@

When your opponent is going to strike, and you are also going to strike, your body is on the offensive, and your mind is also on the offensive; your hands come spontaneously from space, striking with added speed and force. This is called Striking without Thought or Form, and it is the most important stroke. Learn it well.

-Miyamoto Musashi, The Book of Five Rings

 

I don’t go to Las Vegas looking for a fight but I end up with three of them anyhow. I win the first two, but the final one, the most important one, is giving me trouble.

My opponent is older than me by at least fifteen years and built like a bear, thick in the torso with stout, strong limbs, but surprisingly fast. Twice now I’ve underestimated his quickness and paid the price for it. He’s good, cautious, refusing to commit to an attack that won’t succeed and maintaining a solid defense. Trying to go toe-to-toe with him is foolish, so I keep my feet moving, waiting for an opening to present itself. The score stands 2-1, his favor.

This is final match of the Black Belt Men’s Heavyweight division. Championship bout. My first competition in twelve years.

As a teenager I did well enough on the tournament circuit to be ranked 5th nationally in my weight class, but I “retired” after my first year of college, unable to maintain the rigorous training schedule necessary for regular competition. I came out to Vegas because the promoters are friends who offered to comp my hotel room if I served as a judge. Competition anywhere other than the gaming tables was not in my plans. But that was before I turned five bucks into two hundred playing blackjack, and on a whim I signed up in the morning, galvanized by a sense of good fortune. I expected to lose in the first round, and I’m surprised–and more than a little proud–to have made it this far, and I know that I’ve already scored a victory regardless of how the match turns out.

But that doesn’t mean I’m just going to let this guy roll over me. Oh, hell no.

If he wants that trophy, he’s damn well going to have to fight for it.

He is, however, giving as good as he’s getting, and maybe a little more on top of that. Though I’m the more flexible of the two of us, faster with my feet, I have to keep surrendering ground to maintain kicking distance, and every time I do he presses the attack. I block a flurry of punches but I’m trapped up against the edge of the ring, and he scores with a lunging thrust kick to my belt. 3-1.

Despite what may be shown in movies and in the UFC, sparring in a karate tournament is less about brute force and more about skill, finesse, and technique, and even open tournaments like this one have lately been cracking down on excessive contact violations. Lower division competitors win by being the first to reach three points, but for black belts it’s either the first to five or a three-point spread: 3-0, 4-1, 5-2. It’s one point for a shot to the body, torso or groin, two points for a more difficult headshot. There are five judges in the ring, and at least three of them must confirm a point for it to be valid.

My opponent retreats a bit, trying to lure me in the appearance of an easy point, but I hold back, controlling my breathing and waiting for a real opening. Most of his previous attacks have come over the top, taking advantage of his greater size and longer reach, but this time when he lunges in I switch-step into a right stance and pivot on my right leg, launching a spinning back kick with my left. It’s a risky move, one that leaves me largely defenseless, and if I’ve fudged the timing I’m going to get clobbered. But my foot slips right on up under his elbow to land solidly in against his rib cage, and the judges give me the point. 3-2.

One way or another, we’re going for five.

I’ve never felt more physically sure that I’m out of my twenties than I do now. The previous matches have taken their toll on me and I’m bone weary. My limbs ache in a way they never did when I was a regular competitor, and I’m sharply aware of the heaviness of my arms and the dull ache in my left thigh that will most certainly turn into a cramp tomorrow, of the nasty silicone taste of the mouthpiece enrobing my teeth and the way the sweat gathering on the bottom of my feet is costing me traction on the ring floor.

We both attack when the center judge gives the command to start, clashing together in a flurry of mish-mashed punches and chops, close enough to taste each other’s sweat, to hear each other gasping for breath and grunting with effort. It’s a clumsy, awkward hit, and neither of us scores any points.

When the judges start us again, I get too aggressive, too cocky, very nearly giving him a free headshot and ending the match. I get my block up just in time, but he still manages to land couple of shots to my solar plexus as I do. 4-2.

My opponent thinks he’s found a weakness. He throws a roundhouse kick to my groin, but it’s just an easily-blocked feint, a cover as he tries to come in with a backfist-punch combination to my head. Instead of raising my block again I sidestep forward and under his attack, landing a couple of quick jabs to his ribs while he strikes the air where my head used to be. 4-3.

