I am a breaker of boards, a puncher of stomachs, a twister of elbows, and a kicker of shins. After spending most of my formative years in the karate dojo, I can walk down the street at night with a confidence I would never have had if my father had not insisted I learn to defend myself at the tender age of nine. But self defense was only one of the lessons I learned from my first karate instructor, the enigmatic, Sensei J.
Sensei J was a giant of a man. Legs like tree trunks. Fists like bricks. He had a shock of curly brown hair, piercing blue eyes, and a voice so loud the school gym shook every time he opened his mouth. I have no idea what he thought when he saw the skinny nine-year-old girl in the pink kitty tank top and shiny, satin blue shorts trembling in the corner, but I do remember his reaction to my soft, little girl voice when I whispered my name.
"If you can't talk, you can't shout. If you can't shout, you can't fight. If you can't fight, you can't survive. And if you're not a survivor, you have no place in this dojo."
Over the years, I gained skill, confidence and courage, but I was always one of the weakest students in the class. My thin teenage arms were perpetually bruised from blocking the punches of the heavily muscled, middle-aged men who shared my belt level, and I spent more time on my backside than on my feet. Finally, I had had enough. I decided to fight in one last tournament and then throw in the towel. I wasn't a fighter at heart.
Of course, Sensei J suspected something was up. Aside from the possibility he was hiding sadistic tendencies, there could have been no other reason for him to arrange for me to fight "Rabid Rick" in the tournament.
Six feet tall and two hundred pounds, Rabid Rick was the terror of the local tournament circuit. With his waist-length hair, psycho eyes, and unnaturally sharp incisors, he was as feral as they come. Over the years, he had broken countless bones, teeth and—when he could get away with it—rules. Being named as Rabid Rick's opponent was considered a fate worse than death. And that day, his opponent was...seventeen-year-old me.
Oh yeah. It was going to be a fair fight.
Surrounded by a crowd two hundred strong, we took our positions on either side of the referee. I had never truly understood the word terror until I stared into Rabid Rick's cold soulless eyes. He fixed me with a crazy psycho stare and drew his finger across his neck, mafia style. I could almost feel the knife on my skin. The instinct to run was overwhelming.
"Name and club." The referee gave me an expectant look. I tried to swallow past the lump in my throat and thought about the number of times I had fallen, the bruises on my arms, and the sheer unfairness of having to fight a man who made the class bruisers look like pussy cats.
The referee asked the question a second time and I took a step back and looked around for someone to save me. My gaze fell on Sensei J. He was standing in the pose I remembered from my first day of class—legs apart, massive arms folded, eyes boring into my soul. Challenging. And then I remembered.
If you can't talk, you can't shout. If you can't shout, you can't fight. If you can't fight, you can't survive.
I wish I could say I won that fight, but I didn't. Still, I fought a good fight. And in the end, I didn't quit. Not that day or the next month or even the next year. Survival means more than fighting the opponent in front of you. It also means fighting the fear within.
Have you ever struggled with internal demons? What gave you the strength to fight the good fight?
Against the Ropes, named by Publisher's Weekly as a Top Ten pick for romance and erotica for the fall season, is an erotic romance set in the world of MMA fighters. But the story isn't about victories or defeats in the ring. It's about fighting the things that scare us, and finding that one person worth fighting for. Release date September 3, 2013. Now available for Pre-Order