Tell us your name and where you’re from.
My name is Danny Rincon. I was born here in
Virginia, but my dad grew up in northern California, and his dad came from . I have cousins in Argentina still, but I haven’t seen them in a few years. My dad says we have cousins in California Argentina, in Rio Negro in a town called Viedma, but I haven’t ever met them or gone down there. Some day, I’d like to go there, see my family.
How about your mother’s family?
. My grandparents still live there. My uncle died before I was born. He was a Marine in San Francisco and was killed in a bombing. My mom doesn’t like to talk about it. I think that’s kinda why we haven’t been back to Beirut in a while, all the memories, you know. California
Your parents are separated. Do you want to say anything about that?
I don’t really understand it. They used to fight a lot. My mom always says it had nothing to do with me. But, you know, it’s hard not to feel like somehow it does. Dad’s a construction guy, a roofer, and he tried to start his own company. But it kinda went bust. That’s when the fighting got really bad. But my mom wasn’t mad about the business. It was always about something else. I wasn’t old enough to help him, but if he still had the business I could work with him. I know we could make it work. I really wish he would try again, let me help him and, you know, maybe come back home. Can we change the subject?
I hear that you’re on the football team. What’s that like?
I love football. I think I’m pretty good. I play tailback and I can run pretty fast. I’m not as shifty as some guys. I mean, that’s hard to do and still be fast. But I know how to lower my shoulder, get low to the ground, and hit a tackler, maybe burst on through. Lots of times, guys expect you to dodge, you know, throw a fake, and if you just go straight at ‘em they’re not ready to take you down. I don’t think that’s gonna get me to the pros, but I’m kinda hoping it will get me through college, cause without it I don’t think my parents can scrape the money together.
You’ve taken up karate recently. How does that compare to football?
Karate… oh, yeah, karate. It’s so different, nothing like football. I mean, all that football training doesn’t hurt with strength and speed. But karate is so much subtler. I mean, there’s this girl at the dojo, she is so… how can I put this? She is so tough. She’s more than tough. It’s like she’s inside your head, when you’re sparring, practically reads your mind. She always seems to know what you’re gonna do, like the moment it occurs to you. She’s there, where you’re trying to go, before you get there, and then you’re lying on your back looking at the ceiling, wondering how she beat you again. But here’s the weird part. She isn’t faster or stronger or anything. She just makes decisions quicker than anyone, even Sensei. Can you believe that, even Sensei?
Are you talking about Emily Kane?
Yeah, Emily, Em. She is the most amazing person I have ever met. In a way, she’s kinda the reason I got into karate.
Tell us how you met her?
I don’t really remember when we first met. I think I’ve sort of known her since we were little kids. But back then she was hardly ever around. I mean, you’d see her in elementary school, and sometimes at the mall with her dad, or the Japanese lady from the estate. But she lived on the edge of town, and the estate was pretty isolated and she mainly stayed out there. I guess she must’ve been pretty lonely back then. But then, in high school, really just this last year, everything changed.
I’m not sure I know the whole story, and maybe she wouldn’t want me to go into too much detail. But there was this attack on the estate, something involving the family who owns it, and Emily’s dad, he was the chauffeur, he was killed trying to protect Emily. She’s been kind of on her own ever since. She lives over the garage at my mom’s house. She has everything together through all of that. It’s really amazing. Like, nothing fazes her, she’s so focused.
After the attack on her home, was that when you joined the dojo?
No, I started at the dojo a lot earlier than that. One day I just noticed her in the halls at school. She used to dress like some sort of commando, you know, cargo pants, work boots and a denim jacket. You could hardly tell how pretty she is or anything about her, really. She was practically invisible. But then one day, I just noticed her, you know. I think it got some of the girls who hang out with the football players pissed. But I never really cared about them. I mean, they’re so available that it’s hard to take ‘em seriously. I think some of them tried to pick a fight with her over it. I saw it in the parking lot from a distance, but before I could do anything about it, it was over. Nothing happened, really. She just looked one of them in the eye, this really dark stare. She has this way of doing that, it’s really unnerving. Anyway, the girl takes one look at Emily and backs off. It was like, there was no way they were gonna be able to intimidate her. They all knew it as soon as they saw that look in her eye. None of them bothered her again. It was after I saw that, you know, her composure and her intensity, that I thought I should see what was happening at her dojo. And one thing led to another, and I got my Brown Belt, and maybe another year and I’ll have a Black Belt.
What belt does Emily Kane have?
Belt? Emily? Who knows? She like never wears a belt at the dojo. I wonder if there even is a belt for what she is. She is so far beyond that sort of thing. She is out there.
What do you think makes her so special when it comes to karate?
Well, first of all, it isn’t just karate. She knows loads more stuff than that. I think she’s been doing all sorts of martial arts training with Sensei since she was like six. And what she does at any given moment is a blend of everything she knows. I think Sensei and her dad were like friends from way back, and Sensei, he’s like a father to her. I guess that’s really good, now that her dad’s dead. Anyway, she talks about aikido a lot, which I think is what she learned first. I guess that’s kinda strange, since it’s a karate dojo. But Sensei is sort of mysterious himself. There’s no telling what he knows. I think he taught her all about kung fu, too. Or at least a kind of kung fu. They call it Wing Chun. It is so fierce, so contained, compact, you know. And Emily is so good at it. It’s like, she steps inside your punch, if you give her any kind of opening at all, and she just unloads all these strikes all over you. They come from every direction, and every strike is also a block at the same time. And before you know it you’re on your back staring at the ceiling wondering what just happened to you.