I’m starting to feel like I might actually have a chance of winning this thing, but I clamp that feeling down. Fights are lost by indulging it.

We circle each other warily, throwing a couple of feints, trying to feel each other out, but not committing to an attack. My opponent doesn’t need to score anymore to win; he just needs that two-minute clock to run down and the match is his. I know there are only a handful of seconds left, and my energy reserves are reaching a critical low.

Heck with it, I think. You had your fun. Give ‘em a good show on the way out.

My opponent’s strategy has been solidly based on linear backwards/forwards progression, so I for my last attack I play the angles, feinting sideways into hard right stance, intending to transition to the left oblique across his line of attack and deliver a roundhouse kick to his undefended head as he takes the feint and tries to counter attack.

But as I make the switch my sweat-soaked right foot slips forward as though it’s just come down on a stray skateboard, hard enough to make the muscles attached to my hip groan and throwing my weight forward instead of at the angle. I stumble, completely open and undefended, and my opponent moves to take advantage.

I’m screwed. My balance is shot and there’s no way to regain it in time to get my defenses up. And with out any traction available on the ring floor there’s no way to resist as my own center of gravity carries me forwards.

So I go with it. With all my weight balanced precariously on my right, I kick up and out with my left, aiming for the one target zone available.

It’s beautiful. Practically a moment of Zen.

My foot curves up and around like an inverted smile, whipping back into a perfect hook kick to my opponent’s unguarded head. It’s the kind of shot that gets the slow motion treatment in a movie, the physical equivalent of tossing my last five dollars down on a blackjack table and walking away with two hundred. It stops him in his tracks.

The judges’ decision is unanimous: two points to me for the win. 4-5

My left shoulder hurts, my ribs ache, I’ve pulled a calf muscle and wrenched both my right foot and right knee when I scored that final kick.

Damn it feels good.

TAGS: , , , , , , ,

Matthew Baldwin MATTHEW BALDWIN is a writer, martial artist and all-around misanthrope living in San Diego, California. He's published fiction and poetry in several small literary journals, most of which went out of business soon after. Make of that what you will. He currently holds a fourth-degree black belt in karate, a B.A. from the University of California and an M.F.A. from the University of New Orleans. In his free time he serves as a professional martial arts instructor, working mostly with teenagers. He's currently at work on both a first and second novel, and can be followed/harrassed on Twitter. And please, call him Matt.

89 Responses to “Victory is a Kick in the Head”

  1. Dude. Shit. What a frickin’ piece. God, I loved this. Talk about action. And as precise and well executed as any motion in the fine martial art you described.

    Only “practically a moment of Zen”? Because it sure sounds Zen.

    One of those moments, in fact, that seems to confirm what I’ve always felt about life–Islam, as a faith, gets it right by translating to “submission.” Go with it, man, and you’re golden. Go with it and you get a unanimous judges’ decision. That’s absolute Zen so far as I ever studied Zen.

    Fight it and you’re bollocksed.

    Also? Is there a better word in the world than Zen? I think not.

    • Matt says:

      Thanks, Will.

      I had a rough time structuring this one; in the rough draft I used the sparring sequences as bookends, with the middle section being a discussion on how tournaments are held, public perception of them (as shaped by pop culture) vs. the reality, etc.

      And then I said, fuck that. People want the action. It’s more fun.

      But revisiting this match (it happened last year) just made me remember how vividly I was sore afterwards. Damn, getting older sucks.

      Zen is a great word, but I loathe the way it’s been co-opted by some of the various New Age movements.

  2. Second!!!

    (whew! got my comment in… now to go back to the top and read the darn thing… :) )

  3. Ducky Wilson says:

    Matt, you may be aware that I wanted to be Bruce Lee when I was a little girl. Thanks for resuscitating said dream.

    • Matt says:

      You know, I never saw a Bruce Lee film until after I’d been training for a couple of years. They’re pretty good, all things considered, but I think Enter the Dragon is the only one of his that’s really stood the test of time. Generally speaking, I don’t much care for martial arts flicks, mostly because they’re all filled with inaccuracies. The most realistic fight sequence I’ve ever seen in a movie was the one between John Cusack and Benny Urquidez in Grosse Pointe Blank.

      Go for that dream. Martial arts training seriously played a hugely positive role in my life.

