On the day of the competition, Ann was not in the audience. She could not bear to watch. I understood completely, and promised to call as soon as I was finished. I tried to make it clear that the longer it took me to call the better, because it would mean I was still “alive” in the double elimination tournament. I won the first two matches I fought on points.
My third match I lost to a guy who got lots of points with quick little jabs that I felt could never make contact or be of significance, but he was awarded points for them. His style was mostly like a street fighter throwing a fast and furious attack, but with little defense. I made lots of scores being more of a tactician, but I did not score as quickly as he did. I wondered to myself if he would have been able to stand up to a mugger in the city streets as I did in Omaha. Nonetheless I lost my first match to a very fast street fighter.
Probably because I was still mad and agitated from this loss, my fourth match was a breeze to win. I didn’t get winded or fatigued at all and did a blaze of misdirection kicks and jab kicks to rack up points and take an easy win. I had very little time after this match before my next one.
My fifth match was against one of the tournament favorites. He was small and powerful and very fast. His forte was spinning kicks, which I tended to try to get out of the way of and then push him to get him off balance. That defense did not work very well against an experienced tournament fighter. But at least it helped him miss and I tried to use the opportunity after his miss to score points. He executed a left-footed roundhouse kick that was close and I pushed his leg with the kick to make him spin faster. This time my defense worked, and I lunged in with a solid punch to the face. However, he spun so far I hit him in the back of the head. I tried to pull back on the punch, but made contact with the nape of his neck, which is against the tournament rules. I was immediately disqualified for an illegal and dangerous hit. Fortunately he was all right and went on to win the tournament. The hit was actually a powerful one and it was the first time I made direct and potentially damaging contact with any person I sparred with. I was disturbed by the idea that my hit could possibly have caused a brain or spinal cord injury. It was this sobering thought that ran through my mind as the referee disqualified me. I called Ann and told her I placed 4th in the tournament. The tournament was enjoyable, and training for it was a valuable experience. I learned that I most definitely did not have the fighter’s killer instinct and even in a mild and well-protected karate competition like this one, I was not cut out to be going through the motions of hitting or hurting someone.
The department of physiology had a Christmas party every year, and the senior graduate students traditionally presented a humorous skit of some kind at this party. It was my last holiday season at Michigan State, so 3 other graduate students and I were “volunteered” to organize the entertainment. We decided to give joke awards and gifts to all the faculty members. We got the complete list of faculty and then tried to come up with a funny but not too offensive awards or gifts to give everyone. All the graduate students were polled (with promises of secrecy) to get ideas for joke awards and gifts. Part of the reason only the senior graduate students did the entertainment was that often junior graduate students would be too scared or naïve to play jokes on the faculty. Only with age and the cynicism of a senior graduate student did the really funny stuff come out. By this point the older students had started to realize that their professors did not know everything, and some even had a sense of humor, though not all, as you shall see.