Life as an Unfinished Circle
By Remi Tateishi
I walked anxiously with my family through the dull double doors of the Mercy High School Gym and followed the large crowd of fighters into the registration room for the first time. We walked past the massive “World Oyama Karate: Fighter’s Cup 2009” poster in the long hallway, and arrived in a small area in front of the gym entrance. I fixedly stared into the large crowd, seeing all of the other nervous fighters. Suddenly, a friendly lady at the table asked for my name and age group. “Remi Tateishi. Advanced Girls. Ages seven to nine”. She handed me my registration card, I thanked her, and she pointed toward the entrance to the gym.
As I walked into the booming gym, I was overwhelmed by the large crowd of spectators sitting on the bleachers as all of the fierce, competitive looking fighters impatiently waited for their fights to start. I realized I would soon be joining that group. A few minutes later, after I had changed, I lined up in my category. I carefully observed all of the frail looking girls in my line. I was by far the tallest and strongest looking girl in the group. “Are these girls really the girls that I’m fighting against?” I thought. I felt relieved and the tension in my shoulders dropped.
I went into my first three rounds, easily beating all three of my opponents without any problems and landed in the finals. Again, my opponent was another skinny girl who was a head shorter than me. And as the little naive nine year old I was back then, I knew that I would win. I confidently stepped onto the mat with my helmet, gloves, and shin pads on and ready to go. We bowed to the front and then we bowed to each other. “Ready!” the center judge yelled. I looked at my opponent. Through the small opening of her helmet I saw her sharp, determined eyes glaring back at me. I froze for an instant. When I saw the fire in her eyes, for the first time that day, I was scared. All of my pride, my confidence, and my determination had vanished. The starting whistle blew and we were off. As we exchanged punches and kicks, her sudden kiai startled me—the intense scream intimidated me and I instantly lost my guard. I got kicked in the head for the first time that day and the shrill sound of the judge’s whistles blew and the flags went up. My opponent scored a point. For the rest of the round, I was too dumbfounded to get a point back within the short 90 seconds I had. It was so simple: I only had to get one clean kick to her head but, in that moment, my legs felt heavy and I couldn’t reach her head. The round abruptly ended with the same whistle that I was dreading—I had lost. As my opponent walked off the mat with her arms in the air, I walked off the mat with my head down.
As I walked towards my parents, my instructors, and other members of my dojo, I ignored the pats on my back and all of the compliments that came rushing towards me. My mom tried to reassure me and said, “It’s okay, you did a great job for your first time!” “Don’t lie to me,” I thought bitterly. Later, all of the girls in my category including myself lined up in the winning order. I stood next to the girl who had defeated me as we received our massive trophies. All the parents and spectators held their cameras, saying “Smile!” or “Cheese!” and I did everything I could to make myself smile. By the time the photos were over, anger had rushed over me in an uncontrollable wave of emotions. It was a kind of wet anger where my eyes started to water and my voice started to shake as I tried to thank people for the compliments I was receiving. Eventually I couldn’t take it anymore and tears started pouring out of my eyes. “What are you doing! You got second place! You should be proud!” my dad exclaimed. I choked on the words, “Second place isn’t enough, Dad”. Later that day, my Dad forced me to converse with the girl who defeated me to show my respect. I learned that the girl I fought was called Erin Hino. She came with her family all the way from Los Angeles to fight in the tournament and practiced karate four times a week for two hours a day. With a stern face, she told me that her dream was to be the World Champion someday. I stood there in awe realizing how stupid I was for thinking that I could easily beat Erin. Even though I had just suffered a terrible loss, a thrill of excitement came rushing in and that was when I decided that Erin was going to be my rival.
For the next year, I decided to put all of my time and energy into training for the next time I would fight Erin. I skipped birthday parties and playdates, choosing instead to spar with boys four times a week. Every time I trained, I remembered Erin’s fierce eyes and her strong-willed way of fighting. Finally, my day of redemption came. I walked through the same double doors, picked up my registration card, and entered the Mercy High School Gym once again. I walked into the gym this time with a sense of familiarity. I carefully examined the faces of all the young female fighters and there she was. A sudden thrill went up my spine as I watched her warming up. I was careful not to underestimate her, but my strong desire to win made me certain that I was going to prevail this time.
Erin and I handled our first three rounds with ease and when I saw the finals match-up, I grinned—I knew that it was our destiny to fight again. The time for our match came and we stepped onto the mat. I was about to experience the longest 90 seconds of my life. This time I wouldn’t let her intensity overpower me. We bowed to the front, we bowed to each other, and the center judge yelled, “Ready!” I put my hands up in a fighting stance and with the sharp sound of the whistle, we were off. We traded a few punches and low kicks until Erin abruptly came in with a high front kick. I wouldn’t fall for it this time. I swiftly blocked her kick in time and tried to hit her back with a high kick but I barely missed. We were both starting to get tired and knew that time was running out. “Thirty seconds!” yelled the time keeper. We were both struggling to score a point as exhaustion began to take over. “Ten seconds!” yelled the time keeper. Then, I squeezed out all the power I could with all of my remaining strength, throwing a right jab, a left low kick, and a powerful right high kick. The whistle blew and the side judge’s flags went up—I scored a point! Erin and I were redirected back to the center and Erin desperately tried to score a point back, but time was up. I had won.
Although my victory over Erin felt great, my satisfaction did not only come from the fact that I beat my rival. While many people like to believe that the ultimate goal in martial arts is to become strong and victorious, there is actually an underlying lesson that is being learned. My karate dojo’s name, Enshin Karate, comes from the two Japanese Kanji characters:“en” meaning “open” or “unfinished;” and “shin” meaning “heart”. The founder of my dojo says, “The Enshin circle is an open circle. It is not complete, although it strives to be. It represents the idea that our challenge is never finished, although we are always working towards making it so. This unfinished state is a source of motivation and it reminds us that perfection is to be aimed for even if it cannot be achieved” (Kancho Joko Ninomiya). After my fight with Erin, I realized that this concept doesn’t just apply to karate—that my life was also a never ending circle in which I strived for the joys in life. However, through this process I inevitably meet many challenges and obstacles, such as my journey to beat Erin where I had to grit my teeth and hold my head high even after a heartbreaking loss. Through those months of preparation for my day of redemption, I didn’t just learn how to become stronger. I learned how to hold things in, to show modesty, to show self-awareness, and to show patience. I learned that strength isn’t everything—a true fighter is one who can carry the burdens of life and move forward. I learned that I may not always get what I want in life because my circle—my life—is not perfect. I now believe that in order to keep my eternal circle of life going, I need to push myself forward and take on life’s harsh challenges even though my desires in life may never be attained. Although I would like to get stronger literally and figuratively, I want to live by this concept of my flawed, unfinished circle in order to keep myself motivated and strive to be a better me everyday.