      • Ducky Wilson says:

        That’s wild you point to GPB for the most realistic fight sequence. I’ll have to rewatch.

        I was seriously Bruce Lee obsessed. But I was bullied, so I think I clung to him the way most kids clung to Batman or Superman. I used to practice throwing stars against the garage door for hours. I wish there had been karate schools around when I was a kid.

        In my 20′s, I took from a place that wound up being a cult. I think they were even prosecuted. Can’t remember the details, but apparently, they were breaking legs to force students to stay in the school.

        My sister and her boys take karate now, so I go to their tournaments and live vicariously. So cute, the little ones. My sis isn’t half bad, either.

        One day, when I have the time, I’ll get into Shaolin Kung Fu. That’s what I’d like to learn.

  4. When I woke up this morning I had no dry clothes. Everything was in the wash. So what did I wear? <y girlfriend’s taekwondo uniform… I think it was destiny. The first time I ever wore this type of outfit, and you immediately post a story about martial arts.

    You write action really well.

    • Matt says:

      Once again, David, we’ve been fingered by the cosmic shit needle of SSE.

      Glad you liked it. I was trying to see if I could write a story that was (mostly) nothing but an extended action sequence.

      • Simone says:

        I can’t tell you how much I laughed at “Once again, David, we’ve been fingered by the cosmic shit needle of SSE.”

        I have tears in my eyes!

        Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha….!!!

      • I laughed at that, too.

        And it’s an interesting idea you had there, Matt, although your description leads me to think you were trying to write the short story equivalent of a 90s action flick.

        I’ve never been that good at writing this sort of thing. Or at least I didn’t used to be… I always used to write stories about thinking, rather than doing. Now I try to diversify, but I’m left in envy of your action writing ability… and action ability.

        • Matt says:

          Crucial difference: there’s a great deal more realism here than there is in any of those flicks. Not that all of them are bad, mind.

          It took me a lot of practice, both in the dojo and on the page, to get to this point. I’d say that in my experience, action sequences are second only to sex scenes in terms of difficulty to write.

          At least, to write well….

  5. Gloria says:

    This is a great story. I desperately want to see it played out on the screen.

    Great write, Matt. Loved it.

    • Matt says:

      Nah. Movies never get this right. The most accurate of them is The Karate Kid, and that still took a lot of poetic license for the sake of drama.

  6. Greg Olear says:

    The only way this could have been better is if it was right after “the time before the first time”, and your using your purchases hinged on winning the fight. Not that I’d know anything about stuff like that…

    I like the line about tamping down on the feeling that you might win. That feeling, so so rare, dooms me in any athletic endeavor.

    • Matt says:

      Oh, I think you of all people know the score on that first bit, Greg. You’ve done for “touchdown” what I did for “high-five!”

      It’s doomed me, too, especially when I was younger and more inclined to be cocky. My fighting style has gotten a lot more reserved as I’ve gotten older.

  7. Slade Ham says:

    Wonderfully written action, Matt. I don’t possess nearly a strong enough martial arts background to dissect it, but it definitely had my heart pumping. On a side note, I keep a copy of The Book of Five Rings on my bookshelf. It’s brilliant.

    • Matt says:

      It’s a book that I somehow always seem to end up with multiple copies of, each one a different translation with different notes and annotations. I have a couple of copies of The Art of War around here, too.

      Glad you liked. I was worried about there being too much technical information, and originally included a digression detailing how these tournaments are structured, different types of kicks and sparring strategies, etc. It really killed the flow of the narrative, so I cut it and restructered things, hoping the layperson would get enough of an understanding through narrative.

  8. jmblaine says:

    What was that movie where the dude said
    “Every man dies
    but not every man
    lives” – ?
    Billy Madison – that was it.

    You were living in this piece, fully alive
    live or die.
    and the picture at the end was icing
    almost like those 1000 word posts
    where the picture at the end took it home.

    • Matt says:

      I really loved the part of that movie where Madison’s sacrifice inspired his countrymen to win their freedom in battle. Really brought tears to my eyes.

      Funny enough, I was *this* close to using this story as my 1000-word piece last year. But I’m glad I didn’t; it needed a little more room to maneuver.

  9. Nicole says:

    Ah, I thought that phantom skateboard was the end for you. Good for you turning that situation to your advantage! Zen moment for sure!

