Chapter 26:

Mental Match: Lucas

Insurmountable Odds

“Martial arts is as much a mental battle as it is a physical one.” Cole began monologuing as we separated from the group’s celebration. “I’m sure that the pressure of expectations, being the last newcomer to win, is weighing down on you.”

Now that he mentioned it, he was right. I was too distracted by all the celebration and espionage that I hadn’t noticed the growing tightness in my chest as my breathes became shorter and shorter.

“To start off, stop that.” Cole interjected into my inner monologue. “I could tell you that ‘you’ll do great’ or ‘I believe in you’ but I’m not going to. I won’t add to that pressure.”

I looked up at him as he continued.

“Instead, we’ll come up with strategies and help you out of your own head so that, no matter what happens, you won’t end up with regrets.” As Cole finished his sentence and smiled at me, I couldn’t help but feel it was sadder than he intended.

Before I had a chance to ask him about it, he continued on in his pep talk.

“If you win, you were simply better than your opponent in some aspect and capitalized on it more efficiently. If you lose, your opponent was simply better than you in the same way.” Cole scanned the large room as he spoke. “Speaking of your opponent, let’s begin our lesson, shall we?”

Before I knew it, it was time for my match. Although I had seen two of my teammates walk out already, doing it myself was a completely different feeling.

Once again, I could feel the tightness building in my chest as all eyes bore into me.

“No regrets?” I heard Cole next to me speak up suddenly as I passed by him, his fist extended.

Even with the building tension, I could help but feel it melt away as I bumped his fist with my own.

“No regrets.”

As the captain took his place on the coaching chair and began giving me a short pep talk, I couldn’t internalize what he was saying.

The cold feeling of the mats below my feet and the subtle movements of the staff and my opponent were taking a complete hold of my attention.

Finally, as we were called out to the center to begin, I got a good look at my opponent.

Our builds were nearly identical; he was slightly taller than me but to a nearly insignificant degree. Unfortunately, I was put at the bottom of my weight class which meant that he almost assuredly had a slight advantage. Even so, I wouldn’t let that stop me.

I’ve seen Cole turn people double his size into his playthings. This difference is nothing.

At the moment the tension felt at its highest, nearly suffocating the mats, the ref slashed his hand down to begin the match. As his hand fell, it almost felt as though we were underwater, as if his arm was physically cutting through the tension in the air.

And just like that, the match had begun.

Immediately, I guarded and held my ground, knowing what to expect. My opponent, without wasting a breath, engaged straight away and began throwing every conceivable punch he could.

Although the information Cole gave me was more generic than with Quinn or Andrew, I could already feel the positive effects as everything he said began coming to fruition.

“Newer fighters tend to lack good control, especially in extended fights.” Cole had lectured me minutes ago. “Take your time, observe his movements, and focus on not being hit at the beginning.”

As I blocked hit after hit, I couldn’t help but remember the hellish experience of Alix teaching me the basics of blocking, covering every millimeter of my skin with deep bruises.

As I dodged and ducked around my opponent, my mind wandered back to my experiences with Quinn and her abstract fighting style which was reminiscent of a dance.

Although I wasn’t nearly as good at their specialties, I could feel their influence in my every step and block.

The more my opponent relentlessly attacked, the slower and slower time felt. I couldn’t tell if he was getting slower from fatigue or if I was beginning to see through his attacks but, after a minute of focusing on defense, I began my counterattack.

As he attempted an amateurish kick to my side, I saw my opening.

“If he sees how little of an effect his attacks are having, he’ll get impatient and sloppy.” I remembered Cole advising me once again. “From what I could tell, his focus is on punching. As a beginner, his balance should be worse than yours on kicks and the like. Exploit that.”

As he threw his kick, I stepped into him and set up my combo. As he fell slightly off balance, I drove a hook straight into his side above his liver. As he realized what was happening and attempted to guard, I stepped back and threw a shin kick straight into his leg, causing him to begin to topple over.

It was at this point that I heard the captain speak for the first time from the sidelines.

“Take him down!”

And so, I did.

With his balance completely unstable and his mind clouded by the sudden barrage of unexpected attacks, I saw my opportunity to take him to the ground.

All he needed was a little push.

I shot in on him once again, this time picking his ankle on the leg I did not kick, and threw him down to the side. As he fell, I swung my leg over his body and came up in mount, sitting high on his chest.

Before he could recover, I began punching down into his face, pressing my advantage as hard as I could. As expected, he lifted his arms to defend the onslaught, giving me the perfect opportunity to finish the match strong.

As he extended his arms while mounted, I switch my focus to trapping one of them into my body. When I had full control, I spun my entire body and fell next to him, my hips under his captured arm and my legs holding his body down. As I leaned back and forced his elbow over my hip like a fulcrum, I felt a tap on my leg.

I froze as I felt him surrender, taking an extra moment to release him from my arm bar.

I won.

We won.

As I walked off the mat, my head fuzzy from the adrenaline rush, I could barely feel the pats from my teammates or hear the celebratory shouting.

I could feel my body begin to shake as I could do to thank my teammates was smile.

Three wins, three more to go.

Miao Miao