by Charles R. Smith Jr.
â€œIn great attempts, it is glorious even to fail.â€ – Bruce Lee
â€œPaper or wood?â€ Kyoshi asks me.
This is it. The last test before I get my brown belt. Iâ€™ve already earned the belt, but I want to break a board.
â€œWood. I wanna punch wood.â€
â€œAre you sure you want to do a reverse punch, Candace? You might have a better chance with a side kick. Your legs are very powerful, you know.â€ Kyoshi says.
â€œA punch. I wanna do a punch,â€ I tell him, trying to catch my breath. Ever since I saw Nick try to punch through a board during his brown belt test, Iâ€™ve been waiting to try it during mine. He couldnâ€™t do it, but I probably can. I always beat him whenever we spar.
So far the test has been easy. I almost missed a few techniques
when I had to count off all sixteen, but Sensei Jenkins asked if I was
forgetting a strike, and of course I forgot the one I always forget:
the ninja strike. I donâ€™t know why I forget it, because itâ€™s so easy to
remember. Fold your arm so only your eyes show from behind your elbow,
and then STRIKE and return to the first position.
My H-forms were pretty good. I hesitated a couple of times because
I didnâ€™t want to mess up, but Kyoshi said to let the body do what itâ€™s
been trained to do and not let the brain think too hard about it. Kind
of like chewing your food. If you think too hard about it, it becomes
hard to chew, but when you just do it, itâ€™s easy.
My kicks were nice and crisp, like Kyoshi taught me, but my legs
are a little tired now from all those hops. Whenever I saw somebody
else doing their test, I always thought that was the easy part, because
youâ€™re just hopping over bodies lying on the floor. Hop. One body. Hop.
Another body. All the way to the end of the dojo. Ten bodies total.
Frontways down and back. Then sideways down and back. Yeah, it looks
easy, but, man, is it tiring. I thought my leg muscles were gonna pop.
I had a feeling this would happen. Thatâ€™s why I wanna do a punch to
break the board. Iâ€™ve been working on my arm strength with Dad. Heâ€™s
been doing push-ups with me so he can stay in shape. Weâ€™re both up to
fifty straight, although his fifty look a lot better than my fifty. He
usually keeps going and has me try to keep up. I canâ€™t go as long as he
can, but Iâ€™m getting there. Since weâ€™ve been doing it together, I have
noticed that I can punch a lot longer and my arms donâ€™t get tired as
â€œOK Candace, while Sensei Jenkins gets your board, you get to answer some questions from your fellow students. Ready?â€
I nod to him and tug on my green belt. Iâ€™ll be glad to get my brown one.
â€œDevin, do you have a question?â€
â€œSebastian, do you have a question?â€
â€œCome on, class. I know you have questions. I know all of you have
something swimming around in those young, sharp minds. You can ask her
anything you want to. You know the drill,â€ Kyoshi says, walking in
front of everyone seated on the floor.
â€œJessica. Do you have a question?â€
â€œYeah. I mean yes, Kyoshi. Whatâ€™s your favorite color?â€
â€œBlue, because I love the ocean.â€
â€œWhatâ€™s your favorite animal?â€
â€œDolphins, because theyâ€™re playful and smart like me.â€
â€œWhy did you take karate in the first place?â€
Iâ€™ve been doing this for so long now that I havenâ€™t thought about that in a while.
â€œWell, there was this girl about my age on the news a while back
that got taken just a blcok from her house, and I didnâ€™t want that to
happen to me. What else? Oh yeah, and I like to kick stuff.â€
â€œYeah, Candace, we know you love to kick stuff,â€ Sensei Jenkins says with a smile. She has the board behind her back.
â€œOne more. Nick, do you have a question for Candace?â€
â€œHow far do you wanna go in karate?â€
â€œI want to keep going until I can beat Kyoshi.â€
Everybody laughs. Iâ€™m serious, though. I know Kyoshi has lots of
notches on his black belt, and I want what he has plus one more.
â€œVery good, Candace. I look forward to that day as well, and I mean
that. I have no doubt that thereâ€™s lots of energy still untapped in
that little body of yours,â€ Kyoshi says, taking the board from Sensei
â€œAre you ready?â€ he asks, getting into position. Kyoshi and Sensei
Jenkins kneel on either side of me with the board held between them.
This is it. Break a board with your fist.
â€œYou can do this, Candace. Pick your spot. Punch through the board. Stay sharp. Stay focused.â€
Right. Stay sharp. Stay focused. Easy to say; hard to do. No matter
how many times Kyoshi says it, my mind always disappears a little bit.
But if my fist is gonna break this board, thatâ€™s what I need to be:
sharp and focused.
â€œDonâ€™t forget your â€˜â€™kiyaiâ€™ when you punch. I want to see you channel that power,â€ Sensei Jenkins adds.
Right. Stay sharp. Stay focused. Pick your spot. Punch through the board. â€œKiyaiâ€ to release my energy. A lot to remember.
â€œCome on, now. Measure it out so you can get good power. Take as
long as you need. The board will be here waiting for you,â€ Kyoshi says.
Stay sharp. Stay focused. Pick your spot. Punch through the board.
Measure it out. Stand about here. No, no, no. Back up a little bit. Get
closer. One step back. One step to the right. Thatâ€™s it. Good horse
stance. Build a strong sturdy base. Donâ€™t wobble. Exhale out. Inhale.
Deep breath. Ready. Calm. Breathe with each heartbeat. Stay sharp. Stay
â€œYou can do it, Candace. Focus that energy,â€ Sensei Jenkins shouts.
The parents and my classmates start clapping to cheer me on.
Letâ€™s do it. Focus my energy. Start at the toes. Feel them tingle.
Pull it from the toes to the legs. From the legs to the hips. From the
hips to the torso. From the torso to the chest. From the chest to the
shoulders, to the arms, to the elbows, to my right fist.
All of my energy is released from my fist to the board.
OWWWWWW…that hurt! The board is still there between their hands. Did I even crack it?
â€œYou OK?â€ Kyoshi asks me.
â€œLet me see your hand. Donâ€™t move.â€ He touches my knuckles.
My fist is still trembling. It feels like somebody took a hammer to it. Everything sounds so fuzzy now.
â€œEverythingâ€™s cool, Candace. Nothingâ€™s broken. You felt that, huh?
Thatâ€™s a whole new kind of pain, isnâ€™t it?â€ Kyoshi says, his words
cutting through the fuzz.
I just nod. The pain is pulsing from my fist to my toes and moving from my toes up to my eyeballs. Man…that HURT!
â€œThatâ€™s OK, Candace. You did a great job. There is no shame in
trying. I know you can do it. It takes time to break a board with a
punch. Not many get it the first time around,â€ Kyoshi says.
He pats me on the head, and my ears pick up my classmates and all
the parents clapping for me. The fuzz starts to disappear, and the
world stops wobbling. Sensei Jenkins gets my brown belt and hands it to
Kyoshi. He holds it high for everyone to see.
â€œCongratulations, Candace, on achieving your brown belt. You worked
hard for it, and you earned it. Before I present it to you, do you have
â€œJust one. When do I get to try to break a board again?â€
Charles R. Smith Jr. is an award-winning childrenâ€™s book author, poet
and photographer living in the Hudson Valley with his wife and three
children. His work has been recognized and praised by the American
Library Association, School Library Journal, NY Public Library System
and numerous schools and universities around the country. This story
will appear in a collection of short stories due in 2007.