    Your brain does deserves a nice bottle of wine now! This was an enjoyable read. Cheers!! :)

    • Matt says:

      Glad you liked it, Nicole!

      My brain did indeed get to enjoy some decently-priced California cabernet. As well as a couple of our locally-made microbrews. It was happy.

  10. Thomas Wood says:

    There’s something so satisfying in showing the relationship between the struggle to maintain your stamina against aging and the struggle to maintain your wits against an opponent. It’s a really nice example of that, of trying to keep to some kind of purity of the moment that disregards history and confronts you with RIGHT-FUCKING-NOW. Well played. Nicely written. I’ll keep my solar plexus in check.

    • Matt says:

      When I was working on the rough, I wrote the first couple of paragraphs in first-person past, but it just wasn’t capturing the feel I was going for. So I switched it up to present, hoping it would play out like the reader was sitting behind my eyes watching everything play out.

      Glad it worked, and you enjoyed it.

  11. New Orleans Lady says:

    Matt, your memory amazes me. I can barely remember what I ate yesterday and here you are telling us, in detail, what happened a year ago. And not just some silly little story, a fight. A real fight. I know it was an important event but I would think that emotion would cloud some detail, almost like a dream. No, not you. Wow.

    Yes, getting older does suck but kudos to you for kicking ass when it counted! I’d like to see you in action one of these days. Gloria and I joke about the day in which we get a bus and travel across the country meeting and hanging with all of our TNB friends. Your place will be one of our first stops. Pack your bags.

    • Matt says:

      As I think I’ve mentioned elsewhere, I have a bit of a photographic memory, which really helps when it comes to stuff like this. Plus, one of my teenaged students was at this tournament, and his assignment was to watch the match and see how well he could read our body language, and we discussed things in detail afterwards.

      Plus, my memory is helped by my not having a small child around all the time to constantly distract me…

  12. Simone says:

    “Move and the way will open ~ Zen Proverb

    Great piece, Matt. Love the action in it!

    For some reason I thought of you as Chuck Norris, not sure if it was the mention of the roundhouse kick? But in my mind’s eye you totally rocked it!

    • Matt says:

      Ack! Not Norris! He’s an arch right-wing Bible thumper! Who in no way has a patent on the roundhouse kick!

      But seriously though, glad you liked it. Keep up your boxing and you’ll have some similar stories before too long.

      • Simone says:

        Ha ha! Yeah, I wasn’t too sure if I was insulting you by telling you that. My bad! Funny none-the-less.

        Well, I’m just doing the boxing for the training and not to compete (I like my face the way it is). I figured it’s a great way to get into shape and lose any muffin-tops, flab, and hail damage that may have been caused by excessive eating and drinking.

        • Matt says:

          “Hail damage?” That’s a new one to me.

          I was never seriously *into* competition; I always preferred to train, and to teach my students. But from time to time it is fun.

        • Simone says:

          ‘Hail Damage’ is one of the sland terms we have for cellulite. Fabulous, ain’t it?

          I suppose it is fun, and you get to tell awesome stories about it later.

  13. Nathaniel Missildine says:

    great piece, thanks for allowing me to vicariously kick ass like this.

  14. Zara Potts says:

    You should have used the ‘crane.’

    No really, great action sequences Matt. I wouldn’t want to get in the ring with you!

    • Matt says:

      Somehow, Zara, I figured you’d be the first person to drop a Karate Kid reference. I half considered dropping a ban on them at the bottom of the post.

      While great for dramatic purposes, that crane kick has no bearing on reality. Junk technique. It’s too hard to control, has zero mobility, leaves you completely defenseless, and most importantly: telegraphs what you’re going to do. I see an opponant raise his knee like that, I know he’s going to try and kick. Simple matter just to back out of range.

      You’d be fine in the ring with me. I’m very, very good with my control.

  15. Zara’s right, Matt.

    You should have Craned that Cobra Kai son of a bitch.

    Nice moves, man. I, too, would not like to be in the ring with you.

  16. Tawni says:

    This is really good, Matt. You made reading about this competition more exciting than actually viewing it. As an audience member, I would have watched this fight while cringing behind my hands. (I can’t even watch fake violence in movies.) But your explanations and descriptions of different strategies gave it a depth the straight visual wouldn’t have held for me. Well done. And congratulations on your victory!

