Chapter 68:

My Older Brother is Mocking Me.

My Dad is an Otaku, My Mom is a Fujoshi, and I Wish I Was Dead

Soon, the dojo is filled with eighteen five-year-old boys, and I can't focus at all.

It started when I introduced Katsumi at the beginning of the class. The kids were too young to know much about him, but they still went "Whoa!" and crowded around him and started asking him this and asking him that and when I called for them to line up and bow none of them would listen until Katsumi told them that it was time for the lesson to start.

His hair is longer now and is a putrid shade of tea-leaf brown that you only find on pickup artists, but once Katsumi put the gi on, even if it was a size too big, he looked exactly like I remembered. It's like he was born to wear one.

I already have enough trouble keeping the under-six boys' class under control without having Katsumi looking over my shoulder. They cause all sorts of trouble. Getting them to listen to me is like trying to herd foxes.

"We're going to do the first few moves of Heian Shodan again today!" I announce, even though the boys aren't standing at attention like my father's older students and instead are looking around the dojo, shuffling in their places, or even jumping up and down. "Do you remember where we got to last time?"

No response.

"Morikawa!" I stare at a boy who's looking up at the ceiling in the front row. "What strike did we finish on?"

He snaps to attention and stands there, deep in thought, for a second before blurting out, "The Zero Punch!"

I sigh. This is why I hate dealing with kids.

"I'll show all of you again. Pay close attention!"

I get into my stance. I've done the Heian Shodan- the very first kata everyone learns- so many times that I can do it in my sleep. But instead of finishing the sequence, I stop with my left arm stretched toward the ground.

"What is this technique called?"

I look over the crowd, still in my blocking stance, but none of the kids speak up.


"Sensei! I know!"

The voice isn't coming from one of the boys. Instead, Katsumi is standing there, raising his hand. A giggle goes out among the crowd.

I sigh. "Katsumi-sensei?"

"Migi gedan-barai!" Katsumi grins like a fox.

"Very good..." I turn back toward the crowd. "Next time, I want to see all of you paying attention. Today, we'll add 3 more moves. Everyone, in your stances!" I return to the starting stance. "Yoi!"

It takes the kids a while to all get at the ready, but finally they do.

"Hidari gedan-barai!" I whirl to the left and block with my fist down, some of the kids following me quickly, others not so quickly. "Remember your form! Form is more important than speed. We're going slowly so you can get it perfect!"

"Lunge to the right! Migi oi-tsuki!" I quickly spring in the other direction, snapping my right fist out, and the kids follow. None of them got the fluid movement down, but I didn't have it right when I was that age, either. So long as they can remember the moves and make an effort, they're good in my book. But sometimes they have trouble doing that.

"Turn around! Migi gedan-barai!" In one fluid motion, I whirl 180 degrees and flash my arm out to knock away the fist of my imaginary opponent. "Now here comes the tettsui-uchi! Bring your arm around, and...hammer fist!" I slam my arm down, stopping it in midair.

The kids follow, and out of the corner of my eye I see one of them swing his arm so hard he topples forward and on his face.

"Stop!" I quickly run over to the kid who tripped. It's Rento Shimomori again. He was having all sorts of trouble with this last week. "Horiuchi, watch your footwork!"

He raises his head from the mat, his eyes brimming with tears. "I'm sorry, Sensei! I can't do it!"

Oh, no. I was being way too harsh on him. Sometimes it just happens with me and I yell instinctively. "Shimomori, go more slowly," I say in a calmer voice. "You don't have to match my speed. I'm taking plenty of time between techniques so you can watch it and mimic it. It's not a competition. Okay?"

He's still tearing up. "But I can't do matter how hard I try, I trip..."

"You're fine. It's only your second week of learning this move. Let's go more slowly." I stand right in front of him, hopping back into the low block stance. "Everyone, back to gedan-barai! I saw a lot of wild hammer fists. When you swing, remember that you're hitting the top of your opponent's head, so stop your fist right here." I hold it up to about head level. "We're trying this again. Ready?" I look out over the crowd of boys. "Slowly. Mimic what I do. You bring your hand around like this-" eighteen little arms raise in unison- "and...tettsui-uchi!"

