of stuff at least every other day!” I was out of breath shouting and running at the same time.
“Every other day?” Mateo’s head re-emerged from the same wall he disappeared from. “You’re a lucky charm! Can I hang out with you more often?”
“Sure, as long as you don’t get angry like that again.” I collapsed on my knees. It was nice to see him smile again.
“That’s easy. Hehe!” He dragged me to the door of a room full of people wearing the same costume as him. “I’m terribly sorry, Tendo sensei. Please excuse our lateness.” He bowed to the old man standing near the door.
“Hmm, since it’s your friend’s first time. I will let it slide.” The sensei’s voice was deep and firm. He was small in stature, but very firm with his actions. “Future lateness will not be tolerated.”
“Yes, sensei.” Mateo bowed a deep bow and entered the room. I followed him silently.
The room was about the same size as our regular classrooms, but the floor was finished with hardwood. The students were all bare feet and struck each other with similar moves. They all wore different coloured belts.
“Sensei Tendo, this is my friend Mark.” Mateo introduced me to the sensei.
“Hello.” Sensei Tendo bowed. “Welcome.”
“Hello, Tenso sensei. It’s nice to meet you.” I bowed in return.
“Today, I will show the new students some moves for around half an hour, then everyone will practice freely afterwards. You can join the class for the first half hour and then practice with Mateo,” he said to me kindly. “Mateo told me that you practice a different type of martial art. And this is your first-time practicing karate.”
“Yes, Tendo sensei.” I bowed out of courtesy.
“What type of martial art do you practice?” Tendo sensei asked.
“Um…” I thought for a moment. “It’s a type of martial art practiced in Germany. It’s not very popular these days, but my parents forced me to do it as a child. Haha.” I grinned and scratched my head.
“I see.” Tendo sensei looked at me with fascination. “Forgive me for my poor knowledge of Germany, and its martial arts.”
“Oh, please, don’t worry about it.” I didn’t want to expand on the story I just made up. Less words means less to remember, and less possible loopholes. “I’m here to learn karate, so I can practice with Mateo.”
“I’m so glad he found a friend like you. His father and I have known each other for over 40 years, he always asks me to take care of him. And I’ve always seen him as my own son.”
“Sensei, you’re being too kind.” I wondered if he would think the same if he knew I was from the future.
“Everyone, let’s begin.” He gathered all the people in the room. “Today, we have a new student, Mark Winfield. He’s an international student America. Today is his very first karate class, so let’s all welcome him and be kind to him.”
“Today, we will begin with some basic kata, then move on to some more advanced kata.” Sensei Tendo continued. “After the first half hour, it will be free practice. And I will come around to each of you to help you.” He bowed to the class, and we started with some basic stretches to warm up.
Then he showed a set of 10 moves for the basic kata, which kept me occupied until the end of the first half hour. Mateo practiced the more advanced set of moves, which included fancy kicks and spins. Somehow, he made them look so easy.
When the free practice session began, Mateo came at me with rage. “This is for making me late today!” “This is for your poor treatment towards beautiful women!” “And this one is for what you made me miss!” He threw punches and kicks at me one after another, without even a moment’s pause. I did my best to defend myself with the basic moves, mostly dodging.
“Mateo! Are you still upset with me?” I shuffled my feet as fast as I could so as not to be hit.
“There’s no way to undo the harm you have already done.” His words reminded me of those martial art masters in movies.
“But I thought you forgave me as long I hang out with you more.”
“Yes, but until then, my wrath knows no bounds!” He smirked as came with a double jump kick.
“Haha. You’re a good actor.” I blocked with my forearms and moved behind him.
“You’re so fast.” He huffed. “I can barely touch you.” He spun in the air and came at me again with a high kick that hit at least 10 times at once.
“What are you talking about? Your moves are way faster!” The part of arm that blocked the kick was numb from the impact. “I can barely keep up!”
“Haha!” He grinned and threw a powerful sweep kick.
I jumped behind him and tapped him on the shoulder.
“How’d you get here?” He turned to me with a quick undercut.
“Because you take big steps and make big movements.” I tapped him on the shoulder from his side.
“That’s because I can’t get to you.” His other fist flew at me.
“Can we take a break, please!” I was out of breath and my t-shirt was completely soaked with sweat.
“There’s one more minute until the break.” Mateo was relentless.
I collapsed on the floor to catch my breath.
“Hey, why is our most talented member sparring with a white belt?” A familiar voice said with contempt. “Or have you gotten so much worse this year that you can’t even beat a beginner.”
“It’s none of your business who I train with.” Mateo formed a fist with his hand. “I’m not going to lose my family’s name to an outsider like you.”
“What confidence coming from a downgraded blackbelt.” The mocking voice continued.
When I looked up, I saw the same shock in his eyes as my own. It was Chihu from my class.
“Mark Winfield! Is this another challenge of yours?! I utterly defy you!” Chihu clenched his fist and came at me with a powerful punch.
I waited for the impact of the punch to hit my forearms, but there was nothing, not even a light touch.
“Chihu, is the way to greet a new member?” Sensei Tendo’s hand was holding on to Chihu’s wrist. And his body was like an unbreakable wall between Chihu and me.
“Tendo sensei, my deeply respected master.” Chihu retracted his fist and bowed towards sensei. “I understand that my actions are not in line with the oath I have taken at this dojo. However, this particular Mark Winfield has insulted my personal honour to the point which my conscience is not able to tolerate. Please allow us to resolve this on our own with a death match.”
A death match? What did I do now that he wants to kill me?
“Hahahaha!” Sensei Tendo let out a hearty laugh. “You kids are becoming more and more serious about personal honour these days. I would have encouraged such practices in my early days, but now I’m highly against it because I’ve come to understand that the more important things in life can only be achieved with tolerance.”
“But my deeply respected sensei, I’m afraid I’m not able to yield on this particular subjet.” Chihu formed a fist with both hands.
“Give Mark a break!” Mateo stepped up. “If you really want to fight him, at least give him a few months to train. He’s never done karate in his whole life. You’re taking advantage of him.”
“He could use whatever martial art he knows. I’m sure it’s no less powerful than karate.” Chihu glared.
“Chihu, as the chairman of this karate club, I would like to remind you that karate is allowed here.” Tendo sensei answered.
“If you insist on fighting him today, I’ll fight in his place.” Mateo’s voice sounded so heroic. “You can challenge him at the end of the semester.”
“I see how it is. You’re all protecting him cause he’s a foreigner.” Chihu was clearly angry. “Fine. I’ll wait till the end of the semester. Do I have your word?”
“Don’t look down on me just because I’m a foreigner. I’m going kick your butt, Chihu!” The words slipped out of my mouth.
Before I knew it, Chihu was on the floor wreathing in pain. “Let go of me, Mateo! You’re all ganging on me!”
“Can you keep your word? If you attack Mark again before the real match, I’ll break your arm.” Mateo was really angry.