    • Matt says:

      These matches aren’t that brutal. We wear pads, and the contact rules are pretty strictly enforced; it’s been a long time since I’ve seen anyone bleed at a tournament. Though the black belts are sometimes allowed to thump each other a little harder.

      When I’m judging, though, I don’t put up with any malarky in my ring.

  17. Irene Zion says:

    Wow, Matt,

    You really carried me along with this piece. Read it so fast, just like I was watching it.

    I have to say that looking at your final picture, I really had no idea what you looked like.

    Your pensive cube picture makes you look like a chubby nerd, but you’re really all lean and muscles and totally different from my image heretofore.

    • Matt says:

      Ch-chubby nerd? Really?! Damn.

      You have totally seen other pictures of me–with your daughter, to boot! I have the Facebook comments to prove it.

      Really, though, I’m not that lean. Simon’s lean. I’m built more like…..Russell Crowe, I guess, than I am someone like Johnny Depp.

      • Irene Zion says:

        You keep forgetting that I am old & somewhat demented.
        Now I remember those pictures!

        The Johnny Depp type is more gay-friendly than women-friendly.
        Women go for the Russell Crow type 100% of the time.
        (Without the heavy drinking, etc. Just the body type.)
        They’re lining up for you, Matt, they’re just afraid of rejection.

        • Matt says:

          From the stories I’ve heard, the somewhat demented part is a decades-long issue that really has nothing to do with aging.

          I used to get compared to Johnny Depp a lot when my hair was still long. Especially around the time the first Pirates of the Caribbean film came out.

        • Irene Zion says:

          Now Matt,

          Why’d you have to out me like that?
          I’ve used that as an excuse for years and it’s worked!

          Don’t get me wrong. The Johnny Depp look is hot, but the Russell Crowe look is just hotter.
          Maybe it’s just me.

        • Matt says:

          It wasn’t me! That blame falls squarely on someone who’s name rhymes with “Salvatore.”

          I’m just a bit thicker in the upper-body. Barrel-chested, I think they used to call it. Even if I burn off ALL of my extraneous body fat, I’ll still be pretty beefy.

        • Irene Zion says:

          I will never trust Seymour again.

        • Matt says:

          Seymour can’t hold his liqour at all. Half a beer and he’s spilling everyone’s secrets to the whole bar. So pathetic.

        • Irene Zion says:

          You know, I should have known that that beady-eyed Seymour was untrustworthy. I need to start reading people better!

  18. Ronlyn Domingue says:

    First competition in 12 years? Man, it took courage to do that–and confidence to succeed as you did. Good for you, Matt.

    As others have mentioned, this piece has excellent detail and pacing. Much like your practice of karate?

    • Matt says:

      It’s entirely because I won at gambling the night before. I was in a pretty good mood and figured, what the hey, I’ll enter, fight in a match or two, have a little fun, lose, and go home. I paid the entrance fee out of part of my winnings.

      I still prefer teaching to competing, but I a person wouldn’t have to twist my arm to get me to do another tournament or two before the year’s over.

  19. Meghan says:

    I think this needs a soundtrack.

    You are such a protagonist, Matt.

  20. Dana says:

    Well done Matt! Exciting read, even for someone who knows almost nothing about martial arts.

  21. yay, Matt!

    And so true here – “I’m starting to feel like I might actually have a chance of winning this thing, but I clamp that feeling down. Fights are lost by indulging it.
    It’s a fine line between confidence and cockiness – looks like you figured out how to tow that line.

    Great read – I was on the edge of my desk chair!

  22. Richard Cox says:

    I like how you take moves that I’m sure happened fairly quickly and slow them down to the details we can digest, like Matrix bullet time. Is that something that is helped by martial arts training, to slow things down as they happen so you can make better judgments? I know when I’m playing basketball, for instance, things don’t seems slow at all. In fact, the more tired I get the more jumbled everything seems, and I begin to make poor decisions.

    • Matt says:

      Part of it, I think, is the way adrenaline can alter perception, and the rest I’d say comes from the awareness training that we go through. A lot of fighters that I know, especially higher ranks, tend to divorce themselves from “thought” during a match, allowing their reactions to be shaped by a combination of observation and intuition: watching the various “tells” your opponent’s body language give away and responding accordingly, but without really thinking about it.