Right on cue, Shimomori swings hard, and falls over again.

"Ha! Ren-kun fell down again!"

There's my biggest headache. Back and to the left of Shimomori, a boy with short, spiky hair and a smug grin is giggling.

Kou Amamiya is probably the best of my under-six students, and he's also the most obnoxious.

"Amamiya, no talking!" I snap.

"But Sensei, I've got a question..."

"Fine." I've got a bad feeling about this.

"I already know the Heian Shodan. Why do I have to keep doing it over again because Ren-kun sucks?"

"We're learning humility and patience here, Amamiya. I don't want to hear another word out of you until we're done. Back to gedan-barai! We're doing it until everyone gets it right!"

Once again, eighteen arms swing, and once again, Shimomori falls over. This time, Amamiya starts laughing, and a couple of the other boys on either side of him start snickering. Tears are welling up in Shimomori's eyes as he starts to sniffle.

"Ren-kun's so bad!" Amamiya snickers.

"Amamiya, Seki, Kasai, enough!" I yell, but it doesn't stop them. Crap. This is bad, this is bad, this is bad, this is bad. Shimomori's about to cry. This is why I hate dealing with little kids. You can't control them.

"Ren-kun's terrible! Ren-kun's terrible!"

"AMAMIYA!" I charge through the crowd of little kids straight at the smug brat. "Cut it out right now or I'm calling your mom! Do you want to go home?"

That finally shuts him up. I trudge back to the head of the class, resuming my fighting stance. "Everyone, attention! We're going to try the hammer fist again. Gedan-barai-"

"Sensei, your gi's untucked! I can see your wee-wee!"

"Wha-" I instinctively reach down...and feel nothing but cotton. Then I hear Amamiya break down laughing, followed by a bunch of the other boys. That damn kid. I'm seriously at the end of my rope with him.

"Amamiya, 20 lunges, RIGHT NOW!"

He doesn't respond and the kids keep laughing. The whole place is turning into chaos. "I'm about to call your mom if you don't go!" Again, no response but a bunch of giggles from the boys.

I can't ever have kids. I don't know what to do with them. Someone, help me-

"Mind if I take over, Shun?"

I turn to see my brother standing in front of me, still with that knowing half-smile on his face.

"...Sure." It's not like I can do anything at this point.

"Kou-kun. You too, Daichi and Yamato." My brother wades through the crowd of five-year-olds to get to Amamiya's side.

"Huh?" The little terror, shockingly, stops laughing and looks up at my brother.

"It's not nice to make fun of your classmates and sensei."

"I was just playing-"

"In this dojo we respect our instructors and peers." Katsumi's voice is gentle but commanding. "We're here to learn from each other. Shunsuke-sensei may be older than all of you, but he can learn something from you just like you learn from him. But if you spend your time making fun of others instead of listening, you won't get any better. Do you understand?"

"...Yes, Katsumi-sensei." Amamiya looks to the side, ashamed. "Sorry."

"Kou-kun, do 20 lunges over there like Shunsuke-sensei said."

It takes him a second, but he mutters, "All right," and heads to the corner.

Katsumi heads over toward Shimomori, who's still sitting on the ground. "Sensei, can I work with Rento-kun? You can take the others through the kata."

"Fine..." I don't have the strength to put up much resistance anymore. "Do what you want..."

"Rento-kun, we'll practice that tettsui-uchi over here." Katsumi heads toward the far back corner, and Shimomori immediately trots after him.

Katsumi has been here for less than an hour, and the kids already treat him like their teacher. I've been doing this for months and I've never gotten Amamiya to do what I say. Not once. And my brother did it like it was nothing.

I've gotta shake it off. Back to training the kids. The same as I was doing before.

"Everyone, get in your gedan stance. Tettsui-uchi!"