It sounds like she has trained an awful lot.
She has, believe me, but that’s not the most important thing. If you ask her how she does it, instead of talking about training and practice, she tells you it’s all about meditation and breathing. She says that she learned how to “hear” your decision as you make it by listening to her own breathing when she meditates. For the life of me, I don’t think I really know what she means by that, because I’ve never figured out meditation. Sensei has us practice it all the time, but no matter how hard I try, I never seem to get it the way she does. Emily says I try too hard. I really wish I knew what she and Sensei mean. They’re always talking about this thing called sen. It’s a Japanese word that means decision or choice or initiative. Sensei says sen is not the same thing as aggression. You can be aggressive but not really control the fight. You know, you’re just reacting in a passive way even though you think you’re taking charge. But you can also wait on the other person, let them act first, and then take the initiative, the sen, away from them. Emily does that to me all the time when we spar. She lets me bluster in, and then she takes over my attack and, well you can guess what happens next. That’s like the hardest thing about sparring, and that’s what Emily’s mastered. I’ve never seen anyone take the initiative away from her in a fight, not even Sensei.
Have you guys ever had to use your training in a real fight?
Well, once we got in a fight in a parking lot outside a pizza place in
. That’s a few miles south of here. Our friend Wayne kinda stumbled into the middle of this fight between a bunch of tough kids from Covington High. They all turned on him, so Billy and I had to step in and help him out. It was kinda cool in a way, ‘cause those guys weren’t as tough as they thought, and they weren’t really trained in fighting. It was also scary, in a way. One of those guys pulled a knife in the end, but Emily took it away from him. Covington
She was there, too?
Yeah, but she was really just watching from the side, that is until that guy pulled the knife. I have to admit, it was reassuring that she was there. We all sort of knew that she would step in if things got really nasty. And we were showing off for her a little, I guess.
Has Emily ever been in a real fight herself that you know of?
I know she’s been in at least two, but I suspect she’s been in a lot more. She doesn’t like to talk about that stuff. I think she’s always a little ashamed of real fighting, you know, as if it’s always somehow wrong even if you didn’t start it.
Can you tell us about those fights?
I suppose, though I’m not sure she’d like it. But you can see one for yourselves. There’s a security video of it floating around on the internet. If you search something like “gas station fight” you’ll find it soon enough. Three of the guys from the fight in
ran into her at a gas station and thought they were gonna get some payback. But it didn’t turn out so well for them. The thing is, if you watch it, you see what she’s like as a person, not just a fighter. I mean, she tries not to hurt those guys. One guy, this huge guy, she just stares him down and he backs off. Another guy didn’t get off so easy. I mean, he deserved what he got. He came at her with a knife, so she like twists his arm and forces him to stab himself in the ass. It wasn’t a serious wound, hardly any blood, but it must have stung like hell. She was ready to leave it at that. But when he comes back at her with the knife, she parries it and does this cool swirling move that sends him flying head over heels into the side of the building. He was lucky to get off with just a broken collarbone after that. Covington
There was one other fight I know about. We were at a concert. It was sort of a date, and these four guys jumped us outside. These weren’t high school kids either. They were like soldiers, big and strong, bigger than me, and trained, and way bigger than Emily. I don’t remember a whole lot of what happened that night, just bits and pieces. They kind of worked me over a bit. But Emily just took those guys out. They meant business when they attacked us. I have no idea what they wanted. But Emily really let ‘em have it. One guy tried to do this roundhouse kick at her head, and she just did this thing where she leans out of the way and then hooks his foot before he can bring it back down. She forced him forward into this extreme split. He screamed so loud, like she was tearing him in half. And as he was going down she nailed him in the throat. I don’t know if that guy could have survived that. It kind of gives me a shiver just to think about it. I didn’t see much else. I may have passed out. I think there was a moment at the end when one guy, I think he was the ringleader, tried to pick himself up out of a bloody heap and Emily gives him one of those looks I was talking about before. It was like pure dark fury, and he sees it and shudders and collapses back into the heap.
So, you and Emily, how would you describe your relationship?
I wish I knew. I mean, she is the coolest person I have ever met. I used to think I was in love with her. I think we all are, Billy, Wayne and me. But she’s a little scary, too. Don’t get me wrong. She is supremely kind and generous. But there’s that dark thing you catch a glimpse of in the back of her eyes. I’m not afraid of her or anything. But I can’t imagine how I could live up to her standard. I suppose I’m putting her on a pedestal, but I can’t help it. She is so beautiful, how could I not be in love with her. But she’s so serious, so focused, and she’s been through so much. I just don’t see how she could be interested in me in that way. But she’s also like my best friend, too. So I’ll just be there with her and, who knows, maybe things will change between us. A guy can dream, can’t he?
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