      These types of fights tend not be the toe-to-toe sluggouts you might find in boxing or kickboxing, either. Combatants will circle each other, gauging distance and looking for an opening before the attack and retreat.

    • Dang. Beat me to a Bullet Time mention by a mere…month.

      Haha, I typed “moth”.

      But yes, it had that flavour, where we could observe each move from all angles, but it was still an exciting, kinetic action sequence. Nice one Matt! Good work, both the doing and the writing.

  23. Mary says:

    AWESOME! It’s like “Karate Kid” sans the self indulgent emo stuff and the montages. Although I’m always up for a montage.

  24. Stefan Kiesbye says:

    congrats, Matt, on the win and the piece!

  25. Mary says:

    I already commented, but I have to do it again because this piece is really sticking with me. So artful, actually. And i never expect a piece about fighting to be artful. I think that’s what I dig about your writing. Your subjects are not what I would write about, but you handle them excellently.

  26. Don Mitchell says:

    Yeah, Matt. I read this yesterday, and for some reason was drawn to it again today. I liked it very much both times.

    Five judges? That’s fascinating to me. If you feel like it, maybe you could write a little about how that works? Does each stake out a territory, or do they all move around, and if they move, is there some agreed-upon set of positions they take? My mind fills with visions of careless judges getting tangled up and toppling the competitors. I’m sure that doesn’t happen, but how and why doesn’t it?

    I also greatly admired the way you braided questions of skill and of endurance. Of course the same mind and body deal with both, but I think that most of what (little) I’ve read about martial arts focuses more on skill, with endurance as an aside. Or maybe endurance isn’t particularly important when well-trained competitors are fighting? And it was an issue for you because you weren’t in peak condition?

    All I know about martial arts comes from about a year of beginning aikido, a little more than a half-century ago.

    So many questions — not to take away from your writing, which I admire, as always.

    This reminded me of a conference I organized back in 1980 — social/cultural aspects of long-distance running. It came to my mind because one of the presenters gave a really interesting talk about “visualization” in elite athletes. He said that in sports such as gymnastics, the mental prep for competition was visualization of perfect moves, skill-oriented, whereas in sports such as middle to long-distance running, the elites tended to visualize endurance — overcoming obstacles, strength that will not fail, barriers that will be overcome (pain, hills, etc.), and so on.

    Certainly he didn’t argue for 100% either-or, but that athletes tended towards one form or the other, based on their sport. Does this resonate with what you know in any way?

    Twenty-page paper, please, and do have it ready for the next conference. You can be the featured speaker.

    • Matt says:

      I could probably write that paper. I did a fifteen-pager at 16 as part of the test to get my black belt.

      I had a bit on the logistics of a ring that I cut because it killed the flow of the narrative. So here goes:

      The ring is a square. There is one center judge who runs the ring: starts/stops the match, communicates with the competitors, calls for points/fouls/time-outs etc. The side judges each take one of the remaining corners. Often (but not always) these judges have a red and white flag (the competitor on the starting line to center judge’s right-hand is the “red”). When the center judge calls for a point, they raise the flag corresponding to what they saw: high for a point, low for a foul, both crossed for a clash/indeterminate. While it nominally takes at least three flags to confirm a point, the center judge does have the authority to call one by himself if he sees it clearly (this is understandably rare, though). Off to the side is a scorekeeper and timekeeper (sometimes the same person). Matches are typically two minutes, with “Sudden Death” overtime in the event of a tie.

      That clear things up?

      • Don Mitchell says:

        Yes, it does. I (wrongly) had in mind that the judges would circulate around the ring much as a boxing referee would.

        About how big is the square?

        • Matt says:

          Only the center judge has that much mobility; however much they move depends on the individual judge (and the competitors, as well).

          Ring size can vary a bit from tournament to tournament, but they’re usually in the range of 15×15. I think these were around 18×18 or so.

