By Alex Chong Do Thompson
I entered my first full-contact karate tournament when I was 13 years old.
I’d been training for several years at that point, and after watching Enter The Dragon one to many times, I decided that I wanted to test myself against a real opponent. It took some convincing, but eventually my dad packed up the family car, and drove me to a tournament in Chicago, Illinois
That’s how I found myself standing across from the child version of Ivan Drago, from Rocky IV. My opponent was 6 inches taller than me with biceps as big as my leg. In other words, he was bigger than me, stronger than me and had a huge reach advantage. Things didn’t look good.
When the match started he opened up with a roundhouse kick to the stomach that took to the wind out of me. That was followed by a right cross to the face which spun me around so that my back was too him. Finally, a snapping front kick to the back sent me tumbling out of bounds. Stunned and embarrassed, I looked up at the ring clock; only 15 seconds had passed.
At that point, I saw my dad walking towards me. I should stop at this point, and say that my father is what most people call a “hard” man. He’s very loving in his own way, but spending his childhood growing up on a farm gave him a very no-nonsense approach to life. So he was all business when he came to check on me.
“You have to keep your hands up, so he doesn’t keep hitting you in the face,” he said. “And don’t let him get so close. If he comes in striking distance, make him pay,” he said feigning punches to my body and face. “Are you ready to go back out there?”
Truthfully, I didn’t want to go back into the ring. My face hurt, I was embarrassed, and I wanted to go home. But as I said earlier, my father is a hard man. And he doesn’t tolerate weakness. So I gritted my teeth, and nodded silently.
“Good” he said, “Don’t let him intimidate you.” Then he turned me around, and pushed me back into the ring…
Don’t be intimidated.
As I try to make sense of the deadly violence that took place in Charlottesville, VA, I keep thinking about my father’s words. They give me something to focus on as I try to comprehend what happened. Heather Heyer was killed and 19 people were injured when a white nationalist drove his car through a crowd of peaceful protesters. Now I’m trying to figure out the skillful means, which will help me respond to this tragedy.
“Don’t be intimidated” is a good start.
Don’t be intimidated by swastikas. Don’t be intimidated by the Ku Klux Klan or the Alt-Right. And don’t be intimidated by madmen who run over protesters with their cars. Dust yourself off, keep your hands up, and step back into the ring.
That works, but it doesn’t tell me what to do once I’m back inside the ring. How do I peacefully coexist with people who think my skin color makes me inferior? Is that even the right question? I don’t know. But in his book Bright Dawn, my teacher, Rev. Koyo Kubose, states, “As individuals, we can decide what kind of person we want to be, and what kind of life we want to live. This can be an unconditional and unilateral decision that is not dependent on how others act.”
I find great comfort in his words. They’re a reminder that the power is always in my hands, because I’ve chosen to live my life with compassion. And no amount of violence will make me forget the person that I’ve set out to be. It’s difficult to walk the path in times like this. But Rev. Kubose teaches us to simply “keep going” whenever life gets hard.
Keep going. That’s all that I can do in this moment.
Keep going with my meditation. Keep going with my activism. Keep going in my attempts to make the world a better place. Because the only way to get out of a bad situation is to keep going towards a better one.
Don’t be intimidated…keep going.
My father’s words have blended with those of my teacher to create a mantra, and I’ve been reciting it a lot the last few days. I don’t know what the outcome of all of this will be, but I know what I have to do.
Editor: Dana Gornall