I don’t quite remember the year or what belt rank I was, although if I had to take a guess I’d say I was most likely a 2nd Dan. Regardless, I was pretty new to the scene as a black belt. The transition from competing under black to this new level was a sharp one and I was left sorely unprepared, relying on my natural talent as a junior belt. Well natural talent wasn’t going to cut it anymore. I was up against fighters who have been training intensely for years for this very event.
It was the first week of July and I was next to compete in my division at the AAU Nationals Taekwondo Tournament. The guy I was to fight was about my height but thinner than me. Although I’d be able to hit harder, it also meant he’d probably be faster than me and not wear out as quickly.
We talked a bit. We were both nervous. My coach joked that I shouldn’t be be consorting with the enemy. We continued to talk and warm up as the current match drew to a close.
The first round was fairly uneventful. The score stayed close with my opponent no more than a couple points ahead of me. As the second round progressed my opponent started to slowly increase the point gap with me. We were both wearing down and the match had become a battle of attrition. With 30 seconds left in the final round, he was 4 points ahead of me.
For those not familiar with Taekwondo Olympic style sparring, 4 points equates to 2 kicks to the head or 4 kicks to the body. Seems simple enough except you must kick the body hard enough to displace it (meaning really freaking hard), and I was too tired to manage that.
As the 20 second mark closed in, my coach saw an opportunity.
“Kick him in the head!” She screamed. “Go now! Kick him!” She was whipped into a frenzy. “I don’t care how tired you are, just go!”
Mustering up what little energy I had left, I threw a Hail Mary roundhouse kick to his head. Surprisingly, it connected. Even more surprisingly, he went down!
The center ref stopped the timer and started counting. I turned to my coach. She was going 99 mph, talking about as soon as the match starts I have to go after him. She continued to talk about what I needed to do, but I couldn’t hear anything. The blood was pumping through my ears. My legs were on the verge of buckling.
I was spent.
If he gets up, all he has to do is dance around for a few seconds and he’s won. There was no doubt he had it in the bag, even after that kick. I turn around and watched him. Those few seconds felt like an eternity. Finally, he started to stand up. Well…so much for him staying down and me winning.
“I’m done. No more.”
I was stunned. Did he…just give up? That final kick to the head took the last ounces of fight out of him. He had just forfeited the match; my first TKO. I looked at the clock…
11 seconds left
11 seconds…he couldn’t hold on for just 11 more seconds? It would have taken nothing for him to just circle the ring for the remainder of the fight. I wouldn’t have had the energy to chase him down anyways.
He lost the will to fight.
He could have won.
He should have won.
He was better than me except for one thing…
I wanted it more