  27. Reno J. Romero says:

    matt! oh, lord, i can write pages on this stuff. first, i LOVE martial arts and when i was a wee kid i took kempo classes and used to bash my cousins in the face whether they deserved it or not. sure, not cool, but it was fun. and, hell, now looking back they did deserve it.

    you are a god owning all them purdy black belts. i love the practical nature of martial arts. i love the discipline. i love the action. i admire you and all those dudes and women that have went through the paces to learn this stuff. it’s simply gorgeous and very honorable.

    glad to won. wish i would have seen the kick to the melon. i was reading this and my arms were punching and my legs almost kicked the poor woman sitting next to me. and she’s kinda cute. it wouldn’t have made for a good introduction. anyhow, glad you survived vegas only leaving with some sore spots and whatnot. i’ve had many friends leave that town with nothing.

    now, post some video of you kicking some ass. now, that would be cool. great narrative. more fights!

    • Matt says:

      Thanks for the enthusiasm, Reno! Sorry it’s taken me so long to get back to you!

      I’ve been training in my current dojo for almost 18 years now. This year will be my fifteenth anniversary as a black belt.

      I don’t know if there’s any video of any of my old competitions out there. Or even many photographs, for that matter. People tend not to point cameras at me.

  28. D.R. Haney says:

    This piece is so tightly written that I’m surprised that you didn’t cut yourself on it. I’m surprised I didn’t cut myself on it. Well done, sir.

    Interestingly, I’m transcribing interviews at the moment by way of earning rent money (and transcription work is a bitch, let me tell you), and one of the interviews was about a kickboxing competition. I was working on it just before reading this piece, which produced a definite deja vu effect.

    But, Matt, you only just turned thirty; is the difference that dramatic? I know we all begin to go downhill after we peak physically at twenty-one or so, but still…

    • Matt says:

      Thank you, Duke. That’s a mighty compliment.

      Big difference between when I was a regular competitor at 16-18, when I was seriously doing at least one tournament a month, and then jumping in at the last minute when I’m 29 (this was last April). My training these days tends to be more focused on teaching, helping my students build and develop their own skills (which I honestly find more rewarding). Though I can still kick someone my size in the head from a cold stretch, I’m less flexible then I was back then, and some injuries I sustained back in the day that I was able to shrug off(mostly to the tendons, though nothing broken or torn) now turn up from time-to-time to plague me; my right knee, in particular, aches when the weather changes, leading me to occasionally grumble that I should have been a sea captain.

      Though a match is (usually) only two minutes, it’s a pretty heavy full-body workout, and when you have several of them in quick sequence, like I did here, the fatigue aquired compounds exponentially–at least, for me. Since there were only six competitors, none of us had any real breaks between fights…well, except for the two dudes who lost their first matches. Plus, I’d been on my feet center judging low division competitions since 9 am (my comp was at about 5), without a break, which is also a pretty rigorous activity over a long period time.

      I’ve done some transcribing work. It sucks. At least when I’m doing some freelance copywriting I can turn on the stereo and give myself something interesting to listen to while I work.

  29. Jim Simpson says:

    Taut piece of writing, Matt. Well done. Sounds like even after a few years away from competition, you’ve still got some mighty impressive martial skills — and congrats, belatedly, on the win.

    I’ve always admired the simplicity of martial arts: just you and your limbs out there, your mind, patience, and emotional content (to quote Bruce Lee).

  30. [...] Victory is a Kick in the Head by Matthew Baldwin [...]

  31. [...] MATTHEW BALDWIN kicks ass. [...]

  32. The glory of battle. I love it. A bunch of us losers met at a park in Las Vegas and formed a hockey team. Half the guys smoked. Most had tattoos and drank beer like water. We called our group “Team Doom.” Then we joined a roller hockey league and won 16 games straight and took the championship. It was the luckiest thing ever and toughest group of games I ever played in. It’s all old history, but it’s one of the personal triumphs that I needed at the time. I could use a few more. I’m so out of shape I can barely read TNB without getting winded. Congrats on an awesome kick to the head! Probably would have killed G. Just sayin’.

  33. Erika Rae says:

    Oh man – I was on the edge of my seat throughout. Great visual piece. And the crowd roars! (And oh, for the body of a 20 something again…)

  34. [...] BALDWIN.  Master of Fine Arts…and of martial arts.  Has demonstrated both skill sets at TNB, where we have read about him taking on sharks, bears, [...]

  35. [...] BALDWIN wins big in Vegas (gambling is not [...]

  36. [...] Bruce Lee, if you and Matt Baldwin want to spar, take it the roof, please! The punchbowl Owsley just spiked is worth more than the [...]

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