This time, none of the kids fall over, although I see some of them wobble. With Amamiya out of the way, Seki and Kasai are remarkably well-behaved.

"Now we'll add a few more techniques. Are you ready? Repeat after me. Step forward, oi-tsuki again! Turn back to the left like we did at the start. Hidari gedan-barai!" They're starting to follow me better. Maybe it's because I'm going slower. "Now, we'll block three times. Everyone ready? Step, migi age-uke! Hidari age-uke! Migi age-uke! KIAI!"

I yell as I freeze in place, like I've done a million times before. My shout dies out quickly. The boys' don't. They keep screaming.

I think I'm getting a headache.

By the end of the final class, I'm worn out. The under-6 girls aren't as disruptive as the boys, but they aren't as quick of learners. I spent the entire class on a two-block sequence, and they weren't making any progress until Katsumi stepped in. I don't even know if he's put on a gi in years, yet he completely took over my class like it was instinctive. Shimomori couldn't do the hammer fist without falling, but as soon as Katsumi worked with him he got it. He showed me at the end of class, his face lit up like a festival lantern.

After how hard I've worked all the way to this I still nowhere close to Katsumi? It was my class, and it was like he took it over from me. It didn't matter that I'd put in years of work and finally become sandan and gotten an instructor's license. It was like I was the student again. No, it was like I was ten again. In my brother's shadow.

"Good work today, Sensei!" Katsumi stretches as the evening sunlight creeps through the high windows of the dojo. "That was more of a workout than I thought. I wonder if Mom's got dinner on?"

"You too." That was a lie, an obvious one. It wasn't good work. I did a horrible job.

Now I understand why my father was so angry. Katsumi's been gone for years. I spent my entire adolescence wondering if I'd see him again, wondering why he left. He knows that. He knows I have so many things to tell him and ask him. Instead, he's acting like everything is normal and he didn't abandon us for eight years. And then he casually upstages me.

I know he's not doing it on purpose. And that's why I'm mad.

When he first came back this afternoon, I was so overwhelmed that I didn't know how to say what I wanted to say to him. I was dealing with too many conflicting emotions to be able to speak my mind.

But now, I know what I have to do. I have to speak a language he understands.

"Katsumi, turn around for a second."

"What is it, Shun-"

It's at that point, as soon as he turns around, that I sock him in the jaw.

I've scored ippons off that roundhouse punch before. It usually knocks people down, and I have the size advantage on Katsumi now.

But he doesn't go down. Instead, a look of confusion crosses his face. "What was that for?"

I drop into my stance, staring straight at him. "Katsumi. Fight me."

"Are you sure? I don't wanna hurt you."

"Stop treating me like a kid!" It's at this point that my anger is boiling over. "I'm eighteen! And I'm a third-degree black belt! Fight me!"

"I guess I gotta..." Katsumi drops into his stance with a look of resignation. "You still won't take no for an answer."

That's one patronizing remark too many.

I throw all my weight behind my kick as my right foot screams toward his head, but it hits nothing but air. It's like he disappeared.

Then my legs give out from under me, and I come crashing down to the floor.

I look up, grimacing from the pain in my back, to see Katsumi standing over me.

I can't give up now. I've gotta get back on my feet. I said I would surpass him. I trained so hard all this time so that when I finally met him again, I could beat him.

I charge toward him, screaming, swinging with the right hook, and once again I go down.

And then I get up, and then I go down again. And again. And again. And again. I'm so close, but I can't even touch him.

I struggle to my feet again, but my body is screaming in protest. I'm sweating all over, my gi is disheveled, and I'm breathing heavily. Katsumi hasn't even broken a sweat.

"Shun, I think that's enough."

"...Shut up. I'm...not done." He's mocking me. He's leg sweeping me when I'm leaving myself open for strikes. If he wanted to fight me seriously, he would hit me. But he's not. He's telling me that I'm so far beneath him that he won't even treat me like an opponent. It's like he's slapping a mosquito.

"One...more...time..." My legs are shaking badly, but I have to at least land a hit on him. For myself. I'm no longer Katsumi Takeno's little brother. I don't live in his shadow anymore. If I don't beat him, everything I worked toward will be meaningless-

"Shun, I said no more." In an instant, he's right in front of me, so close I can feel his breath on my neck, and then his fist slams into my solar plexus.

I can't breathe. I drop to the ground, gasping and choking for air, trying to struggle to my feet, but I can't move.

"Dammit...dammit..." My voice comes out as an anguished cry. "Ah said Ah was gonna beat you one day...and after all this time...Ah couldn't touch ya..."

Normally, I'd be so embarrassed that my accent was coming out, but I don't care. I wanted to be better than my brother was. That was the one goal I had. It was the only way I could convince myself that I was doing karate because I wanted to and not because I didn't know what else to do with my life. It was the only reason I could use to show myself that my hard work wasn't pointless.

And yet, despite all the early mornings and late nights, despite pushing myself so hard, despite all the blood and the sweat and the vomit, I went down like I had never trained in my life. It was total defeat. That's the difference between an ordinary person and a genius. The one with more talent wins.

"Why'd ya hafta leave, dammit? Gimme an answer!" The feelings I've kept bottled up for years are spilling out. I can't control them. They're going to flow out of me, and then I'll truly be empty. I'll be as empty as my life has been.

I'm not like Shiritori or Kouga. I can't reach my goals, no matter how much I try. I'm just like little Shimomori in the under-six class. I'll keep swinging, and swinging, and swinging with all my might, but I'll always trip and fall.

I'll always be nobody other than Katsumi Takeno's little brother. Momo Kakihara's classmate. The guy who lost to Hirotaka Fujioka in the prefectural tournament. The guy who Reika Suzuran messes with. An extra in the stories of people who actually matter.

"Wow. I didn't realize you were so mad." Katsumi looks down at my seated form with an expression of concern. Damn it. I don't need his pity.

"You disappeared for eight whole years without a visit or a letter or even a single phone call and you're surprised I'm mad at you?!"

"Are you gonna yell at me for not inheriting the dojo like Dad?"

"No. I don't care about that."

"Then why are you so angry?"

"Do I have to say it again?! It's been eight years! Eight! Years! I don't know what sort of problems you were having with Dad. I don't really care, to be honest. But I thought you cared about me enough to not run off in the middle of the night and leave me wondering why you did it for almost half my life! And then you come back out of the blue, treat me like I'm still a child, and act shocked that I'm angry at you!"

He doesn't say anything back, but just looks at me. His smile is completely gone, but his stare is deep. I don't remember that from so long ago.

I wonder what he's seen in the years we've been apart? He's only in his twenties, but he looks so much older. Weary, even.

My voice drops. I can't bring myself to be angry anymore. It's all come out. "...Did you hate us that much? Did you hate me?"

"No. I never hated you."

"Then why...why did you do it if you knew it would hurt me? All this time, I had to deal with people spreading these rumors about you without ever finding out what happened to you...that you were a drug addict, that you were dead...I would overhear my teammates whispering 'Poor kid, I hope his father isn't too hard on him like he was on his brother. I heard they had to close their dojo and move because no one wanted to train under his father anymore' when they thought I was out of earshot...I wondered if it was my fault you why...I just want to know..."

He sighs and runs a hand through his long hair. "I said I'd explain it to you, didn't I?"

"Yeah. A long time ago."

"I left because I couldn't handle the pressure."

"You did what?"

"I cracked. The cameras, the articles, the attention...I couldn't deal with it. I couldn't tell Dad I wanted to quit because I was afraid. So I ran away."

"You ran away? So many people would have killed to have your talent. And you ran away?"

"Shun, are you still mad at me?"

Maybe I was, but I'm no longer angry. I got what I was looking for. I'm not satisfied with this answer, though. After waiting all these years to find out what my brother wouldn't tell me the day he left, this is what it was?

It's so depressingly ordinary.

"No. I'm not mad. I'm disappointed."

